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  • Founded: c. 1314
  • Conquered: 1429
  • Japanese/Chinese: 南山 (Nanzan / Nánshān), sometimes 山南 (Sannan / Shānnán)

Nanzan, sometimes called Sannan,[1] was one of three kingdoms which controlled Okinawa in the 14th century. Based at Ôzato, it controlled the southern part of the island, the kingdoms of Hokuzan and Chûzan controlling the northern and central regions respectively. Okinawa, previously controlled by a number of local chieftains or lords, loosely bound by a paramount chieftain or king of the entire island, split into these three more solidly defined kingdoms within a few years after 1314; the Sanzan period thus began, and would end roughly one hundred years later, when Chûzan's King Shô Hashi[2] conquered Hokuzan in 1419 and Nanzan in 1429.


Nanzan first came into being in 1314 when Tamagusuku inherited the role of head chieftain of all of Okinawa from his father Eiji; He did not have the charisma or leadership qualities to command the loyalty of all the local lords, and so the Lord of Ôzato, one of many powerful local chieftains, fled south from his home in Urasoe, with a number of lesser chieftains loyal to him, and established himself in Ôzato gusuku near the town of Itoman. Another powerful chieftain fled north and established the kingdom of Hokuzan, leaving Tamagusuku in control only of the central part of the island, which thus became the kingdom of Chûzan.

Nanzan, like the two kingdoms with which it shared the tiny island of Okinawa, consisted of a miniscule territory, and correspondingly limited resources. Nevertheless, the kingdom survived for roughly a century, benefiting from sea trade, and from the advantageous location of Ôzato castle, situated atop tall bluffs, with an inlet from the sea and its own dedicated dock. Though its ports were not nearly as active as Naha, the chief port of Chûzan, the kingdom enjoyed its share of trade with Southeast Asia, China, and other nearby powers. Chûzan entered a tributary relationship with Ming Dynasty China in 1372. Nanzan was granted similar commercial status shortly afterwards, along with Hokuzan. Initially, amidst a severe pirate problem, the Ming placed no restrictions on the number of ships the three Ryukyuan kingdoms could send, nor on the size of the ships, and further provided ships to the Ryukyuan kingdoms, designating them official "carriers of [Ming] goods," a series of privileges extended to no other polity.[3] This lasted only briefly, however, and before long Nanzan was restricted to sending only one ship per tribute mission. Over roughly the next thirty years, nineteen tribute missions were sent from Nanzan to China; Hokuzan sent nine and Chûzan sent fifty-two. Though these missions were meant to be limited to formal trade between the governments of Okinawa and China, it was not unknown for Nanzan officials, like those from the other two kingdoms, to engage in private trade and smuggling. Around 1381, a Nanzan envoy was severely reprimanded for bringing silver into China with which he intended to purchase porcelains for his own personal material gain. But Nanzan was formally granted royal seals by the Ming in 1383, formally recognizing it as a legitimate kingdom (albeit alongside Chûzan, which was granted seals that same year). For reasons that are unclear, Nanzan was granted seals again two years later, at the same time as seals were granted to Hokuzan.[4]

It is believed that, for a time, there may have been two lords vying for control of Nanzan. Ofusato, the first lord of Nanzan, presented himself to the Chinese Imperial Court in 1388, and died while in Korea, ten years later. Theories abound about whether the process of succession in Nanzan was a natural, peaceful one, or whether each successive king achieved his position by rising up again, and killing, his predecessor. As a result, the true lineage is also obscured.

In the 1390s, the kings of all three kingdoms died within a few years, and succession disputes erupted across the island; similar events occurred in Nanking at the same time, with the death of the Hongwu Emperor in 1398. When the Lord of Nanzan, Ofusato, died that same year, his brother Yafuso seized power, and sought formal recognition from China. Previously, China had only ever recognized one head of state on Okinawa, but now all three kingdoms sent envoys and vied for the prestige, wealth, and power that would come with China's favor; no response came from China for eleven years. In 1406, Bunei, King of Chûzan, was formally invested by representatives of the Ming Court in his position; Taromai, king of Nanzan, received this honor in 1415, but quarrels within his royal court prevented Nanzan from ever gaining power.

Following Taromai's death in the late 1420s, succession disputes further weakened Nanzan. Shô Hashi, lord of Chûzan, who had conquered Hokuzan ten years earlier, now seized the opportunity to take Nanzan. He thus united the island of Okinawa into the Kingdom of Ryûkyû, marking the end of the independent kingdom of Nanzan.

Kings of Nanzan
Name Kanji Reign Line or Dynasty Notes
Ufusato 承察度 1337?-1396? Ôzato Line Ufusato Lord of Ôzato established Nanzan Kingdom
Oueishi 汪英紫 1388-1402 Ôzato Line Ufusato's uncle
Ououso 汪応祖 1403?-1413 Ôzato Line Oueishi's second son
Tafuchi 達勃期 1413?-1414? Ôzato Line Oueishi's eldest son
Taromai 他魯毎 1415?-1429 Ôzato Line Ououso's eldest son; last king of Nanzan


  • George H. Kerr, Okinawa: the History of an Island People. (revised ed.) Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 2000.
  1. The kingdom was more typically referred to as Sannan until the time of Sai On (1682-1761), who termed it Nanzan in his writings. Akamine Mamoru, Lina Terrell (trans.), Robert Huey (ed.), The Ryukyu Kingdom: Cornerstone of East Asia, University of Hawaii Press (2017), 6.
  2. Technically, Hashi's father Shô Shishô was king of Chûzan in 1419, and neither was called "Shô" until that name was granted them by the Ming court in 1421.
  3. Akamine, 6.
  4. Tomiyama Kazuyuki, Ryûkyû ôkoku no gaikô to ôken, Tokyo: Yoshikawa kôbunkan (2004), 23.