Kanō Shunko, Procession of an Embassy from the Ryūkyū Kingdom, a pair of handscroll paintings
Edo period, early 18th century AD
The Ryūkyū Islands are a chain of more than 70 islands stretching south-west from the southernmost Japanese island of Kyūshū. Ryūkyū is the Japanese rendering of Liu-qiu, a Chinese name dating from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The group is now known as Okinawa Prefecture. During the Edo period (1600-1868) the islands were a separate kingdom. Embassies would visit Japan to pledge allegiance either upon the accession of a shogun, or with the coming to the throne of a new Ryūkyūan king. Between 1634 and 1850 ambassadors from the Ryūkyū Kingdom visited on eighteen occasions.
This pair of scrolls shows the procession to Edo Castle in 1710, one of the largest ever, when both types of embassy coincided. On this occasion they were escorted by a procession from Satsuma domain, which was also travelling to the shogunal headquarters to swear loyalty. In total over one thousand people are shown.
emphasize the exotic nature of the Ryūkyūans distinctive for their
colourful clothing and the music that accompanied the event. Crowds
gathered to watch the spectacle from specially erected stands set
up along the route. The various materials and items the visitors
carry are all described in meticulous detail, suggesting that
Shunko (died 1726) - as a painter of the official Kanō school - was
not merely a spectator, but had close contact with Arai Hakuseki
(1657-1725), a Confucian scholar for the
The signature reads 'Shunko hō' ('Presented by Shunko') and the seal reads 'Shunko'.
M. Narasaki (ed.), Hizō Ukiyo-e taikan, vol. 1 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1987)