The Joseon Envoy 朝鮮通信使

The Joseon tongsinsa, or diplomatic envoy refers to an official delegation dispatched to Japan by the King of Joseon. After the Imjin War, Joseon and Japan resumed diplomatic relations and tongsinsa were regularly organized to conduct state business and participate in cultural exchange. The journey from Hanyang to Edo covered nearly three thousand arduous kilometers and took about half a year. When the travelers finally arrived in the Japanese capital, enthusiastic crowds gathered to see the elaborate procession of the Joseon envoys and their Korean and Japanese attendants. Painting of the Joseon Envoy Procession to Edo Castle allows the viewer to experience the drama and splendor of this type of procession in vivid detail.

Painting of the Joseon Envoy Procession to Edo Castle (通信使行列圖)

Joseon dynasty, 18th century, ink and color on paper, 30.7x595cm, National Museum of Korea ⓒNational Museum of Korea

UNESCO Memory of World

Painting of the Joseon Envoy Procession to Edo Castle represents a birds-eye view of a military company, complete with flags and regalia, approaching Edo Castle from right to left across the composition. Most figures in the procession are arranged in two long rows, however, the important members of the company occupy a third row in the middle. In the central scene of the procession, the main envoy, vice-envoy, and document official trail behind a line of sedan chairs carrying the Royal letter and Royal seal. Including the envoys and the group of interpreters, doctors, and painters at the end of the procession, the painting includes 198 Koreans and 1,220 Japanese for a total of 1,418 figures and 191 horses. This work was estimated to be produced around the late 18th century in a recent study, due to its stylistic features including a stable and rich composition, the depiction of facial features, decorative effects and striking coloring. As such, the painting represents the only extant depiction of an eighteenth-century Joseon embassy to Japan of this type produced by a Joseon painter.

  Various scenes of the Envoy Procession

The procession of Joseon Envoys not only includes the three official envoys but also numerous attendants and accompanying materials. 

If you are interested, try to identify the following figures and items.

 How did the people of Edo react to the Joseon Envoy?

Record of the Ceremonial Procession of the Joseon Envoy (朝鮮人大行列記 )

Edo period, paper, 12.8x18.9cm, National Museum of Korea ⓒNational Museum of Korea 

Record of the ceremonial procession of the Joseon Envoy is a Japanese guide to the procession of the Joseon envoy. Among the various events associated with the procession, the record provides a detailed report of an acrobatic performance known as masangjae.

 Let’s Think about it: What would it have been like to travel all the way to Edo?

Painting of a Boat Carrying a Royal Message (國書樓船圖)

Ink and color on paper, 58.5X1524cm, National Museum of Korea ⓒNational Museum of Korea 

UNESCO Memory of World

This painting depicts a boat carrying a royal message from the Joseon King, travelling along a river in Japan. The Joseon envoys followed a prescribed route over water and land to Edo. First, they travelled by ship from Busan to Osaka. At the mouth of the Yodo river they transferred to a colorful boat known as kawagozabune provided by the Tokugawa Shogunate. They followed the Yodo river to a rest location near Naniwabashi and then continued along the river to Kyoto before setting off for the final leg of the journey to Edo by land. The painting includes the boat of the vice-envoy in the foreground followed by the boat carrying the Royal message as well as the main envoy’s vessel. In addition, ten tugboats and three additional vessels containing Korean musicians and Japanese boatmen accompany the party. 

Another painting provides further insight into the Joseon Envoy’s voyage.

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