Resource: U. Hawaiʻi / U. Ryukyus Digital Archives

For the next (and tentatively last) installment of my posts on Okinawa/Ryukyu-related resources, I would like to introduce the Ryukyu/Okinawa Special Collection Digital Archives. A joint venture between the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and the University of the Ryukyus (琉球大学), it provides digital online access to two of the world’s greatest collections of Okinawan/Ryukyuan historical documents – the vast majority of which were not previously available online.

The entrance to the University of Hawaiʻi’s Hamilton Library. Photo by Travis Seifman.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library’s Sakamaki-Hawley Collection is generally said to be the greatest collection of Okinawa-related materials in the US.* Combining the personal collections of UH Prof. Sakamaki Shunzō (d. 1973) and British book collector Frank Hawley (d. 1961), it includes several hundred items, including copies of a great many of the most significant Edo period woodblock-printed books or manuscript volumes on Ryukyu (e.g. Ōshima hikki, Morishima Chūryō’s Ryūkyū banashi, Ogyū Sorai’s Ryūkyū heishiki, and Arai Hakuseki’s Nantōshi), and related materials, such as a copy of Hayashi Shihei’s Sangoku tsūran zusetsu, and books of the peoples of the world. Two of the highlights of the collection are a 1710 handscroll painting of a Ryukyuan embassy procession in Edo in that year (of which only five or so are known in the world), and a 1671 handscroll of a similar subject, the oldest such Ryukyuan procession handscroll known.

The University of the Ryukyus Collections, including those of Okinawan Studies giants Ifa Fuyū, Nakahara Zenchū, and Shimabukuro Genshichi, plus that of the Miyara aristocratic family, are even more extensive than that, comprising a great wealth of rare and unique documents relating both to early modern Ryukyu and modern Okinawa, including much of the original materials used or created by Ifa, Nakahara, and their contemporaries.

A page from the Chūzan seifu, from the Ifa Fuyū Collection.

The website ( is easy to navigate, in English or Japanese, and continues to be revised and improved. I do find it frustrating that one must search each collection separately (e.g. the Miyara Dunchi Collection, or the Sakamaki-Hawley Collection), rather than searching across them all, but, otherwise, it is easy enough to search for keywords within any of the collections, or to simply pull up a list of the entirety of that collection. And, I find the general graphical scheme quite clean, making it easy to see what it is you’re looking at.

Click on any of the titles, and it should bring up a “glass window” interface, where you can move through the pages of that volume, using either the arrow keys provided, or a listing of thumbnails of all the pages, on the left. The digitized images are quite large and high quality, and this interface also allows for considerable zooming, allowing you to get a good look at fine details of the illustrations, or at difficult-to-read characters. Two tabs above the “glass window” provide (in most cases, I think) English (英文) and Japanese-language descriptions or summaries (解説) about the object; other tabs should, in future, provide transcriptions of the text (翻刻), and translations into modern Japanese (現代訳) and English. I believe this feature is already available for some texts – perhaps even with a fancy interface allowing you to see transcriptions or translations line by line – but for the majority of the texts, I gather the staff is still working on creating those translations & transcriptions. Still, the project is progressing, and the site overall already looks quite different than it did a few months ago. Check back every now and then, and I imagine you will continue to see expansion of these features.

One feature I am sad to see not included is any obvious or easy way to quickly download the images (even in some medium-quality/size version) for an entire volume. Even simply right-clicking on the images in the “glass window” brings up only an Adobe Flash menu, and not any “Save Image As…” option. There is, fortunately, a work-around: if you click on “Honkoku” (翻刻, “transcription”) or “Translation” (現代訳), it will bring up a more straight-forward version of the image, that does allow you to right-click and save. However, I would not be surprised if this disappears in later upgrades to the website. Hopefully, new upgrades will also bring a more direct, above-board, way to download the images, preferably in batches.

*Incidentally, George Washington University has recently established its own Okinawa Collection, with considerable support from the Okinawan prefectural government, with the aim of growing the collection to become the greatest center for such materials on the US mainland.

About Travis

I am a scholar of Japanese & Okinawan history with a particular interest in the history of arts and culture, and inter-Asia interactions, in the early modern period. I have been fortunate to enjoy the opportunity to live in Okinawa for six months in 2016-17, and in mainland Japan on multiple occasions, including from Sept 2019 to now.
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