google-site-verification=-dZePfgWB2ZtA3dxPB_nPrOD55Shnmh0iXAEngMSTwE dZePfgWB2ZtA3dxPB_nPrOD55Shnmh0iXAEngMSTwE

Japanese Castles in Korea: Remnants of a Warring Past

The seven year Imjin War at the end of the 16th century was East Asia’s largest ever engagement of troops in what was a drawn out series of battles that saw the Japanese overwhelm Joseon defenses from Busan to Pyongyang—until Ming Chinese forces took the field.

On the morning of May 23rd, 1592, at the order of Japanese general Toyotomi Hideyoshi, around 160,000 troops set sail from Tsushima, Japan aboard hundreds of ships, for the port of Busan. It was the first of what would be two large-scale invasions of the seven-year Imjin War. Hideyoshi’s primary objective was the crown of Ming Dynasty China.

Rebuffed on numerous diplomatic petitions for passage across Korea (a ludicrous inquiry) the Japanese general and “great unifier” of Japan, took the less attractive choice to subdue the peninsula before continuing west.

It was a product of strategic calculation, with Korea as the logistical linchpin. Hideyoshi could not conquer so great a power as China, so far from home, without a reliable chain of supplies to feed the war machine as it marched, galloped and rolled towards the Chinese Crown.

Japanese invasion of Busan. (Wiki commons)
Japanese invasion of Busan.

Once again, Busan would serve as the launching point for the squaring off of China and Japan. Three-hundred years earlier the machine was going the opposite direction with China twice invading Fukuoka under the orders of Yuan Dynasty China’s Kublai Khan.

The first attempt, in 1274, failed. As did the second in 1281. Incredibly, both thwarted by typhoons—which the Japanese soon dubbed the “Divine Wind” or, as spoken in the native tongue, “Kamikaze.”

Three centuries later, Japan finally pieced itself together after years of civil war and was ready to make a go at China.

Busan Quickly Falls

Following a day-long journey at sea, Japanese troops stormed the beaches of Busan just after sundown, heading for the two primary fortresses in Dongnae. Armed with Portuguese firearm technology and battle-hardened by years of civil war at home, the Japanese troops, many of whom were Samurai, quickly routed the bow and arrow-wielding Busan forces.

One reason why local defenses folded so easily was strategically inept Joseon policy which forbade local commanders from engaging a foreign invasion force until a court-appointed general could arrive from Seoul with royal troops. This policy additionally prevented cities around Busan from coming to her aid without royal consent.

Interestingly, firearm technology had been presented to the Joseon court years earlier, but was mistakenly deemed an unnecessary tool for the art of war.

Over the course of the march on Seoul, Joseon was further harmed by internal dissent from Koreans known as Baekjeong (Those of the lowest social rank serving on the lands of feudal lords). Baekjeong viewed the Japanese as liberators from the harsh feudal system and capitalized on the loss of domestic security by setting fire to royal dwellings and government buildings—including those where status ledgers for Korean slaves were held.

It would take three months before Hideyoshi controlled much of the peninsula. As in most wars, civilians suffer the greatest; especially those in the vicarious position of living along the supply line from Busan to Pyongyang.  It was here that Japanese troops used ‘scorched earth’ tactics which seeks to destroy everything in its path.

Ming Forces Take the Field

With their suzerain status over Joseon Dynasty Korea at stake, and the Japanese at their borders, over 100,000 Ming Dynasty troops took the field alongside nearly 200,000 Koreans with Ming taking complete operational command.

As Kenneth Swope writes in the Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies, Korean rulers of the era had little say as to how their fate would play out between the two warring powers.

“At this point in 1593, the war entered a stalemate during which intrigues and negotiations failed to produce a settlement. As the suzerain of Joseon Korea, Ming China exercised tight control over the Koreans during the war. At the same time, Ming China negotiated bilaterally with Japan while often ignoring the wishes of the Korean government.”

Japan, following failed peace negotiations with the Ming Dynasty, invaded Korea for a second time in 1597. Hampered by the heroic efforts of Korean Admiral Yi Sun-shin and his fleet, Japanese supply lines suffered heavily during the second campaign. With large numbers of Chinese troops pouring in from the north, and Korean guerilla warfare activity, the Japanese were forced to expand construction of fortresses across the southeastern part of peninsula in an effort to maintain what they had captured. Over the course of the war, a total of 35 castles were erected, either from scratch or from the remains of conquered Korean fortresses.

According to Stephen Turnbull in his book Japanese Castles in Korea 1592-1598, Hideyoshi saw the castles, known as wajō in Japanese and waeseong in Korean, as a last ditch effort to maintain the Japanese presence on the peninsula.

The wajō line was essentially a response to the Chinese advance, and provided the last refuge for the occupying troops, writes Turnbull. The new fortresses may have had roles concerned with communications and harbour defence, but the principle underlying their creation was that of providing a final toehold on the Korean Peninsula.

Remnants of the Past

Of the 35 castles constructed by Japanese forces, little more than fragments remain of most. A great place to get an idea of the structures that once straddled the Korean coastal area is the Gijang Cultural Center just outside of Busan. There you can see a model of the Imrang Fortress, which stood on the eastern coast as the northernmost Japanese defensive post in what were a series of ten castles east of the Nakdong River in the Busan area.


The castles built in Korea were similar to the Japanese mainland style of the 16th and 17th century, with towering stone walls and a command tower perched on top. The Imrang Fortress was erected on a hill overlooking the beach and it included a lower residence area around the port, though little of that remains today.

Much like the Imrang Fortress, there are still bits and pieces of these 16th century strongholds out there for those curious to witness a page out of the Korean peninsula’s past. To see the most well-preserved castle, head further north to Ulsan for a tour of Seosaengpo. Built by Japanese General Kato Kiyomasa in 1592-1593 during the initial stages of the Imjin War, many of the original walls still remain intact.

For more on Japanese castles in Korea, including an excellent interactive map, check out or You can also see more photos of Japanese castle remnants on Jens Walter’s German language blog at

Japanese Castle Remains – Photos by Jens Walter


The Latest Haps

ktx seoul

Railroad Strike Planned for Next Week

The government is hoping railway services will be running without any major disruption despite a unionized railroad workers’ scheduled strike next week.


Aftershocks May Continue for Months

The Korea Meteorological Administration(KMA) is predicting that more aftershocks with a magnitude of three to four will likely continue in Gyeongju, for as long as several months.


Busan Only Felt Magnitude 3 Earthquake

The magnitude of the earthquake measured in Gyeongju was 4.5, but the earthquake intensity that people felt was 3 in Busan and 2 to 3 in most areas of Gyeongnam.


Car-free Day on September 21

The city government is urging drivers to use public transportation and leave your car at home tomorrow.

Image: Busan One Asia Festival

Busan One Asia Festival Main Music Line-up

The Busan One Asia Festival will have five main K-pop concerts at the Busan Asiad Gymnasium throughout the first 23 days of October.


21st BIFF Event Schedule

The Busan International Film Festival has released its main event schedule for this year’s 21st edition. Updates as of September 22, 2016.


“Wired” Magazine Chooses Big Data as Top 5 Podcast

Wired magazine has chosen local cartoonist Ryan Estrada’s “Big Data” as one of its top 5 podcasts of the week.


Seomyeon Medical Street Festival to Run for Two Days

The 6th Seomyeon Medical Street Festival is starting on September 30th.


You Can Choose Your Family But You Can’t Choose Your Friends

That’s not a misprint, but just the way it seems to work when you live abroad. John Bocskay explains.


Is Korea the Worst Place to Raise an Expat Family?

Korea ranked dead last on the 2016 HSBC Expat Explorer Survey to raise a family, one of the largest global independent surveys of expat living.

Image: Pei Wei

Pei Wei Asian Diner is Coming to Busan

Pei Wei Asian Diner is set to open a location in Busan by the end of 2017 according to a company press release.


McDonald’s Korea Introduces the “Chicken Mac”

McDonald’s Korea has introduced its newest offering, the Chicken Mac.

Image: Facebook

Galmegi Brewing Co. Launches New Fried Chicken

Galmegi Brewing Company has announced its newest menu item, “Nashville Fried Chicken”.


Seoul #10 Most Popular Travel City

A new survey by MasterCard shows that Seoul is once again the 10th most popular city for travel in the world.


Travel Korea: Daytripping in Ulsan

Busan’s neighbor to the north has a lot going for it for a fun weekend that’s not so far from home.

Image: Wikicommons

International Travel: Wats Happening in Chiang Mai

While many head to Thailand in search of its magnificent culture, Chiang Mai is a great place to start and one of her best offerings are her awesome temples, known as “Wats”.

Image: YouTube

Is this the Worst Goalkeeper Blunder Ever?

North Korea’s goalkeeper gives up one of the worst goals ever — to the opponent’s goalkeeper in an AFC U-16 championship match.


Video: Safety Rope Fails from 42m Bungee Jump

A 29-year-old woman was seriously injured this month when a bungee jump operator failed to secure her rope to the safety hook.


Suyeong-gu Office Runs the SUP Academy at Gwangalli Beach

Suyeong-gu Office runs the Stand Up Paddle Board Academy at Gwangalli Beach in September and October.





About Bobby McGill


Check Also

Danyang South Korea travel

Finding Old Boy: The ‘Real’ Korea and Childhood Memories in Danyang County

You step off the bus to see a lone ajumma waiting as the only passenger for the next ride out of town.

Leave a Reply