Zaiban bugyo

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The zaiban bugyô and his men parading through Naha, in the Shuri Naha-kô byôbu
  • Japanese: 在番奉行 (zaiban bugyou)

The Satsuma zaiban bugyô (resident magistrate) stationed in the main Okinawan port city of Naha was officially described in Satsuma documents as a metsuke (inspector). He and his staff of roughly 100 men from Satsuma oversaw activities in Ryûkyû, conveying orders and other messages from the daimyô, and reporting back whether the kingdom was behaving in accord with Satsuma's interests and edicts. He and his staff were explicitly required to limit their interactions with Ryukyuans as much as possible, and politically or administratively had only minimal influence on Ryûkyû's domestic affairs; it was chiefly in the fields of foreign relations, enforcing the ban on Christianity, and matters of crime and punishment, that the zaiban bugyô exercised any significant degree of power or influence, and then, of course, only in accord with his orders from Satsuma.

The position was created in 1631, with Kawakami Matazaemon Tadamichi serving as the first zaiban bugyô.[1] His successors typically held the position for terms of just two years, before returning to Kagoshima and being replaced by a new zaiban bugyô (the average length of service for a zaiban bugyô was 28 months).[2][3]

The staff of the zaiban bugyôsho (resident magistrate's office), numbering roughly 100 men altogether, included four yoriki (low-ranking samurai), several tsuke-yakunin (attachés), and a number of yokome (censors); some of these yokome were assigned to outlying islands, to keep an eye on goings-on there, on behalf of the zaiban bugyô. Most of these men served only for periods of three years, before returning to Satsuma and being replaced by a new batch of officials. They were lodged in a series of residences called the zaiban kariya or ôkariya (O: ufukaiya) located along the same street along with the office, in the Nishi district of Naha, on the western edge of Ukishima. Two Ryukyuan officials known as the okariya-no-kami (O: ukaiya mui) and okariya-no-kami bettô (O: ukaiya mui bettô) also aided in the administration of the office.[4] From the late 18th century onward, an additional official, called the tôbutsuhô, oversaw the import of Chinese goods into Ryûkyû, and in particular their sale to Satsuma.[5] Around that time as well, from 1783 onward, a number of Ryukyuan officials guarded the zaiban bugyôsho alongside the samurai guards.[6]

The annual Naha Tug-of-War competition between the four towns of Naha (Nishi, Higashi, Wakasa, Izumisaki) was traditionally held along this street.[7] Satsuma also maintained an office called the uchakuya, located just outside of Shuri castle, and used by the zaiban bugyô and his men to prepare for visits to the castle.[8] The zaiban bugyô typically visited the castle three times a year: on New Year's, and to offer formal greetings on mid-summer and mid-winter, in addition to going up to Shuri castle for formal audiences in conjunction with his arrival in and departure from Ryûkyû (taking up the post, and stepping down from it).[3]

As Satsuma's representative in Ryûkyû, the zaiban bugyô was forbidden from borrowing things or money from the Ryukyuan government treasury, or otherwise asking favors of the king; when members of the sanshikan or other high-ranking Ryukyuan officials came to his office on business, they were to be received by the zaiban bugyô himself, and not by members of his staff. As for the zaiban bugyô paying visits to government officials, or to the king, these were limited to New Year's greetings, official reports of the arrival or departure of the zaiban bugyô to/from his post, and certain other official circumstances; he was explicitly instructed not to overstay his welcome or to accept entertainments. Still, a zaiban bugyô typically enjoyed a reception at Uchaya udun (the court's "eastern garden" detached palace) once during his term. Such receptions included lavish banquets and performances of music and dance.[2]

While the zaiban bugyô post and associated office were necessary for Satsuma to maintain some degree of awareness of, and influence upon, goings-on in the islands, it was at the same time to Satsuma's great advantage that it limit as much as possible its visible presence in, or influence upon, the islands. Throughout the Edo period, Satsuma made great efforts to perpetuate the fiction that the Ryûkyû Kingdom remained fully independent; Ryûkyû was useful to Satsuma primarily as a source of access to Chinese goods and information (intelligence) about conditions and events in China, and since the Ming Dynasty had severed all official Sino-Japanese relations, Ryûkyû's own relations with China could only continue so long as it was not a part of Japan. Or so the standard explanation of the logics of this triangular relationship goes.

Thus, numerous steps were taken to limit the visibility and impact of the zaiban bugyôsho in Naha. The office staff, and the magistrate himself, were prohibited from bringing their families with them from Satsuma, and also forbidden from fraternizing with Ryukyuans, let alone marrying Ryukyuan women. Those who did the latter were dismissed from their positions and sent home to Satsuma, their Ryukyuan family forced to remain behind.

By way of minimizing both expenses, and interactions with Ryukyuans, the magistrate and his staff were quite restricted in their travels, and in entertainments and the like. Satsuma's policies stipulated that when traveling, one should travel directly to one's destination without delay, and that engaging in private trade or business was forbidden; further, while in Naha, even when entertaining Ryukyuan officials or other guests, the office was expected to avoid banquets or feasts, as well as extensive entertainments. The bugyôsho was also meant to limit as much as possible cutting trees, using fuel, or its impact otherwise on Ryukyuan land and resources. Extensive hunting parties were similarly off-limits, due to the impacts on land and resources, the lavishness & expense of the activity, the potential of damage to private property, and the desire to limit interactions with Ryukyuans (e.g. officials who might be invited along on the hunt as guests). A certain amount of deer and boar hunting was allowed, however.

The yokome were charged with reporting back to Satsuma on the behavior of the zaiban bugyô and of their other colleagues, in order to help enforce these many policies and restrictions.

When the Ryûkyû Kingdom was abolished, and Okinawa prefecture created, in 1879, the zaiban bugyôsho briefly became the temporary prefectural office (karikenchô), and then became the regular, permanent prefectural office in 1881. The prefectural government was run from that location for nearly forty years, before being relocated to its current location near Izumisaki in 1920.[7] Nothing of the zaiban bugyôsho or the kariya buildings survive today.

Partial List of Zaiban bugyô


  • Sakai, Robert K. “The Ryukyu (Liu-ch’iu) Islands as a Fief of Satsuma,” in John King Fairbank (ed.), The Chinese World Order, Harvard University Press (1968), 119-120.
  1. Ryûkyû shisetsu, Edo he iku! 琉球使節、江戸へ行く!, Okinawa Prefectural Museum (2009), 47.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Liao Zhenpei 廖真珮, "Ryûkyû kyûtei ni okeru Chûgoku kei ongaku no ensô to denshô" 琉球宮廷における中国系音楽の演奏と伝承, in Uzagaku no fukugen ni mukete 御座楽の復元に向けて, Naha, Okinawa: Uzagaku fukugen ensô kenkyûkai 御座楽復元演奏研究会 (2007), 100.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Watanabe Miki 渡辺美季, "Ryûkyû Shuri no zu, Ryûkyû Naha zu: Koga rekishi hakubutsukan zô Takami Senseki kankei shiryô yori" 「琉球首里ノ図・琉球那覇図ー古河歴史博物館蔵 鷹見泉石関係資料より」, Tôkyô daigaku shiryôhensanjo fuzoku gazô shiryô kaiseki sentaa tsûshin 東京大学史料編纂所附属画像史料解析センター通信 90 (Oct 2020), p10.
  4. Naha shizoku no isshô 那覇士族の一生 (Naha: Naha City Museum of History, 2010), 14.
  5. Tomiyama Kazuyuki, “Ryukyu Kingdom Diplomacy with Japan and the Ming and Qing Dynasties,” Ishihara Masahide et al (eds.), Self-determinable Development of Small Islands, Singapore: Springer Publishing (2016), 58.
  6. Andreas Quast, Okinawan Samurai, Baden-Württemberg, Germany: Andreas Quast (self-published)(2018), v.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Plaque on-site at the former site of the zaiban bugyôsho.
  8. Plaques on-site at the former site of the Uchakuya.
  9. Asô Shinichi 麻生伸一, "Kinsei chûkôki no zôyo girei ni miru Ryûkyû to Nihon" 「近世中後期の贈与儀礼にみる琉球と日本」、Nihon shi kenkyû 日本史研究 578 (2010/10), 3.
  10. Ono Masako, Tomita Chinatsu, Kanna Keiko, Taguchi Megumi, "Shiryô shôkai Kishi Akimasa bunko Satsuyû kikô," Shiryôhenshûshitsu kiyô 31 (2006), 246.
  11. Uchida Junko 内田順子, "Ryûkyû ôken to zagaku" 琉球王権と座楽, in Uzagaku no fukugen ni mukete 御座楽の復元に向けて, Naha, Okinawa: Uzagaku fukugen ensô kenkyûkai 御座楽復元演奏研究会 (2007), 19.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Naha shizoku no isshô 那覇士族の一生 (Naha: Naha City Museum of History, 2010).
  13. 13.0 13.1 Ishin Shiryô Kôyô 維新史料綱要, vol 1 (1937), 354.
  14. Kawabata Megumu 川端恵, Shô Tai: Saigo no Ryûkyû ô 尚泰:最後の琉球王, Yamakawa shuppan (2019), 20.

See also

  • Zaiban - Ryukyuan officials assigned to outlying areas of the kingdom
  • Zaiban oyakata - the chief Ryukyuan official resident in Kagoshima

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