Amami Islands

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  • Japanese: 奄美諸島 (Amami shotou)

The Amami Islands are a string of islands, Amami Ôshima the largest of them, strung between Kyushu and Okinawa. Geographically considered part of the Ryûkyû Islands, and associated with the Ryûkyû Kingdom until 1609, the islands were at that time annexed by Satsuma han, and remain a part of Kagoshima prefecture (not Okinawa prefecture) today. The islands maintain a distinctive culture, with strong similarities to Okinawan culture, but marked differences as well (see Amami music).


Amami Ôshima is said to have sent tribute to the Yamato state (i.e. Japan) as early as the year 699. This can be presumed to have tapered off by the 11th or 12th century, if not earlier. Amami sent tribute however, to the Kingdom of Chûzan, and later the Ryûkyû Kingdom (on Okinawa Island) from 1266 through the end of the 16th century; as with tribute received from the more southerly islands (the Yaeyamas and Miyako), tribute from Amami was received and stored at the port of Tomari, just outside Naha. The Ryûkyû Kingdom did not, however, possess any true control over the Amami Islands at that time, and as late as the 16th century was engaged in military efforts to conquer these islands; as Ryûkyû moved north, and the Shimazu clan samurai of Satsuma moved south, both seeking to extend their control into the Amamis, Ryûkyû and Satsuma clashed on a number of occasions. One such clash took place in 1493; Amami Ôshima formally submitted to Ryûkyû's authority in 1571. That same year, the Shimazu attacked the island as part of efforts to seize control over all of Ryûkyû.

Satsuma succeeded in conquering the Amamis and Okinawa in 1609. Following its defeat, the Ryûkyû Kingdom was permitted to remain intact and quasi-independent. Okinawa and all the islands to the south remained under the control of the kingdom, which paid taxes to Satsuma and was in certain other respects subordinated to Satsuma's control. The Amamis, meanwhile, were wholly incorporated into Satsuma's territory. Satsuma undertook land surveys in 1621, assessing the agricultural productivity of the land in order to calculate taxation rates. The main agricultural products on the islands traditionally included rice, Satsumaimo (sweet potato), sugar cane, papaya, banana, and pineapple. Sotetsu (cycad) also grows naturally on the island. The Amamis are also known for their textiles, including especially Amami tsumugi (pongee). This tsumugi, along with sugar, were the chief goods claimed by Satsuma in taxes.

A samurai official known as a daikan served as the chief Satsuma official on Amami Ôshima, though the local elites or official structure were permitted to remain intact to some extent. These local Amami officials were banned from interacting with officials of the Ryûkyû Kingdom, beginning in 1623.

However, Ryûkyû or local Amami elites were seen as still possessing some residual rights or sovereignty, and as late as the 1870s, there were steps taken to have the Ryukyuan royal family officially relinquish all claims to the islands.