Gokokuji Temple is a Buddhist temple in Naha, Okinawa, adjacent to Namanoue Shrine, with which it has close connections. The temple was founded in 1387 by Raiju a priest from Satsuma Province, now modern-day Kagoshima Prefecture.
Gokokuji Temple is perhaps most famous for two historical incidents which had ramifications far beyond Okinawa. The first involved the arrival, on a British ship, of the irascible Christian missionary Dr. Bernard Jean Bettelheim (1811-1870), a converted Jew from Hungary in 1846. Bettelheim tricked his way on shore and took up residence in the temple with his wife and children, an unwelcome nuisance, who basically drove away the temple's worshipers and greatly irritated his reluctant hosts with his behavior and attempts to convert the locals.
Bettelheim remained in Naha for seven years and encountered the American Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853 when he arrived in Okinawa on his way to Japan. Eventually Perry was persuaded by the Okinawan authorities to take Bettelheim away and the commodore left with the troublesome missionary in tow and a 15th century bell from the temple.
The bell was eventually given to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, and rung in celebration of Navy wins in the annual Army-Navy American football game. The bell was returned to Japan in 1987.
A stone memorial to Bettelheim, first erected in 1926, destroyed in World War II and subsequently replaced, now stands in the grounds of the temple, as a memorial to this strange historical case of cross-cultural misunderstanding.
Another memorial stone in the temple relates to an incident in 1871, when a Ryukyuan ship from Miyakojima was shipwrecked on Taiwan and 54 of the Okinawans who came ashore were killed and beheaded by Paiwan aborigines. Eventually, 12 survivors were to make it back to Okinawa via Fujian Province in mainland China.
The crew of an American merchant ship, the Rover, had also met a similar fate to the hapless Okinawans when they were massacred by the tribe in 1867 following a shipwreck.
The killings became a pretext for the new Meiji government to launch a punitive raid on Taiwan in 1874 (Taiwan Shuppei; 台湾出兵) to force China to recognize Japanese sovereignty over Okinawa and pay an indemnity for the death of the Okinawans on Taiwan.
The operation, which included 3,600 Japanese soldiers, was led by Saigo Tsugumichi, the younger brother of Saigo Takamori and was the first overseas deployment of the new Imperial Army and Navy.
The military success of the mission paved the way for further Japanese adventurism outside its home territory and the official incorporation of Okinawa as a Japanese prefecture in 1879. Under British mediation, the Chinese Qing dynasty agreed to pay the Meiji government an indemnity.
44 skulls of the 54 Okinawans murdered on Taiwan were said to have been returned and finally buried at Gokokuji Temple.
1-25-5 Wakasa, Naha-shi
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