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  • Japanese/Korean: 倭館 (wakan / waegwan)

The Waegwan (J: Wakan, "Japan Hall" or "Japan House") was an establishment in Pusan which served as housing and a base of operations for officials from Tsushima han engaging in relations with the royal government of Joseon Dynasty Korea.

The institution was established in 1443, alongside the establishment of special privileges for the Sô samurai clan of Tsushima as the preeminent Japanese with whom the Koreans would engage in trade and diplomacy (as intermediaries representing the shogun). In 1512, following a naval clash in 1510 between Sô and Joseon ships in which the former were supporting a Japanese traders' and fishermen's protest, Tsushima's representatives in Korea were restricted to the Waegwan while in Korea.

Relations between Korea and Japan shut down entirely as a result of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea in the 1590s, but were later restored. The walled complex, at that time large enough to house roughly 500 Japanese officials and merchants, reopened in 1607. It was later moved to a larger compound in Ch'oryang (at Pusan Harbor) in the late 17th century; at any given time roughly 500 to 1000 men were in residence at the Waegwan from that time forward.[1]

The compound was organized around a hill or mountain known as Yongdusan ("Dragon Head Mountain"). While the west side of the compound was used by emissaries from Tsushima, the east side housed lodgings and offices for resident officials, storehouses, and commercial establishments. A pair of guardhouses flanked the entrance.[2] From 1639 until 1717, the Waegwan was also equipped with a set of kilns for producing pottery.[3]

Official trade took place in the course of ritual diplomatic interactions, as the representatives of the Sô clan, as vassals of the Korean king, received formal seals reaffirming their trade monopoly, and exchanged tribute goods for gifts. Tsushima officials were obliged to perform rites of submission towards the Korean king. These rituals fully followed Korean customs and protocols, and included Tsushima officials bowing towards a wooden figure symbolizing the Korean king. Though Tsushima complained at times that they were willing to bow towards the king, but not towards other Korean officials, officials regularly insisted upon standing next to the wooden figure, so that the Tsushima representatives would be forced to bow to them as well.[4]

Goods presented to the king by the Sô often included pepper, alum, and sappanwood obtained from Southeast Asia via Nagasaki, as well as water buffalo horn, copper, and tin. In return, they received ginseng and considerable amounts of cotton; from the mid-17th century onwards, the Sô also received roughly 8300 koku of rice annually, an important source of food for both samurai officials and commoners & peasants of the domain, which only produced itself about 20,000 koku. The more significant portion of trade for the Japanese, however, was private trade, conducted by merchants from Tsushima engaging with officially authorized Korean merchants at a particular designated market just outside the Waegwan. The overall size of this trade was limited by the Korean authorities to a certain number of ships a year (initially 50, reduced to 25 after 1512), and to only certain market days each month, but still constituted a significant volume of trade. The chief goods the Japanese sought in Korea were ginseng, and Chinese silks.

In addition to trade benefits, the Waegwan, and Tsushima-Korean interactions more broadly, allowed Tsushima officials to gain considerable intelligence, or information, about goings-on in both China and Korea. This occurred in part through official channels, as Korean officials returning from China prepared reports on those matters they believed to be of Japanese interest, and conveyed them to the officials at the Waegwan via the royal court at Seoul and the Tongnae magistrate (the top official in Pusan responsible for matters related to the Waegwan). The Tsushima officials then compiled this information into reports to send to the shogunate, along with information obtained via Japanese merchants and other sources within Pusan.[5]

James B. Lewis has suggested that while tax revenues from trade comprised as much as 50% of the tax revenues of Kyŏsang province (where Pusan is located), the costs of receiving the missions from Tsushima, maintaining the Waegwan, and providing rice and other goods to the missions, exceeded the economic benefits. Further, the residents of the Waegwan often caused trouble for the Tongnae magistrate & his provincial government (and even occasionally for the royal court), calling for additional food and supplies, engaging with Korean prostitutes, and occasionally rioting as a negotiating tactic. Lewis argues that Joseon may have maintained ties with the Sô despite this out of fears that the people of Tsushima might return to piracy once again if access to authorized trade were denied, and/or out of a sense of obligation of their more civilized kingdom towards the people of Tsushima.[6]


  • Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 39-40.
  1. Hellyer, 43.
  2. Gallery labels, National Museum of Japanese History.[1]
  3. Gallery labels, Freer Gallery of Art.
  4. Jeong-mi Lee, “Chosŏn Korea as Sojunghwa, the Small Central Civilization,” International Christian University Publications 3-A, Asian Cultural Studies 国際基督教大学学報 3-A,アジア文化研究 36 (2010) 307-308.
  5. Hellyer, 45.
  6. Hellyer, 41-42, citing James B. Lewis, Frontier Contact between Chosŏn Korea and Tokugawa Japan, Routledge Curzon Press (2003), 107-145.

See Also