The Imjin War of 1592 and 1597
The Japanese Invasions of Korea or the Imjin war is separated into two linked operations: the first one that happened in 1592, and the second invasion in 1597. This conflict ended in 1598 when the Japanese forces withdrew from Korea. This was after a military stalemate with the Korean troops in the southern coastal provinces.
These invasions had several names; they are mostly known as Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea, while some call this the Seven Years War, referring to how long the conflict lasted.
In Korea, the first invasion is called the Japanese Disturbance of Imjin. The second invasion is referred to as the Second War of Jeong-yu. All in all, these are called the Imjin War.
As for the Chinese, they called this the Wanli Korean Campaign. After the reign of the Chinese Emperor, they referred to the invasion as the Renchen War to Defend the Nation. In Chinese reading, Imjin is Renchen. In Japanese, the first war is called the Bunroku no Eki and the second one is Keicho no Eki.
Great Ambitions, The Period Prior to the Seven Years War
In 1577, Toyotomi Hideyoshi wrote his ambitions of conquering China. During this time, he was only one of the generals of Oda Nobunaga.
Japan was still in a state of suffering due to the Sengoku Period, a time of chaos and civil wars among various domains. This lasted for about a century.
The defeat of the Hojo Clan in 1590 finally united Japan for the second time. During this period, Hideyoshi started preparing for the war.
In March 1591, the Kyushu Daimyo, along with their labor forces, built a castle in the modern-day Karatsu. The area became the base for the movement of invasion forces. Hideyoshi prepared for a possible war with Korea even before completely uniting Japan as he prepared on a lot of fronts.
Hideyoshi’s Military Preparations – A Time for more Conquests
In 1591, Hideyoshi first sent envoys to the court of Joseon Dynasty’s King Seonjo. Through the envoys, he requested permission to send a Japanese Army through Korea to ambush China.
However, the king declined the request since Korea had been a tributary nation of Ming China. During this time, Korea’s relations with the warring states of Japan had greatly weakened due to the ceaseless attacks of the Japanese pirates along the coast of the Korean Peninsula.
King Seonjo ordered his own embassies to go to Japan and learned of Hideyoshi’s intentions. The ambassadors returned with clashing reports; however, Seonjo chose to believe in the ambassadors who reported that Japan would not attack. With that, he did not do any military preparations.
However, Hideyoshi was gathering an army of more than 200,000 troops. This army was mostly composed of Samurai, mounted soldiers, and the Ashigaru, who were all under the command of a powerful Daimyo from Japan’s major domains. There were also conscripted troops who came from the common classes.
Additionally, the Japanese workers formed a huge naval base on the west of Kyushu, across the Tsushima Strait from Korea. The naval force that would send this large army across the strait consisted of requisitioned pirate boats and men-of-war. They were also reinforced with a total of 9,000 sailors.
The 1592’s Great Invasion – Attack on Korea & China
With the 1592 invasion, Hideyoshi had the intention to seize Korea and China. The Japanese were able to immediately succeed in occupying the Korean Peninsula.
The Japanese continued to occupy the regions in the southeast including Hanseong. However, the combined Ming and Joseon armies, as well as the forces from Pyongyang and Northern provinces, outnumbered the Japanese. This led to the withdrawal of Japan’s army and a military stalemate.
In the aftermath, the guerrilla warfare waged against the Japanese with the civilian militias of Joseon. The difficulty in supply challenged both forces.
None of the Japanese nor the combined troops of the Korean and the Chinese manage to conquer new territory or have a successful attack. This resulted in a military stalemate between the regions of Hanseong and Kaesong.
The 1592 invasion lasted until 1596 and after this, peace negotiations happened between Japan and the Chinese between 1596 and 1597.
The Second Round of Hideyoshi’s Invasion
On the 27th of August, the Japanese invaded Korea for the second time. Hideyoshi ordered an armada of 1000 ships that had 100,000 men to reinforce those who were in Busan.
The goal of this invasion was to simply occupy Korea instead of conquering China. However, the Korean army was able to prepare at this point, which was a disadvantage to the Japanese.
The second phase of the Imjin War started with a novelty. At the Battle of Chilcheollyang, the Japanese navy won against the Korean navy.
The battle destroyed thirteen of the Korean ships. This defeat was large because King Seonjo ousted Admiral Yi Sun-shin from his position and imprisoned him. However, the king immediately pardoned Admiral Yi, which made the latter reclaim his position.
The second invasion was very similar to the previous one. The Japanese primarily had initial successes on the island but the joint forces of the Ming and Joseon were able to successfully disrupt the supply fleets of the Japanese. This ended up with the Japanese forces withdrawing towards the peninsula’s coastal areas.
However, the Chinese and Koreans also failed to force the Japanese out of their stronghold in the southern coastal regions. This period resulted in ten months of military stalemate for both sides.
The Fall of a Great Warlord
When Hideyoshi passed away in September 1598, the Council of Five Elders commanded the Japanese forces in Korea to withdraw and return to their base in Japan. Finally, peace negotiations between the two sides followed. This lasted for several years which resulted in an order in their relations.
The Council of Five Elders
This was a group of five high-ranking Daimyo formed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi shortly before he died in the same year.
When Hideyoshi died, his son, Hideyori, was only 5 years of age. With that, he saw the need to form a council to ensure that despite his absence, his heir would be able to rule the nation successfully at his coming of age.
The Council of Five Elders also acted as mentors for the Five Commissioners – another group formed by Hideyoshi to lead Kyoto and the areas surrounding the prefecture.
Effects of the Invasions
Due to the Japanese invasions, the Joseon forces lost a large percentage of its military strength and great financial difficulties followed. A large number of the civilian population were also lost due to warfare and famine. Aside from human losses, Korea suffered from damages in their culture, economy, as well as infrastructure.
These included reduced arable land, loss of artisans & technicians, as well as the confiscation & destruction of significant artifacts, artworks, and historical documents.
During this period, the main royal palaces of Korea which included the Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, and the Gyeongbokgung were all burned down by Korean natives. Deoksugung was used as a temporary palace.
In a lot of instances, the destruction of palaces and government offices were done due to conflicts among different classes and internal divisions.
The Baekjeong or the lower social rank of the Korean natives usually welcomed the army of the Japanese as liberation forces. The natives took advantage of the absence of internal security that came along with the invasions.
After these invasions, China faced an enormous financial burden. Along with that, there were also two other wars in the south. These negatively affected China’s military capabilities and partly contributed to the eventual decline of the Ming Dynasty.
The rise of the Qing Dynasty followed this incident. However, the Qing Dynasty continued and maintained Sinocentric tributary system of the Ming Dynasty.
Ultimately, the conflict resulted in the reestablishment between all the three parties. Then, trade and the normalization of relations took place.
Vital Weapons of the Seven Years War
Since the Portuguese traders introduced the arquebus on the island of Tanegashima in 1543, this became widely utilized by the Japanese.
As for the Koreans and the Chinese, they were also introduced to firearms that were similar to the arquebus. The Korean soldiers equipped small firearms such as the handgun. This featured a simple mechanism.
The Japanese diplomats presented the arquebus as gifts to the Korean court. Yu Seong-ryong, the Korean scholar-official supported the use of the new weapon; however, the court failed to recognize its efficiency.
The Japanese, in contrast, often made use of the arquebus with archery.
The Chinese utilized a wide range of weapons. These included swords, bows, firearms, early hand grenades, and landmines. They also showed massive utilization of the rocket-propelled arrows that were used in January 1593 during the Siege of Pyongyang.
For siege attacks, the Chinese used rattan shields and large iron shields which were musket-proof.
The Japanese who utilized Samurai swords, spears, and muskets successfully defeated the successive Korean forces. The muskets were highly advantageous in terms of penetration. However, these did not have the range, accuracy, and fire rate of the Korean bows.