2 – Perception of the Weapons Ban Under Satsuma

Kerr noted that “no evidence can be found to suggest that the Okinawans at any time contemplated an attempt to throw off Japanese controls.”[1] Indeed, judging from all sources available it is quite obvious that neither the political nor the individual Ryūkyū had interest in resistance, even less a rebellion against Satsuma.[2]

Iha reported that

Shō Shin’s intention of securing eternal peace within the peaceful micro cosmos of Ryūkyū was trampled down by the Satsuma forces, which doomed the country to agree upon a three hundred year-long period of slavery-like peace.[3]

Based on this Iha suggested that following the Satsuma takeover the Ryūkyūans became increasingly unable to use weapons of war and that

my conjecture, which perhaps turns out to be incorrect, is that Karate undoubtedly developed reciprocally proportional to the reduction of the military armaments.[4]

And as since 1609 there were no more wars in Ryūkyū, Iha concluded that “instead of weapons, Karate came to be used.”[5] And this was the beginning of the theory that the Shimazu house of Satsuma prohibited weapons in Okinawa and this – in causal effect – triggered the development of unarmed Karate.

Nagamine Shōshin interpreted the zeitgeist of Ryūkyū prior to the Shimazu invasion as an era in which the inhabitants of Ryūkyū created an honorable and peaceful kingdom without weapons, which he said can be considered a proof of viability of a peaceful society.[6] Similarly he stated that it is ironic that the people of this peaceful island, not even possessing weapons, were imposed upon such hellish suffering and grief by the ruling Satsuma (Shimazu). Continuative, he attributes the origin of Karate to a simple and innocent spirit of the Ryūkyū people, which finally exhibited an extreme reaction of rejection under the tyrannical government of Satsuma, and through the spirit of “unresisting resistance” created Tī (Karate), as well as several other great cultural values.

Critique of the Theory

Following the Satsuma takeover in 1609, it is assumed that a primordial martial art called Tī developed on grounds of the tyranny of Satsuma and the weapons prohibition policy. However, no strict weapons prohibition policy had been carried out during the time of Satsuma control.

The weapons prohibitions implemented by the Satsuma domain in Ryūkyū were part of the political measures under the maritime bans and weapons control orders of the Edo-Shōgunate. These were valid for all domains, not only Ryūkyū. These weapons management orders clearly show that disarmament of Ryūkyū had never been intended by the Satsuma domain. Concerning all sorts of cut and thrust weapons, at no point in time these were prohibited for Ryūkyūans on the kingdom’s soil, neither for the royal government, nor the royalty, nor the gentry, not even the commoners, until the end of the kingdom in 1879, and these weapons were also abundantly carried aboard the vessels active in all maritime traffic with China. Repair was carried out in Satsuma through mediation of the Satsuma Resident Commissioner (zaiban bugyō), and thus privately owned weapons can be considered to have received official approval. Firearms were prohibited for commoners only in 1613, for all others in 1657, and subsequently placed under management of the Satsuma Resident Commissioner in Naha. And due to the special circumstances, adaptations of the shōgunate’s maritime ban policies were granted to Ryūkyū in order for them to be able to safely sail the pirate infested seas and coasts of China. In other words, since the beginning of the Satsuma rule there was in no way a thorough confiscation and administration of weaponry. Due to the perpetuation of the investiture and tribute relations with China, which formed the livelihood of Ryūkyū and which were also of particular interest to Satsuma, Ryūkyū consequently tenaciously insisted on a flexible adjustment of weapons control management orders within the shōgunate’s laws in accordance with the changing circumstances. The authorization of different sorts of small and large firearms for tribute ships was carried out by way of regular requests for loaning these weapons from the Satsuma Resident Commissioner stationed in Naha.

However, looking at the total inventory in possession of the royal government, General Kabayama Gonzaemon Hisataka[7] of the Satsuma forces was surprised by the poor condition of the weapons. That means, even after the Satsuma takeover, the ruling layer of the Shuri government and the Shizoku carried swords since Shō Shin’s era. Therefore, it is difficult to maintain that a policy of carrying no weapons lead to hostilities and gave momentum for a bare handed martial arts called Tī.[8]


[1] Kerr 1958: 178.

[2] Beillevaire 2000: I, 5.

[3] Nakahara 1977: 588, referring to Iha 1922: 14; 1926/1: 139; 1926/2: 21, and others.

[4] Iha 1938: 310. See also Sakihara, in Kerr 2000: 543

[5] Iha 1938: 313.

[6] Nagamine 2000: 158-164.

[7] 樺山権左衛門久高.

[8] Shinzato Katsuhiko, in OKKJ 2008: 105.

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