400th Anniversary of The Overthrow of LooChoo: Beginning of an End

shuigusuku/Shuri Castle  As we come to the end of 2008 and look forward to a better year in 2009, we will be also marking the 400th anniversary of the overthrow of the LooChoo Kingdom in 1609, by the military forces of the Satsuma clan.  This was a very significant turning point after LooChoo had enjoyed over 300 years of peace and independence.  During the peaceful years, LooChoo enjoyed unlimited trade in the Southeast Asian countries, as well as refining and creating art and entertainment which took on unique LooChoo features.  

      The Satsuma had tried to take on LooChoo before, but were unsuccessful due to the martial art of “ti” in which the people of LooChoo devised weapons made from simple farm tools, along with the ancient forms of kung fu.  To be able to take on the “barbarian” people of LooChoo, the Satsuma came in with guns and canons.  (Sounds all to familiar to those of you knowledgeable in Hawaiian history.)  They first violently took over the northern islands of Amami, then approached through the main island’s area of Nakijin, and finally entering Naha.  King Sho Nei witnessed towns being torched and heard the sounds of rifles as he read the message of Satsuma demanding surrender, or risk sacrificing more lives and razing the castle to the ground.  The king could not imagine risking more lives and property of his people, and immediately surrendered, only to be taken as an involuntary “guest” to the Satsuma headquarters in Kagoshima.  At that time, threats of making the LooChoo people slaves, were made to the king, if he did not give control of trade to them.  After conceding, the king was returned to the thrown, under Satuma control, in 1701.  (*The Journal Of Asian Studies, Robert K. Sakai, The Great LooChoo, Commodore Perry, Chuzan Journals, Sho Family Texts.)

      As we have stated before, these events in history helped to strengthen the Okinawan people in their culture and in some ways, helped to attain higher levels of the arts, due to the heavy demands of Satsuma.  The people suffered greatly, but still held fast to their arts and culture.  This is one big reason why we should feel a greater obligation to preserve and pass on our arts in the closest traditional forms possible.  The overthrow also was a beginning to the slow dilution of identity, and eventually forced regulation of language, music, and history.  It seems like the times of suffering for Okinawa is passed, especially with the surge of interest in things Okinawan by the Japanese.  However, like the popularity of things Hawaiian after the cruise ships made Hawaii a popular tourist spot, and cellophane skirts and coconut bras appeared, Okinawa is enjoying its commercialized culture, and quickly forgetting its traditions, protocols, and culture.  We should take this time to reflect and go out and research our traditions which are our identity that runs through our veins.  It is the identity that our ancestors have died for during the overthrow, and have suffered through even to this day, to preserve and pass on.  This is not politics, but our history which gives us a greater understanding of who we are, and which help us to understand and appreciate other cultures and histories.  Even if there is less than 1/16th of that LooChoo blood in us, We Are LooChoo nu Kwa.  Wouldn’t it be great to have an event at the Shuri Castle, like the one held here at Iolani Palace which marked the 100th anniversary of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s overthrow?  Speeches, chants, dances, and a re-enactment of the surrender of the throne and castle would be very educational, and an emotional burst to cultural pride and identity.  Or would the Japanese government suppress this kind of event due to the fact that the current castle and surrounding property belongs to the Japanese government and not the Okinawan government or people?  Hmm..Something to think about.

10 thoughts on “400th Anniversary of The Overthrow of LooChoo: Beginning of an End

  1. Rob

    I would argue that the homegrown Okinawans are pretty conservative in their thinking. I have a cousin that’s half Okinawan and half Japanese. My uncles and my neighbors perception of him is that he has no business calling himself Okinawan, regardless if his father is Okinawan.

  2. Eric

    Rob, I’m not sure what you mean when you say “homegrown” Okinawans, but it seems that the so called conservatism of them is not really pro Okinawan, but anti, as their so called conservatie views are not really “Okinawan” Those who think like that are not really connected with their identity. Okinawans of long ago accepted mixed blood and never prejudiced against them as is evident in writings of the Sho family concerning marriages of officials to the Yamatounchu. The current heir to the throne has less than 50% Okinawan blood. I view that you have seen has come over the last 40 years, and probably due to the prejudice that the Okinawan immigrants themselves suffered. Also, the loss of much of the culture here in the second generation due to the feel of need to be “American” from WWll may also play a part. i myself can attest to This because I am half, and have also experienced the same as your cousin. However, if you look at the Okinawan concept of “hanai”, like the Hawaiians, there is a natural acceptance of a person even if he/she does not have 100% Okinawan blood. There are many similarities to the hanai system, and again, it takes looking back at the kupuna to uphold, or have upheld our traditions and culture. Unfortunaltely, many of these “treasures” have already passed. Be careful to take whats going on in the community as “conservatively Okinawan” or Okinawan at all, as much of our culture here has become an interpretation of our real culture that has been taken for granted for many years and left to wane. The bigger problem right now is that things have been taken for granted so long here in Hawaii, that the panick button has been pushed in an effort to keep or try and attract the youger generation. in doing so, modern music, other dance movements, and things not even Okinawan have been added to our lion dances, bon dances(eisa), festivals, and celebrations, that it is unrecognizale. It is not giving the opportunity for the young generation to experience and see the real culture to pass down. The traditions are not being taught. Its become a “me” society. Again, the younger generations taking over don’t consult the elders. We have such a rich culture that has so much more to experience. Adding non Okinawan things to it only says to me that the traditions that people who add or make up to “make things more exciting and attractive to the younger crowd”, are also sayig that our culture is not good enough as it is.

  3. Mashi

    hey eric, it was a good debate. i enjoyed reading it in this small clean room. but one thing you should be careful about dealing with okinawan history and culture is not the blood like you said but the strict class differences.

    as far as i know, your ancestors were local farmers, is that right? so if you only focus on shuri or the kingdom class, the very top people like kings and queens will be happy, but the people around them won’t be happy because of the matter of class difference. so, it was not good you danced in front of Tamaudun because kaneshiro no obaa got sick after that (she said never tell anyone, but i thought i need to tell you, so don’t tell her i told you). even nowadays, it’s really hard for people from outside of shuri to live in shuri. there are tons of stories one from miyako was rejected to marry to one from shuri by the shuri parents. those people usually ended up eloping like kozue’s parents (though her father is not from shuri, but gushikawa).

  4. Eric Post author

    Hi Mashi, I’m glad that you are doing well and we are all praying for your total recovery. Thank you for continuing to connect to our blog. I also thank you for your comment and would like to explain some things. My Gushikawa side of my family descends from the farming class. My Motobu side actually can be traced back to having roots in the Nakijin Castle. Both sides of my family have very strong lines of yuta and nuru. I respect very much the classes of LooChoo, and I also understand some of the difference of feelings between classes of peoples, as there is in any society. That does not mean that we forget about our royal history which gives LooChoo another view to the outside world that views Okinawa as peasants and low class. It is the Sho Dynasty that brought LooChoo to centuries of peace and prosperity, and our arts. The Ukwanshin udui was the beginning to the many famouse fwa udui that we still enjoy today, along with the music. This is why we went to pay respects at Tamaudun. We asked permission,went through the protocol, and did something at a place that most Okinawans don’t even know about. The semi became quiet, and a bird came and sat and watched untill we were done. Did Kaneshiro -san mention that? Did she mention to you that she was having problems with her health prior to our trip? I really don’t beleive that this act of respect and honor brought bad “mana”. If we are to believe that this act of protocol and respect brought “bad luck”, then we can look at other things to find other misfortunes that abound. In this case, we must also look at her age, health and mind, She is now doing well, but again, must take it easy because of her age and past health problems which all stems from age. In many cases, we make things bad by the lack of confidence in ourselves, and look for an explination anytime we have misfortunes. We need to be careful how we sort things out, and sometimes not be so superstitious.

    As for Shuri, I understand what you are saying with certain prejudices, but that does not give a general image of what Shuri is now. We must also look at the written history of Shuri which also holds positive events and rulers that helped the peasant class tremendously. Yes, there were bad kings, but the majority were good. In any society that has diversity such as the islands incorporated into Okinawa, there will be some dissent. Just as in Hawai`i, there are many places and people who were greatly affected by the conquests of King Kamehameha to unite the islands, however, there was a huge positive effect as well. If the Hawaiians then and now delved on the negative and anti-monarchy feeling, then we would regress instead of progress,and would never be able to unite to fight for rights etc. This sounds like the same problem in Okinawa. People have forgotten how to help each other. Its all about “me.” Thats why you folks can’t even get the majority to support the removal of bases, or to be there in full force at Henoko.

    What I was basically trying to say in my commenatry on the overthrow, is that we must no forget our lineage, which is connected to Shuri. It is from the overthrow that the decline in our identity began, and still declines, maybe now at a greater speed. Yes, there was problems between classes and different regions of the kingdom, but if we throw out Shuri, and the hisotry of LooChoo, its just as bad as having the war history erased from the history books. Here in Hawai`i we have the same things. We can debate many things till the end of time, but what we don’t have and need to get understanding of, is how things were in history, and understanding the thinking and circumstances at that time. We need to celebrate and pass down our culture and traditions accordingly, and as close to how it was handed down and preserved by our kupuna. We need to recognize our royal history also, and respect that part, especially since the last king was not a tyrant, but actually sacrificed himself to be taken away. If the situation was so bad, the people would have rejoiced at him being taken away. I am proud to have this as part of my history and identity, along with what the majority of the other classes had to contribute, which has given us such rich culture. This is what I fight for so that future generations can have something to connect with, instead of “everyday eisaa”, iemoto, and commercial sanshin on Kokusai Dori. If I didnt beleive in Okinawa and my roots, then i would just give up and spend my time and monies doing other things here in Hawai`i that doesn’t cause stress, problems and worry. I was trying to present something to be proud of to recognize as a true symbol of LooChoo. We can talk about how this person was subjugated, how this person had prejudice, how this person was hurt, but if i write about just how people are battered, then all we look like we have is negative. As far as the blood, we need to unite as one in the blood of being LooChoo nu Kwa, as this is what we have and can proudly say so, along with being Yeamanchu, Myakunchu, Gushichanchu, and so forth, instead of these fake want to be people without the blood that wear the “uminchu” or “Shimanchu” t- shirts sold in tourist shops. I hope you understand my comments, and hope you stay strong in your own fight you have now.

  5. Mashi

    Thank you for your prayers. I’m doing well, so I’ll probably be able to get out of the clean room tomorrow.

    I totally agree with you. A lot of Okinawans now forgot (i would say lost) how to help others.

    But my point was that, in my opinion though, focusing too much on Shuri or the kingdom is not appropriate for you, for lack of better words.. I know you are the one who can change people or give new inspiration to people, but it is extremely difficult to change people in the past. Those spirits only have the past thoughts and ideas, so if we do something wrong to them, they’ll just get angry.

    Since you also have good, strong ancestry in Motobu and Gushikawa, why don’t you focus more on those places? I know the history of the kingdom is really attractive, but I also think that the history of Hokuzan or the history of farmers are so dynamic and attractive, too. That’s what I was trying to say.

  6. Eric

    Mashi, I hope you are doing well in your regular room now. My continued prayers go out to you, Chihiro and baby.This commentary is becoming interesting, and I do understand your concerns, but also see that maybe you don’t really understand what I was trying to say.

    In your first comment you made, you wrote ” kings and queens will be happy” for what we did, but in your second, you say, …”they will be angry”. You show some contradiction in your comments. You also mention spirits, and focusing too much on Shuri. Let me again try to explain. I do not want to focus on Shuri, and my commentary on the overthrow does not say to focus on Shuri. I do not want to do anything to the spirits, and do not want to make it a memorial service of any kind, but simply a commemoration of that part of history that we as “LooChoo nu Kwa” are connected because it affected from the top all the way to the most poor peasant. I never said or implied that I was trying to “change the spirits” as you stated, as that would be out of my realm. I think you need to not focus so much on the “spirits” and supernatural things, as i am not wanting to do that either.

    Let me give you some things to think about. Like Hawai`i, the kingdom of LooChoo was overthrown and its head of state taken away. A hundred years after the overthrow here in Hawai`i, there was a commemoration which encompassed the whole of the Hawaiian community, and resulted in the largest gathering of Hawaiians in one place, workshops, vigils, discussion, and a great surge of pride in who Hawaiians are as a people. The largest gathering was at Iolani Palace, which is the only royal residence in the United States, just as Shuri Castle is the only royal palace in Japan, as Japan had no king. ( something to at least have pride in). I was there at the events, along with Norman sensei at that time, and we experienced all this, and saw the pride in the people, from the homeless, to the politicians, and even the Kawananakoa family. The overthrow ended an era and took away a kingdom. It was the beginning to much loss of self esteem, culture, and identity for the Hawaiian people. The same in LooChoo ( Okinawa). However, the Hawaiians were able to recognize how much they were losing and had already lost, and came together for this event. Many came just to see, but left with a stronger sense of pride in who they were. This is what you benefitted from at UH, in your studies. It was from then that more people listened to Haunani Trask, especially young ones. It was from then that Hawaiians were able to fight for rights and create such a representation at the educational level with the Hawaiian Studies Department at UH. So much came out of this one year of commemoration of the overthrow.

    As you sit and worry about spirits, and doing them harm, the culture of Okinawa is quickly changing and becoming less and less recognizable as Okinawa. It is like the water seeping through your fingers, as you bring it to your mouth to drink. Traditions, art and culture are being lost as each person of that pre-war generation dies and takes their wealth of knowledge and stories with them. Okinawa could never have any commemoration of the overthrow to remind themselves that they were a proud, separate kingdom. The first couple hundred years, (1709, 1809) they were still under the rule of Satsuma. In 1909, the mass immigration had just started due to high taxes, poor livelihood, and to look for a better life for their families. What I was trying to say in my commentary is that in 2009, Okinawa and “shimanchu” have the opportunity to do something. Something that could make a great impact on the young generation. Something that could re-instill pride in their identity and give strength. The time is now. If you wait another 100 years, there will be only the corps of Okinawa. It will be like a tombstone, with Okinawa in name only, and the bugs and maggots like the people who live life eating the scraps to just make it by as surface Okinawans. This is a harsh vision, but it is very close to becoming reality. The events do not have to be, and should not be protest like. It should be educational, and include the community.

    I do not focus on Shuri and have never said it, and I have been working to preserve the culture and traditions of my ancestor villages, through studying real eisaa in Gushikawa, doing interviews with the elders who are in their 90’s, and even starting usudeeku here on Maui. (a village tradition which is quickly dying in Okinawa, and will probably be non existent in the next 10-15 years). I don’t like to tout what I am doing, but if this is the evidence you need for me to show you what I am doing to help pass on and keep alive “our” traditions, then here you are. As you can see, the majority of what I do does not deal with Shuri. I had, and still have hope that those of you who came to Hawai`i and realized your identity more as “shimanchu”, would go back to Okinawa and be like the pioneers of the Hawaiian renaissance that left Hawai`i to study, and came back to give back to the community and help to lift the pride of the people again. Maybe now isn’t the time for you to understand what I am saying. But i hope you realize that time is not on our side.

  7. Mashi

    thank you for tellin me all your visions and clear, very clear objectives. i really appreciate all of them.

    and sorry for my poor way of telling things. those ‘kings and queens will be happy’ and ‘they will be angry’ etc. are not my words. those, what tamaki-san said actually. after obaa got back from the trip, she felt sick, so she went to see tamaki-san, and that time obaa was told those things, obaa said. i believe her, so that’s why i told that story to you because i think that’s really important. i don’t know why those old spirits did that only to obaa (she’s the oldest, maybe?), but that’s what really happened, and i think we can’t just ignore it. since obaa didn’t want to tell this story to anyone, so please don’t tell her anything, but i just thought you should be careful of those kinda things. i don’t exactly know why those spirits got angry, but maybe they are too prideful, or they just didn’t like the way you did, or they didn’t think you were high class enough to do that, or you know, i can think of many possibilities, but i am not a yuta, so i don’t really know. i can only speak guesses..
    so when you take other people to any historical or spritual places, please be careful, and might want to ask a local yuta for some advice.

  8. Eric

    Mashi, you say that those comments were Tamaki- san’s. So if they were, then she was contradicting herself. You yourself say that you can think of many possibilities. I’m sure that if Kaneshiro-san went to other yuta, she might have gotten other answers. And again, if you look at it medically, then there is a solid, more definite answer that is more believable. I’m not saying that Tamaki san is not good, but if you are going to depend 100% on yuta in general, you will have no life and superstition will begin to run your life. This is NOT part of Okinawan culture and religious practice. People who use yuta also know how to discern the messages. By the way, Kaneshiro-san went and told Tamaki- san she was sick, and Tamaki-san just suggested that maybe she got more sick because she wasn’t strong enough at that time. It seems that what you are trying to say is that it was my fault for this happening. I definitely disagree with you on that. If I am to believe that something very positive resulted in something negative as you believe, then everything wrong that happens to us, even catching a cold, can be connected to some kind of action we did, even if it is the most charitable, and kind act a person could ever do. I really don’t understand why you even brought this up in the first place..especially from starting your comments on me focusing so much on Shuri, and which was in NO WAY connected with what my article was about.

    Your comments have been totally off course of the subject presented. You seem to want to work in the yuta subject, into something that has nothing to do with yuta. I look at the article and see the focus on helping Okinawa wake up and see that there is a chance to rediscover and educate much needed cultural and historical treasures during the 400th anniversary of the overthrow. I also feel that maybe there is some sort of difference in things because we are from Hawai`i and maybe because we aren’t born in Okinawa, that we don’t understand. If you think this, thats fin, but I guess all the time you spent with us, you don’t really know us. In your comments you have remarked that I don’t do much of my Gushikawa side and Motobu side, so I gave you examples of what I have been doing. How can you make these comments in the first place? You know what we were doing here, and you know how much time we put in our projects for Ukwanshin. You’ve seen the research and volunteer time and money we spend. I really don’t understand what you were getting at in your comments all over the place, from too much focus on Shuri, me not doing anything for my bakground, and then yuta. If you’re so worried about yuta and things that make the “spirits” angry, then start to fight for Okinawa as hard as you can. Get the sacred places back from the Japanese control, like Sefwa Utaki. Again, next year is the last year for you folks to make something happen. Because the topic of this article does not deal with yuta, no more mention of this unrelated subject should be made on this commentary on this blog. Mahalo.

  9. Norman

    I think the issue of class in Okinawa is always going to be very sensitive, especially the relationships between Shuri and the rest of Okinawa or, for that matter, the rest of Ryukyu. Yes, we cannot ignore the injustices of the upper-class to the peasants and outer-islanders. And yes, we must face up to the parts of our own history that are not so nice. However, we must really look carefully at whose version of history we are looking at and whose vision of our identity we are basing our own identities on. For centuries, people have been pushing our people around and telling us who we are and what we should be. Satsuma, the modern Japanese government, and, more recently, the American government — military-based entities seasoned in the arts of warfare, deception, and conquest — have used pre-existing fractures within the society to keep the people from effectively uniting to ward off the invaders. Ruuchuu people have never been known for their ability to wage war or to fight military battles; rather, we have been renowned for our ability to endure and to fight from within with an undying spirit. This spirit has been the only thing that the invaders could not take away or kill…until now.

    With the imminent loss of the language, the culture, and homogenization of things “Okinawan,” we are not just facing the loss of cultural treasures and memories…we are facing the extinction of the very things that made our ancestors strong and make us who we are as a people. The final battle for Ruuchuu is being fought right now — the battle for our identity and, essentially, our souls. Our ancestors lost their sovereignty to Satsuma; we lost our kingdom to Meiji; we lost and continue to lose lands to the US military. The only thing that is left is the pride of being Ryukyuan and of being descended from people who did not just pick up weapons and wage wars, but took on the higher battle of resisting cultural and identity annilhilation with their hearts and minds. This strength of will to face difficulties is the true bond that we share.

    We must reclaim our history and, in effect, reclaim our identity. Shuri may not have been the nicest to everyone, but if we choose to focus on the positive — of course along with acknowledging the bad — we cannot ignore the fact that the aristocratic culture that remains today is a strong unifying force and source of pride. As children of Ruuchuu, we have the power to determine this. As we reclaim our identity, we can say what we like about ourselves and what we need to work on. We need to make the scary choice of looking at ourselves in the mirror and judging everything that we see with OUR OWN EYES. We take the good and we build on it; we take the bad and made sure we never let it happen again. We have the choice to be proud of our history. We have the choice to fix the things that kept us divided in the first place. And, we have the choice to stop letting the invaders steal the last thing we have left — our spirit.

    We can all argue until we are blue in the face about who did what to whom. But history is only relevant because of its affect on the present. Let’s make our history relevant to who we are today and who we want to be tomorrow.

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