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 was the last king of the Ryūkyū Kingdommarker (r. 1848– March 11, 1879). His reign saw greatly increased interactions with travelers from abroad, particularly from Europe and the United Statesmarker, as well as the eventual end of the kingdom and its annexation by Japan as Okinawa Prefecturemarker.

Following these events in 1879, Shō Tai was made a as the royal family of the former kingdom was incorporated into the new Japanese system of peerage (kazoku).

Early Reign

Shō Tai became king of Ryūkyū at the age of six, and reigned for 32 years. Developments surrounding pressures from Western powers to open the kingdom up to trade, formal relations, and the free coming and going and settlement of Westerners in the Ryukyu Islands dominated the first decade or two of his reign.

While Westerners had been coming to the Ryūkyūs for several decades prior to Shō Tai's accession in 1848, and were almost always greeted warmly and provided with supplies, it was not until the 1850s that formal policies allowed and encouraged trade and relations with Europeans and Americans. Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry made port at Naha several times, both before and immediately after his famous landing at Uraga Harbormarker in 1853; the Commodore was never permitted to meet with the young king, despite his demands and his forced march to, and entry into, Shuri Castlemarker. He did, however, meet with the royal regent and other high officials of the royal government, eventually yielding the Lew Chew Compact of 1854, along with other agreements, which could be said to parallel the Convention of Kanagawa signed that same year by representatives of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and to represent the "opening" of Ryūkyū to trade and relations with the United States. Trade and relations with other Western powers soon followed, backed by Shimazu Nariakira, lord of Satsuma, who saw in the process opportunities to gain wealth and power. Relations with Francemarker were particularly strong; a French Mission was established in Naha, which in 1857 formally granted a number of items of field artillery to Shō Tai.

Nariakira died suddenly in 1858. He was succeeded by his half-brother Shimazu Hisamitsu, to whom Shō Tai was obliged to formally swear anew the oath of loyalty to the Shimazu clan that he and his ancestors had sworn since 1611. Hisamitsu reversed his half-brother's policies regarding Ryūkyū's interactions with the West; Satsuma's radical opposition to foreign influence was a driving force in the events of the following decade in Japan.

It was not until 1864, after Shō Tai had been on the throne for sixteen years, that the customary mission was sent to China to formally request investiture from the Chinese Imperial Courtmarker. Chinese representatives journeyed to Ryūkyū two years later, formally granting on behalf of the Tongzhi Emperor recognition of Shō Tai's authority as king.

Meiji Restoration

Following the 1868 Meiji Restoration, and the abolition of the han system four years later, the relationship of the kingdom to the former Satsuma Domain (now Kagoshima Prefecturemarker) and to the new Japanese central government at Tokyomarker was unclear and a subject of controversy between various factions in the central government. Shō Tai, his advisors or officials were never consulted for advice, consent, or opinions.

At the same time, in 1871, there occurred an incident in which a Ryūkyūan ship wrecked on the Taiwanmarker coast and its crew was killed by the local natives. Kagoshima pressured Shō Tai to send a formal petition to Tokyo, asking for redress; the event would blossom into an international incident and eventually lead to the dispatch of a Japanese military expedition to Taiwan in 1874. In order to help resolve this problem and others concerning the relationship between Ryūkyū and Japan, Shō Tai was advised to journey to Tokyo and formally pay his respects to Emperor Meiji, acknowledging at the same time his (and therefore his kingdom's) subordination to the Emperor of Japan. Shō Tai refused, and sent Prince Ie, his uncle, and Ginowan Ueekata, one of the kingdom's top ministers, in his place, claiming illness prevented him from making the journey himself. At Tokyo, the envoys were presented, on behalf of their king, with a proclamation declaring the kingdom to now be "Ryūkyū han", that is, a feudal domain under the Japanese emperor in the manner of those which had been abolished the previous year in the Japan mainland. This new arrangement meant freedom from subordination to Satsuma, but it also meant incorporation into Japan and subordination to the Imperial government in Tokyo.

A pair of missions led by Matsuda Michiyuki, Chief Secretary of the Home Ministry, in 1875 and 1879 were aimed at reorganizing the administrative structure of Ryūkyū. Shō Tai and several of his chief ministers were granted formal ranks in the Japanese Imperial Court, and the king was ordered to appear in person in Tokyo; he again claimed illness. Prince Nakijin led a small group of officials to express the domain's gratitude in his place. However, the king’s intransigence in refusing to come to Tokyo, and continued direct foreign relations with China was a matter of great concern to the new Meiji leadership, and Home Minister Ito Hirobumi drew up plans in 1878 to end the domain’s autonomous and semi-ambiguous status.

Abdication and exile

Funeral of Marquis Shō Tai
On March 11, 1879, Shō Tai formally abdicated upon the orders of Tokyo, which abolished Ryūkyū han and created Okinawa Prefecturemarker, with officials appointed from Tokyo to administer the islands The former king was made to leave his palace, which he did on March 30, and to move to Tokyo, which he did after some delays owing to supposed illness and inability to travel, leaving Okinawa finally on May 27, and arriving in Yokohama on June 8, from whence he traveled with his entourage of 96 courtiers to Tokyo.

After meeting with Emperor Meiji on June 17, 1879, he was incorporated into the newly established kazoku peerage with the title of . In the rest of his life he returned to Okinawa only once, in 1884, to pay formal respects to his ancestors at Tamaudunmarker, the royal mausoleum in Shurimarker.

Chinese Viceroy Li Hongzhang protested the annexation of the former kingdom, and attempted to reopen the question of Ryūkyū's sovereignty, by entering into discussions with former US president Ulysses S. Grant and officials in Tokyo, but without success.

Tokyo statesman Ōkubo Toshimichi suggested in 1875 that if Marquis Shō Tai were to be made hereditary governor of Okinawa, it would help quiet anti-Japanese elements in Okinawa and would help the prefecture better assimilate into the nation. A major Okinawan movement called the Kōdō-kai proposed the same some years later, but the idea was ultimately rejected by Tokyo as it could represent a failure of the current administration and could reignite issues over sovereignty of the islands.

Though now a Marquis, much of the same formalities and rituals appropriate for the Ryūkyūan king continued to be performed for Shō Tai. He moved in the elite circles of Tokyo, and became involved in business. Interests associated with the Shō family attempted to develop a copper mining operation on Okinawa in 1887, a prospect which yielded little. The Marquis' business managers, however, did succeed in establishing an Osaka-based company called "Maruichi Shōten" which dealt in native Okinawan products, selling them in Osaka and distributing them across the country.

Shō Tai died in 1901, at the age of 58, and was entombed in the royal mausoleum at Shuri, Tamaudunmarker. His family observed traditional Ryūkyūan mourning rituals for two years, after which they gave up traditional costume, rituals, court language, and ways of life, adopting those of the rest of the Japanese kazoku aristocracy.


  1. "Shō Tai." Okinawa rekishi jinmei jiten (沖縄歴史人名事典, "Encyclopedia of People of Okinawan History"). Naha: Okinawa Bunka-sha, 1996. p 42.
  2. Kerr, George H. Okinawa: The History of an Island People (revised ed.). Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2003. pp. 330–6.
  3. Kerr. pp. 342–5.
  4. Kerr. p. 347.
  5. See Namamugi Incident, Bombardment of Kagoshima, Meiji Restoration.
  6. Kerr. p 352.
  7. Kerr. pp. 362–3.
  8. Kerr. p. 363.
  9. Kerr. p. 372.
  10. Kerr. p381.
  11. Kerr. p382.
  12. Kerr. p383.
  13. Kerr. p425.
  14. Kerr. p407.
  15. Kerr. pp452-3.


  • Kerr, George H. Okinawa: The History of an Island People (revised ed.). Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2003.
  • "Shō Tai." Okinawa rekishi jinmei jiten (沖縄歴史人名事典, "Encyclopedia of People of Okinawan History"). Naha: Okinawa Bunka-sha, 1996. p 42.

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