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Shunten's enthronement in 1187
King of Ryūkyū
Born1166 (1166)[1]
Urasoe, Okinawa
Died1237 (aged 70–71)[1]
Divine nameSondon (尊敦)[2]
FatherMinamoto no Tametomo
Mothersister of Ōzato aji

Shunten (舜天, 1166–1237), also known as Shunten-Ō (舜天王, lit. "King Shunten"), was a legendary ruler of Okinawa Island. Shunten is the earliest chief in Okinawa for whom a name is known. He is said to have taken power after defeating an usurper to the throne by the name of Riyū who had overthrown the 25th king of the Tenson dynasty.[3][4][5][6]


Urasoe yōdore, mausoleum of Shunten and other Ryūkyūan rulers

The Chūzan Seikan (1650), the first official history of the Ryukyu Kingdom, and Chūzan Seifu (1701) state that Shunten was the son of samurai Minamoto no Tametomo (1139–1170). Tametomo was exiled to a penal colony on Izu Ōshima following his defeat in the Hōgen Rebellion of 1156. According to the story, Tametomo then became lost at sea some time later, arrived on Okinawa, and settled down with the sister/daughter of the anji, or local chieftain, of Ōzato. Ōzato is located in the south of Okinawa Island in the present-day city of Nanjō. Shunten, according to the two histories, was the son of Tametomo and the sister/daughter of the Ōzato anji.[4][3][7]

However, these works were based purely on previous myths and were made six centuries after the alleged events probably because of the political circumstances after the Satsuma Invasion – although still independent until the 19th century, was subordinate to the Satsuma Domain and thus intermediary to the Tokugawa shogunate. The story is inspired by political interests to connect and legitimize the relation of Japan's imperial family with Ryukyu.[4] In the 12th century, somekind of migration or association from the mainland Japan with the Okinawan chieftains probably happened, but as the historical and archeological-traditional evidence indicate men from the defeated Taira clan who fled Minamoto's clan vengeance, at the time of mythological-historical writing in 17th century, was mentioned Tametomo who was from the same Minamoto clan as the Tokugawa's shōguns.[4]

During the Meiji period, the myth was considered as an official and historical fact, especially in the constructed narrative Memorandum of Japan's sovereign rights to Ryūkyū, in response to the Chinese government's protest, as an evidence which concluded the Ryukyus relationship with Japan, and for the Japanese "legitimacy" and "sovereign right" of the annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879.[8]

Early life and reign[edit]

Shunten was known as Sonton (尊敦) prior to becoming king. He became anji of Urasoe in 1180 at the age of 15 after gathering a base of popular support in the area. In 1187, he overthrew Riyū and established his royal seat of power at Urasoe Castle, marking the beginning of a new line of rulers. Shunten's reign was long and progressive;[4] by legend he is said to have ruled for 51 years.[3][6]


  • Father: Minamoto no Tametomo
  • Mother: sister of Ozato Aji
  • Half Siblings:
    • Minamoto no Yoshimi
    • Minamoto no Minobu
    • Minamoto no Tameyori
    • Minamoto no Toyoo
    • A Daughter who married Asuke Shigenaga
  • Child: Shunbajunki

Death and burial[edit]

Shunten died in 1237 at the age of 71 and was succeeded by his son Shunbajunki (1237–1248). He is buried at Urasoe yōdore, and enshrined at Naminoue Shrine along with three other Okinawan kings.[7][9]

The Shunten dynasty ended in the third generation when his grandson Gihon abdicated, went into exile, and was succeeded by Eiso, who established a new royal dynasty.


  1. ^ a b "「中山世譜」全文テキストデータベース". 舜天王 姓源。神號尊敦。(童名不傳)宋、乾道二年丙戌、降誕。……宋、淳煕十四年丁未、即位。……宋、嘉煕元年丁酉薨。在位五十一年。壽七十二。
  2. ^ 琉球国王の神号と『おもろさうし』 (PDF) (in Japanese).
  3. ^ a b c "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.
  4. ^ a b c d e Kerr, George. (2000). Okinawa: The History of an Island People, p. 52 , p. 52, at Google Books; although the paramount leaders of Okinawa beginning with Shunten (c. 1166 – c. 1237) are commonly identified as "kings", Kerr observes 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."
  5. ^ Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2002). Japan Encyclopedia, p. 172., p. 172, at Google Books
  6. ^ a b "舜天王" [Shunten]. Dijitaru Daijisen (in Japanese). Tokyo: Shogakukan. 2012. OCLC 56431036. Archived from the original on August 25, 2007. Retrieved 2012-12-14.
  7. ^ a b "舜天" [Shunten]. Nihon Kokugo Daijiten (in Japanese). Tokyo: Shogakukan. 2013. OCLC 56431036. Archived from the original on August 25, 2007. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  8. ^ Loo 2014, p. 32–34.
  9. ^ Kerr, p. 452., p. 452, at Google Books


Preceded by
King of Ryūkyū
Succeeded by