Motobu Chōki: “My Art and Skill of Karate” (1932)

The book “My Art and Skill of Karate” presents the technical knowledge and original accounts imparted by famed Okinawa karate master Motobu Chōki (1870-1944). This translation was created in close cooperation with the author’s grandson, Motobu Naoki sensei. It also includes a congratulatory address by the author’s son, Motobu Chōsei sensei, the current head of the school. Moreover, this year marks the 150th anniversary of Motobu Chōki’s birth. In other words, three generations of the Motobu family were involved in this new translation, connecting the history and tradition of karate from the 19th to 21th century.

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(Note: The Kindle version does not include the glossary index and only a rudimentary TOC, so navigation is less reader-friendly than in the print version)

In addition to accounts about old-time karate masters in Okinawa, the work features thirty-four photos of Motobu performing Naihanchi Shodan, including written descriptions. Moreover, it includes twenty kumite with pictures and descriptions as well as five pictures of how to use the makiwara.

What makes it even more unique is that the existence of the book was unknown until the 1980s, when the wife of a deceased student sent the book to Motobu Chōki’s son, Chōsei. Until today this edition remains the only known original edition in existence, and it provided the basis for this original translation. This work has to be considered one of the most important sources to assess and interpret karate.

Motobu Chōki: “My Art and Skill of Karate” (2020)

My Art and Skill of Karate (Ryukyu Bugei Book 3), by Choki Motobu (Author), Andreas Quast (Tr./Ed.), Motobu Naoki (Tr.)

  • 5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
  • Black & White on white paper
  • 232 pages
  • First Printing: 2020
  • ISBN: 979-8601364751

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Okinawan Samurai — The Instructions of a Royal Official to his Only Son

BookCoverPreviewsmTroubled about the future of his only son and heir, a royal government official of the Ryukyu Kingdom wrote down his ‘Instructions’ as a code of practice for all affairs. Written in flowing, elegant Japanese, he refers to a wide spectrum of artistic accomplishments that the royal government officials were ought to study in those days, such as court etiquette, literature and poetry, music, calligraphy, the tea ceremony and so on.

The author, who achieved a remarkable skill level in wielding both the pen and the sword, also informs us about various martial arts practiced in those days. Translated from Japanese for the first time, from centuries-long puzzling seclusion the state of affairs surrounding an 18th century Okinawan samurai vividly resurrects in what is considered ‘Okinawa’s most distinguished literature.’

Print edition: US | CA | UK | DE | FR | ES | IT | JP

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Table of Contents

Okinawan Samurai — The Instructions of a Royal Official to his Only Son. By Aka/Ōta Pēchin Chokushiki (auth.), Andreas Quast (ed./transl.), Motobu Naoki (transl.).

  • 5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
  • Black & White on Cream paper
  • 218 pages
  • First Printing: 2018
  • ISBN-13: 978-1985331037
  • ISBN-10: 1985331039

Translated from Japanese for the first time!

“I think it is epoch-making that Quast sensei decided to translate the ‘Testament of Aka Pēchin Chokushiki,’ and not one of the famous historical or literary works such as the Chūzan Seikan or the Omoro Sōshi. … I believe this translation has significant implications for the future study of karate history and Ryūkyū history abroad. (Motobu Naoki, Shihan of the Motobu-ryū)

“It is one of THE most important primary sources for truly understanding the unabridged history of our arts first hand by a member of the very class of people who spawned Karate in the first place!” (Joe Swift, Karateologist, Tokyo-based)

“I highly recommend this new work by Andi Quast … as a MUST BUY book …” ( Patrick McCarthy, foremost western authority of Okinawan martial arts, modern and antique, anywhere he roams)

“I’m sure I’m going to learn and enjoy this book.” (Itzik Cohen, karate and kobudo man from Israel)

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Oni Oshiro

BookCoverPreviewIn the era of Old Ryukyu, a legendary warrior of Okinawan martial arts appeared on the center stage of the historical theatre. Due to his unique appearance and powerful physique—reminiscent of a wolf or a tiger—the people of that time called him Oni Ōshiro, or «Ōshiro the Demon.»

Also known as Uni Ufugushiku in the Okinawan pronunciation of his name, he had been variously described as the originator of the original Okinawan martial art «Ti» as well as the actual ancestor of a number of famous Okinawan karate masters, such as Mabuni Kenwa and others.

This is his narrative. Gleaned from the few primary sources available, which for the first time are presented here in the English language, the original heroic flavor of the source texts was kept intact.

«I invoke the Gods, To quake heaven and earth, To let the firmament resound, And to rescue the divine woman—Momoto Fumiagari.»

Get your copy now: US ►CA ►UK ►DE ►FR ►ES ►IT

5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
94 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1533486219 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
ISBN-10: 1533486212
BISAC: Sports & Recreation / Martial Arts & Self-Defense

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Matsumura Sokon: The Seven Virtues of Martial Arts

by Andreas Quast

This is the true story of the seven virtues of martial arts as described by Matsumura Sokon. Considered the primary source-text of old-style Okinawan martial arts, the “Seven Virtues” are admired for their straightforward advice. Handwritten in the late 19th century by Matsumura, the most celebrated ancestor of karate, they are considered the ethical fountain and technical key to understand what can’t be seen.

This work includes the rare photograph of the original handwritten scroll, approved by the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum as well as the owner of the scroll. It also shows the family crest of the Matsumura family, sporting the character of “Bu.”

Get your copy now: USUKDEFRESITJPCA

Matsumura himself pointed out that the “Seven Virtues of Martial Arts” were praised by a wise man in an ancient manuscript, a manuscript that has remained obscure ever since. Now the ultimate source of this wondrous composition has been discovered and verified. Presented and explained here for the first time, it is not only the source of Matsumura’s “Seven Virtues of Martial Arts”… In fact, it is the original meaning of martial arts per se.

  • 5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
  • Black & White on Cream paper
  • 80 pages
  • ISBN-13: 979-8605143611
  • BISAC: Sports & Recreation / Martial Arts & Self-Defense

Matsumura Sokon: The Seven Virtues of Martial Arts. By Andreas Quast, 2020.

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A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History

A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History Paperback – May 15, 2015

by Andreas Quast (Author)

Paperback edition: available at Amazon US ($14.99), Amazon UK (£9.79), Amazon Germany (EUR 14.97), CreateSpace eStore ($14.99), and at online and offline bookstores and retailers, as well as via public libraries and libraries at other academic institutions.

Kindle edition also availableUSUKDEFRESITNLJPBRCAMXAUIN

Based on his acclaimed previous studies, the author here presents a synopsis of the development of Ryukyu martial arts. The events described herein are all real, that is, they are all historical. Strolling along the chronology of martial arts of Ryukyu provenance, a large number of verified events are not only detailed, but also decorated with dozens of precious illustrations. As such “A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History” is for martial arts practitioners as much as it is for aficionados of history and Asia. It simply provides a pristine ground to stand on for the practitioner who wishes to understand the primordial origins of Ryukyu martial arts.

  • For those who read “Karate 1.0”: this new book here is a synopsis of Karate 1.0 plus the “chronology (Part VII)” without significant changes. It is an easier read without all the reasoning and footnotes, but instead with nearly 80 illustrations to make it more suitable for the general public, and not only academic people.

Among the unique information that cannot be found anywhere else are also some of the illustrations. For instance, there is only one picture scroll that shows the Chinese investiture envoys (sapposhi) and their military retinue. Here, for the first time you might see how famous Kusanku actually might have looked like.

Product Details (Paperback edition)

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (May 15, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1512229423
  • ISBN-13: 978-1512229424
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.4 x 9.7 inches

Cover

Cover

Available at Amazon US ($19.99), Amazon UK (£12.79), Amazon Germany (EUR 19,25 ), CreateSpace eStore ($19.99)

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Karate 1.0: Parameter of an Ancient Martial Art

OUT OF PRINT!

The most comprehensive study on the parameters of primordial Karate, this work intrigues readers with rich detail and insights into these ancient combat traditions, the pride of Okinawa.

KARATE 1.0: Parameter of an Ancient Martial Art. Düsseldorf 2013, by Andreas Quast.

cover (4)

Karate 1.0 front cover

  • Pages: xxvii, 502 pp.
  • Language: English.
  • Hardcover binding in green linen material with gold foil stamping, size 8.25″ x 10.75″ (20.95cm x 27.31cm).
  • Full-color dust jacket in matte finish.
  • Inside: black and white printing on cream archival paper (60# weight). White exterior paper (80# weight).
  • Forewords by Patrick McCarthy, Miguel Da Luz, Cezar Borkowski, Jesse Enkamp, Dr. Julian Braun, Soke Leif Hermansson, and Dr. phil. Heiko Bittmann.
  • All copies ship from the United States.
  • Price: $75.00.

Only the highest quality both in content and production: get it now from Lulu.com!

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Maintaining the Unaltered Technique

In today’s Okinawa Times is an article on Mr. Nakazato Takeshi, 2nd generation Sōke of Shōrinji-ryū and Chairman of Zen Okinawa Shōrinji-ryū Karatedo Kyōkai.

I would like to shortly share some parts of it.

As for the context, the founder and 1st sōke of Shōrinji-ryū was Nakazato Jōen, a school teacher and former village headman of Chinen in Nanjo City in southern Okinawa main island. Nakazato Takeshi, who is from the same paternal line of the family entered Nakazato Jōen’s dōjō in 1973, when he was in the fifth grade of Chinen Elementary School. In 2006, Nakazato Jōen asked him if he would like take over the school as the second generation sōke, and Nakazato Takeshi accepted. This is interesting because it shows the regional character of Okinawa karate as well as family relation, the latter of which is gaining more importance again: At the beginning of the 20th century there was karate in school education as part of the conscription society, where personal relation didn’t matter. Then, youth clubs were established which were meetings of regional experts, followed by styles in the 1930s, which also didn’t emphasize family relation. Styles and associations were the centers of karate traditions for decades in the postwar era, while so-called “family styles” came into fashion. Today many of the Okinawan schools again emphasize the factor of the family lineage.

Nakazato Takeshi currently serves as the president of a subsidiary company of Okinawa Electric Power Co., Inc. After returning home from work, he spends 1-2 hours almost every day on the second floor of his home in Yonabaru to practice kata. Once a week on Saturdays he teaches four high-ranking students. This is interesting, because it is natural that people have a job besides karate. It should be a good paying job because running a dōjō is like running a company, with income and expenses, facility and operating costs, etc. Some people might wonder about the quantity of training, but considering that dōjō owners have a family and a job, there is not much time left to train. Full-time karate instructors have to be either well-to-do, retired, or rather both, because you need both money and time. It is the same as everywhere in the world. The most important question in this is the financing of it. I remember how a sensei (now 9th or 10th dan) told me how there were many more dōjō in his association, but most went bankrupt. The standard training hours were three times a week, for two hours, and that only got better once the person retires. Another related issue is that curricula are grown and changed continuously for the sole reason of generating teaching material. It seems this is because some people have too much time at hand and that is good for them, but for a regular person, this is impractical, so don’t let yourself get stressed out by what people with too much time at hand came up with on some boring, rainy afternoon, while you were working hard to make ends meet.

Remembering the beginning of his training, Nakazato Takashi says that beginners worked on the progress of their foot work, and after training for several months, they learned the basic techniques such as thrusting and kicking. Nakazato Takeshi also “strengthened himself” with kumite when he was young, but the training was centered on learning the kata. Like this, while Nakazato Jōen was watching, Nakazato Takeshi would perform the kata one by one. During those performances he wondered, “Did I do something wrong?,” however, he didn’t feel like he could ask questions during instruction, so he got into the habit of thinking about stuff for himself. I found this part most interesting because it probably shows the traditional way of teaching: just do it and get to grips by your own reflection and experimentation. I think it is extremely important to understand that, because some guys just cannot leave you alone and while this is unacceptable anyway, they probably just got the didactics wrong.

The Shōrinji-ryū headquarter is called the Kyūdōkan. Kyūdō is a word borrowed from Buddhism, meaning “to practice in search of perfection in one Way,” or more simple: “seeking after truth.” A framed writing in the dōjō says, “Yesterday’s first rank is not necessarily tomorrow’s first rank. You have to do it today,” which emphasizes the importance of daily practice. Another framed writing says, “ikki suisha ikki,” literally one vessel represents one vessel. It means to inherit the techniques and the spirit in its entirety, like transferring water from one vessel to another, without adding or substracting anything. In Shōrinji-ryū, it means to inherit the direct tradition of Kyan Chōtoku (1870–1945).

Nakazato Takeshi says that “You shouldn’t change any of the kata you learned from your predecessors. This is because kata is made up of a rational structure of how to use the body to perform techniques without strain, without waste, without irregularity, and in the shortest possible time.” So not changing anything is an important part of the Shōrinji-ryū ideal.

Nakazato Takeshi says that Kyan Chōtoku learned Ānankū from a master in Taiwan, and that this kata is handed down only in the Shōrinji-ryū. There is a poster with the lineage of the individual kata in the dōjō since the time of Nakazato Jōen, which tells that Ānankū was learned from a master in Taiwan. Obviously not only techniques, but also traditions and stories must remain unchanged.

There is also the kata of Kūsankū that teaches the idea of “karate ni sente nashi” (there is no first attack in karate): You first draw a circle with your hands to prevent four attacks, and then move on to offense and defense. In this school, Kūsankū is taught to those who have 5th dan or higher. Next, Tokumine no Kon has continuous deflections and attacks, as well as a quick-moving thrusting and striking techniques. After Nakazato Takeshi got his 6th dan, he learned this kata from Nakazato Jōen. It shows that there is the hierarchy of kata, which to a certain degree is surely necessary, but at the same time is an issue related to the ponderous, strict, and guild-like structure of the origanizations called dōjō. However, as Nakazato Takeshi emphasized, teaching is not to produce a large quantity of students, but quality is. Therefore, this strict technical hierarchy of inheritance is probably the dōjō‘s take on quality assurance.

And these were my thoughts about today’s article.

Source:

“Inheriting the Essence.” Faithfully Inheriting the Ancestor’s Kata. Nakazato Takeshi (60), 2nd Generation Sōke of Shōrinji-ryū, and Chairman of Zen Okinawa Shōrinji-ryū Karatedo Kyōkai. Inheriting the Techniques of Chanmī’s Anankū. Maintaining the “Unaltered” [Technique] without Futility in the Shortest [Time]. Monthly Okinawa Karate, No. 262, Okinawa Times, June 5, 2022.

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The “Weaponless Kingdom”

[This article was first published in: Quast, Andreas: Karate 1.0. 2013]

One-hundred and fifty years after the visit of William Adams and his troupe to Okinawa in 1614-15, the Hungarian baron Benyowsky managed to escape his exile in Siberia. Benyowsky sailed–via the Kuril Islands, Aleutian Islands and Alaska–to Japan. On August 14th, 1771, he left Deshima, near Nagasaki, and on the 15th reached the island “Usmay Ligon,” which he described as part of the Ryūkyū Islands and so it was considered that he actually visited Okinawa. There are several reasons, though, why this island was not Okinawa. Benyowsky reported of a large Christian community, a situation that never existed on Okinawa. Furthermore, the Dutch in the sixteenth century referred to Okinawa as “Lequeo Minore,” and the Amami Islands as “Lequeio mggre.” In addition Benyowsky’s reports are generally considered a mixture of truth and fiction. It can be assumed that the Baron actually landed on Amami Ōshima, from where he left on the 20th of August, reaching Formosa (Taiwan) on the 26th.

Hence, the first eye-witness report of a Western encounter with Ryūkyū after Adams and Wickham (1614/15) is given by Jean-François de Galaup de la Pérouse, who made land near the island of Yonaguni on May 5th, 1787. He visited an island for a view hours and wrote on the inhabitants, that

“they wore a shirt and trousers made of cotton cloth, their hair tied back over the top of their heads was twisted around a pin which seemed to be made of gold; each one had a dagger, the point and handle of which were also made of gold,”

thus proving the possession of weapons among the officials of the Sakishima Islands.[1]

In November 1793, an embassy to Beijing on their return trip along the Chinese coast got into shallow waters,[2] with the barges needed to be drawn manually and peasants removing the pebbles from the bottom of the river to form an artificial channel for the passage. On that occasion they happened to meet the envoys of a Ryūkyūan tribute mission, of which a report was given.[3]

In 1797 William Robert Broughton, captain of the H.M.S. Providence, sailed towards Miyako Island. On May 16th, 1797, Broughton sent out a boat to an island they called “Patchusan” by its inhabitants, and the landing crew reported that “their hair was rolled up to the crown of the head, and fastened with two metal pins” and that “they appeared harmless and inoffensive in their manners; nor did they shew any arms or weapons of defence.”[4] However, they observed a guard-house[5] and we can tell this was not a coincidence. Later that day his ship struck a reef near Miyako,

“and the violent shocks she received, rendered it doubtful whether the masts would stand. […] The officers were unanimous with me in my opinion, that nothing could be done to safe the ship; […] As nothing more could be procured for the present, the ship’s crew were sent into the boats, which was happily effected without any accident; and soon after 11 o’clock they reached the schooner in safety, and with the loss, both officers and men, of everything belonging to them.”[6]

On May 19th the first officers entered Miyako, called Typinsan by the inhabitants, and were welcomed in the friendliest manner.

“Several venerable old men encircled our party, dressed in large loose gowns of fine manufacture, similar to tiffany, of various colours and different patterns. These flowing garments were tied round the middle with a sash; and they also wore trousers and sandals. The crowns of their heads were shaved, and the hair from behind brought up to a knot on the top, and securely fastened by metal pins, in the Malay style. They made use of fans universally; and some wore neat straw hats tied under the chin. The aged men had most respectable beards. The house appeared to belong to the principal people, and was situated in an elevated situation, at some little distance from the sea, environed by a square wall of stones 12 feet high, leaving a gateway to enter by, over which was a guard-house.”[7]

Six weeks following his departure from Miyako, Broughton returned to Ryūkyū and on the 10th and 11th of July 1797 anchored in the harbor of Naha. Although the inhabitants welcomed him friendly and helpful, he wouldn’t obtain permission to enter the shore. The only instances he could catch personal impressions of the islanders were the numerous boat visits:

“Every boat that came off always brought different people, seemingly to gratify their curiosity in seeing the vessel: and observing our people at their meals much excited their attention.”[8]

From the beginning of the nineteenth century the Napoleonic wars led to a decline of European activities in the Far East. Basil Hall, born in Edinburgh in 1788, aged fourteen years joined the Royal British Navy in 1802 and early in 1816 he was appointed commander of the Lyra, a small sloop equipped with ten cannons. Together with the frigate Alceste commanded by Captain Maxwell, the Lyra served as an escort for the second British embassy to China under Lord Amherst. Reason for this visit was an investigation into complaints by English merchants about the behavior of Chinese mandarins. After the mission had reached the Chinese coast and his lordship and entourage continued to travel to Beijing via land, Hall and Maxwell took the opportunity to explore the areas of the East China and Yellow Sea, hitherto inadequately explored and sometimes termed the “barbaric circles.” After reaching the west coast of Korea, Lyra and Alceste continued to sail to the Sulfur Islands (Iwojima). Although Hall could see from afar the “sulphuric volcano from which the island takes its name,” a landing was prevented by “high wind, which caused so great a surf all around the island.” So they sailed on, reaching “the Great Loo-Choo Island” (Okinawa) and on September 16th, 1816, let go anchor in the harbor of Naha. His enchanting descriptions of the nature and appearance of the island make it a recommendable read. And he provided the first reference to historical Karate in Western sources.

On October 19th, 1816, a dinner was given by Captain Maxwell to the Ryūkyūan dignitaries “Ookooma, Shayoon, Issacha Sandoo, Jeema, and Issacha Hackeboocoo,” as well as the assistant Madera.[9] The dinner was followed by an hour and a half of “drinking with tolerable spirit” and quite a number of toasts and it was all about drinking and party, the Ryūkyūans lighting their pipes, laughing and joking “that it was agreed on all hands, that conviviality is no where better understood than at Loo-choo (Okinawa).” After more drinking games, which “caused a good deal of noisy mirth,” and the performance of Ryūkyūan dances in the cabin, dancing commenced among the sailors on deck which the Ryūkyūans observed.

“On returning to the cabin to tea, they were all in high spirits, and while amusing themselves with a sort of wrestling game, Ookooma, who had seen us placing ourselves in sparring attitudes, threw himself suddenly into a boxer’s position of defence, assuming at the same time a fierceness of look which we had never before seen in any of them. The gentlemen to whom he addressed himself, thinking that Ookooma wished to spar, prepared to indulge him; but Madera’s quick eye saw what was going on, and by a word or two made him instantly resume his wonted sedateness. We tried in vain to make Madera explain what were the magical words which he had used to Ookooma. He appeared anxious to turn our thoughts from the subject, by saying. ‘Loo-choo [Okinawa] man no fight; Loo-choo man write–no fight, no good, no, no. Ingerish [English] very good, yes, yes, yes; Loo-choo man no fight.’ Possibly he considered that Ookooma was taking too great liberty; or, perhaps, he thought even the semblance of fighting unsuitable with the strict amity subsisting between us. […] When they put off for the shore they began singing, and never left off till they landed.”[10]

On the possession of weapons Hall noted, “We saw no arms of any kind, and the natives always declared that they had none. Their behavior on seeing a musket certainly implied an ignorance of fire-arms. In a cottage at the north end of the island, we saw a spear which had the appearance of a warlike weapon, but we had every reason to believe that this was used for the sole purpose of catching fish, having seen others not very dissimilar actually employed in this way. They looked at our swords and cutlasses, and at the Malay creeses and spears, with equal surprise, being apparently as little acquainted with the one as with the other. The chiefs carried little case knives in the folds of their robes, or in the girdle, and the lower orders had a larger knive, but these were always of some immediate practical utility, and were not worn for defence nor as ornaments. They denied having any knowledge of war either by experience or by tradition.”[11] M’Leod noted that the

“proud and haughty feeling of national superiority, so strongly existing among the common class of British seamen, which induces them to hold all foreigners, often calling them outlandish lubbers in their own country, was, at this island, completely subdued and tamed by the gentle manners and kind behavior of the most pacific people upon earth”

and that

“not a single quarrel took place on either side during the whole of our stay.”[12]

Furthermore,

“Crimes are said to be very unfrequent among them, and they seem to be perfectly unarmed, for we observed no warlike instruments of any description, and on our guns, shot, and musketry, appeared to be objects of great wonder to them.”[13]

Eddis noted the same, saying

“They appeared by nature to possess the virtues, without the vices of what we call civilized life, I did not observe the appearance of any offensive weapon whatever.”[14]

One of the Ryūkyūan officers, “a man of dark and peculiar aspect,” was fitted by the British of Hall’s squadron with the nickname Buonaparte, “so named because he was suspected of being the most inclined to keep us at arm’s length.”[15] Basil Hall, on his return journey from Okinawa to England, on August 13th, 1817, entered St. Helena, where the real Napoleon I. Bonaparte lived in exile. Hall had himself presented to Napoleon. So, as soon as the exiled emperor heard Hall’s name, he ordered to let him in and excitedly strode towards him: “I knew your father at Brienne, he was a good mathematician.” When Hall expressed his astonishment about Napoleon’s memory, the latter ironically replied: “Oh, that’s not surprising at all! James Hall is the first Englishman I caught sight of in my life; therefore your father always was memorable to me.”[16] On the same evening of August 13th, 1817, Hall wrote a detailed report about this audience.[17] He reported that Napoleon was quite surprised with respect to the descriptions of the people of Ryūkyū, and Hall “had the satisfaction of seeing him more than once completely perplexed, and unable to account for the phenomena which I related.” But he was most astonished by the information that the Ryūkyūans did not possess weapons:

“«Point d’armes»! he exclaimed; «c’est-à-dire, point de cannon–ils ont de fusils?» Not even muskets, I replied. «Eh bien done– des lances, ou, au moins, des arcs et de flèches?» I told him they had neither one nor other. «No poignards?» cried he, with increasing vehemence. No, none. «Mais!» said Buonaparte, clenching his fist, and raising his voice to loud pitch, «Mais! Sans armes, comment se bat-on?» I could only reply, that as far as we had been able to discover, they had never had any wars, but remained in a state of internal and external peace. «No wars!» cried he, with a scornful and incredulous expression, as if the existence of any people under the sun without wars was a monstrous anomaly.”[18]

In the following years the picture created by Hall and members of his fleet portraying Ryūkyū as a weaponless country was relativized. In 1819, on the basis of the travel accounts provided by Hall, Maxwell, and Clifford, a certain Amicus concluded that “Both sides were acting an artificial part” and that the observations of the voyagers were “very limited, and whatever lies the people of Loo-choo (Okinawa) chose to tell, the English had no means of detecting them,”[19] pointing to the circumstance that the Ryūkyūans declared that they “had no weapons, not comprehend the use of a weapon, nor had an occasion for the infliction of punishment.” Amicus also noted that King Shunten laid the foundation of the Ryūkyū kingdom by military force, and that still in the temple dedicated to Shunten “an arrow is placed before the tablet on which his name is inscribed, and which tradition says, is in conformity with his dying will, to show that his kingdom was founded by military prowess.”[20] The same fact is confirmed by the Tsūkō-ichiran, noting that a Shintō shrine had been built in reference of Minamoto no Tametomo (1139-1170),[21] where his bow and arrows were “still worshiped today,” referring to the mid-nineteenth century.[22]

Peard for the year 1827 reported on Yarazamori and Miegusuku forts on both side of the Naha harbor entrance and also on loop holes in the parapet of these and other forts. However, they saw no cannon, nor did they get satisfactory answers to their inquiries concerning weapons in use among the Ryūkyūans. The fourteen junks in the harbor also appeared to have been unarmed.[23] As we know for sure that cannons and other firearms did exist in Ryūkyū, the above is an unequivocal proof of the successful obfuscation of these facts.

One of the chief objects of Beechey, who stayed in Naha from the 11th to the 25th of May, 1827, was to inquire into the “supposition that the inhabitants of Loo Choo (Okinawa) possessed no weapons, offensive or otherwise.”[24] His descriptions allow for a closer view of the circumstances in the kingdom of the time concerning weaponry and military preparations and basically correspond in parts of what we know today. He described the Yarazamori and Miegusuku forts protecting the entrance to Naha harbor since the sixteenth century, reporting:

“To the right of the town a long stone causeway stretches out into the sea, with arches to allow the water a free access to the harbor at the back of it, and terminates in a large square building with loop-holes”[25]

and

“Their harbor being defended by three square stone forts, one on each side of the entrance, and the other upon a small island, so situated within the harbor, that it would present a raking fire to a vessel entering the port; and these forts having a number of loop-holes in them, and a platform and parapet formed above, with stone steps leading up to it in several places.”[26]

He characterized the inhabitants as “less warlike, cruel, and obsequious than the Japanese” and that they are “exceedingly timorous and effeminate, so much so that I can fancy they would be induced to grant almost anything they possess rather than go to war.”[27]

Inquiring about the weaponry on Beechey’s ship, a Ryūkyūan official called Anya asked

“Plenty guns?” “Yes.”

“How many??” “Twenty-six.”

“Plenty mans, plenty guns! What things ship got?” “Nothing, ping-chuen [it is a man-of-war]”[28]

“No got nothing?” “No nothing.”

“Plenty mans, plenty guns, no got nothing!”[29]

Naturally, this was the typical procedure of detailed inquiries by Ryūkyūan officials, as shown in a similar entry found at Williams:

“Dis what ship? Dis Amelekan [American] ship?” “Yes,” we told him.

“How many mans?” “Twenty-right men.”

“Plenty mans! Have got guns?” “No; this is a merchant ship.”

“Plenty mans! Plenty guns! I talkee mandarin.”[30]

Returning to Beechey’s notes, he wasn’t satisfied with the results of his investigation into the arming of the kingdom, as they “never saw any weapon whatever in use, or otherwise, in the island; and the supposition of their existence rests entirely upon the authority of the natives, and upon circumstantial evidence. The mandarin Ching-oong-choo, and several other persons, declared there were both cannon and muskets in the island; and An-yah distinctly stated there were twenty-six of the former distributed among their junks. We were disposed to believe the statement, from seeing the fishermen, and all classes at Napa [Naha], so familiar with the use and exercise of our cannon, and particularly so from their appreciating the improvement of the flint-lock upon that of the match-lock, which I understood from the natives to be in use in Loo Choo (Okinawa); and unless they possessed these locks it is difficult to imagine from whence they could have derived their knowledge.”[31] He also presented one of the officials with a pair of pistols, “which he thankfully accepted, and they were taken charge of by his domestics without exciting any unusual degree of curiosity.” Upon questioning where the government procured its gunpowder the immediate response was that it came from Fujian.[32] However, that was a diplomatic answer as the gunpowder magazine was under management of the Satsuma Resident Commissioner.

Another description relates to a temple in Tomari[33] which was used as a special station for Westerners, and this was most probably the Rinkaiji, or Ocean‑View Temple. At the further end of the garden was a joss house with

“a screen that was let down before the three small images on the inside. It was made of canvas stretched upon a frame forming two panels, in each of which was a figure; one representing a mandarin with a yellow robe and hatchee-matchee, seated upon a bow and quiver of arrows and a broad sword; the other, a commoner of Loo Choo (Okinawa) dressed in blue, and likewise seated upon a bow and arrows. The weapons immediately attracted my attention, and I inquired of my attendant what they were, for the purpose of learning whether he was acquainted with the use of them, and found that he was by putting his arms in the position of drawing the bow, and by pointing to the sword and striking his arm forward; but he implied that that weapon belonged to the mandarins only.”[34]

Beechey also referred to Xu Baoguang, 1719, who not only explicitly stated that arms were manufactured in Okinawa, but also that they sent swords as tribute to Japan.[35]

Continuing with material gleaned from Western sources, in 1832 Klaproth correctly noted that “Les présens que le roi de Riou kiou envoie à l’empereur du Japon, consistent en sabres.”[36] Gutzlaff in 1834 noted that the Ryūkyūans are, “however, by no means those simple and innocent beings which we might at first suppose them to be. Upon inquiry we found that they had among them the same severe punishments as at Corea; that they possessed arms likewise, but are averse to use them.”[37] Elijah Coleman Bridgman, publisher of The Chinese Repository, in 1837 noted that the military weapons and various modes of punishment prevalent in the country are the same as in China.[38]

When in Okinawa in 1937, Samuel Wells Williams noted that his group saw no arms, neither swords, nor matchlocks, nor knives and draw a comparison between the Japanese and the Ryūkyūans to the “Philistines when ruling over the Hebrews,” who “had taken away their arms, and forbade them the usage of weapons.”[39]

Smith provided a description of Ryūkyū, borrowed from a manuscript written by Bettelheim some months prior to October 1850. According to it, “as an instance of the wrong impressions which formerly existed in the minds of Europeans as to the total absence of military armor and accoutrement among the Ryūkyūan people,” Bettelheim described his discovery of a Japanese garrison quartered in Naha, with “Japanese soldiers engaged in cleaning and polishing their fire-arms.”[40] It gets clear that Bettelheim completely understood the political relationships of Ryūkyū of the time, and this was probably the real reason he was so closely monitored, policed, and even beaten.[41]

Despite the conflicting descriptions, the notion of an innocent, “weaponless kingdom” has persisted to this day. The reason is probably simple: Okinawa played an artificial role towards Westerners, simply as an easy way to gather military intelligence to be forwarded to Satsuma.


Footnotes

[1] Pérouse 1797: 260.

[2] Beillevaire 2000, 1: 12.

[3] Staunton, George: An Authentic Account of an Embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China [etc.]. Volume 3. London, 1797: 290-91.

[4] Broughton 1804: 193.

[5] Broughton 1804: 203.

[6] Broughton 1804: 196-97.

[7] Broughton 1804: 203.

[8] Broughton 1804: 240.

[9] The translator Madera or Medera was Maehira Bōshō 真栄平房昭, born 1787. His younger colleague Anya was Aniya Seiho 安仁屋政昭. Another translator called Jeeroo was Yakabishi Jiryō 屋嘉比思次良. They all helped Clifford compiling his dictionary, the first of its kind. Cf. 朝美豊平:文献紹介:幕末の異国船来琉記と当時の琉球の状況 ①. 琉球大学附属図書館所蔵沖縄関係資料から. In: 琉球大学附属図書館報, Vol. 34. No.3, July 2001, p. 6. Sueyoshi Bakumondō (1886-1924) (末吉麦門冬) also wrote on “Maedaira Bōshō–the Expert of English a Century ago” 「眞栄平房昭ー百年前の語学者」, first published in Ryūkyū Shinpō in April 1915, and later in Okinawa Kyōiku (沖縄教育), Nr. 137 (May 1924).

[10] Hall 1818: 162-169.

[11] Hall 1818: 210.

[12] M’leod 1817: I, 98; II, 108.

[13] M’leod 1817: I, 112-113; II, 122-123.

[14] Eddis 1818: 3.

[15] M’Leod 1817, 1: 74.

[16] Chamberlain, Houston Stewart: Lebenswege meines Denkens, Autobiographie, 2. Ausgabe. Herausgegeben von F. Bruckmann A.G., München 1922: 13. Sir James Hall completed part of his training at the Royal Military School at Brienne, France, where he became acquainted with Napoleon I. Bonaparte. During math lessons Hall came into comradely contact with the eight years younger Corsican. Sir James Hall was the father of Captain Basil Hall, grandfather of Basil Hall Chamberlain and great-grandfather of Houston Stewart Chamberlain.

[17] Hall 1827: 314-319. Besides the interview was published in: “The Nineteenth Century,” 10/1912: 718 et sqq., as well as excerpts in Kerr 1958: 258-259.

[18] Hall 1827: 315.

[19] Amicus 1819: 5.

[20] See also Qi Kun and Fei Xizhong 1808: 琉球自舜天以武定國始著武事至今先王廟中舜天位前有箭一枝相傳是其遺意.

[21] Chinzei Hachirō Tametomo 鎮西八郎為朝. Also frequently found in works prepared by the royal government explaining the history of the kingdom, both Shunten and Tametomo are not historically verified to have been active in Okinawa. Notwithstanding, their cult definitely existed.

[22] Cf. Tsūkō-ichiran, Vol.  2: Ryūkyū-kunibu 1. 平均始末 Heikin Shimatsu, referring to informations from the Shōsai Hōshi Ryūkyū Monogatari 定西法師琉球物語.

[23] Peard 1973: 212.

[24] Beechey 1831: 187.

[25] Beechey 1831: 144-45.

[26] Beechey 1831: 188.

[27] Beechey 1831: 181.

[28] bīngchuán 兵船, man-of-war.

[29] Beechey 1831: 147-48.

[30] Williams 1837: 214.

[31] Beechey 1831: 187-88.

[32] Beechey 1831: 189.

[33] Given as Potsoong, that is Chinese Pocun 泊村, i.e. Tomari village. At this building the officers of Sir Murray Maxwell’s squadron and of the Blossom had been entertained.

[34] Beechey 1831: 159-160.

[35] Beechey 1831: 189-90.

[36] Klaproth 1832: 179.

[37] Gutzlaff 1834: 368. Okinawa, which Gutzlaff reached in August 1832, is described in Chapter VII: 289-296.

[38] Anonymous (E.C.Bridgman) 1837: 117.

[39] Williams 1837: 226.

[40] Smith 1853: 62. 

[41] For the detailed reasoning and example given by Bettleheim, see Smith 1853: 62-65.

Posted in Okinawa Peace Theory | Comments Off on The “Weaponless Kingdom”

The First Western Eyewitness Account of Okinawa

[This article was first published in: Quast, Andreas: Karate 1.0. 2013]

The first Western eyewitness accounts of Okinawa originate from Richard Wickham and William Adams (1564–1620).[1] The latter was later provided an estate and samurai status by shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu, whom Adams served as a counselor.

At the time both Wickham and Adams were working for the British factory of the East India Company, with headquarters in Hirado, Kyūshū. In August 1614 the factory bought a junk for 2,000 tael, naming it the Sea Adventure. Although another 2,312 tael were spent for repairs and outfit, she was said to not have been very seaworthy. Richard Wickham had to be persuaded to board as the head merchant, assisted by Edward Saris, and with William Adams as the pilot. Their first voyage was intended for Siam. The ship carried merchandise for barter and ₤ 1,250 for the purchase of Brazil wood, deerskin, raw silk, etc. from Siam. There were also several Japanese merchants on board, among them a certain Shobei. Adams set sails at Kawachi harbor, south of Hirado, on December 17th, 1614.[2] It was just when they had left the coastline behind,

when she was battered by a ferocious electric storm. The wild seas lashed at the recent repairs, loosening timbers and pouring water into the hold. For a day and a night the Japanese crew labored ‘to heave out and pumpe the water continually’, but the waters continued to rise. […] The attitude of their reckless English captain only increased their sense of terror. Adams appeared to be enjoying their predicament, urging them on in their endeavors and putting ‘the merchants and other idle passengers unto such a feare that they began to murmure and mutiny.’ As the winds howled and the waves crashed over the deck, the crew rebelled and told Adams that they would refuse to pump unless he headed immediately for the Ryūkyū Islands in the East China Sea. Adams had little option but to agree and, with heavy heart, he steered the vessel towards the subtropical island of Great Ryūkyū–today’s Okinawa–which lay some 500 miles to the south of Hirado.[3]

On their way they reached the port of Amami Ōshima on the 22nd. The local governor and others came aboard and assured their friendship, for which they were presented a lance. The governor recommended Wickham to go to Naha, being the main harbor on the island of Okinawa, where the king is resident.[4]

Richard Wickham, in a letter from December 23rd, 1614, wrote “and seing ourselves in extreme peril of death if that our leaks should increase never so little more, having now not more than 15 men, being the officers, who could stand upon their legs, the rest being either seasick or almost dead with labor, so that on the 20th, about 10 in the morning, we shaped our course for Okinawa Island […].”

Photo: Wikipedia

In this way, in December 1614, five years after the invasion of the Satsuma and three years after the return of Ryūkyū king Shō Nei from captivity, Adams reached Naha, Okinawa:

The 27th in the morning we steered south for the harbor and came in about 10 o’clock, thanks to God, in safety, which harbor lies 9 leagues from the narrow passage which is some 18 or 30 leagues from the northern point of the island. This day was Tuesday, reasonable weather, much wind and sometimes little showers.[5]

There they met with “marvelous great friendship” and were given rice, meat, and turnips. Adams was permitted to bring his cargo ashore, while the Sea Adventure was to be repaired in the following five months.

During this time, Adams tried to make the best out of the involuntary situation and worked towards the establishment of a trading base. The local authorities, however, under instructions of the Satsuma fief, could not and would not comply with this request: Satsuma would neither allow interference in the trade relations between China and Ryūkyū, nor the possible suspicion of occasional Chinese visitors raised by the presence of a Japanese vessel in the port of Naha, even if it was led by Europeans. On the strategy implemented by the locals, Beillevaire wrote,

“If asked about their relations with Japan, the Ryūkyūans were supposed to answer that there were none, and that everything that might look Japanese came in fact from the Tokara Islands […]. The same explanation would continue to be in use with nineteenth-century western visitors.”[6]

The British, however, had already learned on Amami Ōshima that Ryūkyū recently had been “subordinated” to the daimyō of Satsuma:

“the inhabitants of these islands are descended from the race of the Chinese, wearing their hair long but tied up on the right side of the head, a peaceable and quiet people but in later years conquered by Lord Shimazu, King of Satsuma, so that now they are governed by the Japanese laws and customs […]”[7]

Satsuma tried everything to avoid that these kinds of information, with all its inherent meanings, were made available to third parties:

“This day the gentlemen of Shuri came to Naha to persuade me to go with our ship to Ōshima because in about 3 month a ship would come from China, and if we were here it would be an occasion to cause them to lose their trade which is the only means they live upon. But I answered that I was but on, I did not care where I died, either in here or in the sea […]”[8]

Meanwhile, Adam’s crew got out of hand, caused much trouble, and even rose up in arms. They demanded the payment of half the guerdon. Adams refused more than once, but under request of the merchants, who feared to lose their trade, he yielded at last. With their money the sailors then bought liquor and soon slashed at one another[9]:

“This day all our officers, mariners, and passengers rose up in arms to a fight with one another, but due to my great persuasion and Mr. Wikham and Sr. Edward Saris persuaded both sides and there was no bloodshed of no pity, thanks be to the Almighty God forever, Amen.”

Adams noted, that the Japanese merchant traveling on his ship, Shobei, with sixteen to twenty men entered the market all armed with swords, lances, halberds, and bows and arrows, “but with fair words I prevented our men, who were about 40 persons, from coming together.”[10] Wickham and Damian[11] also fell out and fought and were not reconciled till thirty days later.[12] In the following days, Adams tried to calm the parties, just like on March 9th, “but made not an end, still Shobe and his servants wearing their weapons in braving our men for peace.”[13] This continued until March 15th, when at last “the principal of Shuri came to the town of Naha to take up the quarrel between the merchants and the mariners, who made peace and a general agreement.”[14]

The situation eased, and two days later Adams, along with the merchants, was invited to a banquet by the Three Ministers (sanshikan). The following day he even received an invitation by the King in Shuri, who wanted to show him the capital and hold a banquet–a privilege which Basil Hall, two hundred years later, tried in vain to obtain–, however, Adams did not avail of doing so, because he had to make his ship seaworthy again.[15]

The mentioned dispute seemed to have been settled, when the ringleader in the night of the 26th of March again instigated unrest; the Japanese merchant Shobe found out about it, pitched on the troublemaker and slashed the man into pieces with his sword. “This day at night, he that had been the ringleader of the great mutiny being still foul of desperate parts, this night Mister Shobe killed him. This day fair weather, the wind northerly.”[16]

The misbehavior of his crew was a continual cause of trouble to Adams, and he had much difficulty in saving the lives of two of the men who had been condemned to death for stealing, etc. [17] After these incidents the hospitality of the local authorities was exhausted, and they ordered the departure of the Sea Adventure.

During his stay on Okinawa, Adams was constantly worrying on account of news brought by junks from Satsuma of the war between Ieyasu and Hideyori at Ōsaka. Although he had heard, on January 21, 1615, that the “Emperor had got the victory of which news I was glad,” yet a rumor reached him in May that “the emperor is likely to lose his country,” so he delayed a few days longer in order to have an interview with some officials from Satsuma who had brought the latest news.[18]

Adams’ logbook furthermore gives reason to believe that individual samurai probably having served under Toyotomi Hideyori sought refuge in Okinawa shortly before or during the ceasefire in January 1615: “The 21, being Saturday, here came a nobleman to Shuri who had fled from the wars in Ōsaka. His name was [blank]. This day I heard that the Emperor had got the victory, of which news I was glad to hear.”[19] Hence, apparently Japanese samurai, facing the looming defeat against the Tokugawa forces in mainland Japan, sought refuge in Okinawa, perhaps even with the knowledge and toleration of Satsuma.

Later, after Adams return to Japan, in late September 1615, he received a letter from Ieyasu, demanding his presence.

“Adams said that he thought the Emperor wished to hear about a fortress newly built in the Ryūkyū, where it was suspected that Hideyori might retire after his defeat.”[20]

Finally, Adams mentioned that he bought weapons on Ryūkyū,[21] namely four katana, an unknown number of wakizashi (but more than one as he used plural), and two yari for the total amount of “106 mas,” which today would correspond to an estimated 3.430 €, or 5.145 € considering deflation, which is a good price.

Ultimately this travel of the Sea Adventure costed more than 140 pounds and trading-wise it was a failure. The only person on board able to make profit from the situation was Richard Wickham, who had discovered that ambergris was considerably cheaper in Ryūkyū than elsewhere in Asia, and that it was traded for high prices in Japan: “here is great store of ambergris, the best that ever I saw and equal to that of Melinde, but is dear, at 90 or 80 tays a catty.” He bought two pound in the name of the trading post in Hirado, and two hundred sixty pounds for himself. One batch of his amount he later sold with 50% surcharge to the trading post in Hirado, another batch through an intermediary in Nagasaki, and a third batch went to Bantam, which earned him huge profits.

Adams collected a number of Ryūkyūan words and phrases which enabled him to “be polite to the officials of the island.” In this way he produced the first Western micro dictionary of the Ryūkyūan language, although “many of the words are unrecognizable.”[22]

Adams left Naha on the morning of May 20, reaching Kawachi harbor on June 10. One of the results of this voyage was the introduction of the sweet potato from Ryūkyū to Japan.[23] More than one hundred fifty years would pass until the next direct contact of western travelers with Ryūkyū.


Footnotes

[1] His Japanese name was Miura Anjin 三浦按針. Came to Japan as the navigator of the Dutch ship Liefde; was the first Englishman in Japan; gained the trust of Tokugawa Ieyasu; taught geometry, geography and shipbuilding; became diplomatic advisor; was awarded a fief in Sagami; and provided the inspiration for the novel “Shogun” by James Clavell.

[2] Purnell 1916: 167.

[3] Milton 2002: 248-249.

[4] “to goe for Nafe, being the cheefe harbor on the iland of Lequeo Grande, where the king is resident […]” Farrington, Anthony (ed.): The English Factory in Japan 1613-1623. Letters of Richard Wickham from Amami-Oshima and from Okinawa. William Adam’s voyage to the Ryukyu Islands in the Sea Adventure. The British Library: 273-74. 1991. In: Beillevaire 2000, Vol 1.

[5] Farrington 1991, 1051. In: Beillevaire 2000, Vol 1.

[6] Beillevaire 2000, I, p. 5.

[7] Farrington 1991, 326-27. In: Beillevaire 2000, Vol. 1.

[8] Farrington 1991, 1057. In: Beillevaire 2000, Vol. 1.

[9] Milton 2002, p. 250.

[10] Farrington 1991, 1057. In: Beillevaire 2000, Vol. 1.

[11] Damian Marin, a Portuguese who was afterwards made prisoner at Nagasaki by his fellow-countrymen for having served with the English. A special command for his release had to be obtained from leyasu by Adams.

[12] Purnell 1916: 168.

[13] Farrington 1991, 1057. In: Beillevaire 2000, Vol. 1.

[14] Farrington 1991, 1058. In: Beillevaire 2000, Vol. 1.

[15] Purnell 1916: 169.

[16] Farrington 1991, 1059. In: Beillevaire 2000, Vol. 1.

[17] Purnell 1916: 169.

[18] Purnell 1916: 169.

[19] Farrington 1991, 1053. In: Beillevaire 2000, Vol. 1. Purnell 1916: 196.

[20] Cocks, Vol. I: 49. Purnell 1916: 170.

[21] Purnell 1916: 219.

[22] Purnell 1916: 170.

[23] Purnell 1916: 169.

Posted in Fundstücke, Okinawa Peace Theory, Publications, Unknown Ryukyu | Comments Off on The First Western Eyewitness Account of Okinawa

Offices and Craftsmen for Ryukyuan Weaponry

Recently, I have written about the Ming Dynasty’s need for sulfur and horses to produce gunpowder and to pull cannons to the battlefield. Ryūkyū was able to supply both (Takara 1996: 46). According to the Minshu (Book of Fujian), the Chūzan Seikan, the Rekidai Hōan and others, trade articles during the whole Ming and Qing dynasties included swords and knife sharpeners (Wang 2010: 172. Majikina 1952: 72-73). Much of the Ryūkyūan swords and lances were from Japanese production (TIR-RKB 1. Heikin Shimatsu), but there were also blacksmiths and other craftsmen in Ryūkyū, and a particularly Ryūkyūan style can be seen in the ornamentations of the Japanese weapons and armors.

The number of swords and other weapons Ryūkyū officially exported to China during the Ming dynasty alone numbers in the thousands. The number of military articles in the following list amounts to 2,751 (Uezato 2010: 233, analyzed from the Rekidai Hōan).

Obviously Ryūkyū acted as an international arms dealer, using the Chinese tribute-trade system they had entered as a high-potential marketplace. The Palace Museum in Beijing still has a number of such swords and armors in its possession.

There were also cut and thrust weapons in Ryūkyū itself throughout the 15th to the 19th centuries, particularly among members of samurē class – i.e., most people in the urban centers of Shuri, Naha, Tomari, and Kume –, the nobility, and royalty, but also among commoners, as is shown in the following list of private property of crew members of a Ryūkyūan ship that sailed to China in the fall of 1864, the last six of which were commoners:

  • 1 katana and 1 wakizashi: the supervisor Hokama Chikudun Pēchin.
  • 1 katana: the chief interpreter Ōmine Pēchin.
  • 1 wakizashi and 1 katana: the assistant writer Wakugawa Satonushi Pēchin.
  • 1 wakizashi and 1 katana: the senior government official Takara Satonushi Pēchin.
  • 1 wakizashi: the ship manager Takara Satonushi Pēchin.
  • 1 wakizashi: the coxswain Ōmine Satonushi Pēchin.
  • 1 wakizashi: Kinjō Chikudun.
  • 1 wakizashi: Ishikawa Niya.
  • 1 wakizashi: Kawakami Chikudun.
  • 1 wakizashi: Chinen Niya.
  • 1 wakizashi: Matsu Yamashiro.
  • 1 wakizashi: Niwau Yamashiro.

 (From: Asō 2007, referring to: Ryūkyū Shiryō (Vol. 2). In:  Naha-shi Shi, Shiryō-hen Dai Ichi Maki 11. pp. 22-27. Naha-shi Kikakubu Bunka Shinkōka. Naha-shi Yakusho 1991.)

Below picture shows an excerpt of a copy of the restored drawing of King Shō Boku (1739-1794). It was produced by the Tokyo Art University Conservation and Restoration Japanese Painting Laboratory in 2020, and exhibited at the “Special Ryukyu Exhibition for the 50th Anniversary Okinawa’s Return” at Tokyo National Museum.

Left side: Photo courtesy of Motobu Naoki Sensei.
Middle and right seide: Sword and sword guard: © Naha City Museum of History.

The tsuba is probably a Ryūkyūan work. From the unique sword guards (tsuba), the black scabbards, and the overall uchigatana fashion, the swords in the illustration look quite like the sword called Jiganemaru. The blade of the Jiganemaru is estimated to be a production of the Nobukuni school from the Ōei era (1394-1428), so it is quite old.

According to the exhibition brochure, the “sword guard (tsuba) and seppa (washers) may have been produced in the royal workshop,” but it doesn’t detail which workshop that was (Official Pictorial Record, Tokyo National Museum 2022, p. 107). The fact that this sword has been handed down until today raises the question, namely: who were the craftsmen who maintained these articles in Ryūkyū for half a millenium? Was there a royal armorer in Okinawa?

Some parts of swords were cared for in a workshop called Magistracy for Shell-works (kaizuri bugyō 貝摺奉行), an office established after the Satsuma Invasion. In 1612, Hoeimō Pēchin Seiryō of the Mō Clan was appointed magistrate of this office and supervised craftsmen such as shell-works masters (kaizuri-shi), master painters (e-shi), cypress wood box makers (himono-shi), whetstone masters (tokimono-shi), and masters for unlacquered woodwork (kijibiki). The Magistracy for Shell-works decided on the form and design of lacquerware presented to the Chinese emperor, the Japanese shōgun, and the daimyō of Satsuma.

With the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879, the Magistracy for Shell-works was abolished, and the Okinawa Normal School was set up on the site in 1886.

Lacquerware continued to be manufactured by the private sector, and in 1912, an Okinawan Lacquerware Industry Association was formed, and articles were shipped to the mainland or sold as souvenirs.

After the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, production of lacquerware was revived and served as souvenirs for US soldiers and mainland tourists. After the Okinawa reversion, in 1980, “Ryukyu lacquerware” was designated a traditional handicraft by the Minister of International Trade and Industry.

Today, a memorial plaque of the Magistracy for Shell-works stands in Naha City, Shuri Tōnokura 1-4, right in front of Okinawa Prefectural University of the Arts. But this plaque vastly emphasizes the production of various articles made of seashells and lacquer, with only a marginal note about swords, and only because the scabbards were lacquered.

As pointed out by Watanabe, painters and lacquer masters who belonged to the Magistracy for Shell-works were “mostly lower-ranking samurē and produced paintings and lacquer works for the royal government, as well as articles presented as gifts to the Qing Dynasty of China, the military government of Japan (bakufu), and the Satsuma domain” (Watanabae 2014:149).

From the above descriptions it is evident that the Magistracy for Shell-works was a new office that appeared after 1609 and the designation magistracy (bugyō-sho) itself seems to point to Satsuma influence. In the making of weaponry, fittings (koshirae) are the parts of a sword other than the blade itself. It seems reasonable to assume that the Magistracy for Shell-works cared for lacquer works of the scabbards, inlay works, and the like. Just as in Japan, every part of the sword and its fittings – blade, cords and wrappings, scabbard, sword guards etc. – had its own master craftsmen. Therefore, there were probably different government offices responsible for different parts of the swords and armor. There were also differences in the government offices before and after 1609; some were renamed or abolished, or duties were shifted to other offices. Let’s dig just a little more.

The Shuri-Naha Dialect Dictionary of the University of the Ryukyus clearly states that the Magistracy for Shell-works was a royal government office which oversaw the production of tribute items. Since swords and armor were tribute items, the office could have supervised all craftsmen involved in swords and armor. However, in connection with the Magistracy for Shell-works, Watanabe only mentions paintings and lacquer works as gifts (=tribute items) produced for the Qing Dynasty, the military government of Japan (bakufu), and the Satsuma domain. In reality, though, swords were among the gifts presented to shōgun and to the Satsuma daimyō and others during almost every visit of Ryūkyūans until the end of the kingdom in the 1870s, and they also reached China under the Qing dynasty.

Matsuda wrote that the Magistracy for Shell-works directed and supervised the office work and craftsmen involved in the production of handiworks for royal family use as well as gifts (Matsuda 2001: 192, 215, with reference to Ryūkyū-koku Yuraiki (1713), I, 52–53), which allows for a broader definition of the articles produced and cared for by the Magistracy for Shell-works.

I guess it is complicated. Swords and fittings and parts thereof might have been supervised by various offices in dependence of the context, for instance, the context of tribute trade to China, the context of royal Ryūkyūan weaponry, the context of maintenance works etc. pp. For instance, as pointed out by Motobu Naoki Sensei, “Repairs that were not possible in Ryukyu could be done by taking the sword to Satsuma for repair. However, permission had to be obtained from the Zaiban [Satsuma Resident Commissioner] in Naha.” There was also a difference between categories such as private weapons, government-owned weapons, ceremonial weapons, and the like.

In fact, there was both a Royal Armory Management Bureau and a Department of Ceremonial Weaponry. I will cover these shortly in a future article.

Sources (excerpt)

  • Matsuda Mitsugu: The Government of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, 1609-1872. Front University of Hawaii, 1967.
  • Shuri-Naha Hōgen Dētabēsu (Database for the Dialects of Shuri and Naha). Ryūkyū Gengo Kenkyū Sentā (Study Center for the Ryūkyū Language). 首里・那覇方言音声データベース。琉球言語研究センター。
  • Watanabe Miki: 04 Kaidai to Kōsatsu – ‘Ryūkyū Kōekikō Zubyōbu’ Kō (04 Synopsis and Consideration – Report on the Investigation Into the Folding Screen Bearing a Map of the Ryukyu Trading Harbor). Nihon Kinsei Seikatsu Ebiki: Amami Okinawa-hen. 2014, p. 149. 渡辺美季:04 解題と考察 – 「琉球交易港図屏風」考. 日本近世生活絵引、奄美・沖縄編。2014、p. 149。
  • Quast, Andreas: Karate 1.0. 2013.
  • Kaizuri bugyō-sho described by the Naha City Museum of History.
  • Asō Shinichi: Ryūkyū ni okeru Satsuma-han no Bugu Tōseirei. In: Okinawa Bunka. Bd. 41, Nr. 2, 102, May 2007. pp. 43-68. Okinawa Bunka Kyōkai, Naha 2007. 麻生伸一:琉球における薩摩藩の武具統制令について。沖縄文化。第41巻2号102、 2007年5月。沖縄文化協会。
  • Official Pictorial Record of the Special Exhibition “Ryukyu” for the 50th anniversary of the Return of Okinawa. Tokyo National Museum / Kyushu National Museum / NHK / Yomiuri Shimbun, 2022, p. 107.
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Fifteenth Century: Chatan Nakiri

The Chatan Nakiri is one of the three treasured swords handed down within the royal family of Ryūkyū. It has an unsigned blade and its sword mountings include mother-of-pearl inlays, dust-coated sheat, pure gold fittings and hilt.

Being an unsigned blade (mumei), it is assumed to have been produced in the fifteenth century. The sword blade was much used and is worn down significantly, and there is nothing left of the blade portion of the point (kissaki).

The blade length is 23cm. The sword blade (tōshin) is without shinogi (ridgeline) and yokote (=hira-zukuri) with a triangular blade spine (mune). It has a slight blade curvature (zori) and is sharply tapered towards the point. The whole ground metal shows itame-hada grain texture similar to that of tree rings. The blade’s temper pattern (hamon) shows a narrow and straight temper line (hoso-suguha) but without a temper line of the blade point (bōshi). As carvings (horimono) there is a thin groove (hi) on the ura side.

The over-all length including sword mountings (koshirae) is 46.5 cm. The sword sheath (saya) has a limpet mother-of-pearl varnish. The hilt (tsuka) is made of a golden plate processed in the way of a sharkskin (samegawa), and the metal fittings (kanagu) are of pure gold. On the dagger (kozuka) and the sword needle (kōgai) mounted on the sheath of the sword is engraved the ideogram of “heaven” (ten 天) in seal script, which was the symbol for articles in possession of the Ryūkyū Royal government.

Text originally published in: Quast, Andreas: Karate 1.0. 2013.

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Urasoe no Kon (Oki.: Urashī nu Kun)

Urasoe no Kon is one of the higher kata in Okinawan Taira-lineage and learned for the 7th or 8th dan or so. It is rarely seen for several reasons, one being that it takes a long time until students get there, so not so many people know it. Another is protectionism.

According to the Okinawa Karate Kobudō Encyclopedia (2008), Urasoe no Kon is also sometimes called Urasoe bō and while its originator is completely uncertain, some say it was venerable Aragaki or venerable Tsuken Kōrā.

There is a rare hint, however, and I will disclose it to you now.

Namely, Motobu Chōki (1932) mentioned,

“Tsuken Hanta-gwā and venerable old Shichiyanaka were known as masters of the bō.

Well, in the private archive of this author is a credible source which says that Urasoe no Kon is also called Gyakute Hanta-gwā. Gyakute here means “reversed grip,” which is a major feature of this kata. Hanta-gwā in turn refers to the persons obviously known for using this reversed grip. Accordingly, a person named Tsuken Hanta-gwā might tentativley be considered as the originator of this kata.

What can be said about the techniques? The kata has several characteristic, and unique techniques, that’s for sure.

One is a combination in the reversed grip (gyakute) mentioned above used in the combination of a reversed high deflection (jōdan gyaku-barai-uke) followed by vertical block (tate-uke), a winding press (maki-oase), and finally a thrust (tsuki). See this combination here and also here.

Another characteristic technique is pulling the bō to the side of the body in a vertical position while at the same time assuming floating stance (ukiashi), as you can see here and also here.

Next, there is a stepping forward into crossed-legged-stance (kōsa-dachi) with a thrust forward, followed by a step back in shiko with a backward-forward double thrust, followed by a pressing-thrust (osae-zuki). See this part here.

Finally, there’s a 360 degrees turn that ends in a one-knee-stance, as you can see here and here.

The above are the most striking features of this kata.

Urasoe no Kon performed by Kinjo Seiji of the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai in 1993.
Arcenio Advincula: Urasoe no Kon of Isshin-ryū Kobudō
See a short combi from Urasoe no Kon I have filmed in 2014.
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Fly the Flag – Did Ryukyu Adopt the Banner of Sea Adventurers and Pirates?

The military equipment during the 1st Dynasty of Ryūkyū included armor, helmets, bows and arrows, spears, shields, and there were also many short, regular, and long swords decorated with gold and silver, which were imported from Japan. There were also blacksmiths that produced swords, hoes, as well as knives, and there were also blacksmiths around the villages who produced edged tools. The warriors wore the formal Japanese attire of the samurai, called hitatare, rode horses with saddles painted in red, and wore sandals made of goat skin.

During the fifteenth century, following military leader Shō Hashi, the kingdom further expanded its sphere of authority and Ryūkyūans clashed with Japanese warriors in the Amami Ōshima region. It is estimated that the main island of Amami-Ōshima itself was brought under Ryūkyūan military control already around 1440 and that “Ryūkyū stubbornly defended their occupation of the Amami Islands against any attempt by Satsuma to recapture them.”

From the account of shipwrecked Koreans in the Joseon Wangjo Sillok we know that Gajiya Island, belonging to the Tokara chain situated between southern Kyūshū and northern Amami-Ōshima, in 1450 was controlled half by Satsuma and half by Ryūkyū. Subsequently the shipwrecked Koreans were taken to Kasari at the northern end of Amami-Ōshima, which they reported was under jurisdiction of a local Ryūkyūan military commander. This commander sent the Koreans to Shuri where they subsequently served close to King Shō Kinfuku and lived in the royal castle until about the end of the 1452. The reports of these Koreans demonstrate the existence of Ryūkyūan firearms (hand cannons) of an advanced design. The Koreans studied these weapons with the aid of a royal official charged with the oversight of these firearms.

While the sphere of influence grew under Shō Hashi’s militaristic government, it is said that he didn’t grant adequate treatment toward the conquered states. This was probably the reason for the civil unrest and war campaigns that broke out following his death.

Later, after the death of 5th generation Shō Kinfuku, in 1453 a war of succession broke out between the heir, crown prince Shiro, and Shiro’s younger brother Furi, who demanded the succession of the royal line (Shiro Furi no Ran). When their troops clashed, the soldiers of both armies killed each other recklessly. During the battles, the whole of Shuri castle and the government treasury were set on fire and burned down. Both Furi and Shuri were heavily injured and died. The gilded silver seal granted by the Chinese emperor was also destroyed.

Shiro’s other younger brother Shō Taikyū was nominated and ascended the throne in 1454. Under his reign, two powerful military leaders closely related to the royal family, namely lord Gosamaru of Nakagusuku castle and lord Amawari of Katsuren castle, were both killed in a series of military actions stirred by what is thought to have been high-treason (1458). Amawari, as general of the government forces, first attacked Gosamaru, but shortly afterwards turned against his lord and attacked Shuri castle. Defeated by government forces he took a flight and was killed. It seems obvious that these incidents took place due to members of the royal family fighting for power.

King Shō Toku (rg 1461-1469), last generation of the 1st Shō Dynasty, ascended the throne at the young age of twenty years. At this time, swashbuckling pirates and armed groups of privateers roamed the nearby seas. Ryūkyū itself was part of the smuggling network of the pirates and Ryūkyūan seamen even sailed Chinese junks and operated on behalf of private–that is, illegal–Chinese merchants. King Shō Toku is portrayed as having “fancied himself one of these fearless sea barons and proposed to emulate them in making himself a power on the high seas,” and adopted as his banner the symbol of Hachiman, the Japanese tutelary deity of war, who was considered the patron of sea adventurers and pirates. During the Muromachi era (1336/1338–1573 or 1392–1573), this banner was also used by Japanese naval vessels as well as kango (license) trading vessels. During the early period of the Wakō pirates, until the fifteenth century, when most members of the pirates where Japanese using the Inland Sea and Northern Kyūshū as their bases, they also used the Hachiman symbol as their sign, and their ships were even commonly called hachiman-sen.

Shō Toku sailed to Kikai Island twice, leading his troops himself, and in 1465 the islands eventually became part of Ryūkyū’s territory. The following historical narrative relates some of the points concerning Shō Toku.

Although Amami Ōshima had been incorporated into the Ryūkyū Kingdom by around 1440, Kikai Island, situated along the bidirectional trading route with southern Kyūshū and Japan, didn’t come to Ryūkyū’s shores to offer tribute. Many times, and over many years soldiers had been dispatched on expeditions to the island, yet no result was achieved. Prompted by this offensive behavior, King Shō Toku decided to personally command a punitive expedition to Kikai Island to pacify the enemy. Meanwhile, in Asato village, a bird flew by crying. The king, taking hold of his bow, faced towards heaven, and asked for divine acknowledgement: “If I am to pacify Kikai Island, then one arrow will kill the bird. If not, the arrow will fail.” Finishing his prayer, he released the arrow and while the bowstring still echoed, the bird dropped dead to the ground. On 1465/02/25, a navy consisting of 50 ships with more than 2,000 troops set sails in Naha. At the time they reached the open sea, the king had a vision of a large hanging bell rocking in the wavefront. Upon this divine sign, on board of the ship gifts were offered to the tutelary deity of war, Hachiman Daibosatsu. On 02/28 they reached Kikai Island. The enemy had blocked the harbor entry and fire-arrows and stones rained down on the attackers, so they could not advance. The king, getting very angry, sent more battle troops to attack, and the number of casualties was countless. One of the key retainers advised the king, saying the enemy soldiers are brave but had no wisdom. In order to defeat them the attack should be delayed a few days and then the enemy can be defeated. The king followed this advice. Coming the night of the 5th day of the 3rd month, with drizzling rain, the skies so black it wasn’t possible to see face-to-face. A fraction of the army proceeded towards the island, feigning to attack. Seeing this, the enemy troops set out to defend the harbor. Meanwhile the key retainer, having set out with several hundred soldiers in small boats, carrying large numbers of torches, got in the rear of the enemy burning huts and houses. The king, delighted, ordered the other troops to land also, and, “with battle cries shaking the sky,” to set fire to the houses and burn everything down. The enemy soldiers, with body and soul detached lost their fighting spirit, and capitulated in countless numbers. The enemy’s ringleaders, whose strength was exhausted, were caught and put to death. The king appointed other chieftains to govern the commoners, and on 03/13 they set sails homeward. Returning to Ryūkyū, the king ordered to establish a temple at the place where he shot down the bird, to place a bell in it and to name it Hachiman-gū, i.e., the Shrine of the God of War. And he also ordered to build a temple and name it Shintoku-ji, i.e. the Temple of Divine Virtues, and a large bell was cast and hung in it.

The above-mentioned events confirm the military nature of the 1st Dynasty and are considered a sign of its generally weakened foundation. The various regional rulers (aji) and the people lost all respect for the royal family and Shō Toku fell from grace. He was either killed or died in 1469 at age 29. His heir was also killed.

A former official for external affairs, named Kanemaru, was installed as king under the name Shō En. The entire faction of the 1st Royal Dynasty of Ryūkyū was banished from the royal capital of Shuri. By these events, the 2nd Royal Dynasty of the Shō Clan was founded, and, though the official histories tell the story of a “peaceful overthrow by men of letters,” this was apparently a forcible coup just as in the many preceding cases.

In 1471, Shō En, calling himself the “royal successor of Chūzan in the Country of Ryūkyū,” dispatched the envoy Sai Yo and others to the Chinese Emperor, offered local products as tribute, announced the death of King Shō Toku, and asked for being enthroned himself. In the same year, the 8th Ming Emperor Xianzong dispatched Qiuhong and others to Ryūkyū, and bestowed the title of “King of Chūzan” to Shō En. That is, Shō En, though not a member of the previous royal lineage, was made legitimate heir of the royal dynasty and carried on the Shō clan’s name. Just as in the case of Shō Hashi before, the Ryūkyūans “stole the throne one after the other, but they did not dare to change their surname.”

Summarizing the above it can be said that the 1st Shō dynasty was a continuation of the struggles of the Era of Fortresses on a larger scale and constituted a further consolidation and geographical expansion of the Ryūkyūan becoming-of-state, characterized by the use of military power. Accordingly, the life in Ryūkyū was characterized by continuous war turmoil for the span of 150 years straight, which spawned the proverb wallowing in the blossoms of battle (ikusahana sasobi).

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Warfare and Deception – How Shō Hashi Established the 1st Ryukyu Dynasty

King Shō Hashi, described as the “Hometown Hero” for Okinawans, is the main character of the musical named after him.

“For Okinawans, King Sho Hashi was the first historical figure to have a truly positive impact on the country. I want to take that passionate Okinawan tradition and convey it to future generations using King Sho Hashi as the motif.” 

Let’s take a look at the happenings back at the time of King Shō Hashi.

As mentioned in the previous article, each of the Three Kingdoms of Okinawa had succeeded in entering the investiture and tributary relations with Ming China and all three were heavily engaged in the annual China trade. The trade provided them a boost in status, economy, and culture. Competition for the superior position in this trade increasingly depended on warfare, so much that the Chinese Emperor warned Ryūkyū, saying:

“I have learned that in Ryūkyū three kings are fighting against each other. Thereby they destroy the agriculture and inflict harm upon the people. This saddens me very much. […] The kings should end the war and let the people come to peace.”

However, the Three Kingdoms were not unified by any one of the three kings, nor by the successors of a presumed royal line, but by the outsider Hashi.

So, let’s take a look at the true story of Okinawa’s famous unification under the royal Shō dynasty.

In 1402, Hashi attacked and defeated the lord of Asato near Urasoe, providing Hashi with a strategic stronghold. Four years later, in 1406, Hashi attacked and destroyed King Bunei of Chūzan, and installed his own father Shishō as king instead.

Upon the death of a sovereign, the Chinese Court had to be informed immediately, and the name of the successor submitted for approval. Therefore, in the 4th month of 1407, “King Shishō” dispatched an envoy to Ming China with local products as tribute. The envoy told the Chinese officials that Shishō’s father, King Bunei of Chūzan had passed away. Of course that was a blunt lie, and in fact, they had killed the king, but the Chinese Emperor Taizu didn’t know and so he dispatched an investiture mission that enthroned Shishō as the official “King of Chūzan in the Country of Ryūkyū.”

In this way Hashi and his father Shishō took over the China trade as well as the title of King of Chūzan. Chūzan’s port of overseas trade was Naha, and this undoubtedly contributed to further gain in power. With Naha as an excellent harbor Hashi ran a thriving overseas trade, secured his economic foundation, and gained knowledge of advanced weaponry used abroad.

Next, in 1416, Hashi rallied his troops to attack Nakijin castle, destroyed king Han’anchi, and assumed power over Hokuzan. Similarly as before, he then appointed his brother as the king of that region. China accepted without further ado. And so Hashi also annexed both Hokuzan’s tribute trade rights and kingship.

Shishō passed away in 1421, upon which Hashi informed the Ming Emperor about the death of his father in the 2nd month of 1424. In 1425, the Ming Emperor dispatched his envoy Chai Shan, to bestow on him the title of “Chūzan King Shishō’s heir Shō Hashi.” Notably it was at this exact point that the surname “Shō” was granted to Hashi by the Ming Emperor, a family name henceforth carried by each and every Ryūkyū king.

In 1429 Shō Hashi continued his expansion by attacking Ōsato Castle and killing King Tarumī of Nanzan. Again, China accepted without further ado.

During all the time of Hashi’s takeover, from 1406 to 1429, tributary missions continued to be sent to Ming China annually. Like this, Hashi established a single unified sphere of kingship and a single authority for tributary trade with China on the island of Okinawa, manifested in the establishment of the 1st Shō Dynasty of the Ryūkyū kingdom in the year 1429.

And this is how Hashi took over Okinawa by a successive series of warfare spiced with a good sprinkle of lies towards China. In recognition of his achievements, posterity labelled Shō Hashi the “Ise Shinkurō of the Southern Islands.”

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Sulphur and Horses – The Military Origin of Okinawa’s Tribute Trade with China

Last year, under participation of ten grand masters of Okinawa karate and kobudō, a museum and memorial monument related to Ryūkyū horses have been erected in Naha City. The topic is embedded within the peace theory of Okinawa and the description carries the usual phrases, such as “since ancient times…,” “deeply rooted in the lives of the islanders…,” or “closely related to karate and kobudō.” Also, the project aims to be registered as an intangible cultural heritage, probably with the UNESCO.

While this author supports these ideas, his curiosity led him to check the history for what the officials have not mentioned in their advertising brochure.

So, what is the true history of Ryūkyū horses?

According to the dynastic records of the Ming Dynasty, already in the 1370s there were three kings in Okinawa, namely in realms called Chūzan, Sanzan, and Hokuzan. The tribute envoys of each of these once even appeared together at the Ming court, competing for the establishment of investiture and tribute trade with Ming China. The main motivation for their competition was the yield expected from the investiture and tribute trade.

Precious articles and imperial gifts began to reach Okinawa and stimulated further activities in overseas trade. In 1396, the first Chinese investiture envoy (sappōshi) reached Ryūkyū, for the enthronement of King Haniji of Hokuzan, followed in 1404 for the investiture of King Bunei of Chūzan, and in fact the Chinese Emperor bestowed the title of king to all the three leaders. This is the reason why the period is called the “Era of Three Kingdoms” (sanzan-jidai). These kingdoms were the three most powerful trading communities in Okinawa at the time, with trading ports, fortresses, armies, and settlements with technical experts, people engaged in agriculture, production and trade.

Initially, Ryūkyūan tribute to China consisted mainly of sulphur and horses, both of which were two of the most important military materials urgently needed by the Ming. As Takara pointed out:

For their battles with the Mongols the Ming required supplies and one ingredient was sulphur, indispensable for gunpowder. They also needed horses to pull their cannons to the battlefield. The Ryūkyū Islands were able to supply both.

In short, horse pasturage became a cultural standard in Okinawa due to the military demand of the Ming Dynasty. For instance, in 1374, only two years after the begin of the tribute trade relationship, the Chinese envoy Li Hao purchased a huge number of horses and took them back to China, and for the year 1383 a single Chinese purchase of nine hundred eighty (980!) horses is recorded. Together with the vast quantities of sulphur, the original Ryūkyū tribute items were of high military utility to the Chinese, who regarded Ryūkyū as a major supplier. From this reason, and because the following Ming emperors adhered to the policies and practices of Ming Taizu, Ryūkyū earned a preferential treatment which lasted long after the military-supply question of the Ming was settled.

Yes, you have read it correctly: The 500 years of Ryūkyū-Chinese investiture relation is actually based on military supplies…

BTW, above-mentioned Li Hao, on the same occasion in 1374, brought with him to Okinawa “one thousand iron utensils” and some seventy thousand pieces of earthenware. He also noted in his official report to the Chinese Emperor that the Ryūkyūans were not interested in silk, but only in iron kettles and porcelain, which subsequently were sent in greater quantities. It is no surprise that we see a coincidence in Ryūkyū’s demand of iron from China, the emergence of blacksmithing and weapons and armor production technology, the increased fighting and emphasis on military preparation on Okinawa as indicated by the large number of fortresses built.

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Karate as an Intangible Cultural Property

Below is a translation of “Mukei bunkazai to shite no karate“, published in “Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten,” 2008. A quarter century after the first designation, Okinawa Prefecture works on having karate designated an intangible cultural heritage with the UNESCO. Yes, the attempt only includes karate, and not kobudō. It would probably be difficult to explain how killing someone with a hoe or maiming someone with spiked knuckle dusters qualifies as an “intangible cultural property.”

Okinawa karatedō and kobudō, which from its birthplace of Okinawa have spread and expanded far and wide to countries around the world, is of high historical and cultural value. On August 8, 1997, Okinawa Prefecture designated karate and kobudō as an “Intangible Cultural Property Designated by Okinawa Prefecture,” and at the same time recognized three holders of this title (Nagamine Shōshin, Yagi Meitoku, Itokazu Seiki).

Okinawan Karate and Kobudō developed as a unique martial art during the era of the Ryūkyū Kingdom by fusing traditional martial arts of Ryukyu with the martial arts brought about by trade and cultural exchange with China and other foreign countries. In the early modern period[1], to systematize it, Karate was distinguished into Shuri-te, Tomari-te, and Naha-te, and Uechi-ryū was added in the early Shōwa era[2]. Other ancient martial arts using weaponry (kobujutsu) were systematized as well.

Karate and Kobudō have been handed down as a means of self-defense or as a physical and mental training for the people, and they have developed to the extent that their value is being recognized internationally and they have spread worldwide, not to mention [their value] in school physical education.

All the three persons who were recognized as [intangible property] title holders by Okinawa Prefecture for the first time are persons who highly embody the traditional technique of karate and who are well-versed and familiar with it. The holders are also responsible for training the successors and preserving and inheriting this field of study. Additional certification of holders was carried out on September 12, 2000, when six people were newly certified (Iha Kōshin. Tomoyose Ryūkō. Nakazato Shūgorō, Nakazato Jōen, Mihahira Katsuya, and Wakugawa Kōsei). As a result, the preservation and inheritance of this field of study was further promoted.


[1] in Japan this usually refers to the period from the Meiji Restoration until the end of World War II.

[2] A rather inaccurate time statement, since the Shōwa era lasted from 1926 to 1989. It probably means that Uechi-ryū was added to the systematization of karate prior to the end of WWII in 1945.

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