AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Don’t undervalue Japanese historical awareness

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 14, 2007

WHILE SOME PREFER TO INSIST against evidence to the contrary that the Japanese and Koreans get along like dogs and cats (or dogs and monkeys, as the Japanese say), they are unheeded by many in both countries who are quietly working to forge closer ties on many different levels.

Yesterday an exhibit got underway at the Nagoya Castle Museum in Chinzei-cho in Saga Prefecture called Hideyoshi and the Invasions of Korea. The Nagoya Castle was built during those invasions and used by the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi as a staging point for his Korean campaigns. The second-largest castle in Japan at the time, it was finished in 1592 during the first invasion after just eight months of construction. (The photo shows the original site of the castle, which no longer exists.)

nagoya-castle.jpg

The exhibit is being jointly conducted with the Jinju National Museum of South Korea. Located in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, Jinju was the site of heavy fighting between Japanese and Korean forces.

The Japanese museum is exhibiting 166 items related to Toyotomi’s military campaigns. The Japanese contributions include a letter from the Emperor asking Toyotomi to call off his invasion, and a letter from Ming Dynasty China regarding a Sino-Japanese alliance. (Toyotomi was seeking closer ties with China, which was providing some support to the Koreans. He was angered by the condescending tone of the letter, and that ended that.) The Jinju museum’s contribution to the exhibit includes such items as swords and an early artillery piece used by the Japanese forces.

The exhibit is a result of a cooperative agreement signed by the two museums in 2003. Chinzei-cho, which incorporates an offshore island thought to be the birthplace of King Muryong of Baekche, has long been involved in fostering ties with South Korea. (Indeed, town residents have gone to South Korea to learn how to make kimchee, and the variety they make and sell commercially in Japan is every bit as good as the kimchee I’ve eaten at restaurants in Busan.)

The event will run until November 25, and costs just 300 yen (US$2.55). (It’s free for people of high school age and younger.) For those who think Japanese neglect to examine their history, the story was right there in the middle the first page of the local news section of my newspaper, with a photograph. For those who think exhibits such as these are held only in major cities, the population of Chinzei-cho is about 9,000. The nearest big city is at least an hour away.

There is a great deal of interaction between Japanese and Koreans—even about touchy historical issues—that passes under the radar of the Western and Korean media. It might be because they are unaware of it, or it might be because they choose to ignore it. But it exists nonetheless, despite those who, for reasons of their own, prefer a different narrative when depicting bilateral ties.

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28 Responses to “Don’t undervalue Japanese historical awareness”

  1. Overthinker said

    Nice post. No surprise, in that I have long realised how warped the media viewpoint is, but it’s often at this sort of grassroots level that some of the most diverse and interesting historical analysis and awareness exists.

    One very very minor point – historical figures like Hideyoshi are generally referred to by their given names, not their family names (which in Hideyoshi’s case, changed frequently as his rank grew). Hence Hideyoshi, Nobunaga, Ieyasu, Kenshin, Shingen, Toshiie, etc.

    Looking up Nagoya Castle (名護屋城, not 名古屋城)
    I see that the museum looks very impressive. Okay, the prefecture and not the town runs it, but it still looks very impressive for such a remote area. And so does Saga Castle Museum, done in the style of the old palace. And to think when I did my tour of Kyushu not so long ago the only thing we did in Saga was eat lunch….

  2. Underthinker said

    Cooperation will exist (read: Koreans will use and abuse Japanese resources) until the next time Japan reminds Korea for the 5000 time that Takashima is Japanese.

  3. Peter Pan said

    I’d like to know more about this letter from the Emperor telling Hidyoshi not to invade Korea. If you have any links, please do share.

    People will often say Hideyoshi’s Invasion of Korea is just one of a series of Japan invasions to Korea, but I’ve always looked at it as a Japanese person who lead an invasion, not the nation of Japan. What I mean is the government didn’t support it, they just couldn’t stop him. Thus, one can’t group Hideyoshi’s invasion and Japanese colonization of Korea together as one in the same.

  4. Overthinker said

    Well, with Hideyoshi, you have the very important question of “who was the government of Japan?” A titular emperor, whose role had been hands-off for centuries, and largely ceremonial/religious in nature, or the man who actually controlled the country physically? Were these invasions “officially” sanctioned by the supreme source of authority? Apparently not. But is that enough to say that the “government” did not authorise them, when Hideyoshi was the governor? Interesting point to think about.

  5. ampontan said

    Peter Pan: There’s no link, but here’s the excerpt from the newspaper article:

    天皇が秀吉に対し朝鮮行きをやめるよう記した直筆の書「後陽成天皇宸翰女房奉書」(ごようぜいてんのうしんかんにょうぼうほうしょ)(国重要文化財)

    Overthinker: I understand about the convention, but I don’t care for it. Perhaps I should rethink my opposition. The Japanese still tend to use the given name in a similar written context today, not only for themselves, but also for foreigners in a non-political/governmental context (jazz disc reviews, for example). For people post-Meiji Ishin, which is usually the dividing line for name order in English translations, translations use the family name.

    I live about a 10 minute walk from the Saga Castle museum. I translated many, if not all, of the small explanatory cards for the displays and vitrines. The construction of that museum was controversial locally. It was a major, expensive project undertaken in toto with no consultation from the citizens at all. That did not go over well.

  6. Overthinker said

    “name order in English translations” –> that’s something that really annoys me about translating: if Westerners are expected to know that “Mao Zedong” or “Hu Jintao” are written family name first, why do Japanese names always have to be written in the western order?

    What sort of opposition to the museum was there? Was it the use of tax money?

  7. ampontan said

    The use of taxes, the expense, the absence of debate or listening to opposing views. The prefectural museum is just down the street in the next block.

  8. Bender said

    Toyotomi was seeking closer ties with China, which was providing some support to the Koreans. He was angered by the condescending tone of the letter, and that ended that

    I think it was more like lots of support. Without the swarming Ming forces, Japan would have gone uncontested. Quite similar to the situation in the Korean war whan Red China intervened. I’ve been told that Hideyoshi’s goal was to conquer Ming China, and asked Korea to lead the way. Korea refused, probably in some rude manner (Korea has traditionally regarded Japan as backward) which angered Hideyoshi, and it became the first land to be conquered by unified Japan in his mind.

  9. Peter Pan said

    Overthinker, yea, he was acting leader of the country if he could just go and do whatever he wanted regardless of the emperor telling him not to, but because he did not have the support of the official government than he was acting in his own as a bandit, and not a representative of Japan. Thus, to say Japan has invaded Korea before and refer to Hideyoshi’s invasions as one of those examples, would be much different from the annexation of Korea and I don’t think it should be grouped together.

    I had always thought this to be the case, but never really found anything much about Hideyoshi and his official position in the Japanese government (however I never really looked into it that much) in terms of being the leader of the country or just a random warlord running loose in the wild. However I do find it very interesting that China then named Hideyoshi ‘King’ of Japan after his invasion of Korea… China’s One China policy has been going on for a very long time; everything is China in her eyes. 😉

  10. Bender said

    Actually, the question of who is the “head of state” of Japan even persists today- is it the PM or the Emperor?

    Back then, of course Hideyoshi was the true ruler of Japan, since there was no daimyo who could resist him. If he ordered the daimyos to launch a campaign against Korea, everyone had to follow. BTW, to add to Peter Pan’s comments, “King” in the Chinese classical sense means “vassal king”, in essence, “a subject of the Chinese Emperor”. It’s no wonder Hideyoshi was angered at the Chinese trying to make him a vassal, since Japan was independent from(= wasn’t paying tribute to) the Chinese Empire since the 7th century. Koreans nowadays call the Japanese Emperor “King 王” instead of “Tenno (Emperor)”,which must come from this classical Sinocentric view of the world- and is really being rude to call the Japanese Emperor that way- Japan is no vassal kingdom of China (or Korea).

  11. ampontan said

    Bender: From what I read, Hideyoshi was willing to enter into a tributary relationship with the Chinese for form’s sake. That’s the only kind of formal relationship the Chinese had in those days. He got angry, so the story goes, because of the tone of the Chinese letter when it was read aloud to him, and the lack of any mention at all of his proposal for intermarriage between the Ming line and the Japanese imperial line.

  12. tomojiro said

    Well, I think first that to consider relationship between Japan, Korea and China at those times, in the realm of somewhat modern conceptions like “nation” is inappropriate.

    I don’t think that there was a united “Japanese” invasion, and that there was a kind of united “Korean” response and a united “Chinese” aid against the Hideyoshi invasion. It was an exchange between powerful personals and his regimes, exchange and warfare between dynasties, but hardly a “national” event in the modern sense.

    Second why Hideyoshi invaded Korea should be also considered differently from “modern” international relationship. It is said that he couldn’t read and write. And also that he considered Korea at that time a kind of clan subjugated by the So clan of Tsushima, and saw the Ming court of his peers or even lower than him.

    There is a study which reviews the historical studies about Hideyoshi’s invasion at the “Zaidan hojin Nikkan Bunka Koryu Kikin (財団法人日韓文化交流基金) which has founded exchanges between Japanese and Korean academics.
    http://www.jkcf.or.jp/history/2/1_1_2roku_j.pdf

  13. Overthinker said

    “It is said that he couldn’t read and write.”
    This I would be surprised at, even though he was from fairly humble origins. Got anything more concrete?

    I agree that we can’t really call it a “Japanese invasion” aside from the fact it was Japanese doing the invading. Bit like blaming Italy for dividing Gaul into three parts (plus a small Amorican village that still holds out against the invaders)?

  14. Goku said

    Bender

    “…Korea refused, probably in some rude manner (Korea has traditionally regarded Japan as backward) which angered Hideyoshi…”

    If you’ve read some of the diplomatic letters exchanged between korea and japan PRIOR to the invasion you’ll see that Hideyoshi displays all the bravado of a nation ready and willing to go to war (including the crude behavior of the Japanese envoy sent to deliver Hideyoshi’s “request”), while the korean response was tactful, sincere and very dipolmatic, you clearly get a picture of a nation that was unwilling to go to war.

    Koreans may have regarded the Japanese as “backwards” (more like barbarians) but diplomatic letters (including diplomatic exchanges), as is now among nations, was for the most part sincere, even moreso when trying to avert a war.

  15. Goku said

    Tomojiro

    “…hardly a “national” event in the modern sense…”

    I understand what you’re trying to convey but for the most part the invasion mobilized a nation into war (Japan), Korea mobilized it’s nation for defense, China mobilized it’s military for aid. It affected the lives of millions, the after effects of the war affected millions more and eventually changed the power dynamics in the region. IMHO I think it’s safe enough to consider this event as a “national” event without having to fine tune it in anyway.

    Ampontan

    “…Hideyoshi was willing to enter into a tributary relationship with the Chinese for form’s sake. That’s the only kind of formal relationship the Chinese had in those days. He got angry…”

    As I understand it China always regarded Japan as a tributary, Japan never officially denied this relationship for trade sake. It was Hideyoshi who OFFICIALLY challenged this relationship.

  16. Bender said

    The invasion of Korea happened 400 years ago. There’s absolutely no need of denying that Hideyoshi was the ruler of Japan for the sake of looking “nicer”. It was a invasion initiated by the Japanese leader back then, period. Modern Japanese should not feel any remorse about the event. Have the Europeans felt really sorry about the crusade? The word “crusade” even has a positive tone to it in the English language. It’s really strange after all these years to make such a fuss over it- it’s just a excuse for the usual anti-Japan gasunuki.

  17. ampontan said

    Goku: Trade had been broken off and Hideyoshi was trying to restore it. He did not consider Japan to be in an inferior position, but was willing to overlook the Chinese position to get what he wanted. This from Kodansha’s encyclopedia.

    It also mentions that he had the Chinese response read to him, which would suggest he may have been illiterate.

    Bender: Perhaps the reason the Europeans don’t feel sorry about the Crusades is that the Muslims don’t feel sorry about occupying part of Spain, Sicily for a couple of hundred years, and sacking Rome *before* the Crusades. Indeed, they think those places still belong to them. But that’s for another website!

    And the idea that modern Japanese should feel bad about something that happened 400 years ago is just childish.

  18. bender said

    Ampontan:

    My information about Hideyoshi is based on Sanada Taiheiki, wirtten by the same author of Onihei Hankacho. It might be old. Well, these authors do base their writing on facts and my memory is not that reliable.

  19. Overthinker said

    Ieyasu also had to do some carful diplomatic manouevering to get back in China’s good books a few years later.

    Hideyoshi was talking of leaving Japan to his brother Hidenaga and invading China and Korea as early as 1586, after declairing grandly he would take ‘karakuni’ (China) and lands of the Southern Barbarians. He even asked the Jesuits for two fully-armed man-o’-war.

    After conquering Kyushu, Hideyoshi then demanded that Korea pay tribute (1587). A vassal of the Tsuhima Soo was sent to Korea to negotiate, but not surprisingly, Korea did not respond. After a few negotiations, Hideyoshi sent over some Wako pirates as prisoners, plus 160-odd Koreans they had captured, and in return the Koreans agreed to send an emissary. Hideyoshi’s idea of getting Korea to agree peacefully if possible were an extension of his Japan-based conquers. Hideyoshi also attempted to get tribute from Goa and Luzon, and Taiwan.

    Regarding the Imperial Letter, by the time it was written Hideyoshi had lost command of the seas to the Korean turtle ships, and was under pressure not to cross over anyway, so this may have been concocted as a way to save face. Here’s the letter, taken from p467 of the hardback Nihon no Rekishi 12 (Chuo Koron’s 1966 classic series):

    高麗国への下向、嶮路波濤をしのかれむ事無勿体候、発足遠慮可然候、勝を千里に決して、此度の事諸卒をつかはし候んも、可事足哉、且朝家のため且天下のため、かえすがえすも、おもひとまり給候はば、別而悦おほしめし候へく候、猶勅使にて可申候
    太閤とのへ

    My very VERY rough translation:
    “To the Taiko,
    The journey to the country of Korea is dangerous and the seas are rough, so departure should be refrained from, victory is decided by a thousand leagues (?), so this time, looking at all the facts, it does not begin to suffice (?), and for the court and for the realm, we repeat, that if we wish your fixation (?), separately, your thoughts should be joyful, we hereby declare through our messenger.”

    His mother was also ill, so he postponed departure.

  20. bender said

    Seems like Korea was underestimating Japan- and they still are underevaluating Japan’s might at the time. My understanding is that the Japanese generals were unenthusiastic, and when Hideyoshi died, they just left Korea. The joint Ming-Chosun forces tried to destroy the retreating Japanese, but they lost badly, resulting in the death of the Korean hero Yi-sunshin (I heard this last sea battle is way exaggerated in Korea). And the Japanese loss was quite insignificant- I’m not aware of any report that states that the daimyos were weakened by the campaign. The han of one of the greatest Japanese generals of the campaign became the cradle of the Meji Revolotion- Satsuma. It was the bickering among the Toyotomi generals during the Korean campaign that led to the demise of the Toyotomi regime, not that Toyotomi lost its grace and wealth. It stlll was great, and Ieyasu was desparate to destroy it.

  21. Overthinker said

    “It was the bickering among the Toyotomi generals during the Korean campaign that led to the demise of the Toyotomi regime”

    I don’t follow this. Ieyasu seemed pretty keen on attaining supreme power once Hideyoshi was gone, after all. There may have been some internal weakening of alliances, but it was still pretty robust by Sekigahara, and Ieyasu had some hard fighting to do in the Osaka Summer and Winter Campaigns to finally destroy them. Which sources discuss this issue?

    Several key daimyo were not entirely in favour: Ieyasu, Toshiie, Kenshin etc managed to remain in Japan rather than commit to going to Korea, and like much of Hideyoshi’s ambitions, the continental dream faded fast, with Ieyasu being far more concerned with internal security.

    The Shimazu opposed Ieyasu, as did the Mori, and both lost land after Sekigahara, and their role in Meiji is generally credited to their anti-Tokugawa stance rather than their power per se (though reduced, both were still pretty impressive). I don’t think the Korean thing really last long enough to have a long-term effect on han strength. Especially once Satsuma cornered the Ryukyu sugar market.

  22. bender said

    I don’t follow this. Ieyasu seemed pretty keen on attaining supreme power once Hideyoshi was gone, after all. There may have been some internal weakening of alliances, but it was still pretty robust by Sekigahara, and Ieyasu had some hard fighting to do in the Osaka Summer and Winter Campaigns to finally destroy them. Which sources discuss this issue?

    I’m surprised that you don’t follow. It’s more like public knowledge. Just look at what happened in Sekigahara!

    Ieyasu managed to split the Toyotomi daimyos in Seigahara- daimyos like Fukushima Masanori and Kato Kiyomasa sided Ieyasu instead of Ishida Mitsunari. Don’t you think that’s kind of awkward? If the Toyotomi daimyos were united, Ieyasu would have certainly lost- but there was animosity among the Toyotomi daimyos against Ishida Mitsunari that has its origins in the Korean campaign. Daimyos like Fukushima Masanori failed to see the whole picture- they had their absolute allegiance with the Toyotomi clan, but they couldn’t see that Ieyasu was the one to be dealt with, not Ishida. And you know what happened to these Toyotomi daimyos in the end… any jidai-shosetsu will discuss this….

  23. bender said

    I don’t think the Korean thing really last long enough to have a long-term effect on han strength. Especially once Satsuma cornered the Ryukyu sugar market.

    There was probably not that much loss incurred on part of the Japanese forces in the first place.

  24. Overthinker said

    Yes, I know there was some splitting of daimyo at Sekigahara, especially people like Kobayakawa, but the link between those switches and the involvement in the Korean Expeditions has not yet been made clear. It might be clear, but I’d need to look at an analysis of who switched sides, why, and their roles in the Korean Expeditions. And what importance should be placed on Ieyasu’s various negotiations, the fact that Hideyoshi was dead with only a young son a heir, and even the recent death of perhaps his most powerful general, Maeda Toshiie? There are all sorts of factors to consider, which is why if there is a link I would like it made clearer.

  25. pawikirogi said

    ‘japanese people shouldn’t feel remorse about this..’

    do your people ever feel remorse for anything they’ve done to others?

    all the japanese ever meant to koreans was trouble. that’s it. that’s why it’s so funny to see so many ignorant westerners thinking korea is some bastard child of china and japan. we all know who the real bastard is, don’t we, guys?

  26. ponta said

    ‘Japanese people shouldn’t feel remorse about this..’

    Neither should Japanese people be agitated by Korean ultra-nationalists/ethnocentrist.

    we all know who the real bastard is, don’t we, guys?

    I think we do, pawikirogi

  27. bender said

    we all know who the real bastard is, don’t we, guys?

    It must be the Koreans.

  28. […] This is funny, urban camouflage in Japan.  –  Just another example that cooperation between Japan and Korea is much greater than it appears.-  Unbelievable, the […]

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