“Nuchi du takara” means “your life is a treasure,” and sources say it was first shouted by an Okinawan evacuee during the Battle of Okinawa1. It became a slogan during the Iejima Land Disputes of the 1950s and spread even more rapidly during the anti-war peace movement in the 1980s.
Supposedly the phrase has its origins in a ryūka verse written by King ShōTai:
At last the warring world has ended Maitreya’s world is upon us
Don’t cry, my subjects Your life is a treasure
However, there is a problem with this explanation. There are seven volumes of classical Ryukyu poetry (not including the copies), but the only one containing this verse is Annotated Ryukyu, edited by Kina Rokuson and published in September, 19322.
The verse’s first appearance was actually in Yamazato Eikichi’s play The Old-fashioned Spirit of Yomachi in Naha (first performed in March, 1932). Within the play, King Shō Tai reads this verse while on a ship bound for Tokyo, where he will surrender control of Ryukyu and Shuri Castle to Japan under the forced assimilation policy. As King Shо̄ Tai reads this verse, the curtain falls. The notion that the real King Shō Tai wrote the poem is misinformation—it was likely the actor who played him, Iraha Inkichi.
However, while the origins of “Nuchi du takara” are dubious, its spread across Okinawa is real enough. If we only went by the words within the verse, we would probably take this poem to mean “Don’t destroy your health with grief,” but if we shine the light of history on it, this singular couplet has taken on a life of its own, and is now understood to mean, “Don’t be so loyal to any one thing that you’d stake your life on it.”
Historical Okinawan societies practiced Pre-Marxist communism, and because of Satsuma colonial rule, the development of a land privitazation system never developed. Thus there was also no land monopolization or warrior class system, and consequently, there is also no evidence of a bushido system. Early modern feudal lords lived just below Shuri Castle, while local administrators called jitudē oversaw their lands and collected their rice taxes. Moreover, when feudal lords were promoted, they were given different lands to oversee, which means they had no spiritual connection to the peasants who lived on their lands. Those peasants gave offerings to their community gods, but they were not raised with loyalty to any one particular lord. While the idea that lords should protect their tenants existed prior the Satsuma invasion, it was not until Kanemaru’s revolution when, according to legend, he coined the phrase “It is correct and appropriate for lords to see to the stability of their peoples” and ushered in the Second Shо̄ Dynasty. There he also coined the phrase, “Munu kuishi du wā ushū.” “Those who provide for us are our masters.”
In the modern era when people were raised under imperialism and militarism, “Munu kuishi du wā ushū” was misunderstood as “venerate the powerful,” which alongside phrases like “Agai tīda du ugamyuru”—Worship the rising sun—was opposed by many Okinawans. This opposition continued with anti-American, Okinawa reversion movements (in part because during the 1950s occupation, there were material incentives to revere the occupying forces), but in time this phrase was retooled into an expression of democratic ideals.
In fact, the concepts “Nuchi du takara” and “Munu kuishi du wā ushū” are now actually more similar than they are different.
- Oshiro Masayasu. Okinawasen o kangaeru [Thinking on the Battle of Okinawa]. Naha: Hirugisha, 1983.
- Shimizu Akira, ed. Ryūka Taisei [Ryukyu Verses of Taisei]. Naha: Okinawa Times shakan sanshо̄, 1994.