The Other Ryukyukan
The Other Ryukyukan

The Other Ryukyukan

I think most Karateka are familiar with the Ryukyukan located in Fuzhou. The Ryukyukan served as a sort of embassy for the Ryukyu Kingdom and it is thought that it was critical in the development of modern Okinawan Karate-do. Indeed, many Okinawans reportedly received their initial training in the martial arts there including Higaonna Kanryo and Uechi Kanbun. However, what might surprise people is that there was another Ryukyukan, this one located in Kagoshima.

As is well known, in 1609, the Satsuma clan invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom and demanded that several of its government officials be held at Kagoshima Castle as ‘witnesses’. This is in reference to the Satsuma clan’s system of ‘kokuhaku’ (witnesses) used to control the Ryukyu Islands which began in 1611. Later these officials were moved to a new location located at the bottom of the southern part of Kagoshima castle (the site of the current Nagata Junior High School in Kagoshima city) which was called the Ryukyu Kariya (琉球仮屋).

Ryukyu-kan (Tenpo-era drawing – Property of the Kagoshima City Museum of Art)

From around 1700s onwards it was referred to as the Ryukyukan. It evolved into a location where Ryukyu officials, personnel such as zaiban uekata (在番親方) were stationed there to manage cargo arriving from the Ryukyu Kingdom as well as make preparations for envoy visits. In addition, Satsuma officials, such as kikiyaku (聞役), worked at the Ryukyuan. The main hall was used as an office for the officials of the royal government and as a trading post between Ryukyu and Satsuma merchants, and the reception hall functioned as a place to receive envoys from the Satsuma clan. In addition, not only did Ryukukans work at the Ryukyukan, but also Satsuma clansmen. Like the Ryukyukan in Fuzhou, access to the premises was restricted.Furthermore, Ryukyuan residents were ordered to keep their appearance and language in the Ryukyuan style. However, this did not mean that there were no interactions with the people of Kagoshima.

Ryukyuan Ship (Tenpo-era drawing – Property of the Kagoshima City Museum of Art)

In the “Saiyuki Zakki”, a record of a tour of Satsuma by Furukawa Koshoken in the summer of 1783, he wrote,

“When I saw the Ryukyukan, the gatekeeper forbade me to enter. About a hundred of them came to Kagoshima to buy and sell products and to trade, and all of them spoke Japanese. Just as people from the countryside go to Kyoto to learn various arts and crafts, Ryukyuan people go to Kagoshima to study and learn various arts and crafts, and there are Ryukyuan people who can read Japanese poetry and have excellent handwriting. Their hair is tied up in a knot like the hair of a child, or they wear their hair in a bun. Their garments are like those of Japanese warriors. For ceremonial occasions and funerals, there are different kinds of garments. Their appearance is gentle, and they have long faces, but their manners are not good.”

Ryukyuans going to view cherry blossoms (Tenpo-era drawing – Property of the Kagoshima City Museum of Art)

From 1873 onward, the envoys were dispatched annually to Tokyo to receive the Emperor, and the Ryukyuan’s political and trading base in Japan shifted from the Kagoshima Ryukyukan to the Tokyo residence (Tokyo Ryukyukan Office). However, the envoys who left Naha for Tokyo did not go directly to Tokyo, but came to Tokyo via the Kagoshima Ryukyukan, which continued to exist in the 1870s. In the end, the Ryukyukan was destroyed by British naval gunfire during the Bombardment of Kagoshima in 1863

I cannot help but wonder if the Ryukyukan in Kagoshima also influenced the development of both Ryukyuan armed and unarmed martial arts. This is something that I’m sure more skilled researchers than myself will look into.


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