his is about the coat-of-arms of the royal Sho family of Ryuku, found to be used extensively in dojo and association emblems.
I start right off without long explanations, and no further discussing the problems in perception and usage of the crest.
There seems to be only one theory for which there are two independent evidences in existence: i.e. that of Shō Toku, the last king of the 1st Shō Dynasty. As described in the Kyūyō (an official history), in 1465 Shō Toku commanding “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.” After they conquered Kikai Island, Shō Toku “ordered to establish a temple […], to place a bell in it and to name it Hachiman-gū, i.e. the Shrine of the God of War.”
From this and other stories, I surmise, Kerr and Turnbull noted that 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, the Hachiman banner was used by Japanese naval vessels as well as Kango (license) trading vessels. During the early period of the Wakō pirates it was also used by the “Japanese pirates”.
Aside from the above mentioned history called “Kyūyō”, there’s is also an artifact pointing to King Shō Toku: Shō Toku, the last king of the 1st Shō Dynasty, was overthrown by King Shō En, 1st king of the 2nd Shō Dynasty. Shō Toku‘s surviving retainers were buried in the “Tomb of the Hundred Anji”, located behind a hill in the village of Unten in Nakijin, northern Okinawa. Upon a part of a wooden coffin discovered there, the oldest instance of the “mitsu domoe mon” (三つ巴紋, “Three commas crest”) was found, worked out in golden color. It’s called “hidari-gomon” (左御紋) in the case of Ryūkyū, meaning “left-turning honorable crest”. And this is the same (basically) as the Hachiman crest.
Maybe the story is not popular as it reminds people of the military state of affairs of Ryukyu at the time, something that became very unpopular in the second half of the 20th century. There is also evidence that the 1st Sho dynasty was overthrown by the 2nd Sho dynasty, and there was no family relation whatsoever. It was a coup dètat.
So, here I photoshopped the said wooden coffin for you, so you can actually see it. It is a coffin of a retainer of Sho Toku, and the first instance showing the “clockwise revolving commas” crest:
BTW, one theory – without any proof for it – is that the crest was made from the name Sho Hashi (尚巴志), with the Kanji 巴 found in his name is the same as in -domoe (comma). As he unified the THREE kingdoms, there were three of these commas.
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