Japanese attempts to establish relations with Korea

Japanese attempts to establish relations with Korea

Meiji Era

Japanese attempts to establish relations with Korea
Japanese attempts to establish relations with Korea ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1867 Jan 1

Japanese attempts to establish relations with Korea


During the Edo period Japan's relationship and trade with Korea were conducted through intermediaries with the Sō family in Tsushima, A Japanese outpost, called the waegwan, was allowed to be maintained in Tongnae near Pusan. The traders were confined to the outpost and no Japanese were allowed to travel to the Korean capital at Seoul. The bureau of foreign affairs wanted to change these arrangements to one based on modern state-to-state relations. In late 1868, a member of the Sō daimyō informed the Korean authorities that a new government had been established and an envoy would be sent from Japan.

In 1869 the envoy from the Meiji government arrived in Korea carrying a letter requesting to establish a goodwill mission between the two countries; the letter contained the seal of the Meiji government rather than the seals authorized by the Korean Court for the Sō family to use. It also used the character ko (皇) rather than taikun (大君) to refer to the Japanese emperor. The Koreans only used this character to refer to the Chinese emperor and to the Koreans it implied ceremonial superiority to the Korean monarch which would make the Korean monarch a vassal or subject of the Japanese ruler. The Japanese were however just reacting to their domestic political situation where the Shōgun had been replaced by the emperor. The Koreans remained in the sinocentric world where China was at the centre of interstate relations and as a result refused to receive the envoy.

Unable to force the Koreans into accepting a new set of diplomatic symbols and practices, the Japanese began to change them unilaterally. To an extent, this was a consequence from the abolition of the domains in August 1871, whereby it meant that was simply no longer possible for the Sō family of Tsushima to act as intermediaries with the Koreans. Another, equally important factor was the appointment of Soejima Taneomi as the new minister of foreign affairs, who had briefly studied law at Nagasaki with Guido Verbeck. Soejima was familiar with international law and pursued a strong forward policy in East Asia, where he used the new international rules in his dealings with the Chinese and the Koreans and with the Westerners. During his tenure, the Japanese slowly began to transform the traditional framework of relations managed by the Tsushima domain into the foundation for the opening of trade and the establishment of "normal" interstate, diplomatic relations with Korea.

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