Story of Japan - R. Van Bergen

Second Invasion of Korea

I Have told you before how the rich and powerful Buddhist monks opposed Nobunaga. To curtail their influence, Nobunaga showed much favor to the Portuguese missionaries, and the greater part of the island of Kiushiu was converted to Christianity. The missionaries also succeeded on the island of Hondo, and one of the most favored captains of Hideyoshi was a Christian. The Lord of the Golden Water Gourds was indifferent. He did not care whether a Japanese was a Christian or a Buddhist, so long as he obeyed the laws as laid down by him. But now that Japan was pacified, the question arose as to what to do with the large number of soldiers whom his successes had brought to his standard.

These soldiers were samurai, or knights. To them it seemed the greatest disgrace to learn a trade or to earn a living. They were willing to defend their country or their lord, but they demanded to be supported in time of peace, without being compelled to do any work, except to practice with their arms. The country, however, was now too poor to support such a number of men in idleness. Besides this, these samurai were fond of fighting. For some time Hideyoshi kept them quiet by introducing a ceremonious tea drinking, the rules of which were very complicated and caused much study. But he knew that he must give them more serious work, or he would have to face awkward troubles at home.

Midieval castle


While considering this question, the thought occurred to him to occupy his troops with the conquest of China. He did not for a moment doubt that they could accomplish it. American boys sometimes use the expression, "It is as easy as falling off a log." Hideyoshi thought the same thing when he said, "It is as easy as rolling up a mat and carrying it off under the arm." When he finally made up his mind, it was decided that Korea should first be captured.

Hideyoshi could not very well assume the title of regent, for that would have offended the whole of the Japanese nobility; but he secured the office of prime minister, which gave him more power than any regent had ever possessed. He could declare war without consulting anybody. Soon it was speedily known that an expedition against Korea was to be made.

When the poor Koreans heard what was in store for them, they did not like it at all. Between the Chinese on one side, and the Japanese on the other, they had a hard time of it. The Chinese had forbidden them to send tribute to Japan, and so they had not sent any for almost a hundred years. This was all very well so long as the Ashikaga regents pretended to rule Japan; but now that there was a man at the head of the government who knew how to make himself obeyed, the Koreans sent several embassies to settle the dispute in a peaceable manner.

But Hideyoshi did not want peace. He had determined to conquer China, and nothing less than that would do. Besides this, he firmly believed that the Japanese had conquered Korea under Empress Jingu, and that it really belonged to Japan. Preparations were therefore made to send a strong army so that this conquest would not occupy too much time, and so that China's turn might come as soon as possible. This took place near the close of the sixteenth century.

Invasion of Korea


But who should command this expedition? Hideyoshi was too well acquainted with the history of Japan to trust one general, who after being successful might declare himself independent; then it would be more difficult to punish him than to conquer the peninsula. To go himself would be exceedingly dangerous, since his absence from Japan might lead to the rebellion of the nobles, who were not over fond of him. At last he decided to divide the expedition into two armies, to be commanded by two of his best officers, who were not only rivals, but hated each other; so that one would act as a check upon the other.

It may be that the introduction of the system of official spies dates from this time. It is a very curious custom, and shows the distrust the samurai have toward each other. It is well worth reading about, and will be explained more fully in another chapter.

When a large fleet had been assembled, Hideyoshi appointed to the command of one army, one of his captains who had become a Christian; whereas the general in charge of the other army hated all the Christians, and especially his rival. Now you might think that these two armies would not be apt to work very well together, and so it proved. At first they carried everything before them. The Koreans were defeated, and Sol (sowl), the capital, was taken. The Japanese acted very brutally wherever they went. But war is always conducted with more or less cruelty, and in those days soldiers thought it their duty to shed as much blood as they could. The king of Korea left his capital and withdrew to Ping-yang on the Tatung (tah-tongue)  River, the same place where the Japanese defeated the Chinese in September, 1894. But here also he was followed by his enemy, and. it looked for some time as if Korea would really become a province of Japan. Meanwhile the two Japanese armies acted independently, and the king of Korea sent an embassy to the emperor of China, asking for immediate assistance.

The ruler of this great empire was very well aware that if the Japanese succeeded in conquering Korea, he would have brave and ambitious neighbors who would give him no rest. So he decided at once to help the Koreans. To gain time, he first sent officers to the Japanese to order them to get out of the peninsula on threat of punishment from their master. The Japanese only laughed, and they made it very uncomfortable for these officers. But the emperor of China was now thoroughly alarmed, and, collecting a powerful army, sent it into Korea.

If the two Japanese generals had acted in harmony, there is no doubt that they would have defeated the Chinese. But they did not even help each other, and the consequence was that one army was defeated, and the other was besieged in the capital. The name Japanese had now grown so detested in Korea that the usually gentle people would attack and kill any single Japanese, and it was dangerous for the samurai to walk in the streets, unguarded. At last the Japanese were compelled to treat for peace, and the only trophy which Hideyoshi's troops brought from China was a ghastly heap of ten thousand ears, cut off from the heads of Koreans. A mound was built over them in the form of five tiers, and is still shown in Kyoto as a token of Japanese courage.

Korea has never recovered from this Japanese invasion. Cities and fields were laid waste, and while the Japanese are said to have lost a hundred thousand men, the loss of Korean lives must have been much greater.

When the remnant of Hideyoshi's army returned to Japan, they brought with them a number of skilled Korean workmen, who instructed the Japanese in new and better ways of making porcelain and what is known as Satsuma (sat-soo-mah)  ware. That was all the benefit they derived from their expensive expedition.

Chinese ambassadors had arrived in Kyoto, and handed to Hideyoshi a letter in which their emperor offered to make him king of Japan. But the Lord of the Golden Water Gourds was not like the Ashikaga regents. He was furious, tore up the letter, and plainly told the messengers that Japan was an independent country concerning which the Chinese emperor had nothing to say. He would no longer listen to them, but sent them away in disgrace.

Now, though this war was begun and maintained by Hideyoshi, still he had officially retired from public life before the expedition had left, and had been succeeded by his baby son Hideyori (hid-ee-yoh-ree). But so it had been for years in Japan. As soon as a good, strong man was established as the real head of the government, he would resign in favor of some puppet, and from his retirement would wield more power than ever before. Hideyoshi died seven years after he had resigned. He is best known among Japanese boys and girls by the name of Taiko Sama (ti-koh sah-mah), or My Lord Taiko, a name assumed by him when his son became prime minister.