October 30, 2021

Conference Panel: Material Culture of the Imjin War

Members of the Aftermath project will be presenting papers on 31th October at the Association of Korean Studies in Europe Conference, in La Rochelle University, France, and online.

The panel, “Material Culture of the Imjin War”, features the following speakers:

Rebekah Clements, Professor, ICREA & Autonomous University of Barcelona (Aftermath director), “Hideyoshi’s Imjin War Trophies: Noses, Tigers, and Falcons.”

This paper examines trophy-taking by Japanese troops during the Imjin War. Modern scholarship on trophy-taking in wartime has focused on the collection of human body parts, and we see this variety of trophy during the Imjin War. Severed noses and heads of combatants and non-combatants alike were amassed on a grand scale by Japanese troops; these were then tallied, salted, and sent to Japan to be displayed before the hegemon Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It is well known that many of these body parts were later buried in euphemistically named “ear mounds.” The decollation of heads had been a feature of Japanese warfare in the centuries prior to the invasions of Chosŏn Korea; however, many questions about the Imjin War trophies remain. In particular, it is necessary to consider the meaning of collecting body parts in Korea within the broader context of medieval Japanese warfare and the cultural practices of Japanese warrior society. This paper argues that, in addition to the obvious role nose cropping and head decollation played in quantifying success in battle, during Hideyoshi’s invasions the practice should also be understood as a clear assertion of territorial control. Several historical phenomena are key to understanding this dynamic, however due to time limits this presentation will focus on one: the symbolic meanings of hunting in Japanese warrior society.

In addition to human body parts, hunted animal bodies played a key semiotic role during the war. In the winter of 1591, prior to launching the first invasion, Hideyoshi went on a month-long falconry expedition of an unprecedentedly large scale, working with hundreds of bird handlers and capturing thousands of wildfowl. He had a victory parade organized for him in Kyoto in front of the emperor to celebrate his return and display the birds captured during the hunt. Throughout Japanese history, hunting had been a means of demonstrating control over the territory in which the hunt took place, and Hideyoshi’s falconry expedition was clearly a deliberate foreshadowing of the territorial control and military success he intended to achieve during the Korea campaign. Extant records show that Hideyoshi’s generals hunted tigers and leopards in Chosŏn, as well as wildfowl. The meat and other body parts resulting from their expeditions were preserved and sent to Hideyoshi, not unlike the better-known example of captured human body parts. The exchange of raptors was likewise a key component in the bonds of fealty that structured warrior society in Japan, and there is evidence that highly prized Korean falcons were captured and sent as gifts for Hideyoshi, or for him to pass on to other high-ranking warriors. This parallels the practice of sending certain types of prisoners, namely those who had valuable cultural skills, to Japan to serve in warrior households. The taking of human trophies – dead or alive – during the Imjin War can thus be understood in part by reference to hunting as a symbol of territorial control and success in battle.

Kizakki Braddick, PhD Candidate, Univesity of Oxford. ” Hizen Nagoya-jō and the Korean Invasions: the Material Culture of Hideyoshi’s Other Grand Castle.”

This paper explores Japanese military preparations for the Imjin War and in particular the building of Hizen Nagoya Castle; the launch site for the invasion. This castle was crucial to Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s grand strategy as it was the command headquarters for his army, the logistical base for supplies, and the departure point for his ships. Drawing on a wide variety of written and archaeological primary sources, this paper examines when, where, how, and why the castle was built, thereby exposing some of the myths surrounding its construction.

Having spent the previous decade uniting the country and reshaping it through political, economic, cultural, and diplomatic means, in 1592, Hideyoshi was ready to add the final piece to his grand strategy jigsaw by conquering the continent. This would involve the massing of a huge army, a vast fleet, prodigious resources, and the development of new infrastructure. Hizen Nagoya Castle, in the northern part of Eastern Matsuura (Saga Prefecture), was a major cog in this military machine. Although, at 200,000m2 somewhat smaller than Osaka Castle, it was also protected by high stone walls and a wide moat. Hizen Nagoya featured a five storey castle keep with gold leaf roof tiles, as well as numerous two-storey watchtowers. There were five main entrances into the castle; most were double gates enabling defenders to fire directly onto attackers. Many routes to the inner citadel necessitated passing through at least three chokepoints.

Much of this structure was built by men provided by the Shimazu and other Kyushu daimyo, although daimyo from the Kinai and further east were in charge of the more skilled work. Many later castles did not match the standards of Hizen Nagoya. In part because it represented a rare combination of medieval craftsmanship with early modern technological advances and also sufficient resources to realise Hideyoshi’s ideals. In addition, the castle proper was surrounded by over 130 daimyo encampments, as well as a thriving town of traders, artisans, and entertainers. At its peak, Hizen Nagoya may have boasted over 300,000 inhabitants, making it second only to Osaka as a population centre.

That Hideyoshi decided to build such a large new castle, as well as a number of smaller ones (including those on the islands of Iki and Tsushima), to support the invasion of the mainland shows how seriously he initially took the enterprise. Though the grandeur of Hizen Nagoya doubtless also reflected a craving for prestige and an ostentatious show of power for both a domestic and an international audience. This castle was operational for just seven years and never faced the ultimate test. Moreover, Hideyoshi only spent a total of 12 months there, and never returned after 1593, thus reflecting a waning commitment to his grand strategy. Yet, it served well as a military, naval, and logistical base, and also performed significant political, diplomatic, economic, and even cultural functions.

Barend Noordam, Postdoctoral researcher, Autonomous University of Barcelona (Aftermath postdoctoral researcher), “Beyond the Harquebus: The Transfer of “Obsolete” Chinese Military Artifacts to Chosŏn.”

In the wake of the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592, the Chosŏn court started soliciting Chinese military assistance. This aid, in the shape of military units, successfully helped stem the Japanese advance. The Korean ground forces were initially not able to stand up to their Japanese adversaries and, for this reason, the Korean king and some of his officials started a process of appropriation of Chinese military artifacts. In terms of materiality, this appropriation manifested itself in the diffusion of Chinese military manuals and weapons into Korea. Modern scholars have so far mostly focused on the transfer of the harquebus and the training manuals of Ming general Qi Jiguang (1528-1588). Japanese forces demonstrated the great utility of the harquebus on the Korean battlefields, while Chinese troops drilled according to Qi’s regimen also performed well, explaining their attraction for the Koreans. This focus on the harquebus and Qi Jiguang’s manuals has however obscured the transfer of other Chinese military artifacts. In this paper I will look at the reception of Chinese indigenous firearms and military manuals describing their use in Korea, in lieu of the usual scholarly focus on the reception of the harquebus.

One of the reasons for the bias towards the harquebus is the fact that the adoption of the harquebus and Qi’s sophisticated training manuals mirrored contemporaneous developments in Europe. They serve as evidence validating a revisionist historical trend, which aims to nuance world historical metanarratives predicating early modern European military superiority by pointing to (preceding) East Asian developments of a similar nature. However, by relying on examples confirming the broad conformism of East Asian developments to an emblematic model of military development based on European experiences, the Eurocentric model is reified. This implicit bias of modern scholars has led to a neglect of Chinese military artifacts transferred to Korea which do not fit the Eurocentric developmental blueprint often still implicitly adhered to by revisionist scholars.

One of the artefacts I will highlight in this paper is the so-called “three-eyed gun”, a handheld firearm which featured three barrels welded together. Unlike the harquebus, it did not have a complicated matchlock mechanism and stock facilitating aimed firing. Yet, the three-eyed gun was never entirely replaced by the harquebus in Chinese service, because it was used against fast nomadic enemies on the northern frontier against whom rate of fire was possibly more important than accuracy. Similar to China, Korea also faced mobile mounted enemies on its northern frontier, in theory providing a fertile ground for the reception of this handgun. Against this backdrop, this paper will analyse the transfer and reception of the three-eyed gun in Korean service, as well as the circulation of Chinese military manuals describing the use of this weapon and other similar handguns against mounted opponents.

Seung Yeon Sang, Visiting Researcher, Autonomous University of Barcelona (Aftermath guest curator), “The Diffusion of Ceramic Technology from Korea to Japan and the Impact of the Imjin War (1592-1598).”

Although well known, the importation of Korean ceramic technology to Japan after the Imjin War (1592-1598) has generally escaped close examination despite its enduring impact and significance. The mass transfer of Korean potters with advanced ceramics technology resulted in flourishing ceramic industries in Kyushu and brought out new types of ceramics. Major centers of ceramic production in the province of Hizen (modern Saga and Nagasaki prefectures) include the Arita/Imari porcelain and Karatsu stoneware production regions. The transplanted potters not only utilized Korean technology but also adjusted to their new environments and adopted new trends. To gain greater understanding of the historical context of major ceramic industries founded by Korean immigrant potters, it is essential to investigate the story of their arrival and settlement in Japan – whether these Korean potters willingly left for Japan or came as captives, and the attraction of their generous employment in Japan. Although the invasion was not launched with the purpose of capturing Korean potters, the importation of Korean pottery technology and ceramic artisans was a byproduct of the war. It was no coincidence that the daimyo warlords who established Korean potters in their domains all had deep connections with chanoyu (the tea ceremony) and knew how beneficial it would be to bring back potters from Korea to begin ceramic production. However, questions remain: why did the daimyo take pains to import Korean potters instead of bringing potters from other parts of Japan? And why did captured Korean potters not return to Korea (when they had an opportunity to apply for repatriation) but settled in Japan? Historical evidence suggests that the transplanted Korean potters worked as a valued ceramics artisan under the patronage of powerful daimyo whereas their status in Korea was quite low. Subsequently, these daimyo warlords established lasting ceramic workshops that greatly contributed to their domains’ finances.

In order to better understand the impact of the Imjin War, this paper will examine the distribution and consumption of the output of the Hizen stoneware kilns. I will touch upon the following questions: what was the nature and scope of export porcelain vs. domestic stoneware production in Kyushu? how were different elements of Korean technology introduced to Kyushu kilns for porcelain and stoneware production? The fact that these kilns significantly contributed to their domain’s economy was reason enough for the daimyo warlords to strictly control ceramic production and exploit the full potential of the ceramic trade. By the mid-seventeenth century, these ceramic manufacturers in Kyushu established themselves as important sources for high-class tea ware as well as tableware items.

The conference program may be downloaded, here.