Sho Tai

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Shô Tai was the final king of the Kingdom of Ryûkyû.

As King

He was born in 1843/7, the second son of King Shô Iku. As his older brother died young, the future Shô Tai was then named Crown Prince (or, Prince Nakagusuku), at a very young age. When his father suddenly died in 1847 at the age of 35, the young prince ascended to the throne, receiving recognition from Satsuma han within the year. Due to his young age, a regent (sessei) and the Council of Three (Sanshikan) handled the actual matters of governance. Shô Tai was tutored by royal tutor Tsuhako Seisei and Sanshikan Giwan Chôho as he grew into his role as monarch.

The kingdom was already dealing with widespread poverty, drought, and famine at the time; in addition, a number of European ships had come to the islands, bringing Christian missionaries, and sometimes asking for trade, to use Ryûkyû as a coaling station, or other concessions. Shô Tai was 10 years old when Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in 1853. Perry hoped to secure a treaty between Ryûkyû and the US, as a first step towards "opening" Japan. He forced his way into Shuri castle, but met only with the sessei, who took charge of the negotiations with Perry, and protected the young king from having to be involved. Sessei Ôzato Chôkyô, along with State Ministers Makishi Chôchû and others, originally refused to enter into any treaties with the Western powers, but succumbed in the end to the pressures exerted upon them; the Treaty of Amity between Ryûkyû and the United States was signed in 1854, with treaties with France, England, and the Netherlands following soon afterwards.

The young king formally came of age with a genpuku ceremony held in 1857/2. The following year, on 1858/5/9, he signed, sealed, and submitted a kishômon swearing his loyalty to the Shimazu house.[1]

Following a bribery scandal involving top-ranking officials, known as the Makishi-Onga Incident, Shô Tai issued a six-point set of orders (the kyôjô rokkan) aimed at eliminating corruption amongst the governments' officials.

In 1866, after nineteen years on the throne, Shô Tai was finally formally invested as king by representatives of Qing Dynasty China.

The King lost his mother in 1864, his queen in 1868, and his great-grandmother, the kikoe-ôgimi, in 1869; he was distraught with mourning when his close advisor Kishaba Chôken advised him that a famine was on the horizon - people were trading their children for sweet potatoes. The following spring (1870), the famine had grown worse; the 28-year-old king ordered that the kingdom purchase rice & other grains and distribute them to address the famine. It is said no one died of starvation that year.

Fall of the Kingdom

Following the Meiji Restoration, the new Meiji government made efforts to incorporate Ryûkyû into Japan. Collectively, these are known as the Ryûkyû shobun, or "disposal of Ryûkyû." In 1872, the kingdom received an Imperial edict declaring Ryûkyû to no longer be a kingdom, but now a han (feudal domain), and Shô Tai to himself no longer be a "king," but now a domainal lord (han'ô) with a residence in Tokyo.[2] This despite the fact that all the other han had been abolished the previous year. Shô Tai was ordered to journey to Tokyo to pay his respects to the Meiji Emperor, but responded with a petition that the status quo be maintained - that Ryûkyû be permitted to remain an independent kingdom, and that it be permitted to continue its tributary relationship with Qing China.

Matsuda Michiyuki, official in charge of the shobun, arrived in Ryûkyû in 1877, conveying various orders and commands that would overthrow the kingdom. A number of aristocrat-officials opposed these measures, forming a faction known as the Ganko-tô ("Stubborn Party"), while others advocated a myriad of positions; the court was plunged into considerable debate and disagreement. Other officials, meanwhile, fled to China and petitioned the Qing Court to take action against Japan's takeover of the kingdom. All the while, Shô Tai supposedly fell seriously ill, and was confined to his sickbed; according to some historians, this illness was a ruse, or a false excuse, employed in order to delay or avoid the King having to go to Tokyo and formally submit to the Japanese emperor.

Shô Tai issued various orders, to go along with certain of the Japanese terms, but these were ignored by the members of the Ganko-tô, who sealed the gates to the palace and followed their own agenda; Kishaba Chôken is recorded as expressing that these officials were no longer acting in the interest of the kingdom, but were acting to protect their own personal power and wealth. Even so, their efforts proved fruitless, as Japan abolished the kingdom in 1879, establishing Okinawa prefecture in its place. Shô Tai handed over the palace, and departed for Tokyo along with his family, where he was granted a mansion, and named a Marquis (kôshaku) in the new kazoku system of peerage. Some years later, he would return to Okinawa for a few hundred days, as part of an effort to win over those members of the aristocracy who still opposed the Japanese takeover of the islands; but, other than this, he would never again return to Okinawa until his death in 1901 at age 59.

He was entombed alongside his predecessors in the royal mausoleum at Tamaudun. His funeral would be one of the last Ryukyuan royal ceremonies to be performed in the traditional Ryukyuan manner; his eldest son's funeral in 1920 would be the last. The spirit of Shô Tai is enshrined at a number of major shrines in Ryûkyû, including Naminoue Shrine and (formerly) Sôgen-ji.

Shô Tai had many children, including: Shô Ten (1864-1920), who succeeded him as Marquis in 1901; and Shô In (1866-1905) and Shô Jun (1873-1945) who held the title of Baron (danshaku),[3] as well as a daughter known as Amuro udun.[4]

Preceded by:
Shô Iku
King of Ryûkyû
Succeeded by:


  • JCC Shuppanbu, Inoue Hideo (ed.), E de wakaru Ryûkyû ôkoku - rekishi to jinbutsu 絵で解る琉球王国・歴史と人物, Itoman: JCC Shuppan (2011), 150-153.
  1. Asô Shin’ichi 麻生伸一, “Kinsei Ryūkyū no kokuō kishōmon” 「近世琉球の国王起請文」, in Ryûkyû shiryôgaku no funade 琉球史料学の船出, Tokyo: Bensei shuppan (2017), 175.
  2. The residence provided to him by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was located at Mochinokizaka 檎木坂 (today known as Mochinokizaka 冬青木坂), and was sold to the Ministry by former Saga han retainer Shima Yoshitake for 3000 yen. "Ryûkyû hanshu e teitaku o tamawaru" 「琉球藩主へ邸宅を賜はる」, Tokyo nichinichi shimbun 東京日日新聞 (1872/10/3), reproduced in Meiji hennen shi 明治篇年史, vol 1 (1934), 497. The location in Chiyoda-ku Fujimi 1-chôme is today just north of Kudanshita subway station, near Gyôsei Junior/Senior High School.
  3. Ishin Shiryô Hensankai, Kazoku Ryakufu, Tokyo: Shueisha (1913), 625.
  4. Roughly, "woman of the Amuro palace" or "woman of the Amuro noble lineage."