Narahara Shigeru

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Narahara Shigeru was the eighth Governor of Okinawa prefecture, serving in that position from 1892 to 1908. Earlier in his life, he was a high-ranking retainer in the service of Satsuma han, and was a prominent figure in early Meiji period Okinawan history as well, before becoming governor.

Life and Career

Edo Period

Narahara was born in Kôrai-chô, a section of the castle town of Kagoshima, into a family of prominent retainers to the Shimazu family, daimyô of Satsuma han. Narahara Kizaemon, his older brother by three years, is generally cited as the chief culprit in the killing of a British merchant in Yokohama in 1862.[1]

Narahara was for a time the chief retainer in charge of managing the affairs of former daimyô Shimazu Hisamitsu. He served his lord loyally, and opposed more radical elements among the samurai of Satsuma. He was among those dispatched to the Teradaya in 1862/4 to disrupt the plotting of a number of rebels, and to escort the rebels back from the inn to the Shimazu residence in Kyoto. The encounter with the rebels famously developed into a swordfight in which at least one samurai was killed.[2]

Meiji Period

As a result of his loyalty to the Shimazu and opposition to the actions of Saigô Takamori, Ôkubo Toshimichi and others who openly battled the shogunate, Narahara was not in good standing with the Satsuma faction around the time of the Boshin War and Meiji Restoration.[1]

As early as four years later, however, in January 1872, he headed a mission to Shuri, the royal capital of the Kingdom of Ryûkyû, accompanied by another prominent Satsuma retainer, Ijichi Sadaka, as representatives of the Imperial government. The pair met with the Sanshikan (the top royal advisors) to discuss debts owed by the kingdom to Satsuma, tribute obligations and other such matters. They eventually agreed to dispense with the obligations provided that Shuri spend the funds that would have gone to Satsuma on, instead, providing relief to impoverished Ryukyuan gentry. Such a move improved the reputation of Satsuma and Tokyo in the eyes of Ryûkyû, being seen as a goodwill gesture, and, it was hoped, would help garner support for pro-Japanese policies within the kingdom.[3] Other matters discussed at this time included coal mining in the Yaeyama Islands and the proposal to fully annex the Amami Islands into Kagoshima prefecture.[4] The Imperial envoys also suggested that King Shô Tai pay his respects to the Meiji Emperor, a gesture which would reflect official submission to Imperial authority, and one which the king would avoid for many years.[5]

Beginning in 1878, Narahara served short terms in a number of prominent positions in the Meiji government, including chief secretary in the Home Ministry, chief secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce, governor of Shizuoka prefecture, and chief secretary in the Ministry of Works. He was also the first president of Nippon Railway, and, for a time, a member of the House of Peers, and an imperial advisor.[1]

He was named Governor of Okinawa prefecture in July 1892, a position which he held for nearly sixteen years, until April 1908. He was such a powerful personality and influential force in Okinawa that some called him "King of Ryûkyû" (琉球王, Ryûkyû-ô). This period saw the implementation of a variety of assimilation and colonization efforts including that of the national education system, one of a number of steps taken in the Meiji period not only in Okinawa but throughout Japan, in order to homogenize culture and national identity across the entire Empire. His administration showed no interest in preserving old customs or traditions, nor made any effort to protect a distinct Okinawan identity; quite the opposite. Narahara also pushed forward great development efforts in Okinawa, including the establishment and maintenance of commercial harbors, and land surveys and re-allocation, and he supported the establishment of newspapers such as the Ryûkyû Shimpô and banks such as the Okinawa Prefectural Agriculture and Industry Bank.[1]

His administration's land development efforts included the dismantling of the traditional collective farming villages, and the introduction of private land ownership. He sold public forest land under the guise of "shizoku relief efforts," providing forest land to Ryukyuan former aristocrats to transform into farming land, in order to relieve their poverty,[6] but was criticized for pushing forth his agendas without regard for the profits or well-being of farmers.[1]

His administration is described in some sources as autocratic and imperialistic[1], and while it was supported by Prime Ministers such as Itô Hirobumi and Matsukata Masayoshi, it attracted considerable criticism and opposition within Okinawa. Prominent among his critics were Jahana Noboru, and the members of the Kôdôkai organization which petitioned for Narahara to be recalled to the mainland and replaced as governor of Okinawa by a member of the former Ryukyuan royal family. The creation and development of "Okinawan studies" by Iha Fuyu, emphasizing and celebrating Okinawa's unique culture, also served, in part, as a gesture of resistance to the assimilation policies Narahara implemented.[1]

Narahara retired as governor in 1908, and was succeeded by Hibi Kimei, who had served as Narahara's chief assistant for many years, and whose administration continued Narahara's policies.[7]

Little is known of the details of his life after his retirement from public service, but from the lack of records of his involvement in any controversies or other major events, it is assumed he lived his final years in peace.[2] He died 13 August 1918, after ten years of retirement.

Preceded by:
Maruoka Kanji
Governor of Okinawa prefecture
Succeeded by:
Hibi Kimei


  • Kerr, George. Okinawa: the History of an Island People. (revised ed.) Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2000.
  • "Narahara Shigeru." Okinawa Rekishi Jinmei Jiten (沖縄歴史人名事典, "Encyclopedia of People of Okinawan History"). Naha: Okinawa Bunka-sha, 1996. p58.
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 "Narahara Shigeru." Asahi Nihon rekishi jinbutsu jiten 朝日日本歴史人物事典. Accessed via, 27 May 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Narahara Shigeru." Nihon dai hyakka zensho Nipponica 日本大百科全書(ニッポニカ). Shogakukan. Accessed via Japan Knowledge online resource, 27 May 2010.
  3. Kerr. p361.
  4. Kerr. p362. Though the Amami Islands had been directly governed by Satsuma, and not by Ryûkyû, for over 250 years at this time, some residual sovereignty was considered to lie with the kingdom; Narahara, on behalf of Tokyo, was proposing that the kingdom relinquish all claims of sovereignty over those islands.
  5. Kerr. p363.
  6. Gregory Smits, "Jahana Noboru: Okinawan Activist and Scholar," in Anne Walthall (ed.), The Human Tradition in Modern Japan, Scholarly Resources Inc. (2002), 104.
  7. Kerr. p423.