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  • Japanese: 鬼界ヶ島 (Kikaigashima, Kikaijima)

Kikaigashima, or Kikai Island, is one of the Amami Islands, in the northern section of the Ryukyu Islands archipelago. A notable center of political authority in the 10th-11th centuries, the island was absorbed by the Ryûkyû Kingdom in the late 1450s or 1460s. It was then conquered in 1609, along with much of the rest of the Amamis, by the Shimazu clan of Kagoshima domain, and remains part of Kagoshima prefecture today.

Early History

In the premodern period, Kikai was regarded by Japanese authorities as being the center of authority for its neighboring islands. People representing Kikai, Amami, and Tokunoshima are recorded as presenting tribute to authorities on the Japanese "mainland" as early as the 7th century.[1] When people from Amami launched raids on Ôsumi, Dazaifu, and elsewhere on the Kyushu mainland in the late 990s, it was to Kikai and not to Amami or Tokunoshima that Dazaifu dispatched orders to suppress the raiders, and it was Kikai which Japanese records credit with successfully doing so.[2]

Kikai seems to have come in and out of the sphere of territory that the Dazaifu (and by extension the Heian court) claimed authority over. Some archaeological evidence as well as documentary evidence indicates that in the 10th century, Kikaijima (喜界島, written with a character meaning "happiness"), was at least nominally within the Dazaifu's jurisdiction, and also that it had notable cultural differences from the neighboring islands of Amami and Tokunoshima. By the 1110s, however, Kikaijima (鬼界島, now written with a character meaning "demon") was no longer considered to be within the boundaries of the Japanese political or cultural sphere; castaways who found themselves in Kikai were handled by the Heian/Dazaifu authorities in a manner similar to those who drifted even farther afield, i.e. to "foreign lands."[2] Kikai was also among the islands to which court nobles, prominent samurai, or other elites were sometimes exiled by the shogunate or Imperial court. The monk Shunkan, who was caught plotting a coup against Taira no Kiyomori, was famously exiled to Kikai in 1177. Individuals seeking to flee from Imperial authorities also made their way to Kikai.[2]

Remains of Gusuku period sites on Kikaigashima, along with other archaeological finds, serve as evidence for complex and diverse cultural activity on Kikaigashima in the pre-modern period, suggesting a mixture of peoples or influences from further north (Kyushu) and south (Okinawa). Excavations at 9th-14th century sites have uncovered an active center of some 150 raised buildings, numerous burial pits, and thirty iron-working hearths; while iron sands from Kikai were traded to the south as a vital raw material for iron goods produced or used on Okinawa, some 70% of the goods found at the Kikai sites came from outside of Kikai. This archaeological evidence suggests that in the 9th-10th centuries, when Dazaifu exercised jurisdiction over Kikai, turbo or turban shells (used to produce mother-of-pearl inlay) were the chief trade good in the area. As Kikai became distanced from Japanese control in the 11th-12th centuries, trade diversified and the island saw some increased prosperity; Kikai became an important transshipment point for not only seashells and tortoise shell, but also for kamuiyaki pottery produced on Tokunoshima, ishinabe talc stoneware from Kyushu, sulfur, and other products. By the 13th-14th centuries, however, Kikai declined as a major center of trade or economic activity, and Okinawa Island began to take its place.[3]

In the 15th-16th centuries, forces of the Shimazu clan of Satsuma province, and those of the Ryûkyû Kingdom, both sought to expand into the Amamis. For a time in the mid-15th century, the people of Kikaigashima raised significant resistance against such Ryukyuan forces, leading King Shô Toku to decide in 1466 to lead the invasion force himself.[4] It was during this invasion that Ryûkyû is said to have first adopted the mitsu-domoe crest of Hachiman as the royal crest.[5]

Early Modern Period

Kikaigashima was conquered by the Shimazu clan of Kagoshima domain in the early stages of the 1609 invasion of Ryûkyû, along with much of the rest of the Amami Islands. After that, the island came under Satsuma administration, with a separate daikansho (branch office of the Amami daikan) being established on the island in 1693. While Satsuma assigned its own administrators to the island, they retained the political/geographic organization of the villages into magiri, as put into place by the Ryûkyû Kingdom. Village heads were known as okite (掟) and yohito (与人), as they had been under the Kingdom.[6] Satsuma policies in the Amamis forced the people of the islands to devote their energies almost exclusively to the cultivation and refining of sugar, which was then very heavily taxed. These policies have been compared to plantation practices in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the world, and have been described as quite akin to "a structure of colonial extraction."[7]

Around 1800, the population of the island is believed to have been around 10,000 people. It is said that "the five grains" (i.e. all the major staples: rice, wheat, beans, awa millet, and kibi millet) were all grown on the island, but that the chief product grown there was sugar.[6]

Even as late as 1800, local customs remained strong on Kikai, without having given way to any significant degree of Japanization. A dialect of Amami language was spoken, and while Satsuma officials assigned to the island learned and used this local language, it is not mutually intelligible with Japanese.[6]

Modern Period


  1. 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), 51.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Gregory Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, 1050-1650, University of Hawaii Press (2019), 18-20.
  3. Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, 21.
  4. Gregory Smits, "Examining the Myth of Ryukyuan Pacifism." The Asia-Pacific Journal 37-3-10 (September 13, 2010).
  5. The 1605 Ryûkyû Shintô ki indicates that this invasion took place not under Shô Toku, but under his predecessor, King Shô Taikyû (r. 1454-1460). Gregory Smits suggests this may have been the case, and that official histories written centuries later, in their efforts to portray Shô Toku (the last king of the First Shô Dynasty) as violent and immoral, and thus losing the Mandate of Heaven to his successor, Shô En of the Second Shô Dynasty, may have attributed to Toku invasions undertaken by Taikyû. Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, 120.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Ono Masako, Tomita Chinatsu, Kanna Keiko, Taguchi Megumi, "Shiryô shôkai Kishi Akimasa bunko Satsuyû kikô," Shiryôhenshûshitsu kiyô 31 (2006), 228.
  7. Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 95.