Meet The Ryukyu Living In Japan's The Extreme South | The Mark Of Empire (Full Episode)

CNA Insider
12 Dec 202246:45
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TLDRIn this engaging journey, Peter Lee explores the rich history and unique culture of the Ryukyu Kingdom, situated on Japan's southernmost islands. From the fusion of American and traditional influences on Okinawa to the ancient art of Bingata and the spiritual significance of Shuri Castle, Lee uncovers the legacy of a kingdom that thrived through strategic diplomacy and trade. The documentary delves into the Ryukyu's vibrant heritage, from the craftsmanship of Shisa protectors to the martial arts of Kobudo, revealing how this region's identity has been shaped by its openness to foreign influences and enduring traditions.

  • ๐ŸŒ Peter Lee explores untold histories in Japan and Korea, highlighting the fusion of old and new cultures.
  • ๐Ÿฏ Four distinct kingdoms rose and fell in Japan and Korea, creating unique identities that still resonate today.
  • ๐ŸŒด Okinawa, Japan's southernmost island, has a mix of Japanese and American influences, visible in its culture and cuisine.
  • ๐Ÿ™ Peter Lee tries a local fusion snack, an onigiri sandwich with rice, egg, and spam, showcasing the American influence.
  • ๐Ÿฆ Shisa, guardian lion-dog statues from China, are a prominent feature in Okinawa, meant to ward off evil spirits.
  • ๐Ÿฐ Nakajin Castle, built in the 13th century, was a stronghold of the powerful Hokuzan Kingdom in Okinawa.
  • ๐Ÿด The Ryukyu Kingdom traded luxury items like Chinese ceramics and rice wine from Ayutthaya, reflecting its historical wealth.
  • ๐ŸŽจ The art of bingata, a 500-year-old fabric dyeing technique, illustrates the cultural exchanges between Ryukyu and other regions.
  • โ˜• Bukubukuti, a traditional rice broth and jasmine tea beverage, was used to welcome Chinese emissaries in the Ryukyu Kingdom.
  • ๐Ÿ›ก The Ryukyu Kingdom flourished by leveraging its relationship with China, becoming a significant trading power in the region.
  • โš”๏ธ Kobudo, Okinawa's traditional martial art, uses everyday objects as weapons, reflecting the region's adaptive and resilient culture.
  • ๐ŸŽผ The sanshin, a traditional instrument, symbolizes Okinawa's rich musical heritage and cultural resilience.
  • ๐Ÿ’  The unique hajiti tattoos, once banned, are being revived, showcasing the enduring cultural identity of the Ryukyu people.
Q & A
  • Who is Peter Lee and what is his background?

    -Peter Lee is a Singaporean scholar of Peranakan descent, which means he has Chinese ancestry with a touch of Malay heritage. He embarks on a journey to explore untold histories and unique cultures.

  • What is the significance of the Ryukyu Kingdom in the history of Japan and its trade?

    -The Ryukyu Kingdom was a significant trading power located on the Japanese archipelago and the Korean peninsula. It rose and fell, creating unique cultures and identities that still resonate today. The kingdom was known for its trading prowess, especially with China and Southeast Asia, and was one of China's most favored nations.

  • What is the role of the shisa in Okinawan culture?

    -The shisa is a protector figure in Okinawan culture, introduced from China over 500 years ago to ward off bad spirits. It is a mix between a lion and a dog and is commonly seen on shop fronts, signs, and souvenirs.

  • What is the significance of the Ryukyu Kingdom's relationship with China?

    -The relationship with China was crucial for the Ryukyu Kingdom's prosperity. By becoming a vassal state to China, the kingdom was able to engage in trade and gain access to the world's most coveted goods. This relationship also led to the import of luxury items and the development of unique cultural practices.

  • What is the art of Bingata and how is it related to the Ryukyu Kingdom's history?

    -Bingata is an over 500-year-old art of dyeing fabrics that was perfected by the Ryukyu people. It was inspired by foreign fabrics traded across the region and was so fine that it was shipped to China as a tribute good. Bingata represents the region's identity and the integration of various materials and methods from different cultures.

  • What is the significance of the sanchin and how is it used in Okinawan culture?

    -The sanchin is a banjo-like instrument that is considered the soul of Okinawa. It is traditionally played with a piece of oxhorn and is known for its crisp, hard sound that echoes and softens. The sanchin is a people's instrument and is brought out for festivities and occasions, symbolizing unity and cultural heritage.

  • What was the impact of the Portuguese arrival in Asia on the Ryukyu Kingdom?

    -The arrival of the Portuguese in Asia was detrimental to the Ryukyu Kingdom. The Portuguese were granted a foothold in China, which threatened the kingdom's privileged access to Chinese goods. This led to a drain on the islands' financial resources and weakened the kingdom.

  • What is the history behind the Shuri Castle and its significance to the Ryukyu Kingdom?

    -Shuri Castle was the base of the ruling Sho family of the Ryukyu Kingdom. It was the site where King Shoshin consolidated his power and enacted policies that led to the kingdom's golden age. The castle also housed the royal mausoleum, which was built to conceal the truth about the king's lineage and to legitimize his authority.

  • What is the cultural significance of the hajiji tattoos and their revival in modern times?

    -Hajiji tattoos are a traditional art form that was once banned by the Japanese as barbaric. They are drawn from nature and feature geometric shapes. In modern times, there is a revival of this tradition, with a new generation looking to reclaim and preserve this aspect of Ryukyuan cultural identity.

  • How did the Ryukyu Kingdom manage to maintain its identity despite foreign influences and changing times?

    -The Ryukyu Kingdom managed to maintain its identity by integrating the best of trade offerings with deeply held practices. They used openness and shrewdness to build a colorful history and create a distinct culture that found renewed expression in modern times.

๐ŸŒ Journey to Uncover Untold Histories

Peter Lee, a Singaporean scholar of Peranakan descent, embarks on a journey to explore the histories of the Ryukyu Kingdom, a unique culture that flourished on the Japanese Islands and Korean Peninsula. He visits Okinawa, the southernmost island of Japan, and is struck by the fusion of cultures, including American influences and traditional elements like the guardian lion-like shisa. Peter experiences local cuisine, such as the Spam sandwich, and learns about the craftsmanship behind the shisa from a local artist, reflecting on the blend of old and new in Okinawa.

๐Ÿฐ Okinawa's Transformation and Cultural Heritage

The narrative shifts to explore Okinawa's evolution from a society of outcasts and warlords to a tourist-friendly destination. Peter delves into the historical transition from hunting and gathering to farming and the rise of local rulers known as Aji. He visits Nakajin Castle, a 13th-century stronghold of the Hokkazan Kingdom, and gains special access to a storage vault with artifacts that reveal trade connections with China and Southeast Asia. The story of King Sho Hashi, who united the island under the Ryukyu Kingdom, is highlighted, showcasing the kingdom's strategic use of resources like sulfur and horses.

๐ŸŽ Preserving Ryukyu's Indigenous Horses and Cultural Practices

Peter encounters the Ryukyu Kingdom's indigenous horses, which have a lineage tracing back to Mongolian breeds. With the decline in their use, efforts are being made to protect these animals and preserve traditional practices like the use of a 'muge' bridle. He experiences a horse ride, which includes a swim, reflecting on the unique cultural practices that have been maintained over time.

๐Ÿ›ถ Ryukyu Kingdom's Maritime Trade and Underwater Discoveries

The script takes us on an underwater exploration around the Ryukyu Archipelago with archaeologist Akihiro Sunagawa, searching for remnants of a sunken treasure ship that could provide insights into the kingdom's maritime trade with China. The discovery of a Saladin plate suggests the extent of the kingdom's trade network.

๐Ÿ”„ The Ryukyu Kingdom's Trading Network and Cultural Exchange

Peter explores the vast trading network of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which extended from China to Southeast Asia. He describes the impressive size and capacity of the trading junks and the variety of goods exchanged, from luxury items to local products. The kingdom's relationship with China is highlighted as a key factor in its transformation into a trading powerhouse. The art of 'bingata', a unique dyeing technique, is introduced as a cultural product that was both imported and exported.

๐ŸŽจ The Art of Bingata and Ryukyu's Cultural Identity

The script focuses on the art of 'bingata', a textile dyeing technique that was perfected by the Ryukyu people and became a tribute good shipped to China. The process of creating bingata is detailed, from the application of the stenciled design to the painting technique that gives the fabric its unique vibrancy. The art form is presented as a testament to the blending of foreign influences and local craftsmanship.

๐Ÿต Rediscovering Ryukyu's Traditions: Bukobukuti and Hajiti Tattoos

Peter meets with Hiroki Shimabukuro, a cafรฉ owner who is reviving the special beverage 'bukobukuti', originally made to welcome Chinese emissaries. The preparation of this fragrant tea is described, along with the cultural significance of the tea ceremony. Additionally, the script introduces the tradition of 'hajiti' tattoos, which were banned by the Japanese but are now being rediscovered by a new generation.

๐Ÿฏ Shuri Castle and the Ryukyu Kingdom's Golden Age

The script discusses the rebuilding of Shuri Castle, which was destroyed in 2019, and its significance during the golden age of the Ryukyu Kingdom under King Shoshin. The king's consolidation of power through religious control and the centralization of the Ryukyu Islands' governance is detailed, along with his efforts to maintain peace and prosperity.

๐ŸŽถ The Cultural Legacy of the Ryukyu Kingdom: Music and Dance

Peter explores the cultural legacy of the Ryukyu Kingdom through music and dance. He examines the 'omoro sochi', a collection of songs that offer a glimpse into life during the kingdom's era, and the 'sanchin', a banjo-like instrument that is central to Okinawa's music scene. The script highlights how these cultural elements continue to unite the islands.

๐Ÿฅ‹ The Martial Arts of the Ryukyu Kingdom: Kobudo and Karate

The script shifts focus to the martial arts of the Ryukyu Kingdom, particularly 'kobudo', which incorporates a variety of weapons, and 'karate'. The history and cultural significance of these martial arts are detailed, along with their evolution and the role they played in self-defense.

๐Ÿ›๏ธ The Ryukyu Kingdom's Cultural Preservation Amidst Change

Peter concludes his exploration by reflecting on the Ryukyu Kingdom's ability to balance its identity amidst new influences and changing times. The script highlights the kingdom's history of diplomacy and trade, which allowed it to prosper and maintain a distinct culture that continues to be expressed in modern times.

๐Ÿ’กRyukyu Kingdom
The Ryukyu Kingdom was an independent kingdom that ruled most of the Ryukyu Islands from the 15th to the 19th century. It played a crucial role in East Asian maritime trade, acting as a bridge between China and Japan. The video explores the rise and fall of this kingdom, highlighting its cultural and economic significance.
Shisa are traditional Okinawan protective statues resembling a cross between a lion and a dog. They were introduced from China over 500 years ago to ward off evil spirits. The video features the creation process of Shisa and their cultural importance in Okinawa.
๐Ÿ’กNakijin Castle
Nakijin Castle is a historical site on Okinawa Island, built in the 13th century as the stronghold of the Hokkuzan Kingdom. It represents the political and military power of the Ryukyu Kingdom's northern region. The video showcases the castle's remains and artifacts to illustrate the island's feudal history.
Bingata is a traditional Okinawan resist dyeing technique that produces colorful patterns on fabric. Originating in the Ryukyu Kingdom, it combines influences from China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. The video demonstrates the process of creating Bingata textiles, highlighting their historical and cultural value.
๐Ÿ’กKume Island
Kume Island is located 90 kilometers west of Okinawa and played a significant role in the Ryukyu Kingdom's trade with China. The video discusses the island's historical importance, particularly in trading sulfur and horses, which were crucial for Chinese warfare.
๐Ÿ’กOmoro Sochi
The Omoro Sochi is a 500-year-old collection of songs compiled during the Ryukyu Kingdom's golden age. These songs offer insights into the kingdom's spiritual and cultural life. The video explores the importance of these songs in unifying the kingdom and preserving its heritage.
๐Ÿ’กSeifa Utaki
Seifa Utaki is Okinawa's most sacred site, believed to be created by a goddess. It was central to the Ryukyu Kingdom's religious practices and legitimized the rule of its kings. The video highlights Seifa Utaki's spiritual significance and its role in the kingdom's consolidation of power.
๐Ÿ’กBukubuku tea
Bukubuku tea is a traditional Okinawan beverage made from rice broth and jasmine tea, known for its frothy appearance. It was historically used to welcome Chinese emissaries. The video features the preparation of this tea, emphasizing its cultural importance and unique preparation method.
๐Ÿ’กShuri Castle
Shuri Castle was the royal palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom and a symbol of its political power. Although it has burned down multiple times, it remains a significant historical and cultural site. The video discusses its history, the impact of its destruction, and ongoing restoration efforts.
๐Ÿ’กHajiti tattoos
Hajiti tattoos are traditional Ryukyu hand tattoos that were banned by Japan but are being revived. These tattoos carry cultural and personal significance, reflecting the islanders' identity and heritage. The video explores their historical context and modern resurgence.

Peter Lee embarks on a journey to explore the untold histories of the Ryukyu Kingdom.

The Ryukyu Kingdom rose and fell on the Japanese Isles and Korean Peninsula, creating unique cultures and identities.

Okinawa, Japan's southernmost island, shows a blend of old designs and modern influences.

American influence on Okinawa dates back to post-World War II, with a palpable American vibe on International Street.

Local fusion snack 'Spam Onigiri' showcases the blend of Okinawan and American cuisine.

Shisa, protectors with Chinese heritage, are prevalent in Okinawa as symbols to ward off bad spirits.

Learning the craft of Shisa with local artist Mitsuo, revealing the cultural significance behind the art.

Nakajin Castle represents the grandest fortification of the Hokkazan Kingdom.

Evidence of trade with China and Southeast Asia found in the form of Celadon and sake jars.

The Ryukyu Kingdom's rise to power was facilitated by trade with China during times of conflict with the Mongols.

Ryukyu's indigenous horses, with Mongolian roots, are preserved by local farms.

Exploration of underwater archaeological sites for evidence of Ryukyu's trading past.

The Ryukyu Kingdom's trading network extended from China to Southeast Asia, facilitating cultural exchanges.

Bingata, a 500-year-old art of dyeing fabrics, represents the fusion of foreign influences and local craftsmanship.

Bukobukuti, a special beverage to welcome Chinese emissaries, reflects the cultural integration of the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Shuri Castle, once the base of the ruling Sho family, symbolizes the kingdom's golden age.

The Omoro Sochi, a collection of songs, offers a glimpse into the spiritual and national importance of music in Ryukyu.

The sanchin, a banjo-like instrument, represents the cultural heritage and unity of Okinawa.

The rise of the Ryukyu Kingdom was threatened by the arrival of the Portuguese and later by Japan's Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Kobudo, the martial art of the Ryukyu Kingdom, incorporates weapons and techniques from China and Southeast Asia.

Japanese cultural expression was outlawed in Ryukyu, inadvertently promoting Chinese influence.

The Ryukyu Kingdom's semi-independent status ended in 1879 with Japan's forced annexation.

A new generation seeks to preserve and revitalize Ryukyu's traditional culture.

The Ryukyu Kingdom's history of trade and diplomacy shaped a distinct cultural identity that endures today.

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