2000 Volume 109 Issue 11 Pages 1992-2014
The research done to date on the relations between Japan and the Ryukyu Islands has tended focus its discussion on the Shimazu family of the Satsuma region in Kyushu. The Shimazu family was not only granted various rights over the Ryukyus, but also carried out a direct invasion of its territory. It is true that many of the historical sources related to the subject come from the Shimazu family, and it cannot be denied that the two regions were closely related geographically. However, it is the opinion of the author of the present paper that the focus of the research to date has placed to much emphasis on the history of the Shimazu family rather than the history of international relations between two countries. He sets out to reexamine the research and offer a broader point of view, while criticizing the conventional interpretation of the Shimazu family documents. As the result of this examination, the author divides the relations between medieval Japan and the Ryukyu Kingdom into four different periods. The first period, spanning the first half of the fifteenth century, involved mainly the Muromachi Bakufu on the Japan side, which dispatched emissaries to the Ryukyus on a yearly basis. During the second period, from 1470 to 1520, the Hosokawa family issued sealed orders permitting such parties as pirates on the Inland Sea and the Shimazu family to conduct maritime trade with the Ryukyus. The focus of the third period, 1520 to 1560, shifted to the Ouchi family, as internal division spread among the Shimazu resulting in a loss of their political influence in Ryukyu affairs. The final period, from 1560 on, centered around the Shimazu family, now unified as a powerful sengoku daimyo and assuming a position to demand exclusive rights to deal with the Ryukyus. It was also a time that the Ryukyu Kingdom attempted to free itself from international relations in which it was subordinated to Japan. According to this periodization scheme, it is clear that the Shimazu family played the role of a mere intermediary during most of the medieval period. Throughout the period, the Ryukyus were placed by Japan within subordinate relationships to political forces centered on the Muromachi shogunate.