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Thirty-six Families of Kume


Kume-Shiseibyō located in Matsuyama Park of Kume, Naha. In addition to Confucius, statues of the Four Sages (Yan Hui, Zisi, Zengzi and Mencius) are also enshrined here.
Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

The Thirty-six Families of Kume are the Chinese people, and their descendants, who moved to Ryukyu in the late fourteenth century and took important roles in the Kingdom. They are also known as the Kume Villagers and the Thirty-six Min Families. Kume was the name of the Chinatown formed in a part of Naha, while Min (閩) is an abbreviation of Hujian (福建). The number doesn’t mean that there were actually thirty-six families with names such as Jin (金), Cai (蔡), Liang (梁) and Zheng (鄭). Instead, it simply meant “many” or “numerous.” The same expression is used for the Thirty-six Mountains of Higashiyama, the mountains surrounding Kyoto.

The members had important roles in expanding international trade and importing Chinese culture. They included many great figures, with the most well-known being Rizan Jana (Tei Dō in Chinese) and Bunjaku Gushichan (Cai Wen). Jana advocated fighting back against the forces of Satsuma during the Invasion of Ryukyu and did so courageously, but was beheaded by the invading forces. Gushichan was a great politician who helped the Ryukyu to flourish. Although the families were originally from China, they gradually identified as Okinawans and integrated into local society. Today, their traces can only be found in the name of the “Kume” area in Naha and the remains of Tianfei Temple, where they enshrined the god for safe sailing.