International Research Institute for Controversial Histories
The biggest crisis in Okinawa
Now, Japan is facing its biggest crisis in the postwar years over the issue of the national security. And Okinawa is the main problem. Not only is Okinawa exposed to a military threat from China, but it also is the subject of a history war. However, the Japanese Government has failed to effectively cope with the grave situation. Therefore, Okinawa has become Japan’s largest national security issue. Ever since the clashing incident of a Chinese fishing vessel off the Senkaku Islands took place in 2010, China has been continuously disseminating propaganda to the effect that “Ryukyu has been a member of the Chinese nation since ancient times and now is struggling for independence against the United States and Japan, which China should support.” China’s most important basis for the claim is the historical view of the “Ryukyu disposal.” According to the Chinese propaganda view of history, Japan has kept Okinawa under its colonial rule ever since the “disposal of Okinawa” in 1879 (the twelfth year of Meiji). On the other hand, in Japan, in 2006, Suzuki Muneo, a member of the House of Representatives, submitted a statement of inquiry to the House of Representatives: “At the time when the Japanese name of era was changed to Meiji in 1868, did the Japanese Government recognize the Ryukyu Kingdom at that time as an indivisible part of the State of Japan? We ask the Government for a clear answer.” The response of the Government was, “Regarding Okinawa, it is difficult to definitively state since when Okinawa became part of Japan. But it is certain that Okinawa was part of Japan at the latest when early in the Meiji era, the Ryukyu Domain became Okinawa Prefecture.” This is extremely ambiguous and void of trustfulness, I must say. Such an ambiguous historical view is greatly favorable to China, which desperately wants Okinawa.
The positioning of the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture among the Japanese people
Here, let us consider the position of the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture, which is termed as “Ryukyu disposal.” The term “Ryukyu disposal” may give a negative impression as if the Ryukyu Kingdom was ruined. Certainly, in Okinawa, Ryukyu disposal generally meant that the Japanese Army came to Shuri Castle and forcibly took over the castle and sent the then head of the Ryukyu Domain, King Sho Tai, to Tokyo. But to be fair, it was not Okinawa alone that had its castle taken over but the same happened at Domains all over Japan. Castles of Kumamoto, Himeji and Matsumoto followed the same fate after the decree of “Abolishing Domains and Establishing Prefectures” was proclaimed and the respective Heads of Domain turned over their castles throughout Japan. Also, after the Heads of the Domain came to Tokyo, they were treated the same way and raised to the peerage. Currently, the present heads of the Shimazu Family and the Tokugawa Family are alive and so is the present head of the Second Shu Family, the descendant of the Ryukyu King. The Ryukyu disposal does not mean that people living in Okinawa were annihilated or the lineage of Ryukyu King had perished. Essentially, the construction of a modern state by the Meiji Restoration was the transition from the feudalistic system of ruling the country by a “family” to the modern ruling by the government. The rule by the Tokugawa Family was gone and in the 300 domains throughout Japan, the rule by the family of the domain head was abolished, and equally in Okinawa, the rule by the Sho Family ceased. And instead, prefectural governors sent by the Ministry of the Interior were placed in charge of the administration throughout Japan.
The Meiji Restoration started with the crisis in Okinawa and ended with the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture
Looking at the Meiji Restoration from the perspective of Japan’s defense of Okinawa, we can find new significance. In the school history textbooks and history books on the shelves of bookstores, it is interpreted that the Meiji Restoration started with the arrival of the foreign black ships in 1853 at the end of the Edo period and ended with the Seinan Civil War in 1877, the 10th year of Meiji. And as the national border designated after the Meiji Restoration was completed, the Okinawa disposal (the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture) emerged. The Meiji Restoration and the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture were recognized as separate events, which led to the historical view that “as the result of the Meiji Restoration, the Ryukyu Kingdom perished,” and such a view supported the assertion made by a certain power that Okinawa was victimized by Japan or that people of Ryukyu-Okinawa are an indigenous people in Japan. In fact, however, the Meiji Restoration started in Okinawa, the stronghold of the national defense at that time. Patriots in the Satsuma Domain began to feel threatened by the Western Powers when they obtained information that the Chinese Qing dynasty was defeated by Britain in the Opium War in 1842. Two years later, the threat became real. In 1844, French battleship Arcmere came to Ryukyu and its crew demanded that the kingdom open its port. At that time, following the Treaty of Nanjing, the Qing opened her five ports to the Western Powers and Western ships came in a row, approaching Ryukyu. The five ports were Guangzhou, Fuzhou, Shanghai, Ningbo, and Amoy. Look at the East China Sea on the map. On the way from these five ports to Japan, there is Ryukyu (currently Okinawa), which is best situated as the base for opening Japan to the world. The man who most seriously perceived the crisis and contemplated about what path Japan should follow was Lord Shimazu Nariakira of the Satsuma Domain. As soon as Nariakira became the Lord of Satsuma in 1851, he launched the Shusei-kan enterprise of building Western-style ships, reverberatory furnaces and blast furnaces, manufacturing land mines, torpedoes, glass, gas lamps and so forth in order to build a rich and strong military country by promoting modern industries. Two years prior to Perry’s appearance off Uraga, the original framework of the policy to establish a rich and strong military state was implemented in Satsuma (presently Kagoshima), the southernmost part of Japan. The original idea was drafted by Godai Hidetaka, father of Godai Tomoatsu, who led Satsuma’s enlightenment policy after Shimazu Nariakira died. The afore-mentioned Arcmere left, predicting the reentry of a bigger battleship a year later. The Bakufu Government (Tokugawa Shogunate) ordered Satsuma to send guard soldiers to Ryukyu. A member of the personnel who were ordered to sail to Ryukyu asked how to solve the Ryukyu issue and Hidetaka wrote the “Ryukyu secret plan.” The plan specifically stated in the question-and-answer form how to cope with the French military pressure on the part of the Satsuma Domain. The gist of the plan was: in disposal of Ryukyu, implement two alternative policies of refusal and conciliation, 1) refuse to open the country, citing any thinkable excuses and 2) when refusal would not work, then open the country. But never resort to the means of war. And once Japan is opened, Japan must have more powerful military force than the Western countries. Ryukyu disposal was not a plan to destroy Ryukyu, but to protect Ryukyu. That was the root of the secret strategy--the idea of “open the country and become rich and strong military power.” Thus, the Meiji Restoration started with the crisis in Okinawa.
Ryukyu Cannon Ship
There is a ship that confirms the fact that Shimazu Nariakira felt threatened with respect to the defense of Okinawa. That was the Shohei-maru. At that time, it was impossible to build a huge military ship. The Bakufu Government prohibited the building of large ships as one of the regulations of Buke Shohatto, laws prohibiting the military families from conducting several activities in order to keep them under control. The laws did not change even when Western battleships started to appear along the coast of the Sea of Japan. Nariakira, worrying about the defense of Ryukyu, consulted with the Shogun’s senior councilor Abe and started building the “Ryukyu cannon ship” at Kinko-wan Bay (presently Kagoshima Bay) in 1853 in order to defend Ryukyu. It was three days prior to Perry’s appearance off Uraga. Later, Nariakira remodeled the ship into a Western-style one, renamed it Shohei-maru and dedicated it to the Bakufu Government in 1855. Shimazu Nariakira’s policy of a “rich and strong military state” can be applied to the present-day Japan. As it was at the end of the Bakufu Government, at present, Okinawa is the front of Japan’s defense, and the present Government lacks the strength to protect Okinawa. At the end of the Bakufu Government, a political idea of opening the country and making it rich and militarily strong was born in the Satsuma Domain, which was held responsible for the defense of Ryukyu. Satsuma, after toppling the Edo Bakufu Government, became the center of the Meiji Government, built the Japanese Army, and implemented the policy of making the whole Japan rich and militarily strong, which was the meaning of the Meiji Restoration. Japan lost the power to protect Okinawa on her own, due to the defeat in the Greater East Asian War, and another restoration is indispensable so that Japan may be reborn to become competent enough to protect Okinawa once again. However, the Satsuma Domain does not exist anymore. Japan urgently needs to create a power capable of rebuilding the country’s capacity to defend Okinawa.