From about 1373 to 1570, or for nearly two centuries, the kings of Ryukyu engaged in a prosperous and active trade between East and Southeast Asia. Several hundred Ryukyuan ships voyaged to Southeast Asian ports, from Siam to Patani, Malacca, Sumatra, Java, and elsewhere. These were in addition to, and indeed complementary to, hundreds of trading voyages to China, Japan, and Korea.

However, there are only scattered references to the Ryukyuan trading expeditions to Southeast Asia in Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean records. What is more, Ryukyuan chronicles compiled in the seventeenth century contain only fragmentary notices of these voyages. This was most puzzling to modern scholars, for other records showed that tremendous quantities of goods of southern origin were carried frm Ryukyu to China, Japan, and Korea in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, indicating that there must have been a correspondingly large trade with southern regions. It had to be presumed that in connection with such trade, countless records and documents must have been compiled. And yet the official histories of Ryukyu made only passing mention of old contacts with countries in the southern seas.

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