Uezato Takashi: The Japanese Settlement in Naha of Old Ryukyu…

Uezato Takashi: The Japanese Settlement in Naha of Old Ryukyu, and the China Sea Maritime World. In: Shigaku Zasshi (Zeitschrift der Geschichtswissenschaften). Vol. 114, No. 7. Japanische Gesellschaft der Geschichtswissenschaften, Tôkyô Juli 2005. pp. 1179-1211; 1327-28.

20this article investigates the migration of Japanese in the China Sea region, especially in and around Naha, the capital of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, between the 16th and 17th centuries. Previous research on the Japan-Ryukyu relations during medieval times has chiefly focused on the diplomatic relations between the Muromachi government, the Shimazu family of Satsuma, and the Ryukyus. It goes without saying, however, that the focus on state trade alone does not fully explain the historical relations between the two states. It is also necessary for us to consider such private aspects of trade as the activities of people who participated as well as recent findings on medieval maritime trade for a proper understanding of the relationship between medieval Japan and the Ryukyus.

The migration of people from Japan to the Ryukyu Islands dates back to the 15th century. The “Ryukyu Kokuzu 琉球国図”, a map of the Kingdom in those days depicts Japanese and Ryukyuans living together in Naha. According to the genealogical data on the Ryukyus, Japanese who had emigrated there during the 16th and 17th centuries through the transportation mode which had evolved at that time, can be divided into three groups, based on their places of origin: Kinai, Hokuriku, Kyushu groups. Those people were probably maritime merchants who commuted between the Ryukyus and Japan, but resided permanently in the Ryukyus and engaged in certain occupations, such as the administration of Naha, foreign affairs, medicine, and the tea ceremony.

As for the structure of the port city of Naha, Naha-Yomachi 那覇四町, literally, the four townships of Naha, had developed on the fringe of the Chinese settlement of Kumemura 久米村, which was the core of Naha. The fact that Japanese institutions, such as a Shinto shrine, were located on the periphery of Naha-Yomachi shows that, like the goddess Mazu 媽祖 for the Chinese people, Naha was one of the overseas territories of Japanese merchants. Japanese immigrants resided together with Ryukyuans in Naha-Yomachi. During the 16th century, wajin (倭人), or armed Japanese merchants would throng into Naha in quest of the Chinese goods when ever Chinese envoys visited the Ryukyus. The Ryukyu royal government tried to restrict armaments, but failed. Japanese trading facilities called Nihon Kan 日本館 were set up in Naha. During the latter half of the 16th century, Kumemura, the center of Naha and the Chinese settlement, declined, while Naha-Yomachi prospered.

During this period, the trade route between Japan and Fujian via Manila was established based on the active circulation of Japanese and new continental silver and Chinese raw silk. The Ryukyus functioned in it as an entrepot between Japan and Manila. It has been thought that the route from the Ryukyus to Southeast Asia was completely abolished in 1570, however, this is not true, for the Ryukyus changed its form of trade from state-sponsored trade to private trade carried out by wajin maritime merchants. The Ryukyus thus become a node connecting East to Southeast Asia.

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