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Tenson

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  • Japanese: 天孫 (Tenson)

Tenson (lit. "Heaven-descended") was the mythical first ruler of Okinawa. The Chûzan seikan, compiled in 1650, describes him in a manner largely similar to mythical Chinese sage-kings, attributing to him the bestowal onto the people of practices or technologies such as agriculture, the brewing of alcohol, telling time by the moon, living indoors, and cooking with fire.

Tenson is also attributed with the establishment of Shuri as the royal capital and the division of the island into the three regions of Chûzan, Nanzan, and Hokuzan; historians today generally place the establishment of Shuri as the capital sometime in the 14th or early 15th centuries, and while the division of the island into the regions of Kunigami, Nakagami, and Shimajiri retains prominence, the idea of it being ruled at any time by three well-defined territorial states (i.e. the kingdoms of Chûzan, Hokuzan, and Nanzan) has come under heavy critique.

The existence of Tenson and his many descendants/successors (the Tenson dynasty of rulers) in records such as the Chûzan seikan is believed to have been part of a strategy on the part of the 17th-18th c. Ryûkyû Kingdom to legitimate itself by crafting a lengthy, ancient, history akin to those of Chinese dynasties.

References

  • Gregory Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (2019), 87.
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