Taira Shinken 1964 also copied designs from Yun Heui-byeong 1948

In the last article, I notified that Taira Shinken copied important parts of text from Yun’s research published in 1948.

Besides text, Taira also copied designs from Yun. Here I would like to particularly point out the makiwara design. The reason is that people rebuilt the makiwara design of Taira in the belief that it is a representative invention of Taira himself. However, this is not the case. Rather, Taira has copied it almost one-to-one, as you can see in the details below.

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Taira Shinken 1964 copied from Yun Heui-byeong 1948

Taira Shinken’s Ryūkyū Kobudō Taikan (1964) is considered the first monography on Okinawan weapon’s arts. In it, he included a chapter called “The History of Ryūkyū Kobudō” with descriptions of various masters from the past. However, more than fifteen years earlier, Yun Heui-byeong of the Kanbukan already published a monography called “Bōjutsu Kyōhan,” in which he also already shared his research on various masters from the past. To make a long story short, Taira’s descriptions of the past masters are copies of Yun’s research, even though Taira translated them into somewhat more modern Japanese. This means that many of the stories that have been handed down today originally came from Yun, not from Taira.

Taira even used the same order, except that he reversed the entries for Sakugawa and Tsuken. Only one person was added by Taira, namely Oyake Akahachi, whom Taira dates to “about 200 years ago,” while he actually lived around 1500 AD.

It should be noted that Yun based his person list on the list provided in the Kenpō Gaisetsu (1930, pp.151-52). However, this list had only the names and approximate life dates, but no further description. In short, the background for these persons of Okinawan martial arts history were first researched and published by Yun. As can be seen from his foreword, he thanked both his senseis Mabuni Kenwa and Tōyama Kanken as well as his senpai, among which was Kinjō Hiroshi, for their “tremendous support in order for this volume to reach the public.”

Anyway, my main point is that it was not Taira Shinken who first published a collection of micro-biographies of past masters in his Ryūkyū Kobudō Taikan (1964), but Yun Heui-byeong in his Bōjutsu Kyōhan (1948).

Let’s turn to some of the details. Taira antedates many of Yun’s dates. His intention is unknown. Maybe he wanted to position the persons closer to the present time, so that a personal tradition is more likely? For instance, Yun dates Soeishi to “approximately 300 years ago,” while Taira writes “not less than 100 years ago.” Yun dates Chinen Shikiyanaka to “about 300 years ago,” while Taira claims “100 years ago.” Yun states Sakugawa lived “between 100 and 300 years ago,” while Taira claims “100 years ago.”

Moreover, there are many details and meanings that changed in Taira’s copy. A few examples follow here.

As regards Soeishi, Yun says that “The current Chōun no Kon and Shūshi no Kon were generated from inside the Soeishi no Kon,“ while Taira says that Soeishi “devised Soeishi no Kon and Chōun no Kon.” It should be noted that Soeishi no Kon did not appear in pre-1945 sources, so this might have been the impulse to create one.

On “Old man Kōra-gwā,” Yun notes that “Only the name of this sensei was known and handed down, and I could not find a detailed description, so I decided to just list him as a great master of bōjutsu.” Taira adds to it by saying that this person “is said to have devised the Urasoe no Kon and the Kōra-gwā school of saijutsu.”

Yun described Arakaki as the “founder of Arakaki bōjutsu,” of which Taira makes “Arakaki-ryū.” While Yun solely attributes bōjutsu to Arakaki, Taira claims he was “a master of bōjutsu and saijutsu.”

According to Yun, Ginowan Dunchi was an outstanding talent who “received training from Sakugawa Sensei,” while Taira described him as a “master of and sai.”

Yun describes “Yama no Ne no Chinen Sensei,” while Taira says “Chinen Sensei of Yamane-ryū.” Yun says Chinen was “particularly good at Sakugawa no Kon,” which Taira omits. Yun notes that “among his disciples was the late Ōshiro Chōjo Sensei,” while Taira expanded on this by saying “Ōshiro Chōjo Sensei and Yabiku Mōden Sensei.”

And like this, information changed over times, and while some details were lost, others were added.

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The recontextualization of “Eisa”

Once limited to the Festival of the Dead within villages, by villagers, and in a religious context, in postwar Okinawa Eisa has been transformed to an all year festival entertainment performed everywhere and without any religious context. In short: Today’s Eisa is a modern reinvention.

Originally, sad songs called “Chunjun-nagari” were the only songs performed during Eisa, and “it was really preachy and exceedingly uninteresting, just quietly chanting Nenbutsu [Pure Land Buddhism] prayers. Then, around 1946 or 47, I was taught a new, fast-moving Eisa dance from the neighboring village. I was 16 or 17 years old. … With the new Eisa dance, the aspect of ancestral memorial service disappeared, and it has become Eisa dance as an entertainment.” (story told by 81-year-old person from Yamada, Nago City)

Nowadays, Eisa has come to refer to “Taiko Eisa” in which men and women dance incessantly in flashy costumes and to the rhythm of taiko drums and one-sided hand drums (pāranku). It is also this style of Eisa that is performed both in central Japan and abroad. And it was the “1st All Island Eisa Competition” held in Koza City in 1956 that created the opportunity for Taiko Eisa to dominate the whole of Okinawa. Since this competition was held, the Young Men’s Associations of all villages in Okinawa have been developed through repeated reforms to compete with the districts. Unlike central Japan, Okinawan young men’s associations have been organized and active in each village. Therefore, this form of village rivalry has become a major factor in concentrating the energy of young people. The winning group was picked up by the media and became famous, and there was a flood of requests for instruction from all over the prefecture, which triggered the spread of Taiko Eisa in the central Okinawa region as a standard dance throughout the prefecture.

In addition, as a response to disorder and violence at night brought about by the occupying armed forces, vigilant organizations were spontaneously formed in the settlements, which marked a new rise of the young men’s associations in many postwar settlements, who were the main renewers of Eisa. At the same time, Eisa was also an entertainment venue for kata of karate put on display as an entertainment, where bets and gambling called Chankurū were held as well.

SOURCE: Itani Yasuhiko: Social education as an Okinawan custom seen in the “penalty tag” system of the Customary Laws of Southern Island Villages (Nantō Mura Neihō). Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor in Education. Waseda University Number: New 7911. Waseda University 2018.

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Kamiunten Tonfa

Kamiunten Eisho originally produced wheels for horse-drawn vehicles, but then karate and kobudo master Soken Hohan (1891-1982) taught him how to make Bo, Nunchaku, Tonfa, and other wooden weapons and Kamiunten became a wooden weapons craftsman.

He once also produced weapons for world famous brand “SHUREIDO.”

The Tunfa are replica I designed according to an original model made by Mr. Kamiunten. This original was lend to me for this purpose back in 2002 by a Okinawa Kobudo World Champion, who first taught me Hama Higa no Tunfa over two days at my garden dojo. Usually I gave them as gifts and in this way some pairs even found their way back to Okinawa. I’am sure they will serve well for many years.

Mr. Kamiunten’s name is usually only known among some of the most experienced masters of Okinawa Kobudo, including Hokama Tetsuhiro, Cezar Borkowski, and Nakamoto Masahiro, the latter of which sported notes and images of Mr. Kamiunten in his publications. When I told Hokama Sensei about this little Tunfa project more than 10 years ago, he was one of the few who understood was I was talking about, because he knew Mr. Kamiunten.

The nunchaku and the three section staff in the top right of the first image were made by Mr. Kamiunten. The three Nunchaku in the center are from “SHUREIDO”. The three section staff at the right bottom were given to Yamaguchi Seishu by Kishaba Chogi of Yamanni-ryu.

Last but not least, a photo was taken of the Tonfa during my time in Okinawa and found its way on the Okinawa Dento Karatedo Shinkokai, THE umbrella association of Okinawa karate kobudo associations.

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About Okinawa Traditional Kobudo | 沖縄伝統古武道について

About three years ago, Mamoru Nakamoto Sensei posted a number of short lectures on his Karate Kobudo Channel. The videos have since been taken down again, but I had prepared a synopsis for each and these are posted below. Note that these are NOT official or complete translations, but just to give you a better understanding of kobudo-specific terminology.

1. Short Lecture on Okinawa Traditional Kobudo: Prerequisites for [consideration as] Okinawa Traditional Kobudo

Synopsis: To be considered Okinawa Traditional Kobudo, the following four prerequisites shall be met:

  1. It was created/devised in Okinawa.
  2. It has been a tradition for a long time already.
  3. It uses old weapons handed down in Okinawa.
  4. At minimum, the teacher of one’s predecessor is clearly known.

2. Short Lecture on Okinawa Traditional Kobudo: The Inheritance/Succession of the Tradition is a Combination of Self-training and Personal Instruction

Synopsis: Only self-training without personal instruction might be a martial art, but without being traditional.Vice versa, personal instruction only, without self-training, might be traditional, but will hardly make you a true martial artist.Therefore, for Okinawa Kobudo to be fully considered traditional, it has to be a combination of self-training and personal instruction.

3. Short Lecture on Okinawa Traditional Kobudo: The Issue of Superiority/Inferiority and Comparison

Synopsis: While they all belong to Karate, there is Okinawa Karate, Japanese Karate, and KARATE (i.e. an otherwise arbitrary form of punching and kicking in a dogi).In Kobudo, there are the Taira Shinken lineage and Matayoshi lineage, among others: They have their own a specific tradition (persons, techniques …) and spirit.There are different people with different characters and culture, such as Japanese people, or foreigners.Don’t use the one against the other.

4. Short Lecture on Okinawa Traditional Kobudo: Karate and Kobudo are one Body

Synopsis: Originally, Karate and Kobudo were one.Since the Meiji Restoration, Karate was one individual entity, and Kobudo was one individual entity, with a gap between the two.Currently, Karate and Kobudo are two parts of a entity, without the previous gap between them. It so becomes again what it was originally, Karate and Kobudo as one body.

5. Short Lecture on Okinawa Traditional Kobudo: The Practice Ratio of Karate and Kobudo

Synopsis: As regards the practice ratio of Karate and Kobudo, the following can be said:

  • In general, internationally only Karate is practiced.
  • The practice of Kobudo is something rather special or unique.
  • In Okinawa, the practice ratio is about 4/5 Karate vs 1/5 Kobudo
  • The ideal practice ratio would be 50% Karate and 50% Kobudo.

6. Short Lecture on Okinawa Traditional Kobudo: How to get started in Okinawa Traditional Kobudo

Synopsis: People usually start Karate and when they have learned it sufficiently, they may start with Kobudo. Often it remains considered separated.It is good to first advance in Karate, so you already know the stances, terminology etc. and have gained sufficient athleticism. Once your advanced in Karate, you start Kobudo as a beginner, and from there you advance in Kobudo.Finally, the experience from Kobudo will reflect back into your Karate and will improve it, too. Finally, Karate and Kobudo mutually and continuously improve each other.

7. Short Lecture on Okinawa Traditional Kobudo: Tips for Finding a Dojo

Synopsis: The persons who wants to start Kobudo may use the following tips to find a dojo:

  1. Visit Several dojo.
  2. Check the lineage of the tradition.
  3. What Kata do you prefer? How’s the Dojo atmosphere? How’s the instructor?
  4. Membership fees
  5. Distance and time it takes to get to the dojo (do I want to go far away?)

8. Short Lecture on Okinawa Traditional Kobudo: The Mutual Benefits of Karate and Kobudo

Synopsis: Empty hand vs empty hand is what is done in Karate.Weapon vs weapon is what is done in Kobudo.One of the benefits mutual benefits of Karate and Kobudo is that empty hand vs weapon as well as weapon vs empty hand are considered.(for instance: Considerations of empty hand vs weapon might be helpful for you when you are attacked by an armed person. Considerations of weapon vs empty hand might be helpful for you when you are attacked by some much stronger, younger, more athletic than you.)

9. Short Lecture on Okinawa Traditional Kobudo: The Designation of “Okinawa Traditional Kobudo.”

Synopsis: First of all, both designation and content of “Okinawa Traditional Kobudo” has to be differentiated from “Japanese Traditional Kobudo”.The designation “Okinawa Traditional Kobudo” may include the names Ryukyu or Okinawa as well as Kobudo or Kobujutsu. So there are a number of typical names used to describe Kobudo, for instance

  • • Okinawa Kobudo
  • • Okinawa Kobujutsu
  • • Ryukyu Kobudo
  • • Ryukyu Kobujutsu

While the designation might differ from dojo to dojo, it means the same thing. The designation “Okinawa Traditional Kobudo” is a generic term for all of these.

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Soeishi no Kon

This is an excerpt of “Soeshi no Kon” of Okinawan Taira-lineage. It is a rare kata and hitherto it is unknown if it is an original tradition, where Taira had it from, if Taira just used a fragment he came across somewhere and made his own kata from it, if one of his students further changed it, if Taira just used the famous name of Soeishi for seomething else, etc.pp.
I admit I don’t perform the techniques in the manner of any specific Okinawan dojo, in fact, I have stopped copying someone else’s habits and ideas years ago and instead do it “my way.” Also, I perform all techniques to the front, while in the original kata you would turn left, right, backwards and front. Notwithstanding, order and techniques are correct.

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Minowa Katsuhiko on the teaching contents of Taira Shinken

Minowa Katsuhiko was a karate and kobudo practitioner and one of Taira Shinken’s original students. Minowa began training with Taira around 1960. At that time, Taira had no dojo of his own and training was conducted out of one of the rooms in Taira’s home several times a week. Training essentially consisted of kata practice.

Unlike karate, there were no set of basic techniques (kihon) that students drilled in, and all practice was individualized to the student. Taira taught each student according to his ability or interest. If the student was weak in one part of a kata, he was corrected and told to repeat that part until the mistake had been eliminated.

There were a handful of senior students of Taira at the time, who learned the same kata, although they learned the kata in a different order. Also, Minowa explicitly states that Taira failed to teach some of the kata he knew to his Okinawan students before he passed away. For instance, Taira did not teach Tsuken Bo to any of his senior Okinawan students. However, Minowa was able to learn Tsuken Bo from Mie Junshin, a Shorin-ryu practitioner, and other students of Taira probably also collected “missing kata” elsewhere.

In short, there was no curriculum and set order under Taira Shinken, but these were only developed after Taira’s death in 1970.

Minowa explicitly stated that Taira did not teach all the kata he knew to his Okinawan senior students. Therefore, today’s kata lists of the Taira lineage are lists of the kata that Taira knew, but not necessary lists of kata that Taira personally taught to the list creator. This is also evident in the fact that some kata attributed to Taira and featured in kata lists of some Okinawan dojo or publication are not taught at all. An explanation by the dojo goes that there were too many kata, but obviously they might have simply never learned it, which might be considered an uncomfortable fact, however, it is just human. I have also heard that some kata are currently being “revived” and there must be sufficient videos material etc. to do so.

Next, there were several weapons in Taira’s home such as tecchu and sanbon nunchaku that none of his students ever practiced. Taira admitted that he himself never learned any techniques or kata for these weapons. Therefore, some people later began to create techniques and even kata on their own. In this way, various of Taira’s students made their own contributions by creating new kobudo kata.

The most striking characteristic of Taira’s kobudo – particularly when considered from today’s application hype – is that there weren’t any yakusoku kumite sets. There was a set of bo vs. sai and a two-man bunkai for Sakugawa no Kon Sho, however, these were created by Akamine Eisuke. There were a few individual techniques for certain weapons such as bo and tonfa, though, that were largely based upon kata techniques, but nothing close to an organized analysis, just a little this and that. In short, there was no prearranged weapons kumite practice under Taira Shinken, and certainly no free sparring or an organized, methodical analysis of applications. From that reason, and with the exception of bo vs. sai and Sakugawa no Kon Sho two man set, the yakusoku kumite of Taira’s senior students are all different. In short, no methodical study of kobudo applications were handed down to or by Taira, right?

Well, after receiving a teaching license in Uechi-ryu by Uechi Kanei in 1968, Minowa received a kobudo teaching license from Taira in 1970. In 1976, at Taira’s 7th death anniversary memorial training, Minowa served as the board chairman of the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai, the association established by Taira. At that time, Minowa gave both the opening and the closing speech of the martial arts demonstration meeting, at which he performed the rare Chatan Yara no Kon as the only person among 58 performers. I wonder if it was Minowa who preserved and taught Chatan Yara no Kon to others?

In 1977, Minowa passed on his dojo in Matsukawa, Naha, to one of his students and returned to Amami Oshima, where he taught Uechi-ryu and Ryukyu Kobudo until he retired in 1987.

From the above you can see that Minowa was highly competent.

One more thing: While there are several classical kata taught by Taira, there are also his own choreographies (kata). Most importantly, none of Taira’s senior students was able to convincingly present an explanation as to how Taira got each of his kata, whether they are classical, or whether he just – by and large – created them from fragments gathered here and there.

What I take away from the above thoughts is that – just as in case of Okinawa karate – the postwar era in Okinawa since about the 1960s was a great era of kobudō inventors and inventions in Okinawa. The above also shows that the designation as “kobudo” (ancient martial art) in Okinawa is misleading, since there are all sorts of new inventions and creations and while based on folklore and fragments, much of it has simply been invented in the postwar era.


  • McKenna, Mario: Re-examining Ryukyu Kobudo. An Interview with Minowa Katsuhiko. In: JOURNAL OF ASIAN MARTIAL ARTS, Vol. 8, Nr. 1, 1999, pp. 74-91. Via Media. ISSN 1057-8385.
  • Ko Taira  Shinken Senshi Nana Shūki Tsuitō. Karate Dō, Kobudō Enbu Taikai. Taira Shinken Den. Shusei: Ryūkyū Kobudō Hozon Shinkōkai. Kōen: Zen Okinawa Karate Dō Renmei, Ryûkyû Shinpôsha. Date and time: 11 Oktober 1976, 14.00 o’lock. Place : Naha City Hall.
  • Various dojo kata lists from Okinawan dojo or publications.
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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.


“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]


“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]


“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.


[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.


[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.

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