Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea

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  • Japanese: 朝鮮出兵 (Chôsen Shuppei)
  • Korean: 壬辰倭乱 (Imjin waeran)

Toyotomi Hideyoshi commanded two unsuccessful invasions of Korea, one in 1592-1593, and one in 1597-1598.


In Japanese, the invasions of Korea are generally known respectively as Bunroku no eki 文禄の役 and Keichô no eki 慶長の役 after the nengô, or imperial reign eras, in which they occurred. They are sometimes also referred to as the Pottery Wars (焼物戦争, yakimono sensô) or Teabowl Wars (茶碗戦争, chawan sensô) when emphasizing the role they played in bringing Korean ceramic technologies and styles to Japan.[1]

The invasions are named in a similar fashion in Korean, where they are known collectively as Imjin Waeran, or individually as the Imjin and Jeongyu Waeran, Imjin 壬辰 and Jeongyu 丁酉 being the cyclical year designations, respectively, corresponding roughly with 1592 and 1597.

A number of terms are used in English, including "Imjin War," an adaptation of the Korean term. Perhaps the most common, however, is not any standardized and concise name for the conflict, but rather lengthier descriptive phrases, chiefly variations on "Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea" or "the Japanese invasions of Korea of the 16th century."

First Invasion (Bunroku no eki)

According to some sources, the army Hideyoshi sent to invade Korea in 1592 numbered around 160,000. During both invasions, forces massed in and around Hakata and other areas of Chikuzen province, from which they then departed for Korea, impressing local fishermen and the like into service, and commandeering their boats, to help convey the samurai forces across the water.[2] The Shimazu clan was the last to finish mustering its forces for the invasion, and is still remembered today for their lateness, as the "latest army in Japan."[3] Another sizable force was mustered to defend Kyoto in Hideyoshi's absence, leading towards one historian's conclusion that "the mobilization for Hideyoshi's Korean venture encompassed the entire country of Japan, whether or not the troops were directly involved in operations on the continent."[4]

Sô Yoshitoshi and Konishi Yukinaga led the first landing parties, a massive force of some 700 ships, who quickly took Pusan.[5] The samurai enjoyed early successes, gaining considerable territory and visiting considerable destruction upon the landscape.[6]

However, by the next year, Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin led the Korean navy to begin cutting off Japanese supply lines, blocking Japanese access to the west side of the peninsula (thus preventing them from attacking from both east and west), and protecting the land routes into Korea from China from Japanese interference.[7] Yi's famous "turtle ships" won victories in three particularly decisive naval battles, including especially the Battle of Hansando, regaining control of the sea lanes from the Japanese, and the Ming Dynasty sent some 40,000 troops under the command of Li Rusong to aid the Koreans further, beginning in 1593/1. By the Fourth Month, the fighting had reached a stalemate, and Hideyoshi's armies began to withdraw.[8]

On 1593/5/23, Hideyoshi received a Ming ambassador at Hizen Nagoya, and by 6/28 secured a truce with the Ming. Portions of southern Korean remained under samurai control for the time being, with some 70,000 warriors remaining stationed there, but a number of warlords also pulled out their forces and returned to Japan.[7] The Ming court agreed to allow legal trade with Japan without Japan being obligated to enter into a tributary relationship with China.[8] Hideyoshi returned to Osaka at the end of the 6th month, and Ieyasu to Edo in the 10th month.[7]

Japanese troops remained in Korea until 1596, when Hideyoshi met with two Ming ambassadors at Osaka castle.[7] In the end, the Japanese invasion was ultimately pushed out of the peninsula entirely.

Second Invasion (Keichô no eki)

The breakdown of peace negotiations with the Joseon Court led to Hideyoshi launching a second invasion in 1597. Some 140,000 warriors were sent to Korea in 1597/2.[9]

The royal court ordered Yi Sun-shin to lead the Korean navy against this Japanese invasion, but Yi refused to attack in that way at that time, recognizing it as a Japanese trap. For this defiance of orders, he was stripped of his post and imprisoned for over a month. Admiral Won Gyun then led Korean forces to an embarrassing defeat at the battle of Chilcheonnyang on 1597/7/7, after which Yi was restored to his position as naval commander of the three southern provinces. Despite being equipped with only a small fleet of less than twenty ships, he famously turned the tide of the war yet again, defeating a fleet of some 133 Japanese ships at the battle of Myeongyang on 9/16.

In 1598, a Shimazu force of several thousand defeated a Ming force ten times its size in the battle of Sacheon. Later that year, Shimazu forces played a prominent role in the naval battle of Noryang, in which the Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin was killed.[3] Nevertheless, the invasion was ultimately terminated and abandoned following the death of Hideyoshi, who had remained in Japan throughout, in 1598/8. Japanese troops were completely withdrawn from Korea by the end of that year.[9]


According to some sources, as many as 50-60,000 Koreans were taken back to Japan as prisoners in the two invasions combined. Many of those captured were potters, known as Kôrai tôji, as daimyô competed to have these potters produce much-prized Korean-style teabowls for them. Many major (and minor) styles of Japanese ceramics trace their origins to this, including Satsuma, Arita, Karatsu, Hagi, Asano, and Takatori wares. The Shimazu clan of Satsuma province settled a few tens of Korean men and women prisoners of war in each of four or so locations within their territory, and by around 1600, a number of pottery kilns were in operation in these towns. Naeshirogawa, one of these towns, continued to retain its distinctive Korean character well into the Edo period.[1]

Repatriation of captives became one of the key Korean demands in negotiations to reopen trade and diplomatic relations in the following decades. Such negotiations were at the center of three Korean embassies to Japan between 1607 and 1624, as well as two in 1636 and 1643. In the end, only around 7500 Koreans were repatriated.[10]

The invasions were later highly romanticized in gunkimono (war tales), illustrated books, woodblock prints, and the records and family histories of many samurai clans. Many individual warriors and commanders became famous for their victories and accomplishments, and remain so today within certain circles. However, not all in Japan saw Hideyoshi's invasions in this way. Amenomori Hôshû, a Confucian scholar in service to Tsushima han in the early 18th century, and experienced in direct communication and engagement with the Korean court, for example, wrote of the invasions as dishonorable and as a complete failure, bringing no victory and nothing worth celebrating; he also wrote of the devastation and suffering visited upon Korea, from which it took decades for the kingdom to recover.[11]

Historical materials


  1. 1.0 1.1 Gallery labels, Shôkoshûseikan, Kagoshima.
  2. Arne Kalland, Fishing Villages in Tokugawa Japan, University of Hawaii Press (1995), 16.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Chôsen shuppei," Satsuma Shimazu-ke no rekishi, Shôkoshûseikan official website.
  4. Jurgis Elisonas, "Inseparable Trinity," Cambridge History of Japan, vol. 4, 1991, 272.
  5. Morgan Pitelka, Spectacular Accumulation, University of Hawaii Press (2016), 76.; Note that less than 20 years later, it took only 100 ships-full of Shimazu clan warriors to take the entire Ryûkyû Kingdom.
  6. Albert M. Craig, The Heritage of Japanese Civilization, Second Edition, Prentice Hall (2011), 64.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Pitelka, 76-78.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Akamine Mamoru, Lina Terrell (trans.), Robert Huey (ed.), The Ryukyu Kingdom: Cornerstone of East Asia, University of Hawaii Press (2017), 60.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Akamine, 61.
  10. Arano Yasunori. "The Formation of a Japanocentric World Order." International Journal of Asian Studies 2:2 (2005). p197. citing Naitô Shunpô. "Jinshin-teiyû eki ni okeru hiryo Chôsenjin no sakkan mondai ni tsuite" 壬申丁酉役における被慮朝鮮人の刷還問題について [The Repatriation of Korean Captives of Hideyoshi's Invasions]. Parts 1-3. Chôsen gakuhô 29 (1963), 33 (1964), 34 (1965).
  11. Lee Jeong Mi, "Cultural Expressions of Tokugawa Japan and Choson Korea: An Analysis of the Korean Embassies in the Eighteenth Century," PhD dissertation, University of Toronto (2008), 88.