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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Hideyoshi is a mean and ignoble looking man


fact which does not seem to have been sufficiently considered by annalists is that during the sixteenth century the taste for foreign adventure had grown largely in Japan. Many persons had gone abroad in quest of fortune and had found it. It is on record that emigrants from the province of Hizen had established themselves in considerable numbers in China, and that their success induced their feudal lord, Nabeshima, to seek the Central Government's permission for returning his province to the latter and taking, in lieu, the district near Ningpo, where his vassals had settled. Hideyoshi doubtless shared the general belief that in oversea countries Japanese enterprise could find many profitable opportunities, and it is easy to believe that the weakened condition of China towards the close of the Ming dynasty led him to form a not very flattering estimate of that country's power of resistance.

The conquest of Korea had not in itself any special temptation. He regarded the peninsula simply as a basis for an attack upon China, and he made it quite clear to the Korean sovereign that, if the latter suffered his territories to be converted into a stepping-stone for that purpose, friendship with Japan might be confidently anticipated. Korea, at that time, was under the sway of a single ruler, whose dynasty enjoyed the protection of the Chinese Court, and between the two sovereigns embassies were regularly exchanged. It has already been stated in these

pages that towards the middle of the fifteenth century Japanese settlers in Korea had been assigned three places of residence, but owing to the exactions suffered at the hands of the local authorities, these settlers had risen in revolt and had finally been expelled from Korea until the year 1572, when a concession was once more set apart for Japanese use at Fusan. No longer, however, were envoys sent from Korea to Japan, and evidence of the outrages committed from time to time by Japanese pirates is furnished by a decree of the Korean Government that a Japanese subject landing anywhere except at Fusan would be treated as a corsair.

Such were the existing conditions when, in 1587, Hideyoshi called upon the Korean monarch to explain the cessation of the old-time custom of exchanging envoys. To this the King of Korea replied that he would willingly renew the ancient relations provided that the Japanese authorities seized and handed over a number of Korean renegades, who had been acting as guides to Japanese pirates in descents on the Korean coast. This stipulation having been complied with, a Korean embassy was duly despatched by Kyoto, and after some delay its members were received by Hideyoshi in the hall of audience. What happened on this occasion is described in Korean annals, translated as follows by Mr. Aston*:

*Hideyoshi's Invasion of Korea, by Aston. "Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan," Vol. VI.

The ambassadors were allowed to enter the palace gate borne in their palanquins. They were preceded the whole way by a band of music. They ascended into the hall, where they performed their obeisances. Hideyoshi is a mean and ignoble-looking man; his complexion is dark, and his features are wanting in distinction. But his eyeballs send out fire in flashes--enough to pierce one through. He sat upon a threefold cushion with his face to the south. He wore a gauze hat and a dark-coloured robe of State. His officers were ranged round him, each in his proper place. When the ambassadors were introduced and had taken their seats, the refreshments offered them were of the most frugal description. A tray was set before each, on which was one dish containing steamed mochi (rice-cake), and sake of an inferior quality was handed round a few times in earthenware cups and in a very unceremonious way. The civility of drinking to one another was not observed.

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