11 Questions About the Small Island Kingdom of Ryukyu
The way you see the world depends on where you are.
Do you have a smartphone nearby? If so, let’s look up Okinawa and its surroundings. First, open up any map application, search “Okinawa” and set your screen so that it fits in the center. Then, start to zoom out. What do you see?
Towards the west you’ll see China, with Korea to the north, Japan to the northeast and Taiwan to the southwest. If you zoom out even more, you’ll see Hokkaido further out north, with the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar towards the southwest. And a vast ocean to the southeast.
That’s the world you can see from Okinawa’s vantage. As you’ll soon find out, Okinawa started off very differently from other Japanese areas like Kyoto and Tokyo.
Okinawa has a uniquely different history from the rest of Japan, as its geography indicates. Okinawa became part of Japan just 150 years ago, and before that it was a kingdom called “Ryukyu,” which ruled for 450 years. The Ryukyu Kingdom formed a relationship under China's retainership, and prospered as a trading nation that used the influence of large surrounding nations to run ships throughout East and Southeast Asia.
The Ryukyu Kingdom flourished as a liaison between countries around the world, and so the word “Bankoku Shinryo” was used to symbolize its significance as the “Bridge of Nations.”
Ryukyu knew their own strengths and weaknesses, and acted accordingly in order to survive. As you can tell by looking at the map, the Ryukyu Kingdom is small in comparison to power houses like China and Japan, so their strategy led them away from military tactics and towards trade and foreign policy. This strategy had the added benefit of encouraging cultural exchange with surrounding countries, ultimating resulting in the unique Okinawan culture we see today.
This guide will take you through 11 questions about the heart of the Ryukyu Kingdom: Shuri-jo Castle. Answering these questions together will illuminate the character, history, and culture of the Ryukyu Kingdom.