Two historical papers reveal divide and conquer strategies by Meiji Government after Ryukyu Kingdom annexation

Two historical papers reveal divide and conquer strategies by Meiji Government after Ryukyu Kingdom annexation

An official document, in which the Home Ministry officials suggested Michiyuki Matsuda use a strategy to divide the Ryukyuan warrior class for "the Ryukyu Disposal" (A repository of the Okinawa Prefectural Archives).


June 11, 2015 Tsuyoshi Arakaki of Ryukyu Shimpo

On June 10, two Meiji Government documents regarding “the Ryukyu Disposal,” an annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom by Japan in 1879, were found. One of the documents revealed three strategies used to deal with strong resistance by the former Ryukyuan warrior class. A leading official of the Home Ministry proposed these strategies on April 9 1879, only five days after the abolition of the Han system and its replacement by the prefecture system. The other document is an original record of the first Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito strongly criticizing the first Governor of Okinawa Prefecture Naosugi Nabeshima, who was suppressing the resistance with a “tolerance and suppression” strategy. Ito ordered Nabeshima to take stronger measures.

The two archives, signed by the Home Ministry, are about two and a half pages long in total. They belong to the Prefectural Archive, which was interviewed by the Ryukyu Shimpo. The interview revealed that these archival documents are newly discovered. One of the experts described the archives as “very precious” because they reveal the actual conditions of the Ryukyu Disposal.

One is a document submitted with a report on April 9, 1879 by Kagetaka Matano to Seichiro Kinashi and Michiyuki Matsuda, who occupied the Shuri Castle. In order to mitigate the Ryukyuan resistance against the new prefectural government, the document suggested dividing the warrior class by getting the former King Shotai to sack local Shuri government officers and replace them with people selected by the new prefectural government. The government later implemented this strategy.

The other is a document sent from then Prime Minister Ito and Governor Nabeshima on October 8, 1879. In August of the same year, the new Okinawa Prefectural Government arrested and tortured more than 100 people from the former warrior class. In September, two former ministers who expressed “obedience” to the new government were hired as advisors for the prefecture. Regarding that, Ito warned by writing, “Do not believe them.” He ordered to interrogate them strictly. The Hara Tadayuki Collection at the University of the Ryukyus Library has a document containing the same contents and the signature of “Okinawa Prefecture.” The document found this time seems to be the original copy.

Kiko Nishizato, professor emeritus of the University of the Ryukyus, said, “The Meiji Government and the Okinawa Prefectural Government worked together on a “carrot and stick” policy towards the local population. While Prime Minister Ito focused on punishment (the stick), Nabeshima offered reward (the carrot) and this strategy divided the Ryukyuan society.” Nishizato explained how, “They carefully built up a network of insiders who would support the prefectural government.” Seitoku Kinjo, professor emeritus of the University of the Ryukyus stressed, “I knew about Ito’s document with the Okinawa Prefectural letterhead, but I did not know the Home Ministry had the original. The contents are almost the same. The discovery of the original document is precious.”

The late Masayasu Matsuoka, who served as a leading administrator in Okinawa from 1964 to 1968 under the U.S. military administration, came into possession of these two documents in Kyushu, when a person, who identified as “a descendant of Satsuma,” came forward with them. Then, Matsuoka’s family members donated them to the Prefectural Archives in 1976.

(English translation by T&CT and Megumi Chibana)

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