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  • Japanese: 久米(Kumejima)

Kumejima is an island in the Ryukyu Islands chain, located just west of Okinawa Island. Despite its nearby location, Kumejima remained independent of Okinawan control until the early 16th century.


Kumejima was one of the chief economic centers in the archipelago, particularly in terms of the export of turbo shell, in the 11th century.[1]

Mt. Ôtake at the northern edge of the island is one of the highest in the Ryukyus, at around 305 meters (1000 feet). Historically, this provided a commanding view of maritime traffic, allowing those based on Kumejima to raid, tax, or otherwise take advantage of opportunities to profit from, ships passing through the region. Combined with the natural fortifications provided by the rocky topography of the island, this made Kume an excellent location for wakô (brigands/pirates/smugglers) to set up base in the 13th-16th centuries.[2] Gusuku fortresses began to be built on Kumejima around the same time as their first appearance on Okinawa Island, in the 13th-14th centuries.[3]

According to legend, a ruler named Ishikinawa or Ishikinawa anji united the island sometime in the late 14th or early 15th century, and had four sons who each became lords of their own gusuku. Shuri is believed to have made at least one notable attack on the island during the time of these sons; according to some accounts, this occurred because of the sons being betrayed in some fashion by their subordinates.[2]

By the beginning of the 16th century, a figure known as Gushikawa anji was the dominant power on Kumejima in traditional accounts. Based at Gushikawa gusuku and controlling the port of Yamato-domari, he is believed to have had some strong connections with the Miyako and Yaeyama Islands, and may have been a wakô lord. By toppling him in 1506 and capturing his primary fortress, the Ryûkyû Kingdom under King Shô Shin claimed control over the island for the first time. Some have suggested that the island's natural sources of iron sands and corresponding thirteen or so metalworking centers were of particular appeal for Shuri. The island's metalworking industry was so notable, or prominent, that it's said it lit up the sky with a red glow at night.[2]

Following Shô Shin's conquest, the kingdom later dispatched a pair of zaiban officials to oversee and administer the island on behalf of the court, in addition to a kuramoto.[4]

The island came to be known for Kumejima tsumugi, a type of pongee cloth which became a common tribute item or gift presented by the kingdom to the Tokugawa shoguns. Tsumugi is believed to have been produced on Kumejima beginning in 1632. Kumejima was also the primary location in the kingdom for the growing of cotton, which was also sent to Kagoshima and Edo as a tribute good.[5]

Like many other islands, Kumejima was sometimes used as a destination for exiling prominent individuals; Makishi Chôchû, a scholar-official who fell afoul of his political enemies and was accused of scheming behind the king's back, was sentenced to a ten-year exile on Kumejima in 1858; he died in 1862, however, on his way to Kagoshima after having the conditions of his exile altered.[6]

Notable Sites


  1. Gregory Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (2019), 22.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Smits, 100-101.
  3. Smits, 18-26.
  4. "Zaiban," Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia 沖縄コンパクト事典, Ryukyu Shimpo, 1 March 2003.; "Kuramoto." Okinawa konpakuto jiten (沖縄コンパクト事典, "Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia"). Ryukyu Shimpô. 1 March 2003. Accessed 16 January 2010.
  5. Bingata! Only in Okinawa, George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum (2016), 74.; Miyagi Eishô 宮城栄昌, Ryûkyû shisha no Edo nobori 琉球使者の江戸上り, Tokyo: Daiichi Shobô (1982), 108-110.
  6. "Makishi Chôchû." Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia (沖縄コンパクト事典, Okinawa konpakuto jiten). Ryukyu Shimpo. 1 March 2003. Accessed 29 September 2010.; "Makishi Chôchû." Asahi Encyclopedia of Japanese Historical Figures (朝日日本歴史人物事典, Asahi Nihon rekishi jinbutsu jiten). Asahi Shinbun Corporation. Accessed via Kotobank.jp, 29 September 2010.