Hai Sai! Welcome to my Blog.

Hello, my name is Tom Corrao and I am the blogger behind the Okinawaology Blog. I created this blog to share and discuss all things Okinawan. I’m also the Public Relations Officer and Minkan Taishi to the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai. My experience with Okinawa is derived from the time I spent there during the 1980's and 90's (10 years) when serving in the United States Air Force. I've also been married to an Okinawan woman for 30 years now and have been immersed in many things Okinawan through both friends and family. I do not claim to be all knowing about everything Okinawan but I try hard and study the history and culture. I welcome everyone that is interested in Okinawa and hope that I can provide useful information to those uchinanchu that may be curious about their culture and heritage. I also welcome those who are not of Okinawan heritage but have experienced, or are experiencing, the islands culture while stationed there with the United States Military. Comments are welcomed and will be published as long as they are in good taste and on track with the purpose of this blog. My hope with this blog is to bring Uchinanchu people around the world a little closer to their cultural roots by expressing information that has started to fade in light of a more modern world. We should never forget our culture or the people who came before us and through the Blog my intentions are to meld the old with the new and implant knowledge that will help maintain the traditions and culture of an island people.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Origins of the Ryukyu Kingdom by Tom Freeman

 Occasionally I have people contact me asking permission to use the information or pictures from the Okinawaology blog to create other works of meaning to the Okinawaology cause. Mr. Tom Freeman contacted me not long ago for just such a request. He asked permission to use some of the pictures I had taken in Okinawa for his newsletter which he writes for the “Ryukyu Kempo East Asian Martial Arts Coalition” or Unante Kenkyukai Kaiho. Yesterday he sent me a copy of the newsletter and to say the least I was extremely impressed with his talents. His article Origins of the Ryukyu Kingdom impressed me so much I have decided to post it here for all to read. Please comment with your thoughts on this informative article.

Origins of the Ryukyu Kingdom

This is a short summary of the “Golden Age of the Ryukyu Kingdom” and its relationship to it’s evolving Martial Arts. In order to understand the Life Protection Arts of Okinawa we need to look into the early history of the Ryukyu Kingdom itself. Researching the Kingdoms past can be very difficult since virtually all written documentation's where destroyed during WWII and the allied bombing of the island.
Slowly over the years new evidence of Okinawa’s past has been coming to light and a better understanding of how the martial arts fit into the culture of the people of the Ryukyu Kingdom. So lets begin our journey with the Three Kingdom period. Between the reigns of King Tamagushuku (1314 to 1336) and that of the Sho Hashi (1422 to 1439) there were three kingdoms on the main island of Okinawa, all competing for trade with China and official recognition of the Ming Emperor. They were the Northern Kingdom (Hokuzan), the Central Kingdom (Chuzan), and the Southern Kingdom (Nanzan).

This division has been traditionally interpreted as the result of a rebellion against the authority of King Tamagushuku which split the country into three powerful factions, but some scholars think this was a later interpretation of the facts and that the so-called “kingdoms” were simply three powerful feudal areas which were contending for supremacy and which were finally brought together under King Sho Hashi of the Central Kingdom in 1429. It was in the reign of Sho Hashi that the Emperor of China first conferred upon the king the family name of Sho (pronounced Hsiang in Chinese), sent rich gifts of lacquer and embroidered ceremonial robes to the king, and gave to the kingdom a great lacquered tablet upon which were inscribed the characters for Chuzan.  

Though this was the beginning of a “Golden Age” for the Kingdom of the Ryukyu's, the centralization of power in the hands of the king at Shuri and the subjugation of the Islands of Amami, Miyako and Yaeyama in a complete sense did not take place until the reign of King Sho Shin (1477-1526) who is perhaps the most outstanding political figure of Okinawan history. 

In 1477, Sho Shin became the third king of the second Sho dynasty at the early age of 12 and died at age 61. His time on the throne of fifty years made him the longest-reigning monarch among Ryukyu’s kings. The reign of Sho Shin, however, was not only long but many historians have pointed out that it was a reign meriting particular attention within the history of the Ryukyu kingdom.

Hachimachi (Shuri ofu).

A kind of hat showing the wearers social status by
means of colors and patterns. Purple and yellow
showed the noblest rank, then came scarlet and green,
and blue showed the lowest .

First of all, a system of status ranks was established, headed by the king. For example, the color and pattern of the turban-like hachimachi worn by men served to demarcate status differences. The status of the king’s retainers was also indicated by the composition of the kanzashi men wore in their hair. Needless to say, because this system of status ranks was set up around the King and his family
and the elites who served the king, the result was its solidification into a status system of the royal family and elite social strata.

Second, a system of official ranks was established. The retainers serving the king were granted a variety of formal positions in government and titles, and were formed into a hierarchical organization. The central organ of this administrative structure was located in the Shuri castle, and was generally called the “Royal Government” 
Ryukyu Kingdom Caste System
The Pechin were part of a complex caste system that existed in Okinawa for centuries, they were the feudal warrior class that was charged with enforcing the law and providing military defense to the nation, Okinawan or Ryukyu Kingdom. 

The specific rank of a Ryukyu Samurai
was noted by the color of his hat.
Royalty - Sho family
Oji :Prince
Aji or Anji : Descendant of Prince, 
                     cadet branch of Royal House
  • Shizoku - privileged classes
  • Ueekata or Oyakata :Lord, High-Ranking Official
  • Pekumi : Official
  • Satunushi Pechin : Middle Official
  • Chikudun Pechin : Lower Official
  • Satunushi : Upper Attendant
  • Chikudun : Lower Attendant
  • Heimin : Commoners
The Pechin class was also responsible for the development of and training in the traditional fighting style, called Ti (Te), which developed into modern day Karate. The Ryukyu Pechin kept their fighting techniques secret, usually passing down the most devastating fighting forms to only one member of the family per generation, usually the eldest son. This warrior class became part of the caste system in Okinawa. Placed in the upper class, the Pechin would often travel with a servant at their side

Any unarmed self-defense techniques were of great importance to them, given repeated weapons bans by the Ryukyuı King and Japanese Satsuma invaders. The first time that the Pechin's weapons were confiscated was during the reign of King Shoshin (1477 1526), who unified Okinawa into one Ryukyu Kingdom. The second time that the Pechin were disarmed was after the Satsuma invasion of 1609, which prohibited the carrying of weapons by the Ryukyu Samurai.

The Ryukyu Pechin was not completely without weapons, historians in Okinawa have recovered documents that state that the Satsuma outlawed the ownership and sale of firearms in Okinawa. However the Pechin class and above were allowed to keep firearms that were already in their family's possession.

Toshihiro Oshiro, historian and Okinawan martial arts master, states:

"There is further documentation that in 1613 the Satsuma issued permits for the Ryukyu Samurai to travel with their personal swords (tachi and wakizashi) to the smiths and polishers in Kagushima, Japan for maintenance and repair. From the issuance of these permits, it is logical to infer that there were restrictions on the Ryukyu Samurai carrying their weapons in public, but it is also clear evidence that these weapons were not confiscated by the Satsuma."
In the Ryukyu kingdom various annual events and rites were carried out by the King to ensure peace and security of the country. They reflected the strong influence of both China and Japan. The grandest of all events though was carried out on New's Years eve and culminated in a ceremony performed on New Years morning. The heir to the throne, the "Aji"
along with various chieftains, ministers, and other courtiers would line up in rows in the "Una" (courtyard) where a solemn Chinese style ceremony would be performed. Here are
some Pictures taken by Mr. Tom Corrao of the re-enactment of the ceremony which he attended in 2002.

The administrative organization of the Ryukyu Kingdom was comprised of the Shuri Royal Government. Headed by the King and a regent as well as three prime ministers “Sanshikan” (Council of Three) with various named civic offices under them. A Ministerial class called the Omotejyuugonin organized of fifteen members from the civic offices studied
issues of concern to the administration and reported their findings to the top ministers.
The regent and prime ministers conducted affairs in Hokuden which is the north hall of the castle.
Pechin - Pechin were one of eleven different classes of people during Okinawa's old Ryukyu Kingdom Period: princes, aji, oyakata, pechin, satunushi-pechin, chikudun pechin,  satunushi, saka satunushi, chikudun, chikudun zashiki, and niya. The Pechin served from 1509 to 1879, starting from when Sho Shin imposed a class structure upon the gentry, until the dynasty was abolished. 

The pechin officials were largely responsible for, but not limited to, civil administration, law enforcement, and related matters. The pechin class was divided into Satunushi and Chikudoun. The Satunushi were from gentry while the Chikudun were commoners. These two divisions were even further divided into ten subcategories based upon seniority. - The Takanoya Account

1 comment:

  1. Just found this blog. So glad I did. I grew up on Kadena Air Base from age 5-18 (1968-1981). Left to go to college in the U.S. and haven't stopped missing Okinawa since. Reading your blog makes me feel a little closer to home. Plus I'm learning so much about Okinawan culture. Thank you!