01 Japanese History

#18 Pirates of the East

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In this Episode 18: The Pirates of the East, we will look at trades in East Asia around the 14th and 15th centuries.


In the 14th century, pirates known as “Wako“, became active. Using islands in Nagasaki as their bases, they smuggled goods in and out of Japan and attacked the Korean Peninsula and the coast of China.


At first, Wako was mainly Japanese, but later Chinese and Korean pirates became the main players. They were large armed forces and became pains in the neck to the Ming and Korean governments. In China, Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming Dynasty and asked Japan’s government to crack down on pirates.


Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third shogun of Muromachi Shogunate, suppressed the armed forces at the request of the Ming Dynasty. He then paid tribute to the Ming, was recognized as “King of Japan,” and began “Kango Trade” with the Ming.


“Kango” was a document given to Japanese ships by the Ming government as proof of their official status as trading vessels. Japanese trading ships would bring the left half of the document and check it against the right half held by Ming officials. This eliminated pirate smuggling ships.


Japan imported copper coins, raw silk, ceramics, and ink paintings from Ming China. Copper, sulfur, and swords were also exported from Japan. The Muromachi Shogunate and merchants in Sakai and Hakata profited enormously from the Ming-Japanese trade.


On the Korean peninsula, Lee Seong-Gae founded the Joseon Dynasty at the end of the 14th century. In Joseon, culture developed, including the creation of the Hangul alphabet.


Trade between Japan and Joseon also flourished. The So clan of Tsushima was given special status by the Joseon government and monopolized trade.


As the exchange between the countries increased, pirate activity decreased and the waters of East Asia became stable. But in the second half of the 15th century, Japanese politics went into chaos with the 11-year-long Onin War in Kyoto. With no trade between Japan and Ming Dynasty China, East Asian pirates regained power, and peace on the seas was lost.


Thank you for reading.

Let's learn about wonderful history and culture of Japan together!  全国通訳案内士(英語) 英検1級

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