Ryukyu Kingdom
Anthem: "Ishinagu nu uta" (石なぐの歌)[1][better source needed]
Royal seal:
The Ryukyu Kingdom at its maximum extent (present-day Okinawa Prefecture and the Amami Islands)
The Ryukyu Kingdom at its maximum extent (present-day Okinawa Prefecture and the Amami Islands)
Common languagesRyukyuan languages (indigenous), Classical Chinese, Classical Japanese
Ryukyuan religion (State Religion),
Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism
King (國王) 
• 1429–1439
Shō Hashi
• 1477–1526
Shō Shin
• 1587–1620
Shō Nei
• 1848–1879
Shō Tai
Sessei (摂政) 
• 1666–1673
Shō Shōken
Regent (國師) 
• 1751–1752
Sai On
LegislatureShuri cabinet (首里王府), Sanshikan (三司官)
• Unification
5 April 1609
• Reorganized into Ryukyu Domain
27 March 1879
CurrencyRyukyuan, Chinese, and Japanese mon coins[3]
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Empire of Japan
Satsuma Domain
Ryukyu Domain
Today part ofJapan

The Ryukyu Kingdom[a] was a kingdom in the Ryukyu Islands from 1429 to 1879. It was ruled as a tributary state of imperial Ming China by the Ryukyuan monarchy, who unified Okinawa Island to end the Sanzan period, and extended the kingdom to the Amami Islands and Sakishima Islands. The Ryukyu Kingdom played a central role in the maritime trade networks of medieval East Asia and Southeast Asia despite its small size. The Ryukyu Kingdom became a vassal state of the Satsuma Domain of Japan after the invasion of Ryukyu in 1609 but retained de jure independence until it was transformed into the Ryukyu Domain by the Empire of Japan in 1872.[b] The Ryukyu Kingdom was formally annexed and dissolved by Japan in 1879 to form Okinawa Prefecture, and the Ryukyuan monarchy was integrated into the new Japanese nobility.


See also: History of the Ryukyu Islands

Origins of the Kingdom

In the 14th century, small domains scattered on Okinawa Island were unified into three principalities: Hokuzan (北山, Northern Mountain), Chūzan (中山, Central Mountain), and Nanzan (南山, Southern Mountain). This was known as the Three Kingdoms, or Sanzan (三山, Three Mountains) period.[citation needed] Hokuzan, which constituted much of the northern half of the island, was the largest in terms of land area and military strength but was economically the weakest of the three. Nanzan constituted the southern portion of the island. Chūzan lay in the center of the island and was economically the strongest. Its political capital at Shuri, Nanzan was adjacent to the major port of Naha, and Kume-mura, the center of traditional Chinese education. These sites and Chūzan as a whole would continue to form the center of the Ryukyu Kingdom until its abolition.[citation needed]

Many Chinese people moved to Ryukyu to serve the government or to engage in business during this period [citation needed]. At the request of the Ryukyuan King, the Ming Chinese sent thirty-six Chinese families from Fujian to manage oceanic dealings in the kingdom in 1392, during the Hongwu emperor's reign. Many Ryukyuan officials were descended from these Chinese immigrants, being born in China or having Chinese grandfathers.[6] They assisted the Ryukyuans in advancing their technology and diplomatic relations.[7][8][9] On 30 January 1406, the Yongle Emperor expressed horror when the Ryukyuans castrated some of their own children to become eunuchs to serve in the Ming imperial palace. Emperor Yongle said that the boys who were castrated were innocent and did not deserve castration, and he returned them to Ryukyu, and instructed the kingdom not to send eunuchs again.[10]

These three principalities (tribal federations led by major chieftains) battled, and Chūzan emerged victorious. The Chūzan leaders were officially recognized by Ming dynasty China as the rightful kings over those of Nanzan and Hokuzan, thus lending great legitimacy to their claims. The ruler of Chūzan passed his throne to King Hashi; Hashi conquered Hokuzan in 1416 and Nanzan in 1429, uniting the island of Okinawa for the first time, and founded the first Shō dynasty. Hashi was granted the surname "Shō" (Chinese: ; pinyin: Shàng) by the Ming emperor in 1421, becoming known as Shō Hashi (Chinese: 尚巴志; pinyin: Shàng Bāzhì).[citation needed]

Shō Hashi adopted the Chinese hierarchical court system, built Shuri Castle and the town as his capital, and constructed Naha harbor. When in 1469 King Shō Toku, who was a grandson of Shō Hashi, died without a male heir, a palatine servant declared he was Toku's adopted son and gained Chinese investiture. This pretender, Shō En, began the Second Shō dynasty. Ryukyu's golden age occurred during the reign of Shō Shin, the second king of that dynasty, who reigned from 1478 to 1526.[11]

The kingdom extended its authority over the southernmost islands in the Ryukyu archipelago by the end of the 15th century, and by 1571 the Amami Ōshima Islands, to the north near Kyūshū, were incorporated into the kingdom as well.[12] While the kingdom's political system was adopted and the authority of Shuri recognized, in the Amami Ōshima Islands, the kingdom's authority over the Sakishima Islands to the south remained for centuries at the level of a tributary-suzerain relationship.[13]

Golden age of maritime trade

For nearly two hundred years, the Ryukyu Kingdom would thrive as a key player in maritime trade with Southeast and East Asia.[14][15] Central to the kingdom's maritime activities was the continuation of the tributary relationship with Ming dynasty China, begun by Chūzan in 1372,[12][c] and enjoyed by the three Okinawan kingdoms which followed it. China provided ships for Ryukyu's maritime trade activities,[16] allowed a limited number of Ryukyuans to study at the Imperial Academy in Beijing, and formally recognized the authority of the King of Chūzan, allowing the kingdom to trade formally at Ming ports. Ryukyuan ships, often provided by China, traded at ports throughout the region, which included, among others, China, Đại Việt (Vietnam), Japan, Java, Korea, Luzon, Malacca, Pattani, Palembang, Siam, and Sumatra.[17]

Seal from Qing China giving authority to the King of Ryukyu to rule.
The main building of Shuri Castle

Japanese products—silver, swords, fans, lacquerware, folding screens—and Chinese products—medicinal herbs, minted coins, glazed ceramics, brocades, textiles—were traded within the kingdom for Southeast Asian sappanwood, rhino horn, tin, sugar, iron, ambergris, Indian ivory, and Arabian frankincense. Altogether, 150 voyages between the kingdom and Southeast Asia on Ryukyuan ships were recorded in the Rekidai Hōan, an official record of diplomatic documents compiled by the kingdom, as having taken place between 1424 and the 1630s, with 61 of them bound for Siam, 10 for Malacca, 10 for Pattani, and 8 for Java, among others.[17]

The Chinese policy of haijin (海禁, "sea bans"), limiting trade with China to tributary states and those with formal authorization, along with the accompanying preferential treatment of the Ming Court towards Ryukyu, allowed the kingdom to flourish and prosper for roughly 150 years.[18] In the late 16th century, however, the kingdom's commercial prosperity fell into decline. The rise of the wokou threat among other factors led to the gradual loss of Chinese preferential treatment;[19] the kingdom also suffered from increased maritime competition from Portuguese traders.[12]

Japanese invasion and subordination

Main article: Invasion of Ryukyu

Around 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi asked the Ryukyu Kingdom to aid in his campaign to conquer Korea. If successful, Hideyoshi intended to then move against China. As the Ryukyu Kingdom was a tributary state of the Ming dynasty, the request was refused. The Tokugawa shogunate that emerged following Hideyoshi's fall authorized the Shimazu familyfeudal lords of the Satsuma domain (present-day Kagoshima Prefecture)—to send an expeditionary force to conquer the Ryukyus. The subsequent invasion took place in 1609, but Satsuma still allowed the Ryukyu Kingdom to find itself in a period of "dual subordination" to Japan and China, wherein Ryukyuan tributary relations were maintained with both the Tokugawa shogunate and the Chinese court.[12]

Occupation occurred fairly quickly, with some fierce fighting, and King Shō Nei was taken prisoner to Kagoshima and later to Edo (modern-day Tokyo). To avoid giving the Qing any reason for military action against Japan, the king was released two years later and the Ryukyu Kingdom regained a degree of autonomy.[20] However, the Satsuma domain seized control over some territory of the Ryukyu Kingdom, notably the Amami-Ōshima island group, which was incorporated into the Satsuma domain and remains a part of Kagoshima Prefecture, not Okinawa Prefecture.

The kingdom was described by Hayashi Shihei in Sangoku Tsūran Zusetsu, which was published in 1785.[21]

Tributary relations

Ryukyu Tribute Ship Folding Screen (circa 1830)
An 1832 Ryukyuan mission to Edo, Japan; 98 people with a music band and officials.
Traditional Ryukyuan clothes in late period, which were much closer to the Japanese kimono.
This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (May 2013) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

In 1655, tribute relations between Ryukyu and Qing dynasty (the China's dynasty that followed Ming after 1644) were formally approved by the shogunate. This was seen to be justified, in part, because of the desire to avoid giving Qing any reason for military action against Japan.[20]

Since Ming China prohibited trade with Japan, the Satsuma domain, with the blessing of the Tokugawa shogunate, used the trade relations of the kingdom to continue to maintain trade relations with China. Considering that Japan had previously severed ties with most European countries except the Dutch, such trade relations proved especially crucial to both the Tokugawa shogunate and Satsuma domain, which would use its power and influence, gained in this way, to help overthrow the shogunate in the 1860s.[22][23] Ryukyuan missions to Edo for Tokugawa Shōgun.

The Ryukyuan king was a vassal of the Satsuma daimyō, after Shimazu's Ryukyu invasion in 1609, the Satsuma Clan established a governmental office's branch known as Zaibankaiya (在番仮屋) or Ufukaiya (大仮屋) at Shuri in 1628, and became the base of Ryukyu domination for 250 years, until 1872.[24] The Satsuma Domain's residents can be roughly compared to a European resident in a protectorate.[25] But the kingdom was not considered as part of any han (fief): up until the formal annexation of the islands and abolition of the kingdom in 1879, the Ryukyus were not truly considered de jure part of Edo Japan. Though technically under the control of Satsuma, Ryukyu was given a great degree of autonomy, to best serve the interests of the Satsuma daimyō and those of the shogunate, in trading with China.[22] Ryukyu was a tributary state of China, and since Japan had no formal diplomatic relations with China, it was essential that China not realize that Ryukyu was controlled by Japan. Thus, Satsuma—and the shogunate—was obliged to be mostly hands-off in terms of not visibly or forcibly occupying Ryukyu or controlling the policies and laws there. The situation benefited all three parties involved—the Ryukyu royal government, the Satsuma daimyō, and the shogunate—to make Ryukyu seem as much a distinctive and foreign country as possible. Japanese were prohibited from visiting Ryukyu without shogunal permission, and the Ryukyuans were forbidden from adopting Japanese names, clothes, or customs. They were even forbidden from divulging their knowledge of the Japanese language during their trips to Edo; the Shimazu family, daimyōs of Satsuma, gained great prestige by putting on a show of parading the King, officials, and other people of Ryukyu to and through Edo. As the only han to have a king and an entire kingdom as vassals, Satsuma gained significantly from Ryukyu's exoticness, reinforcing that it was an entirely separate kingdom.[citation needed]

According to statements by Qing imperial official Li Hongzhang in a meeting with Ulysses S. Grant, China had a special relationship with the island and the Ryukyu had paid tribute to China for hundreds of years, and the Chinese reserved certain trade rights for them in an amicable and beneficial relationship.[26] Japan ordered tributary relations to end in 1875 after the tribute mission of 1874 was perceived as a show of submission to China.[27]

Annexation by the Japanese Empire

Main article: Ryūkyū Disposition

In 1872, Emperor Meiji unilaterally declared that the kingdom was then Ryukyu Domain.[28][29][30] At the same time, the appearance of independence was maintained for diplomatic reasons with Qing China[31] until the Meiji government abolished the Ryukyu Kingdom when the islands were incorporated as Okinawa Prefecture on 27 March 1879.[32] The Amami-Ōshima island group which had been integrated into Satsuma Domain became a part of Kagoshima Prefecture.

Ryukyu people depicted in the Chinese paintings Portraits of Periodical Offering.

The last king of Ryukyu was forced to relocate to Tokyo, and was given a compensating kazoku rank as Marquis Shō Tai.[33][34][page needed] Many royalist supporters fled to China.[35] The king's death in 1901 diminished the historic connections with the former kingdom.[36] With the abolition of the aristocracy after World War II, the Sho family continues to live in Tokyo.[37]

Major events

List of Ryukyuan kings

Main article: King of Ryukyu

Kings of Ryukyu Islands
Name Chinese characters Reign Dynasty Notes
Shunten 舜天 shuntin 1187–1237 Shunten dynasty
Shunbajunki 舜馬順熈 shunbajunchi 1238–1248 Shunten dynasty
Gihon 義本 gifun 1249–1259 Shunten dynasty
Eiso 英祖 eeso 1260–1299 Eiso dynasty
Taisei 大成 teeshii 1300–1308 Eiso dynasty
Eiji 英慈 eeji 1309–1313 Eiso dynasty
Kings of Chūzan
Tamagusuku 玉城 tamagushiku 1314–1336 Eiso dynasty
Seii 西威 see-i 1337–1354 Eiso dynasty
Satto 察度 sattu 1355–1397 Satto dynasty
Bunei 武寧 bunii 1398–1406 Satto dynasty
Shō Shishō 尚思紹 shoo shisoo 1407–1421 First Shō dynasty
Shō Hashi 尚巴志 shoo hashii 1422–1429 First Shō dynasty as King of Chūzan
Kings of Ryukyu
Name Chinese characters Reign Line or dynasty Notes
Shō Hashi 尚巴志 shoo hashii 1429–1439 First Shō dynasty as King of Ryukyu
Shō Chū 尚忠 shoo chuu 1440–1442 First Shō dynasty
Shō Shitatsu 尚思達 shoo shitaa 1443–1449 First Shō dynasty
Shō Kinpuku 尚金福 shoo chinfuku 1450–1453 First Shō dynasty
Shō Taikyū 尚泰久 shoo teechuu 1454–1460 First Shō dynasty
Shō Toku 尚徳 shoo tuku 1461–1469 First Shō dynasty
Shō En 尚圓 shoo in 1470–1476 Second Shō dynasty a.k.a. Kanemaru Uchima
Shō Sen'i 尚宣威 shoo shin-i 1477 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Shin 尚真 shoo shin 1477–1526 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Sei 尚清 shoo shii 1527–1555 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Gen 尚元 shoo gwan 1556–1572 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Ei 尚永 shoo ii 1573–1586 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Nei 尚寧 shoo nii 1587–1620 Second Shō dynasty ruled during Satsuma invasion; first king to be Satsuma vassal
Shō Hō 尚豊 shoo fuu 1621–1640 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Ken 尚賢 shoo chin 1641–1647 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Shitsu 尚質 shoo shichi 1648–1668 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Tei 尚貞 shoo tii 1669–1709 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Eki 尚益 shoo ichi 1710–1712 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Kei 尚敬 shoo chii 1713–1751 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Boku 尚穆 shoo buku 1752–1795 Second Shō dynasty
Shō On 尚温 shoo un 1796–1802 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Sei (r. 1803) 尚成 shoo shii 1803 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Kō 尚灝 shoo koo 1804–1828 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Iku 尚育 shoo iku 1829–1847 Second Shō dynasty
Shō Tai 尚泰 shoo tee 1848 – 11 March 1879 Second Shō dynasty last King of Ryukyu (then Japanese Marquis 1884–1901)

See also

Location of the Ryukyu Islands
Hokuzan, Chūzan, Nanzan


  1. ^
    • Okinawan: 琉球國, romanized: Ruuchuu-kuku
    • Japanese: 琉球王国, romanizedRyūkyū Ōkoku
    • Middle Chinese: 琉球國, romanized: Ljuw-gjuw kwok
    • Manchu: ᠯᡳᠣ ᠴᡳᠣ ᡤᡠᡵᡠᠨ Lio cio gurun
    • Classical Chinese: 大琉球國 (lit.'Great Lew Chew Country')[4]
    • Historical English names: Lew Chew,[5] Lewchew, Luchu, and Loochoo
    • Historical French name: Liou-tchou[5]
    • Historical Dutch name: Lioe-kioe[5]
  2. ^ Although the Ryukyuan king was a vassal of the Satsuma Domain, the Ryukyu Kingdom was not considered part of any Han due to trade relations with China.
  3. ^ Nanzan and Hokuzan also entered into tributary relationships with Ming China, in 1380 and 1383 respectively.[16]



  1. ^ Arben Anthony Saavedra, Fernando Inafuku (21 April 2019). National Anthem of the Ryukyu Kingdom 琉球王国国歌 (YouTube) (in Okinawan). Okinawa. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  2. ^ Kikō, Nishizato. "明清交替期の中琉日関係再考" (PDF) (in Japanese). pp. 23–25. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 February 2022. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  3. ^ "Ryuukyuuan coins". Luke Roberts at the Department of History – University of California at Santa Barbara. 24 October 2003. Archived from the original on 4 August 2017. Retrieved 1 June 2017.
  4. ^ "琉球国金石文献述略" (in Chinese). Ancient History Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 25 December 2018.
  5. ^ a b c "旧条約彙纂. 第3巻(朝鮮・琉球)" (in Japanese). National Diet Library. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  6. ^ Tsai, Shih-shan Henry (1996). The eunuchs in the Ming dynasty (illustrated ed.). SUNY Press. p. 145. ISBN 0-7914-2687-4. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  7. ^ Schottenhammer, Angela (2007). Schottenhammer, Angela (ed.). The East Asian maritime world 1400–1800: its fabrics of power and dynamics of exchanges. Vol. 4 of East Asian economic and socio-cultural studies: East Asian maritime history (illustrated ed.). Otto Harrassowitz. p. xiii. ISBN 978-3-447-05474-4. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  8. ^ Deng, Gang (1999). Maritime sector, institutions, and sea power of premodern China. Contributions in economics and economic history. Vol. 212 (illustrated ed.). Greenwood. p. 125. ISBN 0-313-30712-1. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  9. ^ Hendrickx, Katrien (2007). The Origins of Banana-fibre Cloth in the Ryukyus, Japan (illustrated ed.). Leuven University Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-90-5867-614-6. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
  10. ^ Wade, Geoff (1 July 2007). "Ryukyu in the Ming Reign Annals 1380s–1580s". Working Paper Series (93). Asia Research Institute National University of Singapore: 75. doi:10.2139/ssrn.1317152. SSRN 1317152. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ Smits, Gregory (2019). Maritime Ryukyu, 1050–1650. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-8248-7708-8. OCLC 1098213229.
  12. ^ a b c d e Matsuda 2001, p. 16.
  13. ^ Murai 2008, pp. iv–v.
  14. ^ Okamoto 2008, p. 35.
  15. ^ Okinawa Prefectural reserve cultural assets center (2012). "東南アジアと琉球". Comprehensive Database of Archaeological Site Reports in Japan. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  16. ^ a b Okamoto 2008, p. 36.
  17. ^ a b Sakamaki, Shunzō (1964). "Ryukyu and Southeast Asia". Journal of Asian Studies. 23 (3): 382–384. doi:10.2307/2050757. JSTOR 2050757. S2CID 162443515.
  18. ^ Murai 2008, p. iv.
  19. ^ Okamoto 2008, p. 53.
  20. ^ a b Kang 2010, p. 81
  21. ^ Klaproth, Julius (1832), San kokf tsou ran to sets, ou Aperçu général des trois royaumes [San kokf tsou ran to sets, or General overview of the three kingdoms] (in French), pp. 169–180.
  22. ^ a b K. Sakai, Robert (1964). "The Satsuma-Ryukyu Trade and the Tokugawa Seclusion Policy". The Journal of Asian Studies. 23 (3): 391–403. doi:10.2307/2050758. JSTOR 2050758. S2CID 162751444. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
  23. ^ Norihito Mizuno (2009). "Early Meiji Policies Towards the Ryukyus and the Taiwanese Aboriginal Territories". Modern Asian Studies. 43 (3): 683–739. doi:10.1017/S0026749X07003034. JSTOR 20488100. S2CID 145344717.
  24. ^ "The Satsuma clan of Japan maintained a local office charged with governing Ryukyu". Naha City Economic and Tourism Department Tourism Division. 29 June 2018. Retrieved 20 May 2021.
  25. ^ "Nakahara Zenshu: Character and Weapons of the Ryukyu Kingdom". Ryukyu Bugei 琉球武芸. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  26. ^ Grant, Ulysses Simpson (2008). Simon, John Y (ed.). The Papers. Vol. 29: October 1, 1878 – September 30, 1880 (illustrated ed.). SIU Press, Ulysses S. Grant Association. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-8093-2775-1. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
  27. ^ Kerr 1953, p. 366-367.
  28. ^ Matsuo, Kanenori Sakon (2005). The Secret Royal Martial Arts of Ryukyu, p. 40, at Google Books.
  29. ^ Kerr 1953, p. 175.
  30. ^ Lin, Man-houng. "The Ryukyus and Taiwan in the East Asian Seas: A Longue Durée Perspective", Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. 27 October 2006, translated and abridged from Academia Sinica Weekly, No. 1084. 24 August 2006.
  31. ^ Goodenough, Ward H. Book Review: "George H. Kerr. Okinawa: the History of an Island People...", The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, May 1959, Vol. 323, No. 1, p. 165.
  32. ^ Kerr 1953, p. 381.
  33. ^ a b Papinot, Jacques Edmond Joseph (2003), "Sho" (PDF@60), Nobiliare du Japon [Nobility of Japan] (in French), p. 56.
  34. ^ Papinot, Jacques Edmond Joseph (1906), Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie du Japon [Dictionary of History & Geography of Japan] (in French).
  35. ^ 论战后琉球独立运动及琉球归属问题 – 百度文库
  36. ^ Kerr 1953, p. 236.
  37. ^ "Forgotten Dynasty". 26 September 2013.
  38. ^ a b c d e f g h Hamashita, Takeshi. Okinawa Nyūmon (沖縄入門, "Introduction to Okinawa"). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 2000, pp. 207–13.
  39. ^ "Lew Chew (Loochoo)* - Countries - Office of the Historian".


26°12′N 127°41′E / 26.200°N 127.683°E / 26.200; 127.683