Sho Shoken

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  • Born: 1617
  • Died: 1675
  • Titles: Sessei (1666-1673)
  • Other Names: 羽地朝秀 (Haneji Choushuu)
  • Japanese/Chinese:  象賢 (Shou Shouken / Xiàng Xiàngxián)

Shô Shôken, also known as Haneji Chôshû[1], was a scholar-bureaucrat of the Kingdom of Ryûkyû. He is today considered one of the most influential and significant lawmakers in the history of the kingdom. While serving as royal advisor, he engineered and oversaw a wide range of reforms, including the streamlining of royal bureaucracy and reining in of royal extravagances.

Shô Shôken was born into the Haneji family, a princely or noble family distanced from the line of succession but descended from the eldest son of King Shô Shin[2].

He studied Confucian classics, kanbun, and other subjects under Tomari Jochiku, alongside King Shô Hô. He also spent a total of four years living in Satsuma over the course of three separate occasions, and befriended Niiro Matazaemon, who would later become the domain's official in charge of Ryukyuan relations and affairs[3].

While serving as a bureaucrat in the royal government, he compiled in 1650 the Chûzan Seikan or "Mirror of Chûzan", which is today considered the first history of Okinawa[2]. The text describes Okinawans as having come from Japan[3], and relates a narrative of Okinawan subordinate relations to Satsuma province going back many centuries, a fiction to which King Shô Nei was forced to agree roughly 40 years earlier, following Satsuma's invasion of the kingdom. This reflects the fact that, unlike some more Sinophilic administrators in the history of the kingdom, Shô Shôken frequently expressed concern with how Ryukyuan practices would look to Satsuma, which he saw as model for policy and practice[3].

He became head of Haneji magiri in 1652, having already inherited the household from his father in 1640[4].

Shô Shôken was named sessei, a post which has been compared to that of "prime minister", in 1666, replacing Prince Gushikawa Chôei, who was forced to resign by Satsuma, following his poor handling of the Chatan-Eso Affair[3]. It is said that when a royal messenger first came to his residence in Kumemura to inform him of this appointment, he refused to accept the post, claiming that such a post was too important for a mere messenger to be sent; he was soon afterwards visited by Inoha ueekata, a member of Sanshikan, one of the top three royal advisors, and once more offered the post, which he accepted[3].

As sessei, Shô Shôken took a very proactive role in creating and implementing policy in the kingdom, unlike all others who bore the title before and after him, who served a somewhat more passive advisory role. His brief period of service in this role saw a wide range of reforms, including the implementation of sumptuary laws and morality edicts, the streamlining of the government's administration, and various agricultural reforms. He also worked to circumscribe the political power of the noble ladies at court, and reorganized the kingdom's network of priestesses, as well as supporting the expansion and development of Japanese traditional arts in the kingdom[5]. A number of documents relating to the implementation of his reforms and policies have been collected into a volume known as Haneji shioki (羽地仕置).

He served as sessei for seven years, before resigning in 1673. He died in 1675, and was buried in the Taira area of Shuri. A tomb was erected in 1922, and is still extant today, just outside Sueyoshi Park.


  • Plaque at birthplace of Haneji Chôshû, at Shuri Ônaka-chô 1-41.
  1. It was typical at this time for Ryukyuan aristocrat-bureaucrats to have multiple names. Shô Shôken is a Chinese-style name, used in Chinese-language correspondence. Haneji Chôshû, meanwhile, is a Japanese-style name, used in Japanese-language correspondence.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Haneji Chôshû." Okinawa rekishi jinmei jiten (沖縄歴史人名事典, "Encyclopedia of People in Okinawan History"). Naha: Okinawa Bunka-sha, 2002. p63.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Smits, Gregory. Visions of Ryukyu: Identity and Ideology in Early-Modern Thought and Politics. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999. pp51-62.
  4. "Haneji Chôshû." Okinawa konpakuto jiten (沖縄コンパクト事典, "Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia"). Ryukyu Shimpo (琉球新報). 1 March 2003. Accessed 11 October 2009.
  5. "Haneji shioki." Okinawa konpakuto jiten (沖縄コンパクト事典, "Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia"). Ryukyu Shimpo (琉球新報). 1 March 2003. Accessed 11 October 2009.

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