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Katsuren Castle Lord’s C15th Plot

Date Posted: 2001-01-07

One of the three best known castles in Okinawa, Katsuren, has been given World Heritage status by UNESCO. We continue our series looking at each of the nine sites.

One of the most colorful figures in Ryukyuan history, well remembered today, is Amawari, Lord of Katsuren Castle. In the mid 15th century the Ryukyu Islands were ruled by King Sho Taikyu, whose redoubt and center of power was the well fortified Shuri Castle. But Lord Awamuri was not content to remain an underling. He wanted to take the throne and rule over all the Ryukyus. His castle Katsuren, was strategically well placed on the peninsula of the same name, which juts out into the Pacific. Its position allowed him to control the water-borne foreign trade of the time and he grew in power and riches.

Awamuri’s ambitious expansion of influence did not go unnoticed by Sho Taikyu and in a classic maneuver of mediaeval kings, he arranged a marriage match between his daughter, Momotofumi- Agari and Amawari. That way he was able to create a bond of family loyalty to temper Awamuri’s ambitions and to have a well placed source of intelligence near his would-be rival. Thus did the Shuri king hope to avoid a future confrontation with his dangerous adversary on the battlefield.

Not trusting entirely to family diplomacy the king also placed a courtier, Lord Gosamaru, mid-way between Katsuren and the capital, Shuri, where he built another of Okinawa’s finest castles, Nagagusuku. The monarch hoped this would be sufficient to prevent any march on the capital which Awamuri might try.

Amawari believed he could outwit the king and in 1458 he plotted to divide the monarch and his retainer by telling the king that Gosamaru was planning a rebellion against him. The king then sent troops to Nagagusuku to put down the uprising. Rather than fight against the king Gosamaru committed suicide. Amawari had succeeded in his plan of removing the most important obstacle between him and the throne.

Amawari was now free to take what he believed was rightfully his and he attacked King Sho Taikyu in Shuri Castle. But his forces and tactics were not enough to dislodge the well entrenched royal forces and he suffered a major defeat. His attempt at seizing the throne had failed ignominiously and he was destroyed. The king was at last secure and Shuri remained his bastion.

An interesting footnote to the story is that Awamori’s destruction of Gosamaru became the backdrop for a classical theater production concerning the generation after the event. The revenge of Gosamaru's two sons on Amawari of Katsuren forms the plot. It was performed in 1791 in Shuri Castle as entertainment for Chinese investiture envoys and was well received. It has since become a favorite with audiences all over Okinawa.

There are 300 castle ruins in Okinawa but Katsuren, with one of the most famous incidents from the past associated with it, is among the most interesting. Its new World Heritage status is shared also by Shuri and Nagagusuku castles, continuing the links that bound them together in so much turbulent history.

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