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Phuket History: A short period of Japanese rule over the central peninsula and Phuket

Phuket History: A short period of Japanese rule over the central peninsula and Phuket

In 1629 when King Songtham of Ayutthaya died, his cousin, Okya Kalahom (minister of defence), and his supporters effectively usurped the throne by killing King Songtham’s designated heir and placing King Songtham’s six-year-old son on the throne as King Chetha, with Okya Kalahom as his overseeing regent, which gave the ambitious defence minister real power over the kingdom.

By Colin Mackay

Monday 19 August 2019, 03:00PM

Yamada Nagamasa and his band of unruly Japanese mercenaries ruled over Southern Siam briefly in the early 1630s.

Yamada Nagamasa and his band of unruly Japanese mercenaries ruled over Southern Siam briefly in the early 1630s.

Okya Kalahom would have preferred to have also killed King Songtham’s son and just taken the throne himself. But King Songtham had kept a private palace guard of some 600 Japanese mer­cenaries whose commander, a tough and loyal warrior called Yamada Nagamasa (his Siamese lordly title was Okya Sena­phimuk), had given his oath to King Songtham that he would protect his son after his death.

The Japanese were feared all over the East as a fierce and martial people at the time. Many had migrated to Siam as traders, mercenaries and pirates and were known as a “people so desperate and daring that they are feared in all places”. Most peninsular ports, for exam­ple, had a policy that no Japanese could come ashore unless they first disarmed. So, with loyal Yamada and his Japanese praetorian guard in and around the pal­ace, plus an estimated 3,000 other Japa­nese supporters living in Ayutthaya, Okya Kalahom’s hands were somewhat tied by Yamada’s “authority and the con­sideration in which the Japanese were held” – but not for long.

The cunning Okya Kalahom soon demanded that all the provincial Sia­mese lords must now come to Ayutthaya to pay homage to the new boy king. He anticipated that the viceroy of Ligor, the king’s first lord in the central pen­insula, would refuse because he had been loyal to the old King Songtham and did not like the usurpation and “on account of the state of his province, which was threatened with war by the people of Patani and because the inhabitants were on the point of taking up arms” (in rebellion).

When the viceroy of Ligor did not come to pay homage, Okya Kalahom proposed to Yamada that as the boy-king’s guardian, he should take his Japanese warriors south to arrest and kill the disobedient viceroy. If success­ful, he flatteringly proposed, Yamada, as a great man himself, could become the next viceroy of Ligor and the entire peninsula.

Van Vliet, the Dutch East In­dia Company factor in Ayutthaya at the time, tells us that Okya Kalahom “rep­resented [to Yamada] that the govern­ment of Ligor was the most important of the whole kingdom, partly by reason of its provinces which have several seaports … and partly by reason of the disobedience of the southern inhabitants who required a vigorous man to inspire their enemies with terror and its sub­jects with respect”.

Suitably flattered, Yamada left Ayut­thaya with his Japanese mercenaries and another 1,500 or so of Ayutthaya’s Japanese, who expected to benefit from the establishment of this new Japanese-run fiefdom in the central peninsula. Van Vliet also notes, “This greatly pleased everybody, everyone being glad to see the court cleared of this rabble” and that the subsequent arrival of Yam­ada in Ligor “inspired everyone with such great dread that he dispatched the whole rebellion at once”.

Yamaha’s Japanese troops soon de­feated and captured the viceroy of Ligor and his naksat sub-lords in the central peninsula, probably including the rajah of Thalang, and had them “put to death and punished … and in a short space of time, he swept all the provinces … and established his authority”.

The properties of the Ligor viceroy were reallocated to Yamada and his Japanese officers and he may well have replaced the rajah of Thalang with a Japanese overlord and henchmen, al­though this cannot be confirmed from other sources. Van Vliet tells us that Yamada “began to take all measures, to distribute considerable presents to his favourites, to make okyas and operas (provincial sub-lords) and to appoint mandarins”.

To celebrate his success, Okya Kalahom in Ayutthaya sent more flattering letters and many presents to Yamada including high-born concubines, one of whom was a Siamese girl of royal blood. He ordered Yamada to continue on with his great successes and to subdue the rebellious kingdom of Patani, and thereby enlarge further his great new fiefdom. The malleable Yamada took his forces further south to attack Patani.

The artful Okya Kalahom used this occasion to complete his coup in Ayut­thaya. The young boy-king was arrested, put in a velvet bag and clubbed to death with sandalwood clubs. Okya Kalahom then took the throne as King Prasat Thong (1630-1655) and embarked on a reign of great terror and cruelty. He started by having some 3,000 lords who had opposed him, and their families, attacked, arrested and killed off with the greatest barbarity. Their heads and severed limbs were displayed around the towns and country for all to see. Their slaves and properties were redistributed to the new king’s henchmen and sup­porters and Van Vliet tells us that, “The great cruelty shown in these executions closed the mouths of all the others.”

Meanwhile, in the peninsula, Yama­da’s forces subdued Patani, but Yamada was badly wounded in the leg. He re­turned to Ligor as the new master of the central peninsula and decided to crown his glory with a combined ceremony of his coronation as viceroy of the south and his wedding to the royal Siamese girl King Prasat Thong had sent him. However, Yamada’s doctor in Ligor was either a supporter of the previous vice­roy, or in the pay of King Prasat Thong. Whilst tending to Yamada’s wounded leg, Van Vliet tells us that, “Just when [Yamada] believed he was going to enjoy the fruit of his love … at the height of the rejoicings of his wedding … Apra Marit [the doctor] applied a poisoned plaster to his leg which caused him to die in a few hours”.

With Yamada’s death, some of the Japanese troops wanted Yamada’s son to take over, but another faction wanted his main general. This schism resulted in internecine fighting between these two Japanese factions who “did not cease to contend continually for the govern­ment, the result was that the Japanese were diminished everyday in these con­tinual encounters”.

With the Japanese now far away, leaderless and infighting, the new King Prasat Thong made his final move to clear out the remaining Japanese from Ayutthaya. In 1632 his troops “set fire to the Japanese quarter in the night … he had cannon fired into their houses with such fury that they were compelled to throw themselves into their junks … [to escape down the river] … fighting all the time as they retreated … Japanese who dwelt in other quarters of the town were then diligently searched for and were put cruelly to death”.

In Ligor, King Prasat Thong’s agents encouraged the locals to rebel against their new Japanese overlords and a large Ayutthayan army was dispatched to as­sist them. “Seeing how little advantage they were getting from their stay”, the Japanese left on boats for Cambodia.

Soon after this episode the Japa­nese shogun Tokugawa expelled all the Christians in Japan, closed Japan’s doors to the outside world and decreed that Japanese were no longer allowed to go overseas, on pain of death.

Japanese soldiers would not be seen again in Phuket and the central penin­sula for another 300 years.

Adapted with kind permission from the book ‘A History of Phuket and the Surrounding Region’ by Colin Mackay. Available from good bookshops and Amazon.com. Order the softcover 2nd edition directly at: www.historyofphuket.com

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