Nagasaki: Historical Ship’s Arrival May Help Japan-ROK Ties

Courtesy of the National Research Institute of Maritime Cultural Heritage
A full-scale re-creation of a Joseon Tongsinsa ship sails off Mokpo, South Korea, after its launching ceremony in October 2018.

TSUSHIMA, Nagasaki — A full-scale re-creation of a Joseon Tongsinsa ship, which originally carried emissaries from the Korean Peninsula to and from Japan during the Edo period (1603-1867), is scheduled to dock at a port on Tsushima Island, Nagasaki Prefecture, in August for the first time.

The ship was initially supposed to arrive at the port in the summer of 2019 but was canceled due to the deteriorating relationship between Japan and South Korea. Residents of Tsushima hope that the boat’s arrival will strengthen ties between the two countries after overcoming rough waters.

The Joseon Tongsinsa, or Chosen Tsushinshi in Japanese, were diplomatic missions dispatched to Japan by the Joseon Dynasty, which lasted on the Korean Peninsula for about 500 years from the 14th century. Records of the missions date back to the 15th century during the Ashikaga Shogunate. The missions were temporarily suspended in the 16th century after Japan sent troops to invade the Korean Peninsula, but they were resumed to restore bilateral ties after the Tokugawa Shogunate held power.

The Korean dynasty dispatched a total of 12 delegations for various occasions, including celebrating the accession of new shogun, between 1607 and 1811. Diplomatic documents and travel records in Japan and South Korea were added to the Memory of the World Register list by UNESCO in 2017.

The ship was built in South Korea for the first time in about 200 years. Made primarily of pine, the vessel measures 34.5 meters long and weighs 149 tons. The National Research Institute of Maritime Cultural Heritage in Mokpo, South Korea, spent about four years re-creating the ship, which was completed in 2018 and cost ¥211.8 million.

The re-creation is intended to convey to future generations the history of goodwill diplomacy between neighboring countries, as well as the shipbuilding techniques used in those days. The institute referred to documents in South Korea as well as Japan, including drawings of a Korean emissary ship owned by the Saga Prefectural Nagoya Castle Museum, to build the ship. About 70 people can be carried by the boat, which is now equipped with an engine.

Economy affected

While members of the private sector of the two countries were promoting exchanges, Tsushima residents called for the ship to sail to the city and the Busan Cultural Foundation in Busan, South Korea, decided to have it sail in August 2019 to coincide with the Tsushima Izuhara Port Festival. However, the trip was canceled at the last minute.

The South Korean government, led by then President Moon Jae-in, was increasingly at odds with Japan at the time due to lawsuits related to former wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Tsushima was further affected economically as the pandemic caused tourism to plunge. In 2018, the number of tourists to Tsushima from South Korea marked a record high of about 410,000, accounting for more than three-quarters of the total number of domestic and foreign visitors to the city. However, the figure drastically fell in 2019.

The city suffered further economic hardships for about three years after international ocean ferry service was suspended in April 2020 as part of border control measures against COVID-19.

In February this year, the ocean routes finally reopened. With border control measures being eased, the re-created ship is set to arrive in Tsushima in time for the Tsushima Izuhara Port Festival, which is scheduled to be held on Aug. 5-6.

Behind the decision is the improvement in the Japan-South Korea relationship with the resumption of reciprocal visits by the leaders of the two countries after a 12-year hiatus.

“No matter how many times we repeated exchanges with South Korean people, there was not much we could do about the relationship between the two countries, and that was disappointing,” said Kazuyuki Matsubara, 78, head of the Liaison Council of All Places Associated with Chosen Tsushinshi, a Tsushima-based nonprofit organization that has promoted Japan-South Korea exchanges for more than 30 years. “But the decision for the ship [to dock in Tsushima] is great news.”

“The hope is to convey the significance of the ship to young people of both countries, leading to further exchanges,” he added.

1st time in 4 years

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Musicians perform folk music during an event on the re-created ship in Busan, South Korea, on May 7.

In May, the Joseon Tongsinsa Festival was held in Busan under the auspices of the Busan Cultural Foundation. The festival was held without restrictions for the first time in four years, and people were able to ride on the re-created emissary boat. Musicians also played folk music on board.

At the Tsushima Izuhara Port Festival, an emissary procession is set to resume for the first time since the start of the pandemic. During the procession, both Japanese and South Korean people will parade through the city while wearing traditional clothing. Residents of either country will be able to board the vessel while it is docked at the port.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A Joseon Tongsinsa parade in August 2019 in the Izuhara district on Tsushima Island

“We’re looking forward to welcoming the ship [when it docks at port],” said Tatsuya Sasaki, 42, chairman of an association to honor Korean emissaries. “We hope it will become an opportunity for the Japan-South Korea relationship to improve even further.”

The Tsushima city government also has high hopes for the ship’s arrival.

“This is a great opportunity to promote Tsushima as the island of Korean emissaries, both at home and abroad,” a city government official said. “We hope it will contribute to the friendship between Japan and South Korea and lead to more exchanges.”