Ryukyu investiture crown
Other Names: 玉冠 (O: tamanchaabui)
Japanese/Chinese: 皮弁冠 (hibenkan / pi bian guan)
The kings of the Ryûkyû Kingdom received formal investiture from envoys sent by the Chinese Court; the investiture ceremonies involved the use of special ritual garments called hibenfuku, including a Chinese-style crown called alternatively hibenkan, or tamanchaabui.
Such crowns were first bestowed upon the kings of Ryûkyû beginning in 1427, with the investiture of King Shô Hashi. These crowns were originally produced in China, along with Ming-style royal robes (hibenfuku), both of which were then granted to the kingdom on special occasions. Originally, the Ming court reserved crowns with twelve strips of jewels for the emperor, and those with nine to crown princes, granting crowns with seven strips to kings of tributary kingdoms. However, with the fall of the Ming and the change to the Qing Dynasty in the mid-17th century, Ryûkyû began producing its own investiture crowns and Ming-style robes. Such robes gradually grew more elaborate over time, and the crown too was made more elaborate; in 1754, the kingdom changed its crowns from nine gold-embroidered & bejeweled bands to twelve.
One such crown, dating to the 18th or 19th century and believed to be the only example extant, is today in the collection of the Naha City Museum of History, and has been designated a National Treasure. The crown is only on display twice a year, for limited periods, for conservation reasons. It is a black woven hat with twelve thin strips of gold running in parallel vertically along the front of the crown; each strip is further decorated with 24 jewels or small orbs of gold, silver, jasper, quartz, coral, or the like, for a total of 288. A large golden hairpin (kanzashi) with a dragon design on the head of the pin was also worn with the crown.
This crown is one which had been brought by the royal family to Tokyo when the kingdom was abolished in 1879; another crown, which had remained in Okinawa, is believed to have been stolen or destroyed in 1945. Kept in the Nakagusuku Palace from the 1870s until that time, along with a collection of other royal treasures and records not taken to Tokyo, it was hidden during the Battle of Okinawa, along with a number of other precious royal treasures in a drainage ditch near the palace. Of the eight royal stewards charged with caring for these objects, only the most senior stewards were permitted to touch the crown. Maehira Boeki, a junior steward around 20 years old at the time, was the only one of the eight still alive as of 1997. When he and the other seven royal stewards returned after the battle ended to recover the objects, however, they found that all the objects were missing. A precious copy of the Omoro sôshi, which had been among the items hidden in that same ditch, later surfaced in Boston; it was among a number of objects which had been taken by intelligence officer Comdr. Carl W. Sternfelt, who relinquished them to agents of the US government in 1953, who in turn promptly returned them to Okinawa that same year, in conjunction with events celebrating the 100th anniversary of the coming of Commodore Perry to Japan. Kishaba Shizuo of the Ryukyu America Historical Society, however, spent much of the remainder of the 20th century convinced that Sternfelt had taken the crown as well, and actively seeking to find and recover it; Sternfelt's family insists they have never seen it, and it remains unknown today if this second crown still survives.
The crown prince, meanwhile, often wore a different style of crown, called usanmô.
(source: Samurai Archives)
Hunt for Royal Treasure Leads Okinawan to a House in Massachusetts
By William H. Honan - JULY 13, 1997
The ancient royal crown of Okinawa a silk helmet-shaped headdress studded with gold, jade, pearls and precious stones that is one of the most important still-missing national treasures stolen in World War II -- may be hidden in a well-scrubbed suburb of Boston.
So thinks Shizuo Kishaba, an Okinawan specialist in the recovery of lost cultural property who is searching for the crown.
So thinks Maj. Gen. James L. Day, a retired Marine Corps general who fought in the Battle of Okinawa as a young corporal in 1945 and has been active in repatriating cultural objects to Okinawa.
And so thinks Bokei Maehira, the last living Okinawan to have seen the crown when he helped his fellow stewards hide it from the invading American forces in the final weeks of World War II.
The crown, Mr. Maehira said, was hidden along with a sacred set of ancient books called the O-Moro soshi, and because the sacred books turned up in Scituate, Massachusetts, in 1953, the present-day crown-hunters say it is reasonable to assume that the crown has to be here, as well.
Far more skeptical, even dismissive, are descendants of Comdr. Carl W. Sternfelt, an American intelligence officer in the war who in 1953 yielded a hoard of stolen treasures including the O-Moro soshi to the United States Government.
The commander's son, Robert Sternfelt of Scituate, denies that his father ever possessed the crown and insists that the commander voluntarily surrendered the war booty he ''brought home from Okinawa.''
Mr. Sternfelt's daughter, Patty McKittrick, who was entrusted with Commander Sternfelt's papers shortly before his death in 1976, said she thought that her grandfather would have mentioned the crown to her if he had had it. But she also said that at family gatherings she and her cousin had conjectured that her grandfather could have concealed the crown from Customs agents in ''a hollow wall behind his radio.''
Richard B. Kisker, who bought the house at 87 Grove Street from the Sternfelts in the 1950's, said he knew of no ''secret cubbyholes'' where the crown could be hidden.
In 1953, on the centennial of Commodore Matthew Perry's visit to Okinawa, the treasures recovered from Commander Sternfelt were presented to the Government of Okinawa with great ceremony by the United States State Department. Neither Commander Sternfelt's name nor the way in which the objects came into American hands was revealed.
During the Korean War, the United States needed Okinawa as a strategic base and was struggling to win favor on the island and placate demonstrators opposed to the United States occupation. The American Government ended its occupation in 1972 and instead began leasing bases there.
General Day, who returned to Okinawa in 1984 as commanding general of Marine Corps bases in the Far East, with his headquarters in Okinawa, said that although he was unfamiliar with the name Sternfelt, he had learned that the crown and other royal objects had been stolen by an American and that some were returned in 1953.
''It's hard for me to believe that while the rest of us were fighting there were other people who were stealing, but I guess that's what happened with the crown and the other things,'' the general said. ''It seems likely that whoever took the books also took the crown.''
The crown, parts of which may be 1,000 years old, has deep meaning in Okinawa, the poorest of Japan's 47 prefectures and one that suffered almost total devastation in the last and one of the bloodiest infantry clashes of World War II.
The Ryukyu dynasty ruled the island kingdom for many centuries until 1879, when Okinawa was annexed by the Japanese empire.
Although the Ryukyu king moved to Japan and became a marquis, most members of the royal family remained on the island and retained the bulk of their heirlooms, including the crown.
When the American invasion of the island began, on Easter Sunday, 1945, the eight stewards employed by the royal family were assigned to safeguard the family treasures. Hastily they secreted the objects in a drainage ditch and several pits near Shuri Castle, the Ryukyu seat.
Mr. Maehira, 77, the only survivor among those who helped hide the treasures, recalled in a recent interview that only the senior stewards were allowed to touch the crown. But he said he watched as it was placed in a black lacquered box bearing the family crest and lowered into the drainage ditch.
In the same ditch, he helped place the 22 volumes of the O-Moro soshi, the only existing copy of a sacred epic describing the origin of human life on Okinawa.
The ditch was not filled with dirt, Mr. Maehira said, but covered only with a tatami mat and branches, because the stewards were told that the Americans would soon be driven away.
The castle was demolished in the war, and only Mr. Maehira and one other steward survived. More than 120,000 Japanese troops and an astonishing 150,000 Okinawan civilians died in the fierce battle. On the American side, 12,500 people died.
Mr. Maehira said his American captors eventually let him visit the rubble of the palace.
''I was really depressed,'' he said, ''to see that the items we had hidden had been pulled from their hiding place near the palace. Only the boxes were around and the contents were gone.''
In December 1945, Commander Sternfelt, a former intelligence officer who had just returned from service on Okinawa, visited Langdon Warner, a leading Asian art specialist at the Fogg Museum at Harvard University, asking to have some Okinawan antiquities appraised.
Ms. McKittrick says that in a letter dated Dec. 26, 1945, Mr. Warner thanked Commander Sternfelt for showing him the treasures and stated that he had found a possible buyer for the O-Moro soshi and other items. Mr. Warner, who died in 1955, made no mention of the crown, and the books were not sold.
Eight years later, Ms. McKittrick said, after her grandfather had become convinced of the value of the treasures, he voluntarily released them to Federal agents.
Mr. Kishaba, president of the Ryukyu-American Historical Research Society, said he hoped to find the crown on his visit here and turn it over to the Government of Okinawa.
He said he had unearthed correspondence in Federal archives suggesting that the treasures were seized from Commander Sternfelt and returned to Okinawa thanks to the efforts of William T. Davis, a former Marine sergeant who knew that Commander Sternfelt had stolen the treasures.
The items taken from Commander Sternfelt's house here, Mr. Kishaba said, included the O-Moro soshi, a gold-encrusted headdress, beads from a 1,000-year-old necklace and 60 black and red lacquered tablets with the names of ancient Ryukyu kings inscribed in gold.
But no crown.
Mr. Kishaba, who was born in Nakagusuku, Okinawa, and who was educated in Southern California, said sooner or later the Ryukyu crown was sure to turn up.
''What,'' he asked, ''could anyone do with it?''
(source: New York Times)