Korean embassies to Edo

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An image of a Korean procession from the 1748 Chôsenjin daigyôretsuki, a book published and widely circulated in Edo in conjunction with popular excitement and interest around that year's mission
  • Other Names: 回答兼刷還使 (J: kaitouken sakkanshi)[1]
  • Japanese/Korean: (朝鮮)通信使 ((Chousen) tsuushinshi / (Joseon) t'ongsingsa)

Twelve Korean embassies visited Edo period Japan between 1607 to 1811. These were perceived as tribute missions by the Tokugawa bakufu, and paralleled Ryukyuan embassies sent by the Kingdom of Ryûkyû.

The first several missions, in 1605, 1607, 1617, and 1624, are generally counted separately from the tsûshinshi ("diplomatic embassies"),[2] as these missions focused on the repatriation of captives (from the 1590s wars), and for the negotiation of the resumption of relations. It was only from 1636 onwards, according to many interpretations, that formal relations were established and were being performed.[3]

Unlike the shogunate's relationship with Ryûkyû, which was seen as a vassal to Satsuma han, however, the shogunate regarded Joseon Dynasty Korea as an equal, at least nominally, in certain respects. In practice, while the two countries spoke of one another as equals in certain contexts, in other respects they actively looked down upon one another, with the shogunate seeing these Korean embassies as "tribute" missions, and the Korean court seeing the Sô clan of Tsushima han, who facilitated such relations, as their vassals. The Korean court is said to have seen these missions to Edo as "inspection tours," in which Korean envoys kept an eye out to ensure the Japanese were not planning or preparing for another invasion of Korea, as they had done under Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 1590s.[4]

Japan obtained a variety of goods from Korea during this period, either through tribute or the associated trade, or other gifts, including rice, textiles, ceramics, mother-of-pearl inlays, books, documents such as Buddhist sutras, Buddhist sculptures, and temple bells. However, the greatest bulk of the trade was for ginseng, which comprised 27% of the Korean goods flowing into Japan, and which at times created monetary and trade deficit issues for the Japanese.[5]

The total voyage from Pusan to Edo covered a distance of nearly 1,100 km each way, and usually took about nine or ten months, round-trip.[6]


Unlike missions from the Ryûkyû Kingdom, which had long engaged in relations with the Shimazu clan of Satsuma province but had never had particularly extensive relations with previous shogunates, the Korean missions can be seen as a new form within a longer history of Korean-Japanese relations, stretching back centuries. The Korean kingdom of Goryeo sent numerous missions to the Ashikaga shogunate and to the Kyûshû tandai in the 14th century seeking aid in suppressing the pirate/raider gangs known as wakô, albeit with little success. The Joseon Dynasty, founded in 1392, established formal relations with the Ashikaga shogunate beginning in 1404, and some sixty missions were sent from Japan to Korea in the next century and a half; the Korean missions sent in return were known at that time as hôheishi (報聘使, K: bobingsa, lit. "information mission") or kaireishi (回礼使, K: hoe lǐsa, lit. "returning gratitude/etiquette mission").[7]

The first mission to be called a tsûshinshi (K: t'ongsingsa) took place in 1429, and was sent from Korea to celebrate the succession of Ashikaga Yoshinori to the position of shogun, in the wake of the death of Ashikaga Yoshimochi the previous year. Between that time until the outbreak of the Ônin War in 1467, Korea dispatched another five tsûshinshi, three of which arrived in Kyoto. At some point in the late 15th or 16th century, missions from Korea stopped, but missions from the Ashikaga to Korea continued.[7]

In 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi named the Sô clan of Tsushima to be in charge of demanding tribute from the Joseon court, and to play a leadership role in preparing for Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea (and of the Ming Dynasty). After Tsushima sent a formal request to the Joseon Court, Korea dispatched a new mission in 1590; led by Huang Yungil, the mission was housed at Daitoku-ji and met with Hideyoshi at his Jurakudai mansion in Kyoto, where they delivered a formal letter (kokusho) from their king. After Hideyoshi took this as a sign of subordination, however, and Korea declined to send further missions, Hideyoshi launched the first of his invasions of Korea in 1592.[7]

Efforts by the Tokugawa shogunate to restore relations with Korea (and through them with the Ming dynasty), following these invasions, began with a series of Kaitô ken satsukan shi 回答兼刷還使, embassies (shi) sent in response (kaitô) to Tokugawa communications or overtures, and with the intention of repatriation (satsukan). The first of these missions took place in 1607; the third such embassy, in 1624, repatriated some 5000-7000 Koreans who had been taken to Japan as captives in the 1590s. Many Koreans remained in Japan, however, including many potters who helped pioneer styles of pottery such as Arita, Hagi, and Satsuma wares.[8]

Logistics & Ritual Performance

Each mission was led by a civil official, usually of the third rank (in the Korean court hierarchy), and consisted of roughly 350-500 Koreans,[9] and roughly 1500 Japanese escorts from Tsushima han, the domain which managed Japan-Korea relations in this period. From 1655 onwards, all of the missions were sent, nominally, to congratulate a new shogun on his succession; unlike was the case with the Ryûkyû Kingdom, Korea did not send missions upon the succession of their own kings in order to request any sort of ritual acknowledgement or recognition of their new king.

All but the last mission traveled to Edo, going via Tsushima, through the Inland Sea to Osaka, and then overland from there; the 1811 mission only journeyed as far as Tsushima. The Sô clan of Tsushima played a prominent role in escorting and otherwise organizing and overseeing the embassies during their journey to and from Edo; the shogunate also appointed a pair of other daimyô, typically bugyô, to serve temporarily as "Chôsen shinshi heirei yôkakari, i.e. officials in charge of overseeing the reception of Korean embassies.

The missions sailed aboard a fleet of three Korean ships from Pusan to Tsushima, accompanied by three cargo ships, and escorted by a number of ships from Tsushima.[6] Leaving their Korean ships behind at Tsushima, they spent some time enjoying lavish receptions on the island, and then rode on Japanese ships from there on, accompanied by the lord of the Sô clan and 800-1500 of his men, as far as Osaka.[10] They passed through stops at Ikishima and along the coasts of Chikuzen and Buzen provinces (in northern Kyushu), before passing through the straits at Shimonoseki (aka Akamagaseki).[11]

The tiny island of Ainoshima, located in the Genkai Sea just north of the dual ports of Fukuoka and Hakata, serves as illustrative of the expenses and preparations involved in receiving a Korean mission at any one of these stopover points. More than a year in advance, Fukuoka han authorities funded and oversaw the construction of a new reception hall on the island. Villagers' homes, among other buildings, were used to house the other 350-500 Koreans, plus the lord of Tsushima and his men. The chief Buddhist temple on the island would be renovated, to serve as lodging for Fukuoka domain officials acting as hosts. Repairs were also made to harbors on the island, and at the port of Shingû; all of these efforts involved considerable corvée labor. In 1748, Fukuoka han deployed 443 small boats with 1,625 crew members plus another 1,174 corvée boatmen from across a number of coastal villages, to help provide transport for Fukuoka officials and supplies to Ainoshima, to mark shallows and help ensure a safe route for the Korean & Tsushima ships, and to provide enough fresh seafood to feed roughly 1,000 people (Koreans plus samurai).[12]

After arriving in Fukuoka, the embassies made their way east around Kyushu, to Shimonoseki. There, they enjoyed receptions organized by the daimyô of both Chôshû and Chôfu domains, and by the Buddhist temple of Amida-ji (today, Akama Shrine). They also engaged in scholarly and artistic exchanges with scholars based at the domain school Meirinkan.[13]

The Korean mission then passed through the straits at Shimonoseki, into the Inland Sea. The maritime journey through the Inland Sea was accomplished aboard a fleet of vessels, numbering as many as one hundred according to one 1821 painting; for at least a portion of this journey, the fleet was preceded by a ship flying the banners of the Murakami clan, who in the Sengoku period had been the dominant power in these waters. The three lead Korean ambassadors each rode in separate thirty-meter-long vessels with red and gold banners, while smaller ships carried other members of the mission and their luggage.[14] These lead ships, usually numbering four, were yakata bune commissioned by the shogunate, from regional daimyô, for this purpose.[6]

At the port of Kaminoseki, near the easternmost reaches of Chôshû han, which might serve as a representative case, most of the houses along the main street, as well as a number of houses along the main street of the neighboring port of Murotsu, were made to house Tsushima or Chôshû officials accompanying the Korean missions.[15] Officials from Iwakuni han and Chôshû contributed to the reception of the Korean missions at Kaminoseki.[13] As they made their way through the Inland Sea, the mission stopped at port-towns such as Kamagari, Tomonoura, Ushimado, Murotsu, and Hyôgo no tsu, where they were provided formal receptions, food, and lodgings, as the Ryukyuan missions did as well.[16]

At Shimo-Kamagari, a pair of stone steps constructed by Fukushima Masanori specifically for the use, respectively, of the Korean envoys and their Tsushima escorts, can still be seen today. The Asano clan of Hiroshima han is said to have provided especially lavish receptions at Kamagari, as they worked to out-compete or out-shine their neighbors in Chôshû and elsewhere. In fact, a 1711 record shows the Korean envoys naming Kamagari as the site of the best reception (gochisô) they had experienced on that year's journey.[13]

At Tomonoura, the missions typically stayed at a guest house known as the Taichôrô; built by Mizuno Katsutane as the main hall (hondô) of the Buddhist temple Fukuzen-ji, the guest house was quite large, its rooms totaling 78 squares of tatami in area. Korean envoy Yi Bang-eon wrote in 1711 that the view of the Inland Sea from the Taichôrô was the best view in Japan.[17]

After passing by Shiraishi-jima, Shimo-tsui, and Hibi, the mission arrived at the port of Ushimado, where they again stayed overnight. Their reception at Ushimado was overseen by the Ikeda clan of Okayama han. Though the earliest missions simply stayed overnight on their ships in the harbor, from 1624 onwards, Korean missions came ashore at Ushimado. They were housed at the Buddhist temple Honren-ji from 1624 to 1655, and then for the rest of the Edo period at the Ikeda's own chaya (lit. "teahouse") in the port-town. The next major port where the mission stopped was Murotsu, in Harima province, where they were lodged at the private chaya ("teahouse") of the lord of Himeji han.[17]

After traveling through the Inland Sea by ship to Osaka, the embassy was lodged in the city's branch temple of Nishi Honganji, which boasted a massive compound more than capable of hosting all thousand-something members of the Korean & Tsushima retinues.[16] They usually stayed for 3 to 10 days, being housed at the Tsumura-betsuin within the Hongan-ji compound, and in particular at a two-story Korean-style building known as the Tô no ma (lit. "Chinese room").[17]

From Osaka, the Koreans then rode seven luxurious private riverboats (kawa gozabune lent by the daimyô of the eastern Inland Sea area for this purpose in partial fulfillment of their corvée obligations)[18] up the river to Fushimi, and thence from Kyoto, set out overland. Roughly one hundred members of the mission were left behind in Osaka to guard the ocean-going vessels.[6] Between Kyoto and Nagoya they took a combination of various highways which, in aggregate, came to be known as the Chôsenjin kaidô (“Koreans’ Highway”). This took them through Hikone, Ôgaki, and several other towns bypassed by the Tôkaidô. From Nagoya’s Miya-juku the rest of the way to Edo, they took the Tôkaidô.[11] Pontoon bridges (funabashi, lit. "boat bridges") were thrown across the Tenryûgawa, Fujigawa, and the Tonegawa for the Koreans to cross over those places. Shoguns were the only other travelers for whom such bridges were constructed; daimyô on sankin kôtai journeys, as well as Ryukyuan embassies, generally had to make use of ferry boats. The journey from Kyoto to Edo took about one month, with the Korean mission being subsumed within a far larger group of some 2,500 people in total.[6]

From 1607 until 1682, the Koreans were lodged at the temple of Honsei-ji in the Bakurochô neighborhood of Edo; the temple burned down in the Oshichi fire of 1682, and from then on Korean embassies stayed at the Higashi Honganji in Asakusa.[19]

The lead envoy (seishi) on such missions wore a robe decorated with kirin. Formal letters from the King of Korea were carried in a special chest, by a number of Korean officials; this was in contrast to the Ryukyuan embassies to Edo, in which a secretary (shokanshi) carried formal letters on his person. Even the open-sided palanquin of the lead envoy himself (making him more visible for onlookers)[20] was carried by Japanese porters, showing the great esteem accorded these communiques. The streets were prepared ahead of time by having the streets swept, and water sprinkled to settle the dust. During the procession, men with long bamboo poles helped push the crowds out of the way, to make room for the procession to pass down the road. While many paradegoers simply stood or sat on the side of the road, others set up viewing booths, complete with tatami and sliding screen (fusuma) paintings.

Once the Korean envoys arrived at the shogun's castle, before they entered the audience chamber (Ôhiroma), the shogun and a number of his officials and retainers arranged themselves within the chamber. A record from 1719 indicates that at that time, the shogun, tairô, two protocol officers, and a retinue carrying their swords, arranged themselves in the upper dan, or dais, of the three in the chamber,[21] and were mostly concealed with blinds (only the middle blind was raised); only the Kii and Mito lords (members of the Gosanke, holding the name Tokugawa) sat in the middle dan, while a variety of daimyô and other retainers sat in the lower dan; the figures seated in the upper dan were not at all visible from the lower dan.

The Korean envoys would then pass through the several anterooms, each also filled with daimyô and other retainers, and made their way to a wooden veranda outside of the audience chamber. In total, between the various rooms, all daimyô in the city were supposed to be present.[22] They remained there while their formal missive from the king of Korea was passed forward, eventually being placed on the tatami just below the upper dan. The Korean envoys bowed and withdrew, and then the master of ceremonies moved the letter to a small alcove behind the shogun's seat. The leaders of the Korean mission (Lead Envoy, Vice Envoy, and Secretary[23]) then approached, one at a time, in order of their status, coming as far as the second tatami mat below the edge of the middle dan (i.e. sitting in the lower dan), and paid their formal respects, before withdrawing once again.

Finally, the formal gifts offered by the envoys to the shogun were arranged for display in the garden. These generally included fine silks, ginseng, ramie textiles, tiger and fox furs, sharkskins, paper, brushes, wax, inkstones, and the like.[6] The blinds separating the three dan were lowered; when the envoys returned to the audience chamber, two layers of blinds would separate them from the shogun. The three leaders of the mission ventured into the ôhiroma, and withdrew, three more times: first, to offer personal greetings, then to partake of a drink, and finally to partake of some food. The Lead Envoy alone was permitted to advance to the middle dan for the drink of saké, but only at that time.

Discussions between the shogun and the envoys were conducted through a series of intermediaries, with the shogun speaking to the rôjû, who passed the message to the lord of Tsushima han, who in turn told the Korean language interpreters, who in turn communicated the shogun's words to the Korean envoys. The audience lasted several hours in total, and while the daimyô and other officials of middling and high-rank were permitted to withdraw from the Ôhiroma while the banquet was being prepared, those in the san-no-ma and yon-no-ma (third and fourth antechambers) were obliged to remain in place throughout the event.

The shogun reciprocated the Korean king's gifts by presenting the envoys with helmets and armor, swords, gold-foil-backed folding screen paintings, volumes of silver, or brocades, among other products. Additional gifts were also exchanged between the Korean envoys and the rôjû and other high-ranking shogunate figures.[6]

While in Edo, the envoys also performed and enjoyed a number of entertainments, including performances of gagaku and Noh, and Korean arts such as masangjae 馬上才 (horse acrobatics); skilled members of the embassy performed acrobatic tricks such as standing up on the horse's back while it ran, jumping on and off of a moving horse, swinging around to different sides of the horse while riding, and so forth.[24]

Decline and End of Missions

These missions were very expensive affairs, with the shogunate loaning around 50,000 ryô to the domain in 1711, 1718, and again in 1746, and granting (not loaning) the domain a whopping 100,000 ryô in 1764 to help pay for them. All of these were loans the domain struggled to pay back, and for the most part never did. The missions were expensive for the Korean Court as well, in part because they had to pay to host preparatory missions from Tsushima. In 1753, even Amenomori Hôshû, who had previously memorialized the shogunate in support of the importance of these missions, urged that the missions were "not of great benefit to the Japanese realm,"[25] and not worth the great financial cost.

Thus, after 1764, the shogunate demurred from interest in receiving further missions. With Tokugawa hegemony firmly established after more than 150 years in power, the role of the embassies for supporting or enhancing Tokugawa legitimacy was long obsolete. Financial and diplomatic status matters were also of concern. These missions were expensive, costing the Sô clan, the shogunate, and others considerable amounts to feed, house, and otherwise provide for the Korean envoys during their time in Japan. Further, having the Korean embassies come only as far as Tsushima would better mirror the restrictions placed on Japanese officials in Korea, who were not permitted to travel beyond Pusan.[4] In 1788, Tairô Matsudaira Sadanobu advised Tsushima to seek some kind of revision of the diplomatic protocols, so as to reduce the costs of the impending mission to congratulate Tokugawa Ienari on becoming shogun; Sadanobu then suggested in 1791 that further missions not travel all the way to Edo, but instead meet with shogunal representatives in Tsushima. The Koreans initially rejected this suggestion, asserting the importance of continuing the established practices, but after much negotiations, a mission was finally dispatched in 1811 to congratulate Ienari, 27 years after his succession. This would turn out to be the last Korean mission of the Edo period.[26]

An additional embassy was planned for the late 1840s, postponed to 1856, and ultimately never took place.[27]

The shogunate ordered Tsushima in 1860 to request another mission from the Korean court, to be scheduled for 1866, and to come only so far as Tsushima (not to Edo). However, in 1865, the shogunate then ordered Tsushima to postpone this mission until 1876; the shogunate fell three years later, and that mission never manifested.[28]

Timeline of Missions

  • 1605 - Samyeongdang and Son Munik, the first Korean envoys to Japan since the invasions of Korea of the 1590s, meet with Tokugawa Ieyasu and Hidetada at Fushimi castle, having traveled to Kyoto with Sô Yoshitoshi, lord of Tsushima han, despite the Korean Court having likely only expected the envoys to go as far as Tsushima. They meet as well with Honda Masanobu and Saishô Shôtai, while staying at the temple of Honpô-ji in Kyoto. This is not counted among the twelve official missions of the Edo period, but represents the beginning of rapprochement. Among other terms of negotiations, 3000 Korean prisoners of war are returned to Korea.
  • 1606 - A Japanese mission from Tsushima led by Tachibana Tomomasa returns from Korea with Korean requests for a formal letter direct from Tokugawa Ieyasu, and for Japan to turn over warriors who had violated Korean graves during the invasions. Without informing the Tokugawa shogunate, Tsushima produces a forged letter from Ieyasu, and turns over some number of local Tsushima criminals and prisoners.[29]
  • 1607 - A mission consisting of 504 men is led by Ryeo Ugil (aka Chiwon , with Vice Envoy Gyeong-seom (aka Chil-song), and Secretary (jongsagwan) Jeong Ho-sil (aka Il-chwi).[30] Many members of the mission are former samurai who, after surrendering to Korean forces during Hideyoshi's invasions, were permitted to take Korean names and to assimilate into Korean society, becoming either court officials of some sort, or soldiers (warriors) in service to the court. The mission meets with Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada in Edo, and then on the return journey meets with Tokugawa Ieyasu at Sunpu.[31] That the Koreans received audience with Hidetada first, and Ieyasu only second, served to demonstrate the power and legitimacy of the shogunate, as an institution, beyond the personal power of Ieyasu.[32]
  • 1617 - A Korean mission led by O Yun-gyeom 呉允謙 and consisting of 428 people meets with Tokugawa Hidetada in Kyoto. Hayashi Razan is among those invited to attend the reception. For the mission to meet with the shogun in Kyoto, with members of the court as witness (to the processions, at least, if not the audiences) is a further move by the shogunate to enhance its own legitimacy.[32]
  • 1624 - A mission travels to Edo. Led by Chŏng Ip, it consists of 460 members. The embassy returns to Korea with some 5000-7000 Korean repatriates.[8] The third and final "response and repatriation" mission, it also serves to congratulate Tokugawa Iemitsu on becoming shogun.[33]
  • 1636 - The first formal tongsinsa (tsûshinshi) is dispatched. It is led by Im Kwang, and travels to Edo and to Nikkô Tôshôgû. Among the terms discussed is the frequency of munwigwam missions to Tsushima. The embassy consists of 478 men, and is nominally dispatched to congratulate the Tokugawa on creating peace (taihei) in the realm.[33]
  • 1643 - The mission is led by Yun Sunji and consists of 477 members. It is sent nominally to congratulate the shogunate on the birth of a shogunal heir (Tokugawa Ietsuna was born in 1641). The envoys travel to Nikkô Tôshôgû, where they present a temple bell as a gift from King Injo, cast on the orders of the shogunate. The bell continues to hang at the Yômeimon in Nikkô today.
  • 1655 - The mission, led by Jo Hyeong (1606-1679) and Nam Yong-ik (1628-1692), and consisting of 485 members, is dispatched to congratulate Tokugawa Ietsuna on becoming shogun.[33] The embassy travels to Edo, and to Nikkô, where they present a number of lanterns for the mausoleum of Tokugawa Iemitsu; this is the last time a Korean embassy visits Nikkô. It is also the first Korean mission to Edo since the fall of the Ming Dynasty, and the beginning of Korean submission to the Qing Dynasty.
  • 1682 - A mission travels to Edo to congratulate Tokugawa Tsunayoshi on becoming shogun. It is led by Yun Chiwan (尹趾完, 1635-1718), with Yi Ŏn'gang (李彦綱, 1648-1716) as vice-ambassador, and Pak Kyŏngsun (朴慶俊) as secretary.[34] The embassy consists of 363 men who travel to Edo, and another 112 who remain in Osaka with the embassy's ships. They are accompanied by perhaps fifty archers, fifty gunmen, fifty lancers, and 1,700 ashigaru, as well as by numerous porters.[35]
  • 1711 - A mission travels to Edo to congratulate Tokugawa Ienobu on becoming shogun. Led by Jo Tae-eok (1675-1728), Im Sugan (1665-1721), and Lee Bang-eon,[36] it consists of 569 Koreans, of whom 371 traveled all the way to Edo, plus whatever number of Tsushima officials, porters, etc.[37] The mission is the only one to have four interpreters, while most have three, and some only one or two. The interpreters on this mission were Ch'oe Sangjip (崔尚山+集),[38] Yi Sŏngnin (李碩麟), Yi Sŏngnyŏn (李松年), and Kim Sinam (金始南).[39] Due to some disagreements regarding the Korean king's letter to the Shogun, the Korean envoys end up leaving Edo castle without a formal reply letter from the Shogun in return.[40]
  • 1719 - A mission led by Lead Envoy Hong Ch'ijung, Vice Envoy Hwang Sŏn, and Secretary Yi Myŏng'ŏn, travels to Edo to congratulate Tokugawa Yoshimune on becoming shogun. It consists of 475 people.[33] The embassy stays at Honnô-ji in Kyoto for one night on its way to Edo, and several more nights on the way back. The mission includes three interpreters: Pak Chaech'ang (朴再昌), Han Huyŏn (韓後瑗), and Kim T'onam (金圖南).[39][10] The chesulgwan (製述官, chief composer of documents) on the mission, Sin Yu-Han, composes the Haeyurok, perhaps one of the most extensive travel diaries of a Korean official in Tokugawa Japan extant.
  • 1748 - A mission travels to Edo, led by Hong Gye-hui (洪啓禧), to congratulate Tokugawa Ieshige on becoming shogun.[33] It consists of 392 men who journey to Edo and another 82 who remain with the ships in Osaka.[41]
  • 1764 - A Korean mission travels to Edo for the last time during the Tokugawa period. The embassy, led by Jo Eom (趙曮), is sent to congratulate Tokugawa Ieharu on becoming shogun.[33] Nam Ch'uwŏl serves as secretary (chesulgwan).[42] The mission consists of 498 people, and their total journey takes 382 days.
  • 1809 - Korean envoys in Tsushima are informed that the next mission would only be expected to come as far as Tsushima, and not to go to Edo.
  • 1811 - The final formal Korean mission of the Edo period is formally received by shogunate officials on Tsushima, and does not travel to the Japanese "mainland," let alone to Edo. The embassy, led by Kim Igyo (金履喬), consists of 328 people and is sent to congratulate Tokugawa Ienari on becoming shogun.[33] Ogasawara Tadakata, lord of Kokura han, serves as stand-in for the shogun.[43]
  • 1841 - An envoy from Tsushima travels to Pusan and requests that a mission be sent to Tsushima, but none ever is.
  • 1844 - The shogunate requests, via Tsushima, that Korea send a mission in 1846, but this is ultimately cancelled.
  • 1847 - The shogunate decides that the next Korean embassy will be received in Osaka, rather than coming all the way to Edo, and that it will be postponed until 1856. This embassy also ultimately never takes place.[27]

Modern Revival

In the 1970s-80s, the early modern Korean embassies to Edo came to be seen as something that could be promoted in textbooks, cultural events, and political statements as a symbol of a long history of peaceful and prosperous Korean-Japanese relations. Today, events are regularly held in locations including Pusan, Tsushima, Shimonoseki, Shimo-Kamagari, Ushimado, Kyoto, and Kawagoe, reenacting elements of these events or otherwise celebrating them. A collection of documents pertaining to the embassies has been inscribed as part of the UNESCO Memory of the World.[44]


  • Lillehoj, Elizabeth. "A Gift for the Retired Empress." in Lillehoj (ed.). Acquisition: Art and Ownership in Edo-Period Japan. Floating World Editions, 2007. pp91-110.
  • Schottenhammer, Angela. "The East Asian maritime world, 1400-1800: Its fabrics of power and dynamics of exchanges - China and her neighbors." in Schottenhammer (ed.) The East Asian maritime world, 1400-1800: Its fabrics of power and dynamics of exchanges. Harrassowitz Verlag, 2007.
  • Anne Walthall, "Hiding the shoguns: Secrecy and the nature of political authority in Tokugawa Japan," in Bernard Scheid and Mark Teeuwen (eds.) The Culture of Secrecy in Japanese Religion, Routledge (2006), 341-344.
  • Gallery labels, Taichôrô, Fukuzen-ji, Tomonoura, Hiroshima pref.
  • Gallery labels, Tsushima Chosen Tsushinshi Museum, Izuhara-chô, Tsushima.
  1. Though Chôsen tsûshinshi is the term most commonly used today to refer to the Edo period Korean embassies, this term (kaitôken sakkanshi) was in fact more commonly used at the time, in the Edo period, while tsûshinshi was used by the Japanese more commonly in the Muromachi period. See: Lillehoj. p107n3.
  2. Though tsûshin 通信 is often translated as "diplomatic" or "formal relations" in contrast to the "trade relations" (通商, tsûshô) maintained by the Tokugawa shogunate with Chinese and Dutch merchants, the term tsûshinshi might be more literally translated as "embassies conveying sincerity" or "trust." To at least some extent, at least nominally, these Korean embassies were said to be a demonstration of continued relations of mutual trust between the Joseon and Tokugawa courts. Aoyanagi Shûichi 青柳周一, "Ikoku no shisetsu, Ômi no kuni wo tôru - Ryûkyû shisetsu to Chôsen tsûshinshi" 異国の使節、近江国を通るー琉球使節と朝鮮通信使, talk given at Kusatsu rekishi hakken juku くさつ・歴史発見塾, 2 March 2019.
  3. Marco Tinello, "The termination of the Ryukyuan embassies to Edo : an investigation of the bakumatsu period through the lens of a tripartite power relationship and its world," PhD thesis, Università Ca' Foscari Venezia (2014), 38-39.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Mitani Hiroshi, David Noble (trans.), Escape from Impasse, International House of Japan (2006), 7-8.
  5. Schottenhammer. pp56-57.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 Satô Kenji, Chôsen tsûshinshi, Ryûkyû shisetsu no Nikkô mairi, Zuisôsha (2007), 24-27.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Chôsen tsûshinshi to Okayama, Okayama Prefectural Museum, 2007, 53.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Gallery labels, Taichôrô, Fukuzenji temple, Tomonoura.[1]
  9. The smallest Korea mission consisted of roughly 300 people. Lillehoj. p102.; Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 44.; The missions left Korea with an average of 485, leaving some of their men at Tsushima or Osaka, and entered Edo with an average of 395 men. Toby, "Carnival of the Aliens," 424.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Nam-Lin Hur, "A Korean Envoy Encounters Tokugawa Japan: Shin Yuhan and the Korean Embassy of 1719," Bunmei 21 no. 4 (Aichi University, 2000), 61-73.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Toby, Ronald. "Carnival of the Aliens: Korean Embassies in Edo-Period Art and Popular Culture." Monumenta Nipponica 41:4 (1986). 420n14.
  12. Arne Kalland, Fishing Villages in Tokugawa Japan, University of Hawaii Press (1995), 219-220.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Chôsen tsûshinshi to Okayama, 55.
  14. Martin Dusinberre, Hard Times in the Hometown: A History of Community Survival in Modern Japan, University of Hawaii Press (2012), 23-24.
  15. In 1764, for example, 36 out of the 43 homes along the main street in Kaminoseki each housed at least one official, with some of them housing as many as four or five. Dusinberre, 24-25.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Nam-lin Hur, “Choson Korean Officials in the Land of Tokugawa Japan: Ethnic Perceptions in the 1719 Korean Embassy,” Korea Observer 38:3 (2007): 447.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Chôsen tsûshinshi to Okayama, 56.
  18. Toby identifies the boats in one depiction of such a Korean riverboat procession as belonging to the lords of Kuwana, Tosa, Uwajima, and Usuki domains. ("Carnival of the Aliens," 440n51.) This is in contrast to the Ryukyuan missions' riverboats, which were provided by western daimyô, including Chôshû, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kokura, and Kumamoto han (as seen in a 1710 handscroll, Chûzan-ô raichô zu, National Archives of Japan).
  19. Toby, "Carnival of the Aliens," 428.
  20. Toby, 433.
  21. The Ôhiroma at Edo castle contained three daises, or dan, of differing heights, placing the shogun physically, literally, above those to whom he granted an audience.
  22. Hellyer, 44.
  23. J: seishi 正使, fukushi 副使, shokanshi 書簡使
  24. Gallery labels, National Museum of Korea.[2]
  25. Hellyer, 105.
  26. Hellyer, 105-106.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Ishin shiryô kôyô, vol 1, Tokyo: Meguro Shoten (1937), 100
  28. Tinello, 189.
  29. Chôsen tsûshinshi to Okayama, 54.
  30. Shirarezaru Ryûkyû shisetsu 知られざる琉球使節, Fukuyama-shi Tomonoura rekishi minzoku shiryôkan (2006), 92.
  31. Tomiyama Kazuyuki, Ryûkyû ôkoku no gaikô to ôken, Yoshikawa kôbunkan (2004), 118.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Kate Wildman Nakai, Shogunal Politics, Harvard University Press (1988), 177.
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 33.3 33.4 33.5 33.6 Gallery labels, Taichôrô, Fukuzen-ji.[3]
  34. Toby, "Carnival of the Aliens," 437.
  35. Toby, Engaging the Other, Brill (2019), 158.
  36. Gallery labels, National Museum of Korea.[4]
  37. Dusinberre, 23.; Toby, Engaging the Other, 158.
  38. The last character of this figure's name combines the two characters 山+集, but is non-standard.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Toby, "Carnival of the Aliens," 433.
  40. Tashiro Kazui, "Chôsen tsûshinshi gyôretsu emaki no kenkyû," Chôsen gakuhô 137 (1990), 29-30.
  41. Toby, Engaging the Other, 169.
  42. Rebeckah Clements, “BRUSH TALK AS THE ‘LINGUA FRANCA’ OF DIPLOMACY IN JAPANESE–KOREAN ENCOUNTERS, c. 1600-1868,” The Historical Journal, 62:2 (2019), pp. 289-309: 297.
  43. Miyake Hidetoshi 三宅英利, "Ryukyu shisetsu to Kokura han," Kitakyûshû daigaku bungakubu kiyô B series, vol. 21 (1989), 3.
  44. This "Memory of the World" program is separate from UNESCO World Heritage Sites.