The Imjin war


Imjin war broke out when Battle-trained Japanese under control of Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Korean medieval state, Joseon dynasty from 1592 to 1598. This war is called Imjinwaeran in Korea, though the first invasion is known as Imjinwaeran and second invasion as Jeongyujaeran. This is known as Bunroku Geichono yaku(文禄・慶長の役) in Japan and Rénchén Wōluàn (壬辰倭亂) in China.

In 1392, Korean medieval state, Joseon dynasty established in Korean peninsula and they kept diplomatic relationship with Japan. Two countries exchanged envoy visits for 200 years and enjoyed peace. The circumstance changed shortly after Toyotomi Hideyoshi succeeded his former lord, Oda Nobunaga. After unification, Toyotomi thought the chance to invade China had come to him. His ambition was to be the first Japanese ruler who conquered China. Furthermore, he worried about the possibility that his subordinate daimyos would rebel against him.

According to Jingbirok, Memory of disastrous war, Joseon government speculated the possibility of Japanese invasion and prepared for the war since two envoys came back from Japan in 1590. They appointed three provincial governors and dispatched them in southern provinces of Korean peninsula. The governors prepared armory and built castles. Especially, many castles were built or rebuilt in Gyeongsangdo during this time. New barracks were also built in this province.

To settle defense plans, Joseon government appointed new naval commanders of southern provinces' fleet. In February 1591, Yi Sun-shin was appointed as Jeollajwado Sugunjeoldosa, commander-in-chief Jeolla province's western fleet and Yi Eok-gi was appointed as Jellawudo Sugunjeoldosa, commander-in-chief Jeolla province's eastern fleet. In early 1592, Won gyun was appointed as commander-in-chief Gyeongsangdo province's eastern fleet. These commanders prepared for the war in their local seas. Jeollado province' commander, Yi Sun-shin perfectly prepared to defend his domain sea. A lot of amount of armory, ammunition, gun powder, foods were reserved under control of him. New warships, including 3 Geobukseon were also built.

On April 13, 1592 the Imjin war broke out. Japanese army arrived at Korean peninsula. Japanese invaded Joseon dynasty. Battle-hardened Japanese army defeated Joseon's armies by matchlock at every battle. Joseon army also used firearms, but they mainly fought Japanese soldiers hand to hand by sword, knife and bow.

When King Seonjo was told the invasion of numerous Japanese army and Koreans' defeats, he dispatched his most trusted general, Sin Rip to defend Japanese invasion. General Sin Rip was famous for his campaigns against Manchu in the northern border of Joseon dynasty. General, Sin Rip confronted Gonishi Yukinaga's army, which led the van at the Tanguemdae, Chungju, but his cavalry could not defeat Japanese. No one could halt the Japanese army's march to the Hanyang, capital of Joseon dynasty after this battle. On April 30, King Seonjo retreated to Northwest, and Japanese seized Hanyang after 2 days. Japanese marched to the north and reached the northernmost boarder of Joseon dynasty in June. Therefore, King Seonjo asked aids to the Ming dynasty.

The situation at sea was obviously different. Combined Joseon fleet defeated Japanese navy continuously. They could win because Joseon fleet was consists of well-trained navy and sailors and Joseon warships were well equipped with medium-and long- range guns. Furthermore, they had outstanding commander, Admiral Yi.

After Admiral Yi's fleet decisively defeated Japanese in the Battle of Hansando on July 8, Japanese had to change their war strategy. Their strategy was to deliver more Japanese land forces and foods through seas to northern part of Korean peninsula and then they would march to Ming dynasty's territory. By failure of this strategy, Japanese troops which seized north provinces of Joseon had to suffer from starving and shortage of supplies. To invade China, they needed to secure war supplying routes. Japanese tried to deliver Japanese land forces and foods through roads, but this was blocked by Uibyeong. Uibyeong is literally translated as righteous army. A lot of civil army and Buddhist monk army voluntarily were formed and attacked Japanese troops.

Reinforced Joseon army also blocked the march of Japanese. In October, 1592, General Kim Si-min triumphed over 20,000 Japanese at the battle of Jinju. General Gwon-yul also triumphed at the battle of Haengju. Sine the end of 1592, Ming dynasty's Army started to participate in the imjin war. Combined army of Ming and Joseon retook the Pyongyang castle that was seized by Japanese.

Japanese was defeated by Joseon navy, reinforced and combined Ming-Joseon army. In 1593, Japanese asked for a truce, but this couldn’t last forever. Japanese invaded joseon again in 1597. Admiral Yi’s fleet secured south sea till the end of Imjin war and Joseon could protect their land from Japanese invasion. On August 18, 1598, Toyotomi Hideyoshi died, but his councilors kept his death as secret. After several months, this came to light and Japanese councilors ordered retreat of their troops in Joseon. On November 19, 1598, Yi’s fleet attacked Japanese fleet was on their return to mother land, almost 200 Japanese warships were sunken and it became Yi’s final battle, the Battle of Noyrang. After few days, all Japanese troops withdrew from Busan and the disastrous Imjin war ended.

In 1593, Japanese asked for a truce, because they reached the impasse. Although Joseon government opposed to truce with Japanese, Ming government had truce negotiations with Toyotomi Hideyoshi government. But, they couldn't reach an agreement. In January 14, 1597, Japanese reinforced the army and invaded Joseon again.

At that time, King Seonjo deprived of Admiral Yi's rank as Commander-in-Chief, because he became entangled in domestic political strife. King seonjo appointed Won gyun instead of Admiral Yi. Won gyun's Joseon navy decisively was defeated over Japanese at the battle of Chilcheonryang in July and Won gyun died after this battle. After defeat of Won gyun's Joseon navy, Japanese attacked Jeollado province and seized Nawon castle in August and King Seonjo reappointed Yi Sun-shin as Commander-in-Chief. Admiral Yi prepared battle against Japanese navy after he took over the 12 battleships which a naval officer, Bae-seo retreated with him in the middle of battle of Chilcheonryang. Although the King, seonjo ordered to combine Admiral Yi's navy with army, Admiral Yi sent report to king. In this report he wrote his famous quote, "Your highness, I still have twelve battleships". Admiral Yi continuously moved naval base to the west and west to find the best place to defeat Japanese again.

On September 16, 1598, Admiral Yi confronted Japanese fleet in front of naval base, present-day Haenamgun. He stationed in this sea, because he knew Japanese warships had to sail into the Uldolmok, sea between Jindo and hwawon peninsula, it is narrow sea which lowest sea level is about 1.9m and flow speed is 11.5 note. Although Admiral Yi's fleet was consist of only 13 warships, he defeated 133 Japanese warships which passed Uldolmok at the battle of Myeongryang. By victory at this battle, the situation reversed dramatically.

On August 18, 1598, Toyotomi Hideyoshi died, but his councilors kept his death as secret. After several months, this came to light and Japanese councilors ordered retreat of their troops in Joseon. On November 19, 1598, Admiral Yi's fleet attacked Japanese fleet was on their return to mother land, almost 200 Japanese warships were sunken and it became Yi's final battle, the Battle of Noyrang. After few days, all Japanese troops withdrew from Busan and the disastrous Imjin war ended.

The result of this war impacted three countries in East Asia, Joseon dynasty, Ming dynasty and Azuchi-Momoyama period Japan. Joseon’s lands were devastated by 7 years war and a lot of national treasures were destroyed or plundered by Japanese. Although, it took many years to rebuild country, Joseon dynasty lasted for about 300 years.

On the contrary of Joseon, Ming dynasty began to disintegrate and Toyotomi’s government was replaced. Ming was suffered from economic decline and rebels against its government, and it was collapsed by Manchus in 1644. Manchu established China’s last absolute monarchy state, Cheong.

Toyotomi’s successor, Tokugawa Ieyasu moved capital to Edo, present-day Tokyo and Edo period started. Tokugawa proposed reestablishing diplomatic relations with Joseon in 1607. Two countries exchanged envoy till Meiji Restoration took place. Joseon dispatched diplomatic mission, which called as Tongsinsa. Tongsinsa was consists of about 500 people, including diplomats, painter, potter and doctors. Japanese could learn Joseon’s technology by this diplomatic mission. Especially, Joseon’s potters have had a strong influence on Japanese ceramic arts.


1. Show
* Immortal Yi Sun-shin(2004), KBS, Korea Broadcasting System

2. Books
* Jingbirok, Memory of disastrous war, Yu Seong-yong, Kim Hong sik(2003)
* Naval history of Imjinwar, Lee min-woong(2004)
* Nanjungilgi, War diary of Admiral Yi Sun-shin , Roh Seung-seok(2005)
* 50 Military leaders who changed the world, William Weir(2007)

* Korean Naval academy :
* Hyeonchungsa:
* Geobukseon :