• Other Names: 法司 (Hôshi), 世司部 (Yoasutabe)
  • Japanese: 三司官 (Sanshikan)

The Sanshikan, or "Council of Three", was a government body of the Kingdom of Ryûkyû, which originally developed out of a council of regents.

It emerged in 1556, when the young Shô Gen, who was mute, ascended to the throne of Ryûkyû. The council of regents that formed in order to handle this challenge and manage the country on the king's behalf soon grew into an established and powerful government organ. Shô Gen died in 1571, but the Council remained, acting alongside the successive kings in managing the affairs of government. In fact, the "Articles Subscribed to by the King's Councillors", which bound the royal government in loyalty and servitude to the Japanese daimyô of Satsuma han, explicitly prohibited the king from "entrust[ing] the conduct of public affairs in the islands to any persons other than San-shi-kuan"[1]

Over time, the Sanshikan eclipsed the power and prestige of the sessei, a post which is often translated as "prime minister," and which served as chief royal advisor. Candidates to join the Council of Three were chosen from among the ueekata; in addition to possessing high levels of Confucian expertise, and cultural skill at poetry, calligraphy, and so forth (which were seen to be reflective of one's moral character), experience in traveling to China and Japan was also seen as an important qualification, as members of the Sanshikan had to advise the king on matters of foreign relations. This was the highest position someone from the scholar-aristocracy could achieve,[2] and it was typically limited to those closely related to the royal family. However, a few figures, such as Tei Dô (Jana ueekata Rizan) and Kin Kokutei (Gushichan ueekata Nôan), rose to this highest of positions from other Kumemura scholar-aristocrat lineages.[3]

The Council, and sessei, worked alongside the heads of various administrative departments who were known as the Council of Fifteen when assembled. The Fifteen advised the higher-ranking officials on policy, and made recommendations to fill vacancies in the administration.

A member of the Sanshikan typically arrived at the Hokuden (Northern Hall) of Shuri castle around 4 bells (mid-morning; what today would be considered 9-10am), to begin the day's work. Over the course of the day, he might look over and formally approve documents produced by the hira nu soba and umun bujô, discuss certain matters of policy and administration with the other members of the Sanshikan and then request the king's permission or approval on their decisions as well as on other matters. They typically ended the workday around 8 bells (2-3pm), and only stayed later (i.e. worked overtime) with the king's permission.[4]

The Sanshikan was dismantled along with the rest of the royal government when Ryûkyû was formally annexed by Meiji Japan in the 1870s. Members of Ryûkyû's aristocratic class were allowed to maintain some of their prestige and privileges, but even members of the Council were only afforded the equivalent of the sixth rank in the Japanese Imperial Court structure.


  1. Kerr p163.
  2. Miyagi Eishô 宮城栄昌, Ryûkyû shisha no Edo nobori 琉球使者の江戸上り, Tokyo: Daiichi Shobô (1982), 47.
  3. Yokoyama Manabu 横山学, Ryûkyû koku shisetsu torai no kenkyû 琉球国使節渡来の研究, Tokyo: Yoshikawa kôbunkan (1987), 39.
  4. Gallery labels, Shuri castle.[1]


  • George H. Kerr (2000). Okinawa: the History of an Island People. (revised ed.) Boston: Tuttle Publishing.
  • Gregory Smits (1999). Visions of Ryukyu: Identity and Ideology in Early-Modern Thought and Politics, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.