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By Jikishin Kobudo, Aug 19 2015 11:00AM

The relationship between France and Okinawa is long standing and is thanks to the Daimyo overlord Shimazu Nariakira (島津 斉彬).

Despite the Bakufu or “Shogunate” maintaining a closed door policy to the outside world, the Ryukyu Islands were never subject to the same level of isolation. Their remote geographical position meant that policing such a policy would be impractical and besides, the nations relied on international trade for their wealth.

The Shimazu clan were (as lords of the Sastuma region of Southern Kyushu, Japan) able to instigate relations with the Western world through their Ryukyu Island dependents. Nariakira was very western minded and was greatly interested in their technological advancements and how these may benefit his own clan.

This picture is the oldest photograph of a Japanese person and was taken of Nakiakira in 1857.

He advised the Tokugawa shogunate in 1851 to open relations with the west and in 1853 welcomed the arrival of American diplomats to Japan. In 1857 Shimazu Nakiakira, in an attempt to match the hegemony of the Bakufu, encouraged the French missionaries who were resident in Naha to act as intermediaries between his Okinawan representatives (Mabuni and Onga) and the French government. Nariakira agreed to purchase, under the cover of the King of Ryukyu Sho Tai, two screw-driven steamers, a warship and a commercial ship, and introduced a Western style navy including modern harbours to the islands. He purchased weapons and other various pieces of equipment and then constructed blast furnaces to develop western firearms.

He modelled his army drill and cavalry on that of the French, and he began to send his young academics to France and England to gain knowledge as part of cultural exchanges. Understandably King Sho Tai at the time was very welcoming of these advancements.

A remarkable man, Nakiakira permitted western residences to be built on Okinawa to house and provide work for foreigners both French and English. However, Nakiakira’s actions created huge division amongst those who wished to see integration with the West and those who did not. Following Nakiakira’s early death in 1858 there was a violent and revengeful response to his actions by those loyal to the Shogun who saw his actions as treasonable. Those loyal to the deceased daimyo suffered terribly and a brief period of resistance to the West was seen. Ultimately in 1863 Nakiakira’s open door policy was resumed, this time on Kyushu itself and the future of Japan was about to change forever.

By Jikishin Kobudo, Jan 9 2014 12:00PM

The year 1609 saw great change in the history of Okinawa. The newly established Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan approved the Shimazu Clan's wish (of Satsuma - Southern Japan) to invade the Okinawan Islands, then known as the Kingdom of Ryu-Kyu.The King of Ryu-Kyu, Sho Nei could put up little resistance against the 3000 strong army of Satsuma invaders, though attempts were made to prevent the attacking ships from landing and hundreds of Okinawan's were killed during the initial conflict. Sho Nei surrendered within a week and was taken back as prisoner to Japan along with 100 of his officials. One of his officials was a Samurai guard named Gima Shinjo. In 1611, following the signing of peace treaties accepting the subordination of Ryu-Kyu, Shinjo Gima eventually returned to Okinawa and became famous for introducing the widespread cultivation of sweet potato, the growing and weaving of cotton and the production of sugar cane on the island.

Yashushi Matayoshi is a descendant of Gima Shinjo and still has in his possession a 400 year old bo (staff) that belonged to his great ancestor. The bo is tapered and measures eight feet in length. It is described as 'not heavy' by Yashushi Soke.

Though longer than the widely used rokushakubo (6 foot staff), this length was very popular amongst kobudo-ka of the past. Bo would generally come in all lengths and there is no fixed measurement. The correct length for a bo is simply determined by the environment in which it is to be used. Warriors often used bo that were longer in length and therefore more suitable for battlefield practicalities.

On the bo of Shinjo Gima, two holes can be seen approximately 6 inches from the end. Bo such as these could be adapted to carry the metal heads on Nunti (Sai-like end) or Yari (Spear point) and in doing so could drastically alter the nature of the weapon, including for use on horseback

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