Kyukan onzon

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  • Dates: 1879-1903
  • Japanese: 旧慣温存 (kyuukan onzon)

Kyûkan onzon, or the "preserving of old customs," was a policy philosophy employed in Okinawa prefecture from 1879 to 1903. Following the abolition of the Ryûkyû Kingdom and establishment of the prefecture in 1879, it was believed that elements of the kingdom's administrative structure, and certain other traditions or customs, should be kept in place for a time, in order to guard against widespread dissatisfaction within Ryukyu, and to avoid angering China.

The "preserving of old customs" policies covered, largely, four spheres: land tenure, taxes, local administration, and education. The yukatchu (low-ranking aristocrats) and other local officials were allowed to keep their positions, and some their government stipends, and the magiri and jiwari systems of land division was kept in place for a time. Under this system, agricultural production was assessed by village, and within each village, land was occasionally redistributed among the villagers, albeit unequally. The taxation structure and local laws, similarly, were left in place initially, and only later abandoned and reformed. Stipends were paid out of the prefecture's budget, and not out of any additional funds from Tokyo; no Ryukyuan aristocrats were incorporated into the kazoku or shizoku nobilities under which former daimyô, other samurai, and the king of Ryûkyû had been able to retain much of their prestige.[1]

Education in Ryukyuan languages and customs was permitted to continue through the end of the 19th century, alongside the public school system that was being put into place nationwide.

Following the Japanese victory in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Tokyo was less concerned about offending or angering China, and so the kyûkan onzon policy began to gradually be rolled back. Land reform was begun in 1899, with the Okinawa Prefecture Land Reorganization Project, which replaced communal land with private ownership. Where villages previously redistributed land periodically, land was now placed into individual private hands, many of them Japanese (non-Okinawan) landlords. At the same time, tax payment in kind (e.g. in grain, sugar, or textiles) was replaced by monetary payments.[2] Yukatchu stipends were terminated in 1909, and various other administrative and policy changes simultaneously began to be imposed in the early years of the 20th century.


  • "Kyûkan Onzon." Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia 沖縄コンパクト事典. Ryukyu Shimpo, 1 March 2003.
  • Smits, Gregory. Visions of Ryukyu. University of Hawaii Press, 1999. pp147-148.
  1. Gregory Smits, "Jahana Noboru: Okinawan Activist and Scholar," in Anne Walthall (ed.) The Human Tradition in Modern Japan, Scholarly Resources, Inc. (2002), 102.
  2. Tessa Morris-Suzuki, "The Frontiers of Japanese Identity," in Stein Tønnesson and Hans Antlöv (eds.), Asian Forms of the Nation, Psychology Press (1996), 59-61.