University of Hawaii at Manoa, United States
When the Meiji government abolished the Ryūkyū Kingdom in 1879, creating Okinawa Prefecture in its place, it issued a justification that invoked the “fact” that Ryūkyū’s kings were descendants of the twelfth-century Japanese warrior, Minamoto no Tametomo. Meiji officials cited the first royal history of the Ryūkyū Kingdom, the Chūzan seikan, compiled by Shō Shōken in 1650, within which the idea of Tametomo’s siring of the Ryūkyūan king, Shunten, was first described. Shōken’s ideological priority was to counter earlier Japanese portrayals of Tametomo as a king of Ryūkyū, but in so doing, he knew how his new biographical narrative actually confirmed Shunten’s Japanese ancestry and thereby justified Japan’s political domination of Ryūkyū in the wake of Satsuma’s invasion of 1609. Thus, he weakened this connection by suggesting that Shunten’s royal line may have been severed centuries earlier, creating the alternative view that subsequent kings were neither descended from Tametomo nor of Japanese ancestry. Half a century later, the Ryūkyūan scholar, Sai Taku, revised the Chūzan seikan as the Chūzan seifu, in which he sought to correct the flaws of the earlier work. A central theme of Sai Taku’s work was dynastic restoration, specifically, the story of how the original royal line of Ryūkyū had been restored with the accession of King Eiso in the fourteenth century, whom he claimed was the ancestor of Ryūkyū’s contemporary royal line. This depiction both strengthened the political legitimacy of the royal court as it also more firmly dismissed the idea of its Japanese roots.