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Ryûkyû-banashi[1] by Morishima Chûryô, a volume describing the history and culture of the Ryûkyû Kingdom, was among the most accurate and popularly accessible books about Ryûkyû published in early modern Japan. It was republished four times, became a source for nearly all later Edo period books on the subject, and has been described as the most popular book about Ryûkyû in the period.[2]

Originally published by Suwaraya Ichibei in Edo in 1790, and then republished in Kyoto by Hayashi Ihei in 1795, the book was later republished twice more by Kibundô, and by Ishida Jihei, around 1832. These latter two editions were sold as two-volume sets, presumably in order to raise the profit margins.

In the original afterword, written in early 1790 just as that year's Ryukyuan mission to Edo was leaving Kagoshima for Edo, publisher Suwaraya Ichibei “tells of an influx of customers flooding his bookshop in search of relevant reading material in advance of the visitors’ arrival.”[2] He writes that while readers already had access to Arai Hakuseki’s c. 1719 Ryûkyû-koku jiryaku, Xu Baoguang’s 1721 Chûzan denshin roku, and Hayashi Shihei’s 1786 Sangoku tsûran zusetsu, they were “looking for something different from these sorts of works – a book that presents information about Ryukyu in a way that children, too, might comprehend.”[2] While the book was carefully written in such a way as to make it accessible to a general popular audience, it was also the result of considerable research on Chûryô's part; while some of the content is seen today as spurious, Chûryô nevertheless was not simply writing down rumors he had heard, but rather drew upon reliable texts such as those mentioned above, especially the Chûzan denshin roku and Chûryô's own Bankoku shinwa (1789), as well as the diaries of his father, a physician in service to the Shimazu clan, in an effort to ascertain & convey accurate information as best as he could. The preface to the text was written by a scholar named Ryôtaku, contributing further to the scholarly air of authority of the volume.

The Ryûkyû banashi is divided into 31 entries or sections, some as short as a few lines, others going on for several pages, each describing a different aspect about the island kingdom. It begins with a history of the islands, foundation myths, and history of the ruling family, including the story of Minamoto no Tametomo (from whom the royal family was previously believed to have been descended), but also including mention of a dynastic change some centuries ago. Later entries deal largely with general culture and customs, especially material culture (modes of transportation, architecture, clothing, food) and celebrations and festivals (weddings, New Years, funerals, coming-of-age ceremonies), as well as performing arts, and Okinawan language. The book includes a few mentions of odd things here and there – such as the islanders’ penchant for sneezing, or a particular market run only by women – but it is for the most part a more serious work, not focusing on unfounded rumors and exotic elaborations.

While Morishima omits much of Xu's discussion of geography, climate, economy, trade, and local plants, the Ryûkyû banashi was nevertheless the first popularly accessible volume to address Ryukyuan culture in a holistic way, in contrast to certain earlier publications which touched upon only Ryukyuan dance, language, music, poetry, or theater, and not all of these together.

Numerous copies survive today in libraries and archives in Japan and overseas; the text and images are also available in modern publication, in Morishima Chûryô shû ("Collection [of Works by] Morishima Chûryô").


  • William Fleming, “The World Beyond the Walls: Morishima Chūryō (1756-1810) and the Development of Late Edo Fiction,” PhD dissertation, Harvard University (2011), 87-98.
  1. Though the characters of the title (琉球談) can be read "Ryûkyû dan," furigana in the original publication clearly identifies the reading as "Ryûkyû banashi."
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Fleming, 87-88.