Tsushima han

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  • Kokudaka: 100,000
  • Other Names: 対馬府中藩 (Tsushima Fuchuu han)
  • Japanese: 対馬藩 (Tsushima han)

Tsushima han, based on Tsushima Island (today part of Nagasaki prefecture), was the domain of the Sô clan, and managed relations with Joseon Dynasty Korea. The territory of the domain also included small areas known as tobichi on the mainland of the island of Kyushu, in Hizen and Chikuzen provinces. As one of only ten daimyô clans to rule an entire province (albeit a rather small one), the Sô enjoyed the privilege of hon-kunimochi ("true country holder") status.[1] As a result, and due to considerations related to its status vis-a-vis Korea, the domain was ranked at 100,000 koku, though its actual agricultural production was equivalent to less than 10,000.[2] Roughly six to seven thousand koku of that was in barley cultivation, rather than rice.[3] The enhanced kokudaka ranking is usually said to either be a reflection of the importance of the Korea trade and the measure of the economic benefit from it, or a result of the necessity for the Sô clan to possess a higher rank and title in order to represent Japan honorably and effectively in interactions with Korea.[4] Outside of the Korea trade, and a small local wax industry, Tsushima could claim no special local products unique enough, or produced in large enough volume, to compete in the Osaka and Edo markets, unlike many other prominent domains.[3]

At the peak of the Korea trade, the population of the domain was around 32,000, with half the population living in the castle town of Fuchû.[5] Of these 32,000, roughly half lived off of grain produced on the island, while rice grown on Sô lands on the mainland of Kyushu fed another 7,000; the remaining 7,000 or so people relied upon rice given the Sô as gifts from the Korean court - typically around 8,300 koku a year from the mid-17th century onwards.[6]


Eighteenth Century

The trade with Korea was quite sizable, amounting, in the 1710s-1730s for example, to 30,000 kan of silver, or roughly 8% of all silver coins minted in Japan during that time.[7] At times, however, various forces, such as changes to central Tokugawa policy, had dramatic effects upon Tsushima's revenues and financial well-being. A serious debasement of coinage in 1695 led to Korean merchants, hesitant to think the newly debased silver ingots would be easily accepted by others in the region, raising their prices, which severely lowered Tsushima's revenues for a time. While Amenomori Hôshû, a prominent Confucian scholar in service to the domain, advised continued efforts to strengthen relations with Korea, the domain also acted on the advice of Confucian advisor Suyama Totsuan, who advocated taking greater steps to cull the deer and boar populations, who ate crops and otherwise had a negative impact on agricultural production. All able-bodied men in the domain over 20 years of age were mobilized to build walls to entrap animals, and to either scare off or kill the animals with firearms. This policy had a noticeable effect, expanding the agricultural production of the island.[8] Tsushima's difficulties with the quality of the silver ingots were compounded when a decrease in Korean production of ginseng led to the cost of importing this most important product doubling; the problems were significantly alleviated, however, when in 1711 the shogunate gave Tsushima permission to mint 80% pure ingots specifically for the Korea trade.[9]

Over the course of the Edo period, figures such as Amenomori used a variety of arguments to defend privileges and arrangements which allowed trade with Korea to continue smoothly. This was essential for providing for the well-being of the people of the domain, in addition to concerning the lords' personal coffers. The importance of providing ginseng to the Japanese market was among these; Amenomori also argued that because relations with Korea allowed for the collection of intelligence about politics and events of the region, Tsushima's activities were thus essential for national defense. Further, Amenomori compared the Sô clan's obligations vis-a-vis Korea to the coastal defense and other special duties required of certain other domains, arguing that effecting trade and relations with Korea was the Sô clan's way of performing feudal service to their lord (the shogun), and that they thus should be given conditions allowing them to perform it well. One benefit which came as a result of such arguments came in 1748, when, acknowledging the importance for national defense of the maintenance of friendly relations with Korea, the shogunate exempted Tsushima from having to contribute to the defense of the port of Nagasaki.[10]

The domain saw considerable financial difficulties in the latter half of the 18th century, however, as a variety of factors, including the growth of domestic production of ginseng, led to a significant decline in the value of the Korea trade. In the 1740s-1750s, the domain requested and received from the shogunate loans or grants of 10,000 ryô on a number of occasions, and in the 1770s, the volume of trade had declined to such an extent that the domain declared the private trade effectively ended. Meanwhile, the agricultural gains from Suyama Totsuan's deer and boar hunts only lasted for a time; an official survey performed by an agent of the Nagasaki bugyô in 1772 found that the domain's effective net income that year was a mere 23,000 koku. The domain encountered difficulty in requesting loans from merchants, as they developed a reputation for not being able to repay their loans, and so continued to petition the shogunate for help. A domain official named Sugimura Naoki finally secured from the shogunate an annual grant of 12,000 ryô, which remained in place, being paid out every year from 1776 until 1862.[11]

Matsudaira Sadanobu, who replaced Tanuma Okitsugu as Tairô in 1787, however, began to pressure the domain to repay its loans both to the shogunate and to Edo, Osaka, and Nagasaki merchants. The domain attempted to come up with new payment plans, but simply could not afford to even pay the interest on the loans, let alone to begin paying down the principal. Tokugawa orders to increase the amount of marine products which the domain could supply to Nagasaki helped raise the domain's economy somewhat, for a time, but by 1800, many local fisherman found whaling to be more lucrative than harvesting abalone, kelp, and sea cucumber, and so had switched the focus of their activities. The domain briefly attempted to accommodate these shifts by increasing the amount of marine products they were getting from Korea, and by inviting fishermen from Hirado and Hiroshima to come harvest marine products in Tsushima waters; the latter aggravated local Tsushima fishermen, however, and forced new arrangements which negated preferential pricing for the outsider fishermen.

Sadanobu also pressured the domain to reduce its copper exports, but domain officials protected the relationship with Korea, and the trade it provided, by deploying a variety of arguments. They argued that trade with Korea was a right of their domain, affirmed and reaffirmed by the Tokugawa since the early years of the shogunate, and furthermore that the importing of luxury goods benefited the realm, and that the import of rice was essential to the well-being of the domain, and for avoiding samurai or peasant uprisings. In the end, they successfully parried Sadanobu's attempts to hamper the domain's economy, and continued to be allowed to acquire up to 100,000 kin of copper for export each year.[12] Petitions from Tsushima in the ensuing years, often citing the importance of the Korea trade for the realm, and the refrain "we are a small island domain with little agricultural production," used in countless domain missives to the shogunate in this period, eventually led in 1825 to the shogunate allowing Tsushima to purchase this 100,000 kin of copper at a reduced rate, rather than market price.[13]

Early Nineteenth Century

In the early 19th century, Tsushima faced severe competition from domestic production of ginseng and a number of other Korean import goods, and so began to seek new markets. Still exporting alum, pepper, sappanwood, copper, and water buffalo horn obtained at Nagasaki, as well as sea cucumber, Tsushima now began to more extensively import bovine products, including cowhides (leather), cattle horns, and hooves, the latter two of which were used to make alternative or cheaper versions of hairpins and other items normally made from tortoiseshell imported via Nagasaki.[14]

Yet, while Satsuma earned the shogunate's suspicion and had various economic restrictions enacted against it, Tsushima received considerable aid from the shogunate in the 19th century. To begin, a significant decline in the volume of trade at Nagasaki in the 1820s-30s left the shogunate's Nagasaki customs house with surpluses of copper; whereas the shogunate had earmarked one million kin in copper for export via Nagasaki, as much as 300,000 kin was remaining in the customs house's possession each year. This led to Tsushima being sold, for a time, an additional 50,000 kin of copper each year, which it would then exchange with Korea to import silver. Tsushima acquired even more copper from the shogunate when the Joseon Court began requesting additional copper in place of water buffalo horn; from 1838 until 1866 (with a few breaks in the 1840s and 1850s), the shogunate provided Tsushima with an additional 11,000 kin each year. Beyond this, the domain was granted 90,000 ryô plus an addition 30,000 in loans in 1811 to help finance the Korean embassy to the domain in that year, plus another 2500 ryô annual stipend for a period of twenty years, plus another 10,000 koku in rice at one point, to help alleviate difficulties created by a poor harvest in Korea. As a reward for successfully receiving the 1811 mission, the domain was further granted 20,000 koku worth of additional fief lands on mainland Kyûshû. Finally, Tsushima's financial burden was further alleviated by lax enforcement on the part of the shogunate of the feudal obligation of sankin kôtai; the lord of Tsushima made formal "alternate attendance" trips to Edo only five times between 1810 and 1842, at a cost of over 1,300 kan each time, while most daimyô were obliged to appear in attendance to the shogun fifteen times during that same period. Even so, despite all of this aid, Tsushima still suffered from economic difficulties. While its debts to the Osaka merchants came nowhere close to the 320,000 kan owed at one point by Satsuma, they were still sizable, especially for such a small domain, amounting to over 8,300 kan in 1835.[15]

Western ships began to call with significant frequency at Tsushima in the late 1840s, just as they were doing in Ryûkyû at that same time. Whereas Satsuma decided to accommodate and negotiate with the Westerners, and worked to keep their engagement with the Westerners a secret from the shogunate, however, Tsushima actively pursued shogunate aid in strengthening domain defenses. Despite the domain's success in earning financial support to make up for the decline in trade (as described above), however, it was not successful in securing any aid explicitly aimed at the defense of the domain until the 1840s. Whereas the domain had previously, with success, argued for its importance to the defense of the realm because of its role in obtaining intelligence, in 1846, Tsushima officials began to argue more explicitly for Tsushima's strategic or tactical importance in military terms, as a stepping stone or gateway into the realm which needed to be more securely defended. Two high-ranking Sô retainers, Yoshikawa Saemon and Sasu Iori, submitted a memorial to rôjû Abe Masahiro that year describing Tsushima as a "bulwark," a physical barrier protecting the realm, and suggested that their lord, Sô Yoshiyori, might be granted additional fief land the revenues from which would help pay for the costs of increasing coastal defenses. Their request was rejected. The following year and into 1848, on several occasions, officials at the central castle town of Fuchû, and in Pusan, reported hearing cannon fire offshore, but no foreign ships actually appeared in port. When Tsushima officials petitioned the shogunate again, citing in particular the additional costs of fortifying an island, they were granted 10,000 ryô, to be paid out across two years.[16]

The first face-to-face interaction between Tsushima officials and Westerners took place in 1849/2, when fifteen Western ships were spotted offshore, and a few men came ashore in a launch. Speaking purely through gestures, the samurai somehow determined the men to be Americans; after exchanging a few items, the Americans peacefully and willingly obeyed the officials' request that they leave. Several more Americans appeared two months later, and stayed overnight in a village on the eastern coast of the island. Though Tsushima was fortunate to have not been visited with any true difficulties - such as the use of physical force - yet, the daimyô sent men to bolster coastal defenses, and sent to the shogunate to ask that interpreters be sent from the Waegwan in Pusan to Nagasaki, to learn "Dutch writing," to help facilitate communication with Westerners who might arrive in future. Indeed, later that year, Tsushima officials began to report sightings of as many as tens of ships, sometimes within just a period of several days, though it is likely that many of these sightings were double-countings of the same ship. Tsushima requests to extend the annual 5,000 ryô grants granted in 1848 were initially rebuffed, but eventually granted, along with authorization to defer repayments owed on earlier loans taken out by the domain. Subsequent requests from Tsushima also suggested that Western pressures on Korea, and the resulting financial focus of the Korean Court on coastal defense, might cause agricultural production in the kingdom to decline, harming the ability of the kingdom to send rice to Tsushima; a request for an additional 7,000 koku from the shogunate made around 1851 was rejected.[17]

Bakumatsu Period

Following the opening of Hakodate, Yokohama, and Nagasaki as treaty ports in 1860, Tsushima reported, with shogunate permission, to the Joseon Court that the realm had begun to trade with the Westerners, but that the Sô were still dedicated to the traditional relationship with the Korean Court, and to the ban on Christianity. Though no Korean embassy had come to Japan since 1811, and none all the way to Edo in nearly a century, the envoys proposed one such mission, in celebration of Tokugawa Iemochi becoming shogun in 1858, as part of showing the domain's dedication to the relationship. The shogunate, however, encouraged the domain to delay any such mission until 1866. In the end, no mission was ever dispatched.[18]

Meanwhile, facing continued financial difficulties and fears about Western incursions, the Sô proposed to the shogunate in 1859 something they and their advisors had been considering for some time: they suggested that the shogunate take over direct control of Tsushima Island, and grant the Sô a fief elsewhere in the realm, while continuing to employ the Sô as agents or intermediaries in relations with Korea.[18] This ultimately did not take place, and the Sô remained lords of Tsushima until the abolition of the han in 1871.

Some of the Western powers began to eye Tsushima as an ideal place for naval bases or other operations. One particularly significant and worrying incident of Western incursion took place in 1861, when the Russian corvette Posadnik, under the command of a Captain Birilev, anchored at Asô Bay, a major inlet on the island. After six tense months, and the ineffective interventions of both shogunate officials and two ships of the British Royal Navy, Birilev was finally convinced to leave the island when orders from Russian naval command & from the Russian consul in Hakodate arrived commanding him to do so. Throughout the process, Tsushima officials continued to petition for the shogunate to take over responsibility for Tsushima and its defense, and to relocate the Sô to another fief. At the recommendation of magistrate of foreign affairs Nonoyama Kanehiro, the shogunate denied the domain's request once again.[18]

Factional conflicts within domain leadership led to a violent coup in 1862, as members of a sonnô jôi faction assassinated chief councilor Sasu Iori and pressured daimyô Sô Yoshiyori to step down, in favor of his son Sô Yoshiakira. Yoshiakira's mother, Jihôin, the daughter of a former daimyô of Chôshû, coordinated an alliance between the two domains, and Ôshima Tomonojô replaced Sasu as the chief prominent figure in domain politics. Working closely with Kido Takayoshi, Katsu Kaishû, Yamada Hôkoku, and Itakura Katsukiyo, Ôshima petitioned the shogunate for considerable aid on behalf of the domain, and for consideration of the possibility of invading Korea, in order to prevent the peninsula from falling into foreign hands.[19]

The shogunate agreed in 1863 to grant Tsushima a whopping 30,000 koku in aid, and to send Katsu Kaishû to investigate the threat posed to Tsushima and Korea by the Westerners. Katsu never ended up traveling to Tsushima, as he quickly became called away on other urgent business, but the successful petition and large grant spurred the domain to finally coordinate stronger domainal controls over its commercial activities, as other domains had done decades or even a century or more earlier. Tsushima leaders established domain monopolies over certain goods, and created clearinghouses through which those goods and their associated revenues would be funneled. They hired local merchants to act as authorized agents within the domain's monopoly operations, and established an office in Osaka to coordinate the sales of Tsushima specialty products on the domestic market.

The shogunate later revoked the promise of the 30,000 koku grant, however, as a major change in shogunate leadership led to the shogunate turning against Chôshû, and coming to see all of Ôshima's plans and petitions as connected to Chôshû's schemes to overthrow the Tokugawa.

Meiji Period

Following the Meiji Restoration, Tsushima retainer Ôshima Tomonojô petitioned the Meiji government to place priority on reorganizing relations with Korea, even as they were occupied with putting down the last bits of pro-Tokugawa resistance. He advocated the central government taking over both diplomatic and trade relations with Korea, and re-negotiating the structure of that relationship, in order to abolish associations or connections to the Sô clan's subordinate status as a vassal to the Joseon Court. With the help of Kido Takayoshi, he managed to get Sô Yoshiakira elevated in court rank, and appointed official imperial representative in diplomatic relations with Korea. From this point forward, the Sô would use Imperial seals and titles in all correspondence, speaking as representatives of the Imperial government rather than for themselves, and would no longer use the seals granted them as vassals by the Korean Court.[20]

Noting that asking the King of Korea to enter into relations with an emperor, rather than with the shogun (ostensibly his equal) or with a vassal (the Sô), could offend the Koreans, Ôshima also suggested that the government should launch a punitive mission against Korea if the royal court were to be uncooperative.[20] Tsushima officials informed the Korean Court of the fall of the shogunate in early 1869, and as anticipated, the Korean Court chastised their vassals for this breach of protocol, and refused to accept the documents, severing trade and aid; Ôshima traveled to the Waegwan along with several other officials in an attempt to negotiate for a new basis for relations, but as the Koreans suspected that Tsushima (or the Meiji government) might have been led or forced into this by Western pressure, they were unable, for the time being, to reach a settlement.[20]

When the domains began to return their lands to the emperor in 1869, Sô Yoshiakira stepped down as "lord" and took the name Shigemasa, and Tsushima han was renamed Izuhara han. A year later, after a number of further initiatives had failed, Yoshiakira suggested eliminating himself, his family, and his retainers from their position as intermediaries in Korean relations, and instead having the Foreign Ministry act more directly to establish relations between the Korean Court and the Japanese central (national) government.[21]

To accommodate the loss of the crucial shipments of rice from Korea, the Meiji government provided the Sô with 35,000 koku worth of lands. Meanwhile, unable to get Osaka merchants to loan any money to the heavily indebted domain, Tsushima representatives in Osaka obtained loans from Western merchants; before long, the domain owed 359,000 yen to Western merchants, in addition to its outstanding 700,000 yen in debts to Japanese merchants, making it the third most indebted domain in the country. In 1871/7, however, the domains were all abolished, and the central government took on the debts of all the domains, thus absolving the now-former daimyô families of these financial burdens. Yoshiakira at that time ceased to be governor of Tsushima (Izuhara) domain, and was appointed assistant foreign minister. The Waegwan was renamed the "Japan Mission" (日本公館, Nihon kôkan) soon afterwards, and though Yoshiakira continued to play a prominent role in efforts to restart relations with Korea, he now did so even more fully as merely a representative of the Imperial government. This marked the end of the tributary/vassal relationship between the Sô and the Korean Court, and though Sô Yoshiakira continued to be involved, the end of any privileged position for his family as agents separate from Japanese central authority. Formal diplomatic and commercial relations between Japan and Korea in the modern/Western mode were finally established in 1876, with the Treaty of Ganghwa, also known as the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between Japan and Korea, which established for Japan many of the privileges Japan itself extended to the Western powers in its various Treaties of Amity and Commerce with those powers.[22]


  • Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009).
  1. Mark Ravina, Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan, Stanford University Press (1999), 19.
  2. Hellyer gives 20,000. Hellyer, 40.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hellyer, 140.
  4. Toby, Ronald. "Rescuing the Nation from History: The State of the State in Early Modern Japan." Monumenta Nipponica 56:2 (2001). p206.
  5. Not to be confused with Fuchû in Kai province, or Fuchû castle in Echizen province; Tashiro Kazui. "Foreign Relations during the Edo Period: Sakoku Reexamined." Journal of Japanese Studies 8:2 (1982). p298.
  6. Hellyer, 40.
  7. Tashiro. p303.
  8. Hellyer, 60.
  9. Satsuma han and Ryûkyû also petitioned the shogunate for permission to use 80% silver ingots, but only received some lesser concessions, perhaps in part because they did not provide any single good deemed as essential as ginseng.
  10. Satsuma was exempted at that time as well, the shogunate applying the same argument to Satsuma's relationship with Ryûkyû.
  11. Hellyer, 91-92.
  12. Hellyer, 109.
  13. Hellyer, 142.
  14. Hellyer, 141.
  15. Hellyer, 143-145.
  16. Hellyer, 168-170.
  17. Hellyer, 170-172.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Hellyer, 207-216.
  19. Hellyer, 217-227
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Hellyer, 240-241.
  21. Hellyer, 241-243.
  22. Hellyer, 242-245.
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