Questioning the weapons’ hunt
On March 7th and 8th, 2019, the Ryūkyū Shinpō Newspaper published a cultural column titled “Easy to understand Okinawan history – Interpreting social changes.” The author is Mr. Kurima Yasuo. Born in 1941 in Naha City, he is an Okinawa historian, agricultural scientist and emeritus professor at Okinawa International University.
In this article, professor Kurima writes about the “Katana-gari” or sword hunt that is said to have occurred at the time of King Shō Shin (1465 – 1527). The event is often mentioned in the history of Okinawa karate. Therefore we take the liberty to reproduce a part of the article in Japanese and present a translation below.
First of all, let’s introduce the most detailed description of official history available in the “Achievements of Shō Shin – ‘Kyūyō’”. The Kyūyō Study Group has read through the ‘Kyūyō’ and compiled 33 points. The fourth point reads as follows. (……)
(4) Swords, bows and arrows were stored to prepare for the defense of our kingdom.
Next, let’s look at the inscription “Momo Urasoe Rankan no Mei”. This asset has not survive history and its author is unknown. Yet, this inscription written in Chinese is mentioned in the “Ryūkyū Kokuhi Bunki“. The inscription praises the achievements of King Shō Shin, with 11 items being listed. Some of them are also featured in “Kyūyō”. (……)
ⓔ Swords, bows, arrows and similar weapon articles were collected and used exclusively for the defense of the nation.
Were the weapons surrendered?
From ④ and ⓔ, until now, there was an understanding that Shuri Royal Court itself had given up arms, but it was pointed out by many researchers that it was not the case. This is not a royal weapon abandonment, but a statement that the royal court seized weapons in its sole hand. This is fine as an interpretation of the phrase.
Since weapons were collected, some say it was a “sword hunt”. If you do not clarify the distinction from the “sword hunt” in Japanese history, it can lead to a misunderstanding. In Japanese history, there was a sword hunt in Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s era. However, weapons were not taken away from samurai, but from peasants (farmers) in order to clarify the distinction of social status. In the case of Ryūkyū, it is said that weapons were taken away from “Aji (1)” which are regarded as “Samurai.”
So, were weapons really taken away from Aji? Originally, there was no organized armed group in Ryūkyū. While it is undeniable that there must have been some weapons, it is most likely that they were no important items for Aji. From the fact that there was really no weapon stocked, it is hard to believe that the weapons’ recall was written out as an achievement of King Shō Shin. (……)
(1) Local chieftain