Sho Hashi

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Shô Hashi was the first king of the Kingdom of Ryûkyû (today Okinawa Prefecture), having united the islands' three kingdoms of Chûzan, Hokuzan, and Nanzan by conquest.

As lord (anji) of Sashiki magiri, he was seen as an able, well-liked administrator within his own lands, who rose in prominence at the opening of the 15th century. He led a small rebellion against the lord of Azato district in 1402. Hashi then went on to overthrow King Bunei of Chûzan in 1404[1] and placed his father Shô Shishô on the throne. Even with his father as King, however, Hashi held true political power, and organized envoys to Nanking, to assure Ming Dynasty China, to which the Ryukyuan kingdoms were tributaries, of his kingdom's continued cooperation and friendship. He also reorganized much of the administrative organs of the kingdom to better fit Chinese models, not only to impress or satisfy the Chinese Court, but to consolidate power unto his throne. Political authority in Ryûkyû up until this time was quite volatile, and subject to individual rulers' military might (as proven by Hashi's own violent seizure of power), and perceptions of their spiritual power and legitimacy. Yingkit Chan even argues that there had not really been a concept of "state" or "kingship" at all up until this time, and so Hashi worked to construct such notions based on the Chinese model. He situated himself, as king, as “the benevolent power that united and sustained the archipelago, rendering no principal difference between him and the newfound kingdom,” and with the considerable help of the Confucian scholar-elite community of Kumemura, constructed a discourse in which the king's legitimacy was not based on military might, but on his personal virtue.[2]

The elites of Chûzan also quickly adopted many elements of Chinese culture, and came to be recognized as "civilized", at least somewhat more so than earlier, by the Chinese. Hashi also oversaw the expansion and embellishment of Shuri castle, and the placement of distance markers throughout the land, marking the distance to Shuri.

Meanwhile, though Hokuzan, the neighboring kingdom to the north, held no advantages over Chûzan economically or in terms of political influence, Hashi viewed their capital city castle of Nakijin gusuku as a threat militarily. When the opportunity presented itself in 1419, after three Hokuzan anji (local lords) turned to his side, Hashi led his father's army, and conquered Nakijin in a swift series of attacks. The king of Hokuzan, along with his closest retainers, committed suicide after a fierce resistance. A year after his father's death in 1421, Hashi requested official recognition and investiture from the Chinese imperial court, and received it in due course. It may be interesting to note that, despite the nominal independence of Ryûkyû into the 19th century, this practice would continue. The court bestowed upon him the family name Shang (Shô in Japanese), registered a new title in their annals: Liuqiu Wang (琉球王, Japanese: Ryûkyû-Ô, King of Ryûkyû), and sent Hashi's emissary back with a ceremonial dragon robe, and a lacquer tablet with the word Chûzan inscribed upon it. This Chûzan tablet was then placed on display outside Shuri Castle, where it remained until the 20th century.

Thus, succeeding his father as king of Chûzan in 1422, and appointing his younger brother (or son) Shô Chû Warden of Hokuzan, he seized Shimajiri Ôzato, capital of Nanzan, in 1429, from Lord Taromai. Thus uniting the island of Okinawa, he founded the Ryûkyû Kingdom and the Shô Dynasty.

Up to this point, the three kingdoms had operated on a very simple feudal model. Peasants were subsistence farmers who paid taxes to their local anji and performed various other labors and services to him; the anji in turn owed taxes and services to the head of their kingdom (hypothetically a king, but called a prince in many English-language texts on the subject). Shô Hashi did not effect drastic dramatic changes upon this system, but reinforced it as part of his unification efforts; anji were made to owe their allegiance to his royal government at Shuri, rather than becoming lordless rebels or the like upon the defeat and absorption of their kingdom. Hashi also oversaw a significant expansion of trade, particularly with China, and organized envoys to other Asian countries as well. Documents survive today chronicling a number of missions to Ayutthaya, the capital of Siam at the time, to resolve trade issues. Recognizing the importance of trade to Ryûkyû's continued prosperity, Shô Hashi promoted it strongly, and even ordered a bell cast and installed at Shuri Castle, upon which was inscribed "Ships are means of communication with all nations; the country is full of rare products and precious treasures."[3]

Through this trade, friendly diplomatic relations, and the overall organization and unity created by Shô Hashi, Ryûkyû absorbed much of the foreign influences that would come to define its culture. Some examples include the Chinese ceremonial robes worn by kings and high officials when meeting with Chinese officials, the Japanese-inspired custom of aristocratic members of society wearing two swords, and the fusion of native, Japanese, Chinese, and Southeast Asian elements of music and dance.

Shô Hashi died in 1439, at the age of sixty-eight, having united Ryûkyû and established its place as a small, but recognized, power in the region. Upon his death, the court appointed his second son, Shô Chû, his successor, and sent emissaries to the Chinese court to ask for investiture, to the Japanese Shogun in Kyoto and to the courts of a number of other kingdoms, as diplomatic missions.

A site in Yomitan village is said to be the tomb of Shô Hashi, Shô Chû, and Shô Shitatsu. Hashi's father Shô Shishô is said to be buried at Sashiki yôdore, a separate site near Sashiki gusuku.[4]

Preceded by:
Shô Shishô
Reign as King of Chûzan and Ryûkyû
Succeeded by:
Shô Chû


  • Frederic, Louis (2002). "Japan Encyclopedia." Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  • Smits, Gregory (1999). "Visions of Ryukyu: Identity and Ideology in Early-Modern Thought and Politics." Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
  1. Sources appear to differ somewhat on the dates involved here, which range from 1404 to 1407. Kerr gives 1407, while Frederic gives 1404, Smits cites 1405, and the Okinawa rekishi jinmei jiten gives 1406 as the date.
  2. Chan, Ying Kit. “A Bridge between Myriad Lands: The Ryukyu Kingdom and Ming China (1372-1526).” MA Thesis, National University of Singapore, 2010, 29.
  3. Kerr, George H. (2000). Okinawa: the History of an Island People. (revised ed.) Boston: Tuttle Publishing.
  4. Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (2019), 117.