Musings of a Seeker
By Tom Spellman
The Ryukyuan people of Okinawa lived as an independent kingdom until the Satsuma Clan of Japan invaded and subjugated them into vassalhood in 1609. As we found in our previous articles, Okinawa, China, and the Satsuma maintained a profitable financial/cultural existence until the Ryukyu islands were officially annexed by Japan, during Japan’s Meiji Reformation Era, in 1869 and became the Okinawa Prefecture, Japan’s largest minority group. They are now Japan's largest minority group, with 1.3 million living in Okinawa and 300,000 living in other areas of Japan. (The adjustment of administrative relations between Shuri and Tokyo had been a matter of concern from the moment Shimazu surrendered his feudal privileges.) In seeking to appreciate the changes that occurred during this period in Okinawa it helps to understand the transformations within Japan’s governmental, cultural, societal institutions in conjunction with the Reformation and the shift from feudal dominions rule to a constitutional government, a legal system, and the societal apportionment of its citizens. In this third installment of the House of Okinawa’s story, we will be delving into the monumental change to the Japanese mainland, its governmental and financial structure, and thereby, the nation of Okinawa, its citizens, and the effects of the fledgling Meiji Era of Japan had on the art of Karate and its practitioners at the close of the 1800s and early 1900s in Okinawa.
Welcome to The House of Okinawa
Change, A Nature of Being: Part 3
The Meiji reformers began with measures that addressed the decentralized feudal structure to which they attributed Japan’s weakness. In 1869 the lords of Satsuma (and Okinawa), Chōshū, Tosa, and Saga were persuaded to return their lands to the throne. (Others quickly followed suit. The court took steps to standardize the administration of the domains, appointing their former daimyo as governors. In 1871 the governor-daimyo were summoned to Tokyo and told that the domains were officially abolished. The 250 former domains now became 72 prefectures and three metropolitan districts, a number later reduced by one-third. In the process, most daimyos were eased out of administrative roles, and though rewarded with titles in a new European-style peerage in 1884, were effectively removed from political power.
The Britannica Encylopedia states: The Meiji leaders also realized that they had to end the complex class system that had existed under feudalism. Yet, it was difficult to deal with the samurai, who numbered, with dependents, almost two million in 1868. Starting in 1869 the old hierarchy was replaced by a simpler division that established three orders: court nobles and former feudal lords became kazoku (“peers”); former samurai, shizoku, and all others (including outcast groups) now became heimin (“commoners”). The samurai were initially given annual pensions, but financial duress forced the conversion of these into lump-sum payments of interest-bearing but non-convertible bonds in 1876. Other symbolic class distinctions such as the hairstyle of samurai, as well as the Okinawan topknot, and the privilege of wearing swords were abolished.
Many former samurai lacked commercial experience and squandered their bonds. Inflation also undercut their value. A national conscription system instituted in 1873 further deprived samurai of their monopoly on military service. Samurai discontent resulted in numerous revolts, the most serious occurring in the southwest, where the restoration movement had started, and warriors expected the greatest rewards. An uprising in Chōshū expressed dissatisfaction with administrative measures that deprived the samurai of their status and income. In Saga, samurai called for a foreign war to provide employment for their class. The last, and by far the greatest, revolt came in Satsuma in 1877. This rebellion was led by the restoration hero Saigō Takamori and lasted six months. The imperial government’s conscript levies were hard-pressed to defeat Saigō, but in the end superior transport, modern communications, and better weapons assured victory for the government as it did on the European Continent and America during the 1800’s Industrial Revolution. In this, as in the other revolts, issues were localized, and the loyalties of most Satsuma men in the central government remained with the imperial cause. Many former samurai lacked commercial experience and squandered their bonds. Inflation also undercut their value. A national conscription system instituted in 1873 further deprived samurai of their monopoly on military service. Samurai discontent resulted in numerous revolts, the most serious occurring in the southwest, where the restoration movement had started, and warriors expected the greatest rewards. An uprising in Chōshū expressed dissatisfaction with administrative measures that deprived the samurai of their status and income. In Saga, samurai called for a foreign war to provide employment for their class. The last, and by far the greatest, revolt came in Satsuma in 1877. This rebellion was led by the restoration hero Saigō Takamori and lasted six months. The imperial government’s conscript levies were hard-pressed to defeat Saigō, but in the end superior transport, modern communications, and better weapons assured victory for the government as it did on the European Continent and America during the 1800’s Industrial Revolution. In this, as in the other revolts, issues were localized, and the loyalties of most Satsuma men in the central government remained with the imperial cause.
Noted Japanese translator Noah Oskow offered this on the Charter Oath of the new Japanese Emperor Meiji -
This proclamation set forth the general principles by which the young emperor intended to rule Japan. The oath went as such:
The Charter Oath
By this oath, we set up as our aim the establishment of the national wealth on a broad basis and the framing of a constitution and laws.
Deliberative assemblies shall be widely established, and all matters decided by open discussion.
All classes, high and low, shall be united in vigorously carrying out the administration of affairs of state.
The common people, no less than the civil and military officials, shall all be allowed to pursue their own calling so that there may be no discontent.
Evil customs of the past shall be broken off and everything based upon the just laws of Nature.
Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of imperial rule.
The constitution was formally established as law in 1889, and elections for the lower house were held to prepare for the initial Diet (Kokkai), which met in 1890. The constitution took the form of a gracious gift from the sovereign to his people, and it could be amended only upon imperial initiative. It also ended the revolutionary phase of the Meiji Restoration. With the new institutions in place, the oligarchs withdrew from power and were content to maintain and conserve the ideological and political institutions they had created through their roles as elder statesmen (genrō).
Equally important for building a modern state was the development of national identity. True national unity required the propagation of new loyalties among the general populace and the transformation of powerless and inarticulate peasants into citizens of a centralized state. The use of religion and idealogy was vital to this process. Early Meiji policy, therefore, elevated Shinto to the highest position in the new religious hierarchy, replacing Buddhism with a cult of national deities that supported the throne. Christianity was reluctantly legalized in 1873, but, while important for some intellectuals, it was treated with suspicion by many in the government. The challenge remained how to use traditional values without risking foreign condemnation that the government was forcing a state religion upon the Japanese. By the 1890s the education system provided the ideal vehicle to inculcate the new ideological orientation. A system of universal education had been announced in 1872. For a time its organization and philosophy were Western, but during the 1880s a new emphasis on ethics emerged as the government tried to counter excessive Westernization and followed European ideas on nationalist education. In 1890 the Imperial Rescript on Education (Kyōiku Chokugo) laid out the lines of Confucian and Shinto ideology, which constituted the moral content of later Japanese education. Thus, loyalty to the emperor, who was hedged about with Confucian teachings and Shintō reverence, became the center of a citizen’s ideology. To avoid charges of indoctrination, the state distinguished between this secular cult and actual religion, permitting “religious freedom” while requiring a form of worship as the patriotic duty of all Japanese. The education system also was utilized to project into the citizenry at large the ideal of samurai loyalty that had been the heritage of the ruling class.
The Okinawan kingdom retained a degree of autonomy until 1879 when the islands were officially annexed by Japan as the Okinawan Prefecture. Now we will shift our focus to Okinawa and how the changes occurring on the Japanese mainland affected this new Prefecture. Okinawa and how the changes occurring on the Japanese mainland affected this new Prefecture.
Recorded in George Kerr's great book, Okinawa The History of An Island People:
March 27, 1879, King Sho Tai abdicates, Tokyo decides to abolish the han, end the monarchy, and Okinawa Ken(province) is established. On March 30 King Sho Tai withdraws from Shuri Castle and for the first time in five hundred years, the place ceased to be the seat of authority and the symbol of Okinawan nationhood.
In April of the same year, Tokyo announces that with the exception of three favored families- Sho, Te, and Nakijin- all Okinawan nobles and gentry would become commoners, dependent henceforth on their own resources. The Okinawan outcry forced, in December, a receding of the original order, and stipends and pensions were scheduled. Inexperience, poor management, and lack of opportunity lead to many pensioned families on the verge of bankruptcy. A craft workshop was established at Shuri to give them opportunities for work, and by 1885 this was subsidized by as much as thirteen thousand yen.
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This could be only a temporary relief measure. Under the pressure of increasing poverty, the members of old aristocratic families began to take a more liberal view toward residence elsewhere in the islands and toward intermarriage with families, not of their own rank and class in court society.
As the lower ranks of the government and of commercial management on Okinawa began to be filled, however, the newcomers began to be drawn from less well-educated classes and from the ranks of unemployed and restless men who had not fully adjusted to the new order in Japan proper. For many years Kagoshima (home of the Satsuma Clan) men dominated all private and public activities on Okinawa. A high percentage were men who had failed to find permanent employment after the abortive Satsuma Rebellion (1877) and now drifted into the police force and lower administrative offices of Okinawa.
Kerr further remarked that “Political relation, for slanderous attacks on the Okinawan government, by Satsuma upon Okinawa affected principally the gentry of Shuri and Naha, but general conditions of economic hardship in the mid-century placed a growing burden on everyone.” A margin of surplus in foodstuffs or trading goods upon which the government could draw in meeting crisis needs. Material resources were exhausted, the normal formalities and organization of social life began to disintegrate. The formal ties of marriage, family, and the village life and of administrative order began to mean little in the presence of elemental privation. Rebellious unrest, political turmoil, and serious inflation then followed and shook the economy.
As these conditions continued the Gentry class or as we referred to them as the “haves” had to adapt to their changing conditions.
For some the field of education beckoned.
According to an article Tom Ross wrote for Fighting Arts.com wrote “Itosu began to study the martial arts under the watchful eye of Nagahama Chikudon Peichin. After taking and passing civil services exams he became a clerk for the Ryukyu government. (Itosu continued to serve as a secretary to the last king of the Ryūkyū Kingdom until Japan abolished the Okinawa-based native monarchy in 1879). It was through the assistance of his good friend Anko Azato that he would rise to a position of prominence in Ryukyu governmental administration. For some the field of education beckoned.
For men like Master Itosu, armed with a solid curriculum, the time was right when Itosu brought Karate from the shadows and into the light of public study. In 1901 he began instructing at the Shuri Jinjo Primary school (Iwai1992, Okinawa Pref 1994) and then on to the Dai Ichi middle school as well as the Okinawa Prefectural Men's Normal School in 1905 (Bishop 1999, Okinawa Pref. 1994, 1995). Itosu wrote: ”The reason for stating all this(in a letter to the Prefectural Education Department concerning the introduction of karate to all Okinawan school system) is that it is my opinion that all students at the Okinawa Prefectural Teachers Training College should practice Tode so that when they graduate from here they can teach the children in the schools exactly as I have taught them. Within ten years Tode will spread all over Okinawa and to the Japanese mainland. I hope you will carefully study the words I have written here. Signed Anko Itosu, Meiji 41, Year of the Monkey(October 1908) For men like Master Itosu, armed with a solid curriculum, the time was right when Itosu brought Karate from the shadows and into the light of public study. In 1901 he began instructing at the Shuri Jinjo Primary school (Iwai1992, Okinawa Pref 1994) and then on to the Dai Ichi middle school as well as the Okinawa Prefectural Men's Normal School in 1905 (Bishop 1999, Okinawa Pref. 1994, 1995). Itosu wrote: ”The reason for stating all this(in a letter to the Prefectural Education Department concerning the introduction of karate to all Okinawan school system) is that it is my opinion that all students at the Okinawa Prefectural Teachers Training College should practice Tode, so that when they graduate from here they can teach the children in the schools exactly as I have taught them. Within ten years Tode will spread all over Okinawa and to the Japanese mainland. I hope you will carefully study the words I have written here. Signed Anko Itosu, Meiji 41, Year of the Monkey(October 1908)
Another karate-ka who entered the teaching field was Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna (Higashionna was the original Okinawan pronunciation) of the Naha-Te tradition, who was born on March 10, 1853, in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa. His father, Kanyo, worked as a merchant sailing between the small islands of Okinawa, trading everyday goods. He, therefore, was able to travel to China for martial arts study, and coupled with his study, which began in 1867 with Aragaki Seisho of Monk Fist Boxing, Higaonna grew in skill and knowledge. In time, the first occasion on which the previously secretive art of Naha-te "opened" to society in general, occurred in October 1905, when Higaonna began teaching at the Naha Commercial High School.
When teaching, Higaonna was an extremely hard taskmaster. However, in his everyday life, he was a quiet and humble man and one who was renowned for his virtuous character. He was a person who had no need or desire for worldly things. He led a simple life that was devoted to the study and practice of martial arts.
Still another master was Shinpan Shiroma who upon completing his military service he returned to train with Itosu and teach at the Shuri Dai Ich Elementary school.
Chotoku Kyan -
Some masters, such as Chotoku Kyan, had the resources to learn and later teach the arts they loved so deeply. Master Chotoku Kyan was born in 1870, to a very wealthy family in Shuri, Okinawa, the cradle of Karate. At the tender age of five, he was taught the empty hand art of self-defense he received from his father Chofu Kyan, and his grandfather. Being born into a rich family he was able to devote all of his time studying the martial arts and was sent to the best Okinawan Karate teachers available. After completing his apprenticeship under six of the most famous Okinawan Shorin-Ryu masters, Sokon Matsumura, Matsumora, Pechin Maeda, Pechin Oyadomari Kokan , Yara of Chatan , and lastly Tokumine, Kyan began teaching the art at his home. In the 1920’s Kyan traveled to mainland Japan to promote the art. And on his return, he visited Taiwan on a martial arts exchange tour of Okinawan and Chinese Martial Arts.
Yet for others many turned to government service-
As was mentioned in our earlier Okinawan House writing, one such prominent Karate Master who had served the Okinawan King was MATSUMURA, Sokon (1809-1893) who was born in 1809 in Shuri-Yamakawa village, Okinawa. His Chinese name was Bu Seitatsu. It is believed that he was trained by Sakugawa who agreed to train him in order to fulfill a promise made to Matsumura’s aging father. Matsumura was famous for his intellect and courage as a result of his hard training. He was the chief bodyguard for the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth kings of the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa). Matsumura was the Ryukyuan King's bodyguard up until his death at age 85.
Yabu Kentsu-Yabu Kentsu (1863-1937) was Itosu's senior student, assistant, and was also originally a student of Matsumura. In Yasui, Homer”s (2006) article: The Last Samurai. Karate Master Kentsu Yabu, in: Classical Fighting Arts, Vol. 2, No. 11 (Issue #34) He quotes Yabu, Kentsu as writing “It was not satisfactory whether the three major obligations of the (Japanese mainland) people, military service, tax payment, and education, were being fulfilled in Okinawa. Education was also compulsory, but Okinawans were afraid of it. Okinawa was the only place with a special tax law. For military service, military conscription was not yet in effect in Okinawa. Therefore, all three obligations were incomplete in Okinawa. Under these circumstances, I believed that the people of Okinawa could not win their rights as a nation. This is the reason why I chose to go into the military field, which my seniors, friends and others did not. After that, everyone who went to the Kyōdōdan recommended it to their friends back home, so the number of applicants for the second round was 17 (amongst those early volunteers was also Master Chomo Hanashiro, Yabu Shuri-Te dojo mate).” Both were noted as having exceptional physiques in the 1891 Japanese army draft's medical exams when they joined the Japanese Army. Because Yabu was a volunteer, the Japanese Army sent Yabu to a school for prospective noncommissioned officers. Upon graduation, he received promotion to sergeant. He was then sent to Manchuria, where he saw service during Japan’s 1894-1895 war with China (Kim, 1974, 64-65; Noble,1988, 32; Yasui, Sep. 6, 1998). Before getting out of the army, Yabu received promotion to lieutenant. Apparently, he was the first Okinawan to do so in the modern Japanese army, and there is a story that his uniform and sword were subsequently kept in Shuri Castle (Kim, 1974, 64-65; Noble, 1988, 32; Yasui, Sep. 6, 1998) Master Yabu became a prominent teacher of Shōrin-ryū karate in Okinawa from the 1910s until the 1930s and was among the first people to demonstrate karate in Hawaii. Yabu Sensei was a pioneer in instructing karate in the school system in the first decade of the 20th century, and also taught Tote in military schools. He was also present at the famous Oct. 25th,1936 meeting of Okinawan Masters. At this meeting, attended by the greatest masters of the time, the name "karate do" was officially adopted over "Tote Jutsu".
Another popular occupation for these Karate masters to pursue was law enforcement.
One of the newer generation masters was Shoshin Nagamine (July 15, 1907-Nov 2, 1997), Soke of the Matsubayashi-Ryu. He entered the police force (1931) and stationed at the Kadena Police for four years followed by study at the Metropolitan Police Academy at Tokyo in 1936. His long-term efforts eventually earned him the position of chief of the Motobu Police Station in 1961.
Another notable Karate master who chose law enforcement as his path (for a time) was:
Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952), who, like most of Karates’ old masters, was descended from Okinawas’ warrior class Bushi (Onigusukini -Yukatchu) family and an aristocrat. The Encyclopedia Britannia Bio records Mabuni as being a 17th generation descendant of the famous warrior Uni Ufugusuku Kenyu. Mabuni Sensei began his instruction in his home town in the art of Shuri-te (首里手) at the age of 13, under the tutelage of the legendary Ankō Itosu (糸州 安恒, Itosu Ankō) (1831–1915), One of his close friends, Chōjun Miyagi (宮城 長順, Miyagi Chōjun) (founder of Gojū-ryū Karate) introduced Mabuni to another great of that period, Kanryō Higaonna (東恩納 寛量Higaonna Kanryō). As a police officer (in Okinawa), he taught local law enforcement officers and at the behest of his teacher Itosu, began instruction in the various grammar schools in Shuri and Naha. In an effort to popularize karate in mainland Japan, Mabuni made several trips to Tokyo in 1917 and 1928. Although much that was known as Te (Chinese Fist; lit. simply "hand") or karate had been passed down through many generations with jealous secrecy, it was his view that it should be taught to anyone who sought knowledge with honesty and integrity. In fact, many masters of his generation held similar views on the future of Karate: Gichin Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan), another contemporary, had moved to Tokyo in the 1920s to promote his art on the mainland as well. By 1929, Mabuni had moved to Osaka on the mainland, to become a full-time karate instructor of a style he originally called Hanko-ryū, or "half-hard style". The name of the style changed to Shitō-ryū, in honor of its main influences. Mabuni derived the name for his new style from the first kanji character from the names of his two primary teachers, Itosu and Higaonna (also called Higashionna). Mabuni later spent many of his early years with Koyu Konishi, a friend and sometimes student who later founded Shindo-Jinen-Ryu karate.
These are but a few stories of the times. For many of the upper class or previously mentioned “haves” that possessed the knowledge of Karate were forced to seek employment wherever it could be found. For instance, they resorted to teaching,translation, and accounting by employing their education skills when possible. Many of the jobs that had been hereditary in the past now were filled by Japanese Mainland bureaucrats of commerce. The system went from benefiting the feudal Japanese Satsuma Clan and the Okinawan Kingdom to now pouring into the coffers of the Japanese State as a principality.
As to the art of Karate, its traditions of formation, transmission, and survival in this environment, and the metamorphosis it went through entering the 20th century will be explored in the next installment of the House of Okinawa Part 4. In addition, we will touch upon the changes and effects of private discipleship practices evolving to the public transmission of the art in public schools, clubs and the machi dojo. This also became the time of the establishment of Karate styles and research societies in an attempt to codify them in accordance with the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai offices in Mainland Japan. We will also touch on the eventual migrations throughout the world of Okinawan citizens seeking a better life and fleeing the tumultuous times at home while taking their culture and art with them.
End of Part Three, see you soon with part Four. his is a long form text area designed for your content that you can fill up with as many words as your heart desires.