Some Okinawan History



It's been implied by a certain member of MT that my knowledge of Okinawan History is lacking. Therefore I would like to invite people to peruse some of my findings on the subject and notify me of any discrepancies I may have over looked or not know about.

From the Satsuma Invasion to World War II

With an eye towards the Ryukyu Monarchy's lucrative overseas trade, the Satsuma, a clan based in the southern part of Kyushu in Japan, invaded Okinawa and took control of it in 1609.
During the reign of Sho Shin, which was about 100 years before this invasion, Okinawa had banned all weapons. Prohibition of weapons brought peace to Okinawa, but left it defenseless against the Satsuma invasion. So, the Satsuma lord Shimazu conquered Okinawa with ease. The lord Shimazu allowed the Ryukyu monarchy to remain intact, but established strict controls over trade.
The Satsuma continued trade with the Ming Dynasty under the name of the Ryukyu Kingdom, while the rest of Japan closed itself of to almost all international contact until 1853. The Ryukyuan, (Okinawan) people, suffered under the double burden of local taxation and Satsuma's tight controls.
After Commodore Perry visited Tokyo (called Edo at the time) in 1853, change in Japan's government led to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. In 1879, Ryukyu Province became Okinawa prefecture, but the strict land taxation system and local administration remained under the control of the same Ryukyu government that had been manipulated by the Satsuma. The Okinawan people continued to suffer under tyranny for another 30 years. In 1920, Okinawa obtained autonomy like every other prefecture.
Okinawa was peaceful until the Japanese government started its military campaigns of the 1930's.
In 1945, Okinawa suffered as the only battleground in Japan during the war. The hills and rivers had their features completely changed, villages were totally destroyed, and one out of every three Okinawans died during the course of war.

Relations between Toyotomi Hideyoshi,
the Shimazu Clan and the Ryukyu Kingdom

The Age of Great Trade for the Ryukyu Kingdom came to an end in the 16th century; however, trade with China still remained active. It became economically vital for the Shimazu to allow the Ryukyu Kingdom to continue to exist in name as an independent nation.
During this period in Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (one of Japan's three greatest military leaders) unified the whole country and issued an edict requiring other areas of Japan to pay a portion of the military burden. This edict was extended to the then independent nation of the Ryukyu Kingdom via the Shimazu Clan of Satsuma. The demand combined the military burden of the Ryukyus with Satsuma and included the dispatch of an army of 15,000 troops. However, since the Ryukyu Kingdom had no experience in battle, it was exempted from the demand for the troop dispatch and instead was to deliver provisions of rice for 7,000 troops for a period of ten months.
Coinciding with this development was the enthronement of a new king in the Ryukyus, King Sho Nei. This increased the economic difficulty of the kingdom due to the requirement they had to welcome the Chinese investiture envoys. The suzerain relationship the Ryukyu Kingdom had with Ming China had been the most important relation for them. The Ryukyu worried that if they acceded to the Japanese demands it would negatively affect their relations with China. They heatedly debated this within the court. Finally, fearful of an impending attack from the Shimazu should the demands be rejected, they agreed to pay half the amount of the military burden.
The Satsuma-Ryukyu Kunsho was Japan's first decoration. (see photo) This was prior to the Meiji Restoration and at the time there was considerable conflict between the Tokugawa Shogun and Shimazu, Daimyo of Satsuma, who was a power lord in the southern provinces of Japan and Okinawa.

The Shogun had sent various items to the 5th International Exhibition in Paris, France and to spite him, Shimazu caused this decoration to be made in Paris and presented to the Emperor Napoleon III on the opening day of the Exhibition. Because of the favorable reception accorded the Satsuma Order, the Japanese envoy to France, Mukaiyama, advised the Shogun to create other national orders. Due to the downfall of the Shogunate, none were established until after the Meiji Restoration.

The only known specimen to exist in Japan, in the Memorial Hall of the old Satsuma capital of Kagoshima, was destroyed by fire during World War II, and no record of the order has been found in France.

This medal is composed of a golden 5 pointed star. In the center, a cross within a circle, represents the "mon" of Shimazu, in red enamel. between the arms are five characters meaning "Satsuma-Ryukyu Nation" in blue enamel. The reverse has four characters meaning "military official - civil official". The star is suspended from a circular flower shaped device and was worn on a purple ribbon with a white stripe near each edge.

The ribbon is 33 mm wide, yellow with a 5mm stripe of red set 3 mm from each edge.


I have more but let's just start with some basic stuff.

All opinions are welcome and all corrections should be supported with some evidence please.


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The Ryukyu islands are located between Japan and Taiwan, with 140 islands
stretching 800 miles southward. Okinawa is the largest island, having an area of 1,257
square kilometers, length of 135 kilometers, and a width varying from 4 to 28 kilometers
Because of its geographic position, Okinawa has historically had important and
influential cultural, political, and economic relations with both China and Japan,
functioning as an unofficial middle man between the two. Japan needed Okinawa to
facilitate trade with China, and therefore allowed Okinawa to remain, to some degree,
independent. Robert Sakai credits this situation with enabling the people... to propel
themselves from an underdeveloped culture to one which was sophisticated and unique, a
blend of indigenous Japanese and Chinese cultural elements [1990:1].
Chinese Influence
In the 14th century Okinawa was divided into three principalities, each vying for
total control of the island. King Satto (1349-1395), the ruler of Ch羶zan, the central
region, and the first ruler in the Satto Dynasty (1395-1405), began a tributary trade
relationship with Ming China in 1372. This move brought Okinawa into the Chinese
world order. A Sino-centric philosophy ruled Chinas foreign policy. In it China was at the center of the world, and her emperor the heaven-appointed ruler. Other, lesser
countries could show respect for the emperor by paying tribute.
When all was in order, with China at the top and her tributary states below, then
the divine influence of the Chinese emperor would spread to the courts and across the
world. If a country did not share these beliefs, China had to pursuade them using force.
Those that were faithful in their tributes were looked upon with favor. Among the most
consistent in observing the proprieties of the tribute system were Korea and the Ryukyu
kingdom [Sakai 1990:2].
The China-Okinawa relationship gave great benefits to Okinawa. Among the
benefits was increased trade. Tribute envoys were sent to China every two years to
present the tribute and perform the kou tou ritual for the emperor. While at the court
official tributary trade took place, but more important was the unofficial trading from the
envoys ship. In the port city where the envoys ship waited, vigorous trading occurred
between the ships crew and local merchants.
In 1392 China sent 36 families to Okinawa to assist with government
organization. These families brought with them Chinese culture, including what is
believed to be the predecessor to the Okinawan sanshin, the sanxian. While China
remained officially passive toward her tributary states, interest in Chinese education was
encouraged. During the Ming dynasty several Okinawan students traveled to China and
learned under official tutors set up by the royal court of China. Many more students went
to China unofficially, studying under private tutors.
Another important benefit in the tributary relationship Okinawa maintained with
China was the investiture of Okinawas king. As the heaven-appointed ruler, the Chinese emperor needed to approve of the rulers of his tributaries. So when a king died and a new
one ascended to the throne, China would send a large investiture embassy to make it
official. Timing was not important in this process, in one case taking over 30 years for
the investiture to occur. The king did not need the ritual to actually rule, only to be
official in the Sino-centric power structure.
The investiture envoy brought great benefits to Okinawa. Among these were
trade, prestige for the Okinawan king, the teachings of Chinese scholars, and cultural
transmission. This was especially important as Okinawa received literature, poetry,
instruments, and the basis for her notation from China. During the investiture the envoy
stayed sometimes for over five months in Okinawa.
Early Musical History
In 1422 the second ruler in the Sh繫 Dynasty (1406-1469), Sh繫 Hashi (1422-
1439), was able to unify the island of Okinawa. Trade continued with China, and Sh繫
Hashi began to trade with other nations as well, including Indonesia and Korea. Sh繫
Hashi had a short reign, ending with his death in 1439. The next thirty years were
volatile in terms of politics, as five different kings ruled in this short span, usually
deposing the former king by violent means.
During this period the first collection of Okinawan songs was compiled. These
songs, the Omoro S繫shi, were mainly transmitted by females in festivals they organized
[Higa 1990]. The songs documented pre-Japanese Ryukyu culture, including religion,
mythology, and history. After the Shimazu invasion and subsequent control of Ryukyu
by the Shimazu clan, women became subservient to men and did not organize festivals.
The songs nearly died out, but a sense of nationalism prompted Okinawans to compile
them into a collection. The omoro were collected in 22 volumes with 1554 songs
included (some are repeated so in actuality it holds 1224). The first volume was
completed in 1531 and the second 80 years later in 1613. The original books of the
collection were burned in a fire in Shuri Castle in 1709, but recompiled and reissued the
following year.
After this period of instability Okinawa experienced what would become the most
stable and productive dynasty in its history, the second Sh繫 dynasty (1470-1879), begun
by former royal treasurer Kanamaru (Sh繫 En) in 1470 by a coup detat. Sh繫 En (1470-
1476) quickly moved to centralize power by outlawing weapon ownership and making
Confucianism the national religion.
Okinawan classical music had its genesis with the rule of Sh繫 Shin (1477-1526),
the third king of the second Sh繫 dynasty. Sh繫 Shin required all the lords and their
families to move to the Shuri area where he could watch over them [Sakihara 1981:8]. In
order to keep his guests entertained Sh繫 Shin built places where music, dance, and
other arts were displayed [Higa 1976:119]. In establishing these areas Sh繫 Shin began a
long and fruitful relationship between the traditional Okinawan arts and the royalty, a
relationship that is common in Asia.
Also during this time a vassal of the king, Akainko (?-?), is said to have traveled
the island collecting folk songs and adapting them to sanshin accompaniment. His
efforts have earned him the title of creator of music in Okinawan folklore.
Meanwhile in Japan the new Tokugawa government moved to centralize power
and tighten control of its territories. An invasion occurred in 1609, meaning stricter control of Okinawa by mainland Japan, and the forced payment of tributue. Okinawans
were put in a peculiar situation with the claiming of their island as part of Japan. The
Tokugawa government, like those before it, wanted the benefits that Okinawas tributary
relationship with China brought, so Okinawa was required to maintain the pretense of
independence while continuing tribute to China. At the same time Okinawans were
required to conform to Japanese customs in their homeland, while on mainland Japan
they were treated as non-Japanese.
When [Okinawans] went to Japan they were forced to act like aliens,
but when they were in Okinawa they were forced to act like Japanese.
Yet when the Chinese envoys arrived for the investiture of the King,
Okinawans had to get rid of everything, ranging from all Japanese
coins in circulation to the mens undergarments, which might reveal
Okinawas true political status as a vassal to the Shimazu daimyo of
Japan [Sakihara 1981a:xxii].
Okinawas Golden Age
The period from 1650 to 1750 saw the rebirth of Okinawa. Gima Shinj繫 (?-?)
introduced new methods of farming sweet potato and sugar, resulting in increased output,
leading in turn to an increase in standard of living, as well as a growth in population.
Other improvements were made to the island including the construction of a series of
highways, connecting the towns with the countryside. Several academic pursuits were
undertaken, such as the documentation of Okinawan history and language. The first
formal school was built in 1718, and by 1790 an educational system was in place.
It was during this time that Tansui Uwekata (1623-1688) refined the style of
Okinawan music known as koten ongaku (classical music) or uta sanshin (voice and
sanshin). Tansui was the udui-bugy繫 (Minister of Dance) to Sh繫 Tei (1669-1709). When Okinawa was invaded by Satsuma in 1609 most courtly pursuits had been abandoned,
including koten ongaku. At the time of Tansuis appointment to the court of Sh繫 Tei,
koten ongaku was being perpetuated by courtesans (juri) only. Tansui was able not only
to return the music to the courts but also to elevate its to "a style of high artistic merit"
[Higa 1976:20]. His style, perpetuated by his students, is known as Tansui-Ry羶.
Yakabi Ch繫ki (1716-1775) was a student in the style of Tansui-Ry羶 who further
modified its performance. He was an expert in the Japanese singing style of N繫h theater,
and he used some adapted techniques from that tradition to create a new style of
Okinawan singing, which was in turn passed on by his students. Among the
modifications he made was the addition of heterophony or vocal lag, the effect acheived
as the voice seems to consistently fall behind the sanshin melody, to koten ongaku. In
order to codify the classical repertoire, Yakabi created a notation system based on the
Chinese gongchepu to record the sanshin part.
A contemporary of Yakabi Ch繫ki, Chinen Sekk繫 (1761-1828) also made
important contributions to the development of Okinawan classical music. Born a
commoner, he was appointed Minister of Dance under Sh繫 K繫 (1804-1828) due to his
musical talent, which included a vocal range of over two octaves. Chinen changed some
melodies that were awkward, and improved difficult sanshin parts. Higa credits him with
elevating Okinawan music to "a high point of virtuosity, with complicated techniques of
voice and sanshin" [1976:22].
Chinen's style was difficult to sing, and only the highly trained and talented
individual could perform the style correctly. In reaction to this one of Chinen's students,
Nomura Anch繫 (1805-1872), led a movement to return Okinawan music to a simpler,more accessible style that more people could sing. His intention was to return to the style
of Tansui as modified by Yakabi Ch繫ki. His efforts led to intense criticism by court
musicians, who charged that he was "profaning the high art of Okinawan music. Higa
further states that Nomura was successful in bringing back the older, less complicated
style, while at the same time not sacrificing any of the inherent artistry of Okinawan
music [1976:22]. The style he revived is referred to as Nomura-Ry羶.
A major development in Okinawan classical music is the formation of schools
based on the style of a recognized master musician. The largest school is the Nomura-
Ry羶, founded by students of Nomura Anch繫 in order to perpetuate his style. It is from
this school that the first vocal notation came and it is this school that dominates in
Hawaii. The Nomura-Ry羶 has two main sub-schools, the Nomura-Ry羶 Ongaku Ky繫kai,
founded in 1924, and the Nomura-Ry羶 Koten Ongaku Hozon Kai, founded in 1950. The
latter school was formed by splitting from the former due to stylistic differences. They
use a different edition of the kunkunsh簾 than the Ongaku Kyokai, edited by their president
Nakamura Kany羶.
Other schools also emerged, though the infrastructure may have existed for many
years without a formal acknowledgment of a school existing. The Matsumura T繫gen Kai
is another offshoot of the Nomura-Ry羶, consisting of students of Matsumura Shinshin, a
student of Nomura Anch繫. They, like most schools, use their own kunkunsh簾 edited by
their president Miyagi Shish羶. Their edition differs in the notation of the vocal line,
using a system invented by Shish羶 instead of the Isagawa/Serei vocal notation used by
other Nomura-Ry羶 sub-schools.
The Afuso-Ry羶 claims to have preserved the style of Chinen Sekko directly.
While Nomura Anch繫 led a movement back to simplicity, another student of Chinen,
Afuso Seigen (1785-1865), kept the complicated style intact and passed it on to his
The Tansui-Ry羶 is said to be the continuation of the style of Tansui Uwekata,
though the school has a somewhat suspect history. The style was thought to have died
out but the late 19th century when Nago Ry繫sh繫 (1808-?) appeared, claiming to have
learned the style. Sh繫 Tai (1848-1879), wanting to preserve this important style, sent
five musicians to learn from Nago. He only remembered seven songs though, but this
became the basis for a new incarnation of the Tansui-Ry羶. The style was transmitted
from Yamauchi Seiki to his grandson Yamanouchi Seihin to his student Nakamuro
Mojun. Two different kunkunsh簾 with their own vocal notations are used, one by
Yamanouchi Seihin1 (1965) and one by Nakamuro Mojun and Serei Kunio (1963).
When the Meiji Restoration took place in Japan in 1868, it meant an end to the
period of economic growth for Okinawa. The Meiji government stripped all pretense of
independence from the island. In 1875 Chinese relations were halted, causing Okinawa
to look to its former ally for assistance. But China ignored their requests, perhaps not
1 Yamanouchi Seihin deserves special recognition here for his extensive work in research and
documentation of traditional Okinawan music. He spent part of his life living in Tokyo where he wrote and
published a multi-volume work on Okinawan music. He developed a theory of modes and created his own
vocal notation. He was also a respected musicologist, speaking around the world at conferences about
Okinawan music. Seihin also postulated a interesting, but not well documented, theory of world music
development with Okinawa at the center. His belief was that in ancient times music moved from Okinawa wanting to anger the Meiji government. The United States did attempt to intervene,
suggesting that Okinawa be divided between Japan and China, but this offer was ignored
by the Japanese, and the entire question of Okinawan independence disappeared with
Japans victory in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95.
This new period under tight Japanese control was a bleak one. A rise in
population in the years before incorporation was now coupled with a shortage of food
crops and general poverty among much of the population. The Okinawans were required
to pay taxes to mainland Japan, but were not able to vote or have representation in the
government. As Japan continued to modernize her military, judicial system, and
government, the amount of Japanese central-government spending in Okinawa remained
minimal, as Japan instead took the position of allowing the standard of living to increase
naturally, without introducing any new social programs or systems. Thus when the first
election of parliamentary members was held in 1920, some 30 years after mainland
Japan, Okinawa was far behind in her standard of living.
The existence of an educated lower class combined with poor living conditions
and harsh treatment by Japan are some of the factors that led to the exodus of Okinawans
to Hawaii around the turn of the century. Men from mainland Japan began emigrating
before Okinawans, for the many of the same reasons. Those who could not get ahead
working in Japan went overseas in hopes of saving money and returning to their homes
rich men. The Okinawans had this same motivation plus the hope of getting out from
under a repressive Japanese government.
into India, where it then spread east and west around the world. This theory was not well received in
musicological circles.
Ky羶z繫 T繫yama (1868-1910), the son of a peasant, is responsible for the first
groups to travel to Hawaii from Okinawa. T繫yama was involved in the Peoples Rights
movement in Okinawa that sought to give the people voting privileges and land
ownership. The movement was effectively dissolved by the Meiji regime, so T繫yama
turned his attention to emigration. When he announced that he was arranging for a group
to work in Hawaii, 200 men applied. T繫yama narrowed the group to 30, who left
Okinawa on December 5, 1899. Of this group 3 failed the physical exam at Yokohama
and were sent home. The remaining members of the group made the long voyage to
Honolulu along with 741 Japanese contract laborers on the British steamer SS City of
China. They arrived in Honolulu on January 8, 1900, and underwent another physical.
One man was rejected and sent back to Okinawa, while the others were sent to work as
contract laborers on Ewa Plantation.
The 26 men of this first Okinawan group soon found that life in Hawaii was not
much better than in Okinawa. The work was difficult, the hours long, and they were
treated harshly by the field bosses, or luna. Everyone working in the fields was whipped
and cursed by the luna, who treated them as sub-human. In addition to these conditions,
the Okinawans had to endure the scorn of the mainland Japanese, or Naich璽, who had
preceded them by 15 years and did not view the newcomers as equals.
Those from Okinawa Prefecture were not only newcomers but, because of their very
different dialect and customs, due to isolation from the main stream of life of Japan,
referred to as Naich璽, they were looked down upon as a strange and inferior group of
people and treated as if they were foreigners or outcasts by the people from the other
Kens or prefectures [Kimura 1981:52].
Because they raised pigs and ate pork, which was against Bhuddist doctrine, the Naich璽
viewed Okinawans as lower-class. The Naich璽 also saw the Okinawans as lazy, dirty,
and not Japanese.
Soon after the workers from Okinawa arrived, Hawaii was annexed by the United
States, effectively bringing to an end any contract labor under the existing immigration
laws. The Okinawans were free to stay or leave. Most chose to return to Okinawa, a few
went to California in search of wealth, and only one stayed in Hawaii. Upon their return
to Okinawa they were asked how life in Hawaii compared. They told stories of
repression and harsh treatment, but these did not make as big an impression as their
ability to build houses with tile roofs and their increase in standard of living. They were
thought to be rich and the news spread all over Okinawa that Hawaii was a land of
opportunities and prosperity.
Soon after the first group left Hawaii for Okinawa or to move on to California
T繫yama began to make arrangements for a second group. This time however he chose to
send men more suited to physical labor in hopes of avoiding the same fate as the first
group. He had no trouble finding willing men, as most farmers were enthralled by the
perceived riches that awaited them in Hawaii. This second group consisted of 45 men, all
peasants, 10 of whom were detained in Yokohama. The rest of the group arrived in
Honolulu on April 8, 1903 and were sent to Honokaa Plantation on the Big Island where
they were soon joined by 5 of the 10 detained men who eventually passed the physical at
Okinawan immigration grew from this second group to over 250 in 1904. The socalled
summoning-of-families period, starting in 1907 and lasting until 1924, occured because of an agreement between the United States and Japan, limiting immigration to
the family members of those who had already immigrated. In 1924 there were between
17,000 and 20,000 Okinawans living in the Hawaiian islands, mostly on Oahu and
Hawaii. The immigration came to a standstill in 1924 with the passage of the Anti-
Japanese Immigration Act by Congress.
Okinawans in Hawaii
This new group of immigrant Okinawans faced the same discrimination as did the
first group in 1900. They were looked down upon by those in power (mostly white
Americans, called haoles), as well as by the naichi, whose discrimination continued to be
more intense than that of the haoles. The naich璽 were especially disdainful of Okinawan
customs and culture, which they saw as vulgar. Even naich璽 who had Okinawan
physical traits were harassed by their kinsmen.
The Okinawans themselves were not oblivious to the differences:
Though they hate to admit it, many Okinawans did concede that there
was a vast difference between the naich璽 Japanese and themselves in
economic and cultural areas. [Miyasaki 1981:166].
Some Okinawans not only saw the differences, but were ashamed of them:
Chofu Ota in 1925 expressed the view that the trouble with Okinawans
in Hawaii was their persistence in following Okinawan customs, which
were nothing to be proud of. He felt that Okinawans should forget their
customs and assimilate into the larger community [Sakihara 1981:120].
Instead of having the effect Chofu Ota desired, that of assimilation, the discrimination
faced by the Okinawans only served to make them stronger as a group.
During the plantation era, however, a major reaction by the Okinawans
to this prejudice was the formation of an independent and thriving
community much like the naichi established against the discrimination
of the larger haole-dominated community. While the community
provided for the Okinawan immigrants a protective mechanism against
animosity, it also contributed to the social solidarity and harmony of
the group and perpetuated the customs and traditions of their native
country. [Miyasaki 1981:165].
Okinawans, then, looked to the expression of their traditional culture as a means
of promoting a self sufficient and positive community in the midst of discrimination from
society and their neighbors. [P]ride in Okinawn culture, including music and dance, is
part of the Okinawan solution to the problem of condescension [Sutton 1971:5].
A major component of Okinawan culture, and one that is healthy and thriving in
the Okinawan community in Hawaii, is music. Music was important to Okinawan
immigrants because of its power to remind them of their homeland. Because only a
sanshin and voice are required to perform it, the music, both classical and folk, has
traveled easily with the people. Several nisei remember their parents playing recordings
of music or playing it themselves after a hard days work in the fields. Nakasone Sensei
recalls seeing his mothers friends playing music and almost weeping from memories the
music brought to them. Okinawans turned to their culture as a means of solace, a source
of individual and group pride, and a basis for a healthy self-concept and expression
[Miyasaki 1981:166].
Just as culture uniquely defines a group, music uniquely defines Okinawans, both
in their homeland and abroad. Settlements in South America and Hawaii both exhibit
strong musical cultures, not far removed in practice from Okinawa itself. In Hawaii
Okinawan music is almost synonymous with Okinawan culture [Ueunten 61]. It is at
almost every Okinawan gathering from weddings to social club meetings to family
Classical Okinawan music is not the privilege of a few, but is played and enjoyed
by all sectors of Okinawan society in Hawaii. Okinawan music performances are well
attended, and it is a mark of distinction to travel to Okinawa to study with the master
musicians. Higa notes that during the weekend one can hear perhaps more Okinawa(n)
music in Hawaii than in Okinawa [1981:44]. Dance groups enroll students from
elementary school age to senior citizens, and all learn and perform the classic dances set
to the koten ongaku.
As succeeding generations of Okinawans grow they in turn take the mantel of
their culture.
...most of the sansei and yonsei who have a genuine interest in
Okinawan culture satisfy it by formally learning Okinawan music or
dance [Ueunten 79].
While enrollment of younger Okinawans is still few, those who so pursue their roots are
passionate about it. Several have traveled to Okinawa to learn from master musicians
and take part in contests of musical achievement.
Gradually Okinawan culture has moved from something the community kept
hidden to a legitimate and revered art form. Exhibits of Okinawan arts and crafts have
appeared nationally at the Smithsonian, and locally at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.
Music and dance have become especially popular including the traditional Okinawan dance-drama, kumiodori, which has been performed by visiting groups from Okinawa.
The anniversary of the arrival of Okinawan immigrants in Hawaii saw a large scale event
featuring hundreds of musicians and dancers performing at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center
auditorium. The Okinawan community embraces their culture openly and proudly,
without any cause for alarm as in years past.
For the Okinawan community this [is] a long, long way from the earlier
decades of the century when Okinawan music and dance were shunned
as noisy, uncivilized forms of entertainment, a tradition best not
cultivated if one wished to be accepted by polite society [Sakihara
Okinawan History:
A Chronological Table

PRIMEVAL Old Stone Age
Shell Mound Age
605 The Chinese Emperor Yo (Sui Dynasty) sends Shu-Kan to the Ryukyus
608 From about this time, the "Southern Island" people pay tribute to the Japanese Imperial Court.
1187 Shunten becomes overlord of Central Okinawa
1260 Eiso beomes new overlord
1296 A Mongol invasion army attacks Okinawa and is repulsed
1317 Miyako islanders drift ashore in China while enroute to trade in Souteast Asia
1326 At about this time, the Three Kingdoms in Okinawa (Hokuzan, Chuzan, and Nanzan) begin their rivalry
1349 Satto becomes ruler of Chuzan and increases its influence
1350 Nanzan (the southern kingdom) sends tribute to the Ming
1383 Hokuzan (the northern kingdom) sends tribute to the Ming
1392 A group of Chinese, now known as the "Thirty-six Families" are naturalized in Chuzan.
1404 A Siamese shop comes to Okinawa to trade
1416 The Chuzan King, Sho Hashi, captures Nakijin Castle and brings about the downfall of Hokuzan.
1425 Sho Hashi sends trading vessles to Siam
1428 Sho Hashi sends trading vessels to Palembang (Sumatra)
1429 Sho Hashi conquers Nanzan and is the first to succeed in uniting all Okinawa. (Beginning of the First Sho Dynasty.)
1430 Trading ships are sent to Java
1431 Sho Hashi establishes formal diplomatic relations with Korea and initiates trade
1451 Sho Kimpuku builds the Chokotei (a road around Naha inlet)
1458 The Gosamayu Awamari rebellion takes place. A large bell (the Bankoku Shinryo), on which there is an inscription concerning the prosperity of the Ryukyus, is cast.
1459 Kanemaru Uchima is appointed Foreign Trade Minister.
1463 Trading ships are sent to Malacca
1466 After an audience with the Shogun of the Muromachi Shogunate (Japan), a Ryukyuan friendship mission sets off gunpowder outside the gates in celebration and astonishes the people of Kyoto.
1470 Kanemaru Uchima overthrows the First Sho Dynasty, begins a new (the second) Sho Dynasty, and assumes the name of Sho En.
1492 The Enkakuji Temple is built
1498 Trade begins with Patani (on east coast of Malaysa)
1500 Sho Shin conquers Miyako Island, he also puts down the rebellion led by Oyake Akahachi of Yaeyama Island and assumes rule over the castles of Saki Shima (the "Southern Island" as Miyako and Yaeyama were then known.)
1511 Portugal causes the downfall of Malacca and strengthens it to be used as a base for the invasion of Asia.
1532 The first volume of the Omoro Soshi (a compendium of ancient songs and rituals) is compiled.
1534 The Chinese Ming Emperor sends an envoy, Chin Kan, and party to visit the Ryukyus
1553 Yara Castle is built at Naha Harbor and coastal defenses are prepared
1579 A tablet inscribed "Country and Propriety" is placed on public display at Shuri Castle. (Translator's Note: This tablet had been presented to the King at Shuri by the Chinese Emperor in recognition of the Ryukyuans' strict adherence to the Chiense rules of ritual and etiquette.)
1592 Hideyoshi Toyotomi (the Japanese Shogun) orders the King of the Ryukyus to assist in the invasion of Korea; the King ignores the order.
1600 The Eastern army wins the great Battle of Sekigahara (in Japan). Ieyasu Tokugawa establishes his leadership in Japan.
1609 Ichisa Shimazu of Satsuma sends 3,000 troops and subjugates the Ryukyu Kingdom. (The Shimazu Invasion)
1611 The Satsuma Clan looks into the productive capacity of the Ryukyus; divides the Amami Oshima area (the islands north of Yoron Island) from the Ryukyus: and hands down the Okite Jugo Jo (fifteen ordinances to be obeyed by all in the Ryukyus).
1614 The Satsumas order strict surveillance of all shipping into and out of the Ryukyus.
1623 Compilation of the Omoro Soshi (22 volumes) is completed
1631 As a means of keeping the Ryukyus under control, the Satsuma send a permanent administrator to Naha.
1634 The system of sending missions of congratulation and gratitude to Edo (Tokyo) is begun.
1637 A poll tax is levied on Miyako and Yaeyama Islands
1644 The Ching Dynasty succeeds the Ming Dynasty in China
1650 Sho Jo-Ken (Choshu Haneji) prepares the "History of Chuzan."
1667 Sho Jo-Ken orders acquisition of an elementary knowledge of the Japanese performing arts.
1711 A dictionary of the old Ryukyuan language (Konkoken Shu) is compiled
1719 Chokun Tamagusuku composes the Kumi Udui (odori) and the first performance is presented
1728 Sai On becomes a member of the Regency Council of Three (Prime Minister).
1734 The scholar Chobin Hishicha is executed for political offenses
1771 A tidal wave strikes Miyako and Yaeyama Islands, causing great damage
1798 A state school is founded at Shuri for the upper class descendants of samurai
1816 The British warships Alceste and Lyra call on the Ryukyus on their way home from China. Captain Basil Hall of the Lyra later stops briefly at Helena and tells the exiled Napoleon of the Ryukyus.
1844 The French warship Alemene calls and puts a Christian missionary at Naha.
1846 An English warship brings the active missionary Bettelheim to Naha.
1851 Perry, leading an American naval force, comes to Naha and visits Shuri Castle
1854 Russian warships call on Naha. Perry returns and a compact between the United States and the Kingdom of "Lew Chew" is signed.
1859 The Makishi-Onga incident occurs.
1866 Sho Tai receives seals and documents of investiture as King from the Manchurs; he is the last to receive these and is also the last King of the Ryukyus.
1868 The Tokugawa Shogunate is overthorwn and a national government under the Emperor Meiji is realized.
1871 A ship manned by Miyako Islanders is shipwrecked on Formosa, and fifty-four men are murdered by aborigines. (The Formosan Shipwreck incident)
1872 The Meiji goverment abolishes the Kingdom of the Ryukyus and establishes the Ryukyu Han (feudal clan).
1879 In order to make the Ryukyus an integral part of Japan, although opposed by the hereditary lords of the Ryukyus, Meiji abolishes the Ryukyu Han and sets up Okinawa Prefecture.
1880 The Chinese Manchus strongly protest the Meiji rule over the Ryukyus; the question is reoslved through the arbitration of ex-U.S. President Grant.
1881 The Meiji government decides to preserve and utilize the old sysetm of ryule within Okinawa Prefecture.
1893 Okinawa's first newspaper, the "Ryukyu Shimpo," begins publication.
1894 Because of China's loss in the Sino-Japanese War, anti-Japanese factions in Okinawa rapidly lose influence.
1898 The rivalry between a faction centered around Noboru Jahana, which demands revision of unjust political practices in Okinawa, and the old school deepens. Military conscription laws are put into force.
1903 Land reform is completed; new land distribution and taxation systems are established.
1909 The first election of assemblymen and convocation of an Okinawan Prefectural Assembly take place.
1911 The Okinawan historian, Fuyu Iha, publishes his great work Ko Ryukyu (Ancient Ryukyu).
1914 World War I breaks out.
1919 Laws concerning election of representatives to the House of Representatives are applied fully to Okinawa for the first time.
1925 Due to a severe recession, the three banks on Okinawa suffer management difficulties.
1926 There is great controversy centered around the novel "A Wandering Ryukyuan."
1928 Numerous labor disputes arise in Okinawa.
1934 A social science research association is formed.
1938 An Okinawa executive committee to arouse national spirit is established, and militaristic wartime systems are strengthened.
1940 A dispute about the use of the Okinawan hogen (dialect) takes place.
1941 World War II breaks out.
1944 Okinawa undergoes a great raid by American forces and Naha suffers grave damage. (The October tenth air raid.)
1945 American forces invade Okinawa. Japan surrenders unconditionally.
1946 General MacArthur declares Japan and the Nansei Shoto (all islands from Amami Oshima south to Yaeyama) to be under separate administrations.
1949 The Republic of China (Formosa) is established.
1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty puts Okinawa under American administration.
1960 The Okinawan Reversion Council is formed.
1969 Japan and the U.S. issue a joint declaration that, by mutual consent, Okinawa will be reverted to Japn on May 15, 1972.
1972 Administration of Okinawa reverts from U.S. to Japan on May 15th.
1975 The first International Ocean Expo opens on Okinawa's Motobu Peninsula.
Located far from the centers of civilization, the unification of Okinawa began very lately like any other small islands on Pacific Ocean. Even if Japan proper had been unified between the 4th and the 5th century, the social unit of Okinawa archipelagos had hardly surpassed that of a small island or of a village and remained isolated from large political movement of Japan and China.

This long sleep of Okinawa ended around the 12th century when local seigniors, called "Aji", began to fight one against another by building "Gusuku", a kind of fortress in blocks of stone. Around the 14th century, it remains only 3 seigniors on Okinawa island (Sanzan jidai or period of 3 Kingdoms) and finally in 1429 Okinawa was unified by Sho dynasty which had controlled the central part of the island before.

This small kingdom of Okinawa had been a very prosperous country: not only the archipelagos was on the route of exchange between Japan or North China with the south eastern Asia but also exported a great quantity of sulfur that Chinese needed to make explosive.

But this Okinawa's prosperity didn't last long because from the 16th century, the westerners began to appear in the region on the great ships, full of products more interesting such as guns and canons.

Become harden with a long civil war and a Korean campaign, Okinawa was an easy prey for Japanese samurais. In fact, Okinawa was invaded in 1609 by the musketeers of seignior Shimazu coming from the south Kyushu and surrendered after only 3 days of combat.

But instead of breaking up Okinawa Kingdom, Shimaza preferred to keep it under its protectorate in order not to offend China, because officially Okinawa had been her vassal state. The period spanning from the 12th century to 1609 is called "Ko Ryukyu" i.e. "Ancient Okinawa".

Though this Shimazu's occupation had taken away a part of its freedom, it brought a better organization on social life and suppressed old-fashioned habits like sorcery and superstitions. The famous reformer of Okinawa, Haneji Choshu, recommended a sober life style while to cultivate the people via education in order to compete with the occupants of Shimazu.

During Tokugawa reign, Japan had been completely closed to foreign visitors, excepting for Dutch, Chinese and Koreans, i.e. "Sakoku" or "National seclusion policy". In order to modify this politics, Americans sent 4 warships to Japan under the commandment of Commodore Perry in 1853, because they were looking for a commercial outlet and a naval base for their whalers.

Before going to Japan, Perry called at Okinawa with a plan to annex, it if Japan should refuse his demand to open her harbors. But Japan gave up before a threat of canons pointed to Tokyo and accepted to open 4 harbors (Kanagawa's Treaty). She signed then a similar treaty with other world powers of that period, Great Britain, France and Russia.

This visible weakness of Tokugawa regime had destabilized whole of Japanese feudal system and after a civil war not only between pro and anti Tokugawa, but also pro and anti opening of Japan, the Tokugawa family gave up all the fiefdoms in 1868 ("Taisei hokan" or "Restoration of imperial regime").

But this movement didn't stop shortly. One after another all the Japanese seigniors gave up their fiefdoms and Okinawa Kingdom was suppressed in 1879, too ("Ryukyu shobun" or "Settlement of Okinawa"). The period which spans from Shimazu's invasion in 1609 until this date when Okinawa was half independent is called "Late Okinawa".

Since the local habits were quite different from those of Japan proper, the central government tried to preserve them (law called "Kyushuonzon" or "conservation of ancient custom), but this policy has put back the modernization of Okinawa, for it favored too much old leaders.

Since 1920, Okinawa had been governed exactly as in other Japanese prefectures but its inhabitants remained poor and many preferred immigrating elsewhere, especially to Mariana islands which Japan had inheritated from defeated Germany in 1917. But the real ordeal of Okinawa arrived only from the end of the World War II.

Being afraid that Okinawa should be soon a battle field, the Japanese general staff began to organize an evacuation of noncombatant civilian population from 1944. But this decision arrived too late, for the surrounded sea had been already infested with American submarines. In fact, on August 21, 1944, Tsushimamaru which was carrying 1700 passengers, among them 800 school children from Okinawa, was sunk by an American submarine, off Kyushu coast and made more than 1500 victims.

Contrary to all expectations (Japanese had imagined a landing to Taiwan), Americans landed on March 26, 1945, on the tiny islands of Kerama, situated near the main island of Okinawa, in order to create a logistic base. Scarcely guarded, the islanders surrendered quickly. A few days later, the first April, Americans landed on Kadena beach of Okinawa island, in order to isolate the southern part where the most of population and the army troop were concentrated.

Having no supply lines, in spite of a fierce fight with the famous suicidal pilots, "Kaimkaze", Japanese defenders retreated gradually to the southern limit of the island and the organized resistance ended on June 23 with the suicide of the chief commander, General Ushijima Mitsuru.

This battle of Okinawa was a real disaster for its inhabitants, for there were not only 90,000 dead among Japanese soldiers but also 150,000 civilian dead (one quarter of the total population), besides innumerable historic buildings and cultural centers reduced to ashes like Shuri Castle.
Very informative! Goes along with both what my mother has told me of Okinawan history and the little bit of research I've done on my own.

As to the Naicha not seeing Okinawans as Japanese, that's a view many Okinawans take with pride. My mother refers to herself as Okinawan, not Japanese.

Surprisingly enough, there is an Okianwan 'club' in the area of Florida where she lives that she belongs to.

I have never met an Okinawan that called themself "Japanese".........and rightfully so.

Do they ever have any events at the Okinawan Club like MA demos or music?

I know the one in New York has a huge demo every few years and many of the top okinawan karateka show up
Ryu Shi Kan I totally like your post. Very nice and informative. Also very correct to my knowledge which is limited.
Thanks for the kind words.

I have always found Okinawan history interesting on it's own and the way it relates to the rest of Asia militarily and economically. It's sad that it is often overlooked and under rated.
They are a great people with concepts that I think we can all better from.
I think the group just recently got organized, though they've been having get togethers for years. As of yet, no demos, dances, or anything. As far as I know, they all just get together to eat and yak.

Originally posted by Cthulhu
I think the group just recently got organized, though they've been having get togethers for years. As of yet, no demos, dances, or anything. As far as I know, they all just get together to eat and yak.


Hopefully they can arrange some Okinawan cultural events like music and martial arts someday.
Originally posted by arnisador
Ouch! I read that as "eat yak"!

I don't know about Yak but water buffalo is a fine meal:D
Originally posted by RyuShiKan
It's been implied by a certain member of MT that my knowledge of Okinawan History is lacking. Therefore I would like to invite people to peruse some of my findings on the subject and notify me of any discrepancies I may have over looked or not know about.

From the Satsuma Invasion to World War II

With an eye towards the Ryukyu Monarchy's lucrative overseas trade, the Satsuma, a clan based in the southern part of Kyushu in Japan, invaded Okinawa and took control of it in 1609.
During the reign of Sho Shin, which was about 100 years before this invasion, Okinawa had banned all weapons. Prohibition of weapons brought peace to Okinawa, but left it defenseless against the Satsuma invasion. So, the Satsuma lord Shimazu conquered Okinawa with ease. The lord Shimazu allowed the Ryukyu monarchy to remain intact, but established strict controls over trade.
All opinions are welcome and all corrections should be supported with some evidence please.

from The Stories and Practice of the Okinawan Sai
by Toshihiro Oshiro and William H. Haff

Any penetrating review of Okinawan weapons history is a mixture of hyperbole and fact. Most modern martial arts students have been taught that Okinawan kobudo developed as a result of the Okinawan samurai being stripped of their weapons at two different points in their history. But a review of these incidents shows that our current view of the roots of Okinawan kobudo might be based on misconceptions...

The first time that the Okinawan samurai's weapons were supposedly confiscated was during the reign of King Shoshin (1477 - 1526). While it is documented that King Shoshin ordered his provincial lords, or aji, to live near his castle in Shuri, many historians no longer believe that he totally disarmed his ruling class. A famous stone monument, the Momo Urasoe Ran Kan No Mei, which is inscribed with the highlights of King Shoshin's reign, talks about the King seizing the aji's swords, and how he amassed a supply of weapons in a warehouse near Shuri castle. But some Okinawan historians now interpret that King Shoshin was actually building an armory to protect his ports and prepare for any potential invasion by wako, or pirates, not that he was stripping the Okinawan samurai or the general population of their weaponry.

The second time that the Okinawan samurai were purportedly disarmed was after the Satsuma invasion of 1609. But documents have been recovered that state that the Satsuma outlawed the ownership and sale of firearms, all the Okinawan samurai of the Pechin class and above were allowed to keep those muskets and pistols that were already in their family's possession.
There is further documentation that in 1613 the Satsuma issued permits for the Okinawan samurai to travel with their personal swords (tachi and wakizashi) to the smiths and polishers in Kagushima, Japan for maintenance and repair. From the issuance of these permits, it is logical to infer that there were restrictions on the Okinawan samurai carrying their weapons in public, but it is also clear evidence that these weapons were not confiscated by the Satsuma.
Based on this misconception that the Okinawan samurai were stripped of their weapons by the Satsuma most modern martial arts students are taught that Okinawan kobudo developed because the Okinawans turned to farm implements for their self-defense and training. When we consider the sai specifically we can see that the plausibility of this common myth is significantly strained.
Sensei Toshihiro Oshiro, long time practitioner of Yamanni-Chinen Ryu Bojutsu and the Chief Instructor for the Ryukyu Bujutsu Kenkyu Doyukai - USA, says that he has never found any evidence in his own extensive research to support the theory that the sai was used as a farming tool. Nor has he been told that by any of his teachers. He asserts that the sai has always been a weapon. If this is true, then where and how did the sai originate? jutsu.htm

beyond your comments on this article-- also a couple of questions-- what exactly did the Okinawan samurai train in-? what were their fighting arts and how did they differ from Japanese Samurai?

thanks in advance for your time and sharing your research.


Jaz K.

Originally posted by jazkiljok jutsu.htm

beyond your comments on this article-- also a couple of questions-- what exactly did the Okinawan samurai train in-? what were their fighting arts and how did they differ from Japanese Samurai?

Actually the term Okinawan Samurai is a bit of a misnomer.
The Okinawan Bushi class were actually divied into several levels, if I am not mistaken I think it was 7 altogether. Each level had names like Peichin, Takara peichin, Aji and so on to denote rank.

As to the arts the practiced.
Bo and Jo for sure, most likely Sai was included in there somewhere since as it was the weapon of law enforcement for the times.
It is also known that high ranking court officials practiced the art of Te which has some connection to the Meikata dance that is not unlike a karate kata
it would seem that Te was to the Okinawan Bushi as Jiu jitsu was to the Samurai (?)

would you agree with that statement?
Originally posted by jazkiljok
it would seem that Te was to the Okinawan Bushi as Jiu jitsu was to the Samurai (?)

would you agree with that statement?

To some degree yes.
Although not much was written about, or if it was it was blown up in WWII.
Also of note is the similarities between the two arts as far as joint locks go.
Originally posted by RyuShiKan
To some degree yes.
Although not much was written about, or if it was it was blown up in WWII.
Also of note is the similarities between the two arts as far as joint locks go.

what i'm trying to figure out is how a subjucated culture such as the Okinawans wouldn't have its Military/Warrior class have some interaction or exchange with the Japanese Military/Warrior class over a stretch of hundreds of years. (think of the Phillipine people who readily adopted the sword fighting traditions of Spain.)

any thoughts?
Originally posted by jazkiljok
what i'm trying to figure out is how a subjucated culture such as the Okinawans wouldn't have its Military/Warrior class have some interaction or exchange with the Japanese Military/Warrior class over a stretch of hundreds of years. (think of the Phillipine people who readily adopted the sword fighting traditions of Spain.)

any thoughts?

The Okinawans are more closely related culturally, anyway to the Chinese.
They have had longer and deeper connections with them than the Japanese.
It would seem the bulk of their martial cultural comes from China and not Japan.
Te uses TaiChi/Bagua-esque like movements and concepts.
I dont mean to say Te came from those arts but I think whatever influenced those arts might have influenced Te somehow.
Isn't it possible that the jujitsu type arts of Japan had a Chinese origin?

Didn't Japan get it's Zen Buddhism from Chinese Ch'an Buddhism?
Didn't the Japanese learn their tremendous swordmaking techniques from the Chinese?

If both the Okinawan arts and the early empty handed arts of Japan had Chinese origins, wouldn't they be similar, by that common connection?

...just a thought...but it is conjecture...I'll have to look into this some more.

Originally posted by chufeng
Isn't it possible that the jujitsu type arts of Japan had a Chinese origin?


Originally posted by chufeng
Didn't Japan get it's Zen Buddhism from Chinese Ch'an Buddhism?
Didn't the Japanese learn their tremendous swordmaking techniques from the Chinese?

Japan did get its Zen from China.
The sword making arts have roots in..dare I say it.Korea.
(Japanese hate Koreans and vice versa)

Originally posted by chufeng
If both the Okinawan arts and the early empty handed arts of Japan had Chinese origins, wouldn't they be similar, by that common connection?

Good question.
But just as in the rest of the world that learns Chinese arts they are not all identical or of equal quality.