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Ryukyu and Southeast Asia

  • Shunzō Sakamaki


From about 1373 to 1570, or for nearly two centuries, the kings of Ryukyu engaged in a prosperous and active trade between East and Southeast Asia. Several hundred Ryukyuan ships voyaged to Southeast Asian ports, from Siam to Patani, Malacca, Sumatra, Java, and elsewhere. These were in addition to, and indeed complementary to, hundreds of trading voyages to China, Japan, and Korea.

However, there are only scattered references to the Ryukyuan trading expeditions to Southeast Asia in Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean records. What is more, Ryukyuan chronicles compiled in the seventeenth century contain only fragmentary notices of these voyages. This was most puzzling to modern scholars, for other records showed that tremendous quantities of goods of southern origin were carried frm Ryukyu to China, Japan, and Korea in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, indicating that there must have been a correspondingly large trade with southern regions. It had to be presumed that in connection with such trade, countless records and documents must have been compiled. And yet the official histories of Ryukyu made only passing mention of old contacts with countries in the southern seas.



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1 Sakamaki, Shunzō, Ryukyu: A Bibliographical Guide to OKinawan Studies (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1963), pp. 4043; “The Rckidai hōan,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, LXXXIII (Jan.-Mar., 1963), 107–113. Yung-hsiang, Lai, Li-tai-pao-an, A Collection of Documents on Foreign Relations of the Ryukyu Islands (Taipei, 1962).

2 The basic primary sources used in preparing this paper are the following: Volume 39: five despatches from Siam to Ryukyu, A.D. 1430–1481; eight from Malacca, 1467–1481. Volume 40: nineteen despatches from Ryukyu to Siam, 1425–1442; five to Java, 1430–1442; one to Palembang, 1428; four to unspecified countries (probably Siam or Java), 1437–1438. Volume 41: five despatches from Ryukyu to Siam, 1464–1469; eleven to Malacca, 1463–1472; three to Sumatra, 1463–1468. Volume 42: twenty-two shisshō (certificates) for voyages to Siam, 1509–1564; three to Malacca, 1509–1511; one to Annam, 1509; two to Sunda, 1513, 1518; eight to Patani, 1515–1543; and one to Palembang, 1428. Volume 43: seven despatches to Palembang, 1428–1440; two from Palembang, 1431; one to Siam, 1428.

3 See Shigeo, Sakuma, “Ming-dai kaigai shibōeki no rekishiteki haikei-Fukien-shō o chūshin to shite” (“Historical Background of Private Foreign Trade in Ming Period—Chiefly on the Case of the Fukien Province”), Shigaku Zasshi (The Journal of Historical Science), LXII (Jan. 1953), 125; “Mingerlō no kaikin seisaku” (“On die Prohibition of the Overseas Trade under the Ming Dynasty”), TōhōgaKu (Eastern Studies), No. 6 (June 1953), 42–51. Reischauer, Edwin O. and Fairbank, John K., East Asia The Great Tradition (Boston, 1960), pp. 321325, 330–337.

4 Important studies of Ryukyuan relations with Southeast Asian countries in the I4tb-16th centuries include the following: Atsushi, Kpbata, Chūsei nantō tsūkō-bōeki shi no kenKyū [Study of Overseas Contacts and Trade with the Southern islands in the Middle Ages] (Tokyo: Nippon Hyōronsha, 1939).Kanjun, Higaonna, Reimeiki no kaigai kōtsū shi [History of Overseas Contacts at the Dawn of a New Age] (Tokyo: Teikoku Kyōikukai, 1941).Nobu, Asato, Nippon nanpō hatten shi [History of Japan's Southern Expansion] (Tokyo: Sanseidō, 1942).

5 Rekidai hōan First Collection (1697–1698), Vol. 42, document No. 3.

6 Annotated monographs on the Ryukyuans in Southeast Asia include the following by Kenzō, Akiyama: “Gores wa Ryūkyū-jin de aru” [“The Gores are Ryukyuans”], Shigaku Zasshi (The Historical Journal of Japan), XXXIX (1928), 268285; “Gores naru meishō no hassei to sono rekishiteki hatten” [“The origin and historical development of the term Gores”], ibid., 1349–1359; “Muromachi-jidai ni okeru Ryūkyū no Indo-Shina shokoku to no tsūkō” [“Ryukyuan Communications with the Countries of Indo-China During the Muromachi Period”] [1392–1490], Rekishi Chiri [Historical Geography], LVI (1930), 441–461; “Ōhaku raikō zengo no Tōyō ni okeru kaijō-bōeki” [“Sea Trade in the Orient About the Time of the Advent of European Ships”], Shakai Keizatshigaku (The Journal of the Social and Economic History Society), V (1935), 503–519, 629–646. See also Kenzō, Akiyama, Nisshi Kōshō shiwa [Historical Essays on Japanese-Chinese Relations] (Tokyo, 1937), 254303, and Tōa kōshō shiron [Historical Treatises on East Asian Relations] (Tokyo, 1944), 124–136. Atsushi, Kobata, “Kyūkō oyobi sono Nichi-Ryū ryōkoku tono kōshō ni tsuite” [“On Palembang and its Relations with Japan and Ryukyu”], Shtrin (The Journal of History), XX (1935), 590661; “Ryūkyū-Maraka-kan no tsūshō kankei ni tsuite” [“On Trade Relations Between Ryukyu and Malacca”], Keizaishi Kenkyū [Studies in Economic History], XIV (1935), 579–593, 712–724. See also monographs by Kobata Atsushi in Taiheiyō-ken minsoku to bunka [Peoples and Cultures in the Pacific Ocean Sphere] (Tokyo, 1942), 223–251; Nanpō bunka kōza: Nippon nanpō hatten shi hen [Lectures on Southern Cultures: Volume on the History of Japanese Expansion Southward] (Tokyo: Sanshōdō, 1944), 95–151.

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The Journal of Asian Studies
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  • EISSN: 1752-0401
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