Ryukyuan court ranks

From SamuraiWiki
Jump to navigationJump to search
Mannequins wearing reproductions of traditional Ryukyuan court costume, on display at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum

There were, essentially, three classes of aristocracy in Ryûkyû: the Princes (ôji) and anji at the top, the land-holders (satunushi), and the non-landholders (chikudun).[1]

All three classes functioned similarly, in that class or rank could be obtained either by birth, or as a reward for meritorious service. Those bearing the title ôji (Prince) were either the sons of the king, or were simply granted that high title as a reward for service. Yet, they could not pass on the title of ôji. Anji were either the eldest sons of ôji, or of anji, or were men who were granted the title of anji as a reward for service.

Members of the satunushi class passed on that status in hereditary fashion, and were eligible for such court rank as would earn them the title peechin or the higher-ranking ueekata, and which would earn them land (fiefs). Peechin held smaller fiefs, while ueekata were granted majiri. Members of the chikudun class, similarly, passed on that status in hereditary fashion, and were eligible for various positions in the government bureaucracy, as well as for the title of peechin, but were generally not eligible to receive fiefs. Commoners (those lacking aristocratic lineage) could hold government positions and ranks as high as peechin, while some aristocrats never rose above chikudun status; thus, the division between aristocracy and commoners was not quite as stark as one might expect.[2]

These titles and classes were tied into a system of nine court ranks, each sub-divided into "upper" and "lower," much like the Japanese system of court rank. Under a system established by King Shô Shin in 1524,[3] status was symbolized by a hierarchy of colors of hachimaki (caps or turbans) and of robes, and by what material one's hairpin was made of, though these distinctions were most visible only at the highest levels. One's rank was determined chiefly by heredity, by service, and by age; some ranks were held chiefly by younger aristocrats, who would gain rank when they grew older.

Up until 1663, nobles wore status badges or insignia squares on the front of their robes, in the Chinese style; after 1683, color took over as the chief indicator of rank, with wives and daughters of nobles also wearing colors indicative of their family's rank.

  • The ôji and anji, along with the shisshi (royal advisor), were above the nine ranks, and wore embroidered caps called ukiorikan, with a five-color design on a red ground, and gold & green robes.
  • The First Rank consisted of members of the Sanshikwan, the Council of Three, who held the title of ueekata. The Upper First rank wore caps with a five-color design, like that of the ôji and anji, but against a purple ground, and also wore gold and green robes, while the Lower First Rank wore purple caps with purple designs, and blue robes.
  • The Second Rank was the lowest rank of ueekata, and consisted of the Sanshikwan-za (Upper Second rank) and the Shikwan (Lower Second rank). Members of the second rank wore purple caps, with the Upper Second rank being distinguished by their gold & silver hairpins.

Everyone from the Lower Second rank down wore silver hairpins (commoners wore hairpins of lesser materials, such as coral, wood, brass, or copper), and everyone from the Lower First rank down wore blue robes. Purple caps were restricted to the Lower First and Upper & Lower Second Ranks, with everyone from Third to Seventh Rank wearing yellow caps, and the Eighth and Ninth Ranks wearing red caps.

  • The Third Rank was the top rank of peechin. The Upper Third was called moshikuchi, and the Lower Third moshikuchi-za.
  • The Fourth Rank also held the title of peechin, and consisted of the jinmiyaku (Upper) and zashichi (Lower).
  • The Fifth Rank also held the title of peechin, and was divided into the atai (Upper) and atai-za (Lower).
  • The Sixth Rank also held the title of peechin, and was divided into the shidu (Upper) and shidu-za (Lower).
  • The Seventh Rank was the lowest rank of peechin. The Upper Seventh rank, or satunushi-peechin, was, as the name implies, the lowest rank for a member of the satunushi class to still hold the title of peechin. The Lower Seventh, or chikudun-peechin, meanwhile, was the highest rank that could be achieved by a member of the chikudun class, and the one rank for those chikudun bearing the title peechin. The Seventh Rank was the lowest rank to wear yellow caps.
  • The Eighth Rank was the lowest rank for members of the satunushi class, consisting of those who did not possess the title of peechin and were simply called satunushi (Upper Eighth), or waka-satunushi (Lower Eighth). Members of the Eighth and Ninth Rank wore red caps.
  • The Ninth Rank was the lowest rank in the aristocratic hierarchy, consisting of members of the chikudun class who did not hold the title of peechin. They were divided into chikudun (Upper Ninth) and chikudun-za (Lower Ninth).
  • The lowest-ranking figures with an aristrocratic status or lineage (keimochi, people with lineage) but without court rank included the shi 子, who wore red caps, and the niya 仁屋, who wore blue caps.
  • Fudai was a new rank or status created in 1689 in conjunction with the advent of the keizuza and the official lineages; some fudai were promoted for their accomplishments to the status of shinsan 新参.[4]


  • Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, Volume 6: East Asia. Oxford University Press, 2010. p423.
  • Matsuda, Mitsugu. The Government of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, 1609-1872. Naha: Yui Publishing, 2001. pp203-205ff.
  1. Terms given here in Okinawan, e.g. shisshi, sanshikwan, satunushi, and zashichi, instead of in standard Japanese, e.g. sessei, sanshikan, sato-nushi, and zashiki.
  2. Akamine Mamoru, Lina Terrell (trans.), Robert Huey (ed.), The Ryukyu Kingdom: Cornerstone of East Asia, University of Hawaii Press (2017), 81.
  3. Earth Exhibit of Ryukyu Kingdom. Ryûfûan Hawaii. 2010. p12.
  4. "Social Class and Attire," gallery labels, Okinawa Prefectural Museum.[1]