On page 8 the author brings up Okubo Toshimichi. THAT guy was clearly no friend of the Ryukyuans. After Taiwanese (Formosan) pirates attacked and killed Okinawan sailors in 1872 some shipwrecked sailors from the province of Bitchū, Japan experienced the same fate. Soyeshma Taneomi was sent by the government as plenipotentiary to Peking to complain of these outrages against Japanese subjects, but the Chinese government made no satisfactory reply and declined to acknowledge its responsibility for the acts of the natives of Formosa. The Japanese government was therefore compelled to take into its own hands the task of exacting reparation. In April 1874, Lieutenant General Saigō Tsugumichi (younger brother of Takamori) was appointed to command a punitory expedition to Formosa. No serious opposition was encountered except at the hands of one tribe which was overcome after some fighting. On the eve of sending this expedition, Yanagiwara Sakimitsu was dispatched by the Japanese government as ambassador to China, but as he found the Chinese much incensed about Japan's action and very anxious that her troops should at once leave Formosa, Okubo Toshimichi, a leading member of the cabinet, was dispatched as plenipotentiary to Peking. Meeting only with procrastination and inconsistency on the part of the Chinese, he broke off the negotiations and announced his intention to return to Japan. At that stage the British minister in Peking mediated between the two empires, and the Chinese finally agreed to pay 100,000 tael (1 tael = 37.5 grams of gold) to the families of the murdered Japanese subjects and 400,000 tael indemnity to Japan for the cost of the expedition, undertaking at the same time to prevent the recurrence of similar outrages in Formosa.
In my opinion, those two events support Japan’s claim to the Ryūkyū Islands in that China (which has from time to time claimed that present day Okinawa Prefecture belongs to them) refused to involve itself in punishing the pirates for their acts against Japanese sailors, and simply told Japan to take care of their own problems.
In September, 1874, Home Minister Okubo Toshimichi, went to China’s capital to try to work out some kind of an agreement to end the hostility between the two nations regarding the Formosa incidents. He was surprised when he got to Peking and found that a Ryūkyūan mission was also at the capital conducting their customary tribute rituals including the formal acts of submission – to China – despite their imposed new relationship with the central government of Japan. He and the Chinese had just inked an agreement in which China had relinquished any formal relationship with Ryūkyū, yet here they were, Ryūkyūans vowing allegiance to China! He was mightily disturbed and demanded that the Ryūkyūans be brought before him. China demurred. Japan lost face.
On March 31, 1875, Okubo presented Ryūkyū envoys who had days prior been summoned to Tokyo, five requirements that were to be carried out by the Shuri Court. (The translation of the requirements utilizes the word “should” when it seems more appropriate that “shall” should be employed.)
1. The King of Ryūkyū should visit Tokyo to give thanks to the emperor for Japan’s effort to protect the interests of Ryūkyūans cast away on Formosa.
2. Shuri should abandon the use of Chinese reign-names and should substitute the Meiji era-name throughout the islands. Furthermore, Ryūkyū should adopt all Japanese national official festivals according to notification from Tokyo. This would mean island-wide celebration of the emperor’s birthday, observance of the traditionally accepted Accession Day of the first emperor (Jimmu), and adoption of the new year celebration in conformity with Western practices. [Ryūkyū had also been previously instructed to do away with the use of the Chinese calendar.]
3. Shuri should adopt the criminal law codes of Japan developed in the Justice Ministry at Tokyo and should send three officials to Tokyo for instruction.
4. The administrative organization at Shuri must be revised, and to this end the Home Ministry would send down experts to develop a liaison with Tokyo.
5. Ten youths should be selected by Shuri for education at Tokyo in order that they might come to understand the trend of the times in new Japan [and upon completion of such “education” would be expected to return to Ryūkyū and proselytize the masses to become Japanized.](The term “Japanized” was coined by Asato Susumu to describe efforts to bring about transformation of the Okinawans from their hereditary culture to that of Japan)
The Ryūkyūan envoys, led by Yonabaru Oyakata (oyakata was the highest rank in the aristocracy of the former Ryūkyū Kingdom, below the aji / anji nobility) conferred for about ten days before being recalled to a meeting with Okubo. At that time, they advised Okubo, in contradiction of the requirements, that Ryūkyū has never had any need for a military force because they got along just fine with every nation with whom they had had dealings. They told him that having a military force in the Ryūkyūs might provoke and “attract the hostile attention and action of foreign power” from nations with whom they had no quarrel. I guess that they forgot about the ample use of military force in conquering adjoining islands around the main island over the centuries as Ryūkyū built its empire.
Regarding a gift of a steamship, so benevolently given by the emperor, the Okinawan officials said that because of diminished revenues Ryūkyū had no means to maintain it and they didn’t want it. That was an irony not lost on Okubo - that Japan itself was responsible for Ryūkyū’s loss of healthy trade, and income; that the tiny island nation was now destitute.
In consideration of the requirement to go to thank the emperor, Okubo was reminded that the pact between Japan and China included reparations to the Ryūkyūans’ families only because Japan was eager to find a resolution to the conflict so why then, when it was in Japan’s best interest, should the Ryūkyūan king present himself, hat in hand, to thank the emperor? Besides, the families had already been taken care of by their own people.
Okubo found himself in the presence of more confrontation than he had expected of the Ryūkyū han delegates and said that to refuse the generous “gifts” being offered by the emperor would be a grave affront. The conversations were bandied back and forth for quite a while and by May 8th Okubo was tired of it all and proclaimed to the envoys that a military force will be deployed, the steamship will be delivered*, and 1,740 koku of rice will be distributed to the affected families.
The Ryūkyū delegation responded stating that they could not accept those conditions without first being reviewed and approved by the Shuri government. That presented Okubo with yet another problem. Recognizing that the envoys were indeed not high enough in rank to speak for the king (and as such could not independently seal the deal) he reckoned that if he met with higher Ryūkyū authorities than these men before him, he would be then acknowledging dealings with an independent and autonomous state – something which in his mind Ryūkyū was not. Hence, the Matsuda Mission.
*The “gift” of the steamship didn’t last long – and the Ryūkyūans didn’t mind. Soon after 1879 when Okinawa was firmly in the hands of Japan, the steamship (Taiyu-maru) was given by Tokyo to a powerful shipping monopoly, the Mitsubishi Company. Soon thereafter Tokyo once again ordered a change of hands, next going to a new shipping outfit founded by an “enterprising resident” of Kagoshima.
(from my book, Timeline: OKINAWA, McClary)