Ryukyuan missions to Korea

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The Ryûkyû Kingdom engaged in direct active diplomatic and trade relations with Joseon Dynasty Korea from 1392 to 1527, exchanges recorded on the Ryukyuan side in the Rekidai Hôan.

Though Ryûkyû often sent diplomatic messages in the official zi (咨) format used by Ming Dynasty China, Joseon preferred the "private letter" format known as shokei in Japanese (書契, K: sogye).

A tally-like system in which a half-cut seal was used was introduced at the recommendation of Hakata merchant Taira Nobushige in 1471, and used for a time from then on in Korea-Ryûkyû relations.

Ryukyuan relations with Korea were typified by the use of Japanese merchants or monks as leaders of missions to Korea, and by the not infrequent occurrence of imposter envoys from Hakata, especially in the 1470s-90s, and declining significantly after that. Nobushige himself is believed to have been an imposter envoy, as documents from the previous year (1470) indicate a Taira Yoshishige being designated the official envoy.

After 1527, direct relations with Korea came to an end, and until 1638, relations with Korea were handled only indirectly, via Beijing. From 1638 to 1891, Ryûkyû's relations with Korea were largely limited to the exchange of castaways.[1]

Timeline of Ryukyuan missions to Korea

  • 1467 - mission is led by (Ryukyuan?) monks Dôshô and Tôkon.
  • 1470 - Hakata merchant Taira no Yoshishige is designated the official head of the 1471 envoy.
  • 1471 - mission is led by monk Jitan (自端)[2] and Hakata merchant Taira no Nobushige.
  • 1477 - mission is led by Hakata merchant Shin-uemon-no-jo, and Ryukyuan aristocrat-official Uchibaru-satunushi
  • 1479 - mission is led by Hakata merchants Shinshirô, Saemonsaburô, and Yajirô. A number of Koreans shipwrecked in Ryûkyû in 1477, including Kim Pi-i, author of the Choson songjong shillok, return to Korea along with the mission.
  • 1480 - mission is led by (Ryukyuan?) monks Dôshô and Keisô.
  • 1483 - mission is led by Hakata merchants Shinshirô and Yajirô.
  • 1491 - mission is led by Gorosaburô and Hakata merchant Yajirô.
  • 1493 - mission is led by Hakata merchant Yajirô, and Kokan Bonkei, a pupil of Kyôshi Bonko, a diplomatic official on Tsushima.
  • 1494 - mission is led by Tenshô and Hikosaburô.
  • 1500 - mission is led by (Ryukyuans?) Ryô Kô and Ryô Chin, known respectively as Liang Guang and Liang Chun in Chinese. This mission declared to the Korean authorities, in a formal zi-style communication, that it was authentic, and that many of the previous missions of the 1470s-90s were imposters from Japan.


  1. 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. p47.
  2. Some sources indicate the possibility that this Jitan is the same person as Tôkon who led the 1467 mission.
  • Hashimoto Yû. "The Information Strategy of Imposter Envoys from Northern Kyushu to Choson Korea in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries." in Angela Schottenhammer (ed.) The East Asian Mediterranean: Maritime Crossroads of Culture, Commerce and Human Migration. Harrassowitz Verlag, 2008. pp289-315.