Shunten is the earliest "king" of Okinawa for whom a name is known. He is said to have taken power after defeating a usurper to the throne by the name of Riyû who had overthrown the 25th king of the Tenson Dynasty.
Known as Sonton prior to becoming king, at the age of 15 he became lord (anji) of Urasoe; in 1187, he overthrew Riyû and established his royal seat of power at Urasoe castle, marking the beginning of a new dynasty of rulers.
There are legends which state that Shunten was the son of Minamoto no Tametomo, who had been exiled to Izu Ôshima following his defeat in the Hôgen Rebellion. According to this theory, Tametomo then became lost at sea some time later, arriving on Okinawa, settling down with the sister of the anji of Ôzato, and siring Shunten. Most historians today, however, discount this entire story as a later invention, a piece of a revisionist history intended to legitimize Japanese domination over Okinawa and/or Okinawan membership in the Japanese nation.
- Though all chief leaders of Okinawa beginning with Shunten are commonly referred to by the title of "King", historian George Kerr points out that "it is misleading to attribute full-fledged 'kingship' to an Okinawan chief in these early centuries... distinctly individual leadership exercised through force of personality or preeminent skill in arms or political shrewdness was only slowly replaced by formal institutions of government - laws and ceremonies - supported and strengthened by a developing respect for the royal office" (Kerr, 52).
- "Shunten." Okinawa rekishi jinmei jiten (沖縄歴史人名事典, "Encyclopedia of People in Okinawan History"). Naha: Okinawa Bunka-sha, 2002. p38.
- Kerr, George. Okinawa: The History of an Island People. Revised Edition. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2000. p452.
|"King" of Okinawa