Travis Seifman: Performing Ryukyu: Protocols for the Ryukyu Ambassador’s Ceremonial Audience at Edo Castle

Travis Seifman, PhD Candidate, History, UCSB, “Performing Ryukyu: Protocols for the Ryukyu Ambassador’s Ceremonial Audience at Edo Castle”「『琉球』を演じる:琉球使節の江戸城での謁見儀礼」

Over the course of the 17th to 19th centuries, the Okinawan kingdom of Ryūkyū sent some sixteen embassies to Edo, the seat of the Tokugawa shogun of Japan. These embassies were dispatched on the occasion of the accession of a new shogun in Japan, or of a new king in Ryūkyū, and were not “diplomatic” missions in the sense of involving any kind of policy discussions. Rather they were ceremonial reaffirmations of the ritual relationship between the kings of Ryūkyū and the Tokugawa shogun’s household.

The kingdom was simultaneously a loyal tributary to the Ming and Qing Empires from the 1370s onward, consistently sending missions every other year to Beijing, paying tribute to the Emperor, who then bestowed extensive gifts upon Ryūkyū in return. The Emperor of China also formally invested the king of Ryūkyū, recognizing his legitimacy and authority within a Sinocentric Confucian regional order.

Many scholars have noted the Japanese appropriation of the Chinese/Confucian rhetoric, replacing the Chinese Emperor with the Japanese shogun as the source of virtue and shining center of civilization to which foreign embassies (such as those from Ryūkyū) were inspired to pay tribute and respects. However, examination of audience rituals in Beijing and Edo reveals that while the rhetoric may be quite similar, the Japanese audiences reflect not an emulation of Chinese practice, but rather an adaptation of distinctively Japanese ritual practices to incorporate political meanings borrowed from Chinese models. In this presentation, I discuss the differences between Ming/Qing and Tokugawa audience ceremonies, and seek to complicate our assumptions about Tokugawa appropriation of Chinese court ritual.