Suigun (水軍)

Suigun is the traditional armed forces on the water in the countries in East Asia where Chinese characters are used. It is equivalent to the navy in the modern West, but in suigun in the East, forces on rivers and lakes, too, played a large part. Suigun is also called suishi, funashi, or shushi. The grouped or organized suigun is called funato, kegoshu or kaizoku-shu (pirates).

Suigun in Japan

In Japan, which is an island nation, from ancient times kaimin who lived in the coastal area flourished as armed forces on the water as well as in Korea. During the period of the Yamato dynasty, it is the marine clans such as Azumi clan, Amabe clan, and Tsumori clan that supported Japan's suigun. In the ancient period of Japan, the backbone of the nation was in Osaka Bay and the Seto Inland Sea. Therefore, the large gozoku (local ruling family) like Ki clan along the Kino-kawa River that had natural bays in Seto Inland Sea and wood production areas in the backlands flourished with their own suigun.

Suigun in medieval period

In the Heian period 'kaizoku (pirates)' that looted kanmotsu (tribute goods paid as taxes or tithes) transported on the water appeared in history. During the Jogan era (Japan) the order to suppress pirates in Seto Inland Sea was issued. At first they only consisted of small groups that were mainly engaged in pirate activities. During the late Heian period, locally influential persons all over Japan began taking power. In shoen (manor in medieval Japan), as kaihatsu-ryoshu (local nobles who actually developed the land) armed themselves and made it their profession, the establishment of the samurai class proceeded. On the water, like the case of shoen, the samurai who had military power on the sea and were engaged in it began to appear.

In the region of the Seto Inland Sea there existed famous suigun navies such as the following:
The Watanabe clan based on Watanabe no tsu Port, Settsu Province (present Chuo Ward, Osaka City), the head clan of suigun navies in Seto Inland Sea. Matsuura Party in Kyushu that belonged to the Watanabe clan and fought bravely in the war of Mongolian invasion against Japan during the thirteenth century. TACHIBANA no Toyasu that made great achievements in tracking and killing FUJIWARA no Sumitomo during the tenth century. Murakami clan (the Murakami navy) that spread its influence after the Hogen Disturbance to the Sengoku period (Japan) in the Seto Inland Sea area from Shiaku Islands in the east through Kamiseki Town, Suo Province in the west.

In the area of Kishu Province Kumano Suigun Navy represented by Kumano betto (the title of an official who administered the shrines of Kumano) was the most powerful. During Jisho-Juei War, Tanzo and other persons made achievements in Dannoura and other places. Such suigun navies were about to be taken over by Kuki suigun navy.

And the Kobayakawa clan in Aki Province, the Ochi and Kono clan in Iyo Province, the Miura clan in the Miura Peninsula and Ando clan in Tsugaru region were not only samurai on land, but also Kaizoku shu (pirates) that held suigun navies made up of coastal local ruling clans.

The united small local ruling clans that held military forces on the sea were called kaizoku shu, which were seen in many places in Japan such as in Seto Inland Sea, Kii Peninsular, Ise Bay, and Tokyo Bay. Kaizoku shu, as well as Akuto on land (villains during medieval times), banded together and were engaged in looting activities or guarding ship navigation in exchange for money. They exercised their independent military force and their own power, ignoring public power including that of the bakufu.

Kaizoku shu increased their activities in the fourteenth century, and during the disturbance period of Northern and Southern Courts, they split into two groups and fought for each court. After that, during the Muromachi period the power on the land gradually began to reach the power on the sea. Shugo daimyo (shugo, which were Japanese provincial military governors, that became daimyo, which were Japanese feudal lords) organized kaizoku shu on their periphery into keigo shu and used them as their naval military force in exchange for providing them the land in their territory under the pretext to guard the land. During the following Sengoku (the Warring States) period, daimyo during the Sengoku period were actively engaged in organizing a suigun navy in view of military power and transport force. And they incorporated kegoshu as well as dogo (local clan) and kokujin (local samurai) into their group of vassals. As mentioned above, from the end of middle ages to the early modern ages, the armed forces on the sea in Japan changed from independent kaizoku shu to suigun that was put under control of daimyo and incorporated into military force of public power on the sea.

Suigun in the modern ages

Nobunaga ODA, in the process of extending his influence, put Yoshitaka KUKI who came from Kuki clan, the Shugo in Shima Province, under his control and organized his suigun that consisted of mainly the Kuku clan. Oda's suigun led by Yoshitaka joined the battle of Nagashima Ikko Ikki (an uprising of Ikko sect followers in Nagashima) and Ishiyama war, where they made some achievements. After the death of Nobunaga, the suigun was succeeded by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI. Also, as Hideyoshi possessed the land of Awaji and Shikoku, he dispatched Hidehisa SENGOKU, Yukinaga KONISHI, Yoshiaki KATO and Yasuharu WAKISAKA, who were all his vassals reared from an early age, to govern the coastal areas. And then Hideyoshi made each of them organize their own suigun and join the Kyushu Conquest and the conquest and siege of Odawara.

From the late Sengoku period to the early Edo period, huge ships called Atake-bune that carried dozens of or hundreds of crew on board, were built and deployed. And battles on the sea between the huge ships came to be fought. The battle ships of suigun in Japan, including Atake-bune, are a kind of wasen (Japanese style of ship) that does not have a keel. Strong shield boards and powerful weapons such as odeppo (big gun) and cannons came to be equipped on the battle ships. The most typical example of a battle ship was the huge tekkosen (huge Atake-bune equipped with iron plates) that Yoshitaka KUKI built on the orders of Nobunaga ODA.

On August 29, 1588, the following year of the Kyushu Conquest, Hideyoshi issued an order outlawing pirates with the command to collect swords. He prohibited and oppressed the pirates' activities including the paid guarding merchant ships as a financial source, designating such activities as acts of piracy. And he ordered the local clans on the sea to be put under the control of the local lords. After these commands the Nojima clan of Murakami suigun navy became the vassals of the Mori clan and came to lead the Mori suigun navy. The Kijima clan that had become directly under Hideyoshi was promoted to daimyo that directly reported to Hideyoshi and ordered to burden the duties of suigun navy for the Toyotomi clan. As these facts indicate, the former kaizoku shu were forced to organize themselves into suigun under daimyo's power, whose top was the Toyotomi clan. The organized suigun in the Toyotomi administration were sent to dispatch troops to Korea from 1592 (battles of Bunroku and Keicho) on a big scale.

The Tokugawa clan that took over the Toyotomi clan was passive about advancing overseas and issued an order to prohibit building full-dress battle ships for daimyo in Japan. Besides that, the Tokugawa clan separated suigun daimyo one after another from maritime affairs by transferring the Kijima clan to the Mori domain and the Kuki clan to the Santa domain. As for Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, he took over the Imagawa clan's and the Takeda clan's suigun from the period occupied by five countries and organized his own suigun consisting of Masatsuna MUKAI, the Obama clan, the Senga clan, and the Mamiya clan. After Ieyasu was transferred to Edo, these clans moved to the Kanto region with him and remained the Edo bakufu's suigun. The footholds of the bakufu's suigun were set up in Uraga on the Miura Peninsular and Nihonbashi (Chuo Ward, Tokyo) of Edo, and the bakufu possessed large ships including the pleasure boat Atake maru for the shogun built in 1631. But before long, with the arrival of sakoku (the period of isolation) the bakufu's fleet was reduced in size, and the aging Atake maru was scrapped. Therefore, full-fledged suigun disappeared from Japan.

During the Edo period, the bakufu and daimyos that possessed their territory along coastal areas had suigun navies called funategumi, funatekata, or funateshu. The suigun navies were succeeded and maintained in the bakufu by Mukai clan, in Choshu domain by the Noshima clan and in Owari domain by the Senga clan, who were all the descendants of kaizoku shu. However, during peacetime when war did not exist for a long time, the roles of suigun navy were only to control the marine traffic in the domain or to offer the ship when their lord patrolled their domain and took a boat trip for sankin-kotai (daimyo's alternate residence in Edo). At the end of the Edo period, the bakufu and major domains started to establish their modern fleet. But then the word kaigun (navy) was already being used and the word suigun became history. However, during the period of the navies' creation, a large number of sailors were from regions that had the tradition of a suigun navy.

The suigun navy in China

In China, as the phrase 'south ship north horse (travel far and wide) indicates, suigun navy developed in the south, mainly in the area along the Yangtze River, where a maze of waterways ran through. There were several periods in China when it was divided by the powers of north and south such as Wei-Jin-Nanbeichao periods, Wudai Shiguo period and Southern Sung period. During those periods, the countries in the south and along the Yangtze River were often able to fight off the army of Hubei (North China) which had power of cavalry and were superior to the southern army, by developing a powerful suigun navy and using their maze of waterways as a natural defense advantage.

Meanwhile, in terms of the sea, though there is a vast sea to the east of China, each successive unified kingdom set its capital in the inland Guangzhong or in Hunan Province. As this fact indicates, the kingdom looked inland, and there were not many instances where the kingdom directly developed its own full-fledged navy to advance abroad. However, during and after the Tang dynasty, the influence of foreign vessels visiting the southern costal areas for trade gradually increased. With the increase, the economical importance of sea trading rose in China, too. The Yuan dynasty actively made expeditions to Japan and South East Asia, making use of the navy developed in Jiangan under the reign of Southern Sung dynasty. It is also in Yuang dynasty that marine transportation from Jiagan to Hebei Province started on a massive scale.

The Ming Dynasty that had destroyed Yuan Dynasty during the fourteenth century employed a policy to suppress the marine forces that posed a possibility to threaten the dynasty. This is partly because the dynasty needed to drive away pirates called wako (Japanese pirates) that were rampant in the coastal areas of China. To be specific, in private sectors advancing overseas was prohibited, and an official sector for the trading route was restricted only to choko (paying tribute to the court). During the Ming Dynasty a powerful navy was developed to maintain Kaikin Policy (a policy forbidding private people to trade with foreign countries) and to destroy wako. After this, the policy to restrict trading on the sea was maintained by the Ming dynasty and the following Qing dynasty. And the suigun navy was maintained mainly in the southern part of China as a defense force against pirates. The third Emperor Yongle of the Ming dynasty organized a large scale surface fleet led by Zheng Hu and dispatched it as far as Southeast Asia, the Indian Sea and the Arabian Sea. But the aggressive advancement onto the sea by the government was rather exceptional during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

In the nineteenth century, the Qing's navy was almost useless against advanced navies of European nations. This uselessness of the navy was one of the reasons that China suffered a crushing defeat during the Opium War. Because of the ratification of the peace treaty after the Opium War, Kaikin Policy became almost invalid. Nonetheless, the Qing dynasty did not reorganize its navy. It is when it needed its powerful navy to suppress the Taiping Rebellion involving a vast region in the southern part of China that the Qing dynasty developed a real sense of crisis about reorganizing its navy. However, the dynasty refused the suggestion from Britain that it should establish a Chinese navy fleet that would employ a British military officer as the commander, and the establishment of modern navy was again postponed. It is in 1874 when Qing was forced to ratify the humiliating treaty with Japan due to the Japan's Taiwan Expedition that it at long last decided to reorganize the navy. The next year, Qing declared and decided to establish its modern navy, and with this decision the period of the traditional suigun navy came to an end.

Korea's suigun navy

The Korean Peninsular, whose three sides are surrounded by the sea, does not have big rivers like China has. Because of this, in Korea marine traffic played an important role in the transportation from ancient times, and in the coastal areas kaimin (people of the sea) who were used to life at sea flourished. During the period of the first unified kingdom Shilla, Cheonghaejin Ambassador Jang Bogo was famous for building large forces on the sea in East Asia, straddling as far as China, Japan.

The second unified kingdom Goryeo used routes on the sea to send tax rice collected from the north and south to its capital Kaesong. And when it was attacked by forces from the north, it made use of advantages from the sea. During the thirteenth century, Goryeo transferred its capital to Gonghwa Island in order to avoid attacks from the Mongolian Empire, and continued resistance activities for decades. After the submission to the Yuan dynasty in Mongolia, Goryeo offered its navy for the Mongol invasion attempts against Japan at a huge cost.

In the late fourteenth century, Goryeo came to be often invaded by wako as China was and suffered enormous damage. Wako organized a fleet consisting of several hundreds of ships and invaded the cities in the coastal area of the peninsular and set fire to buildings. The pirates attacked ships of Goryeo and abducted people and looted rice. Reaching the end of its patience, the Goryeo dynasty tried to enforce its navy by building new powerful battle ships in around 1375. The dynasty succeeded in controlling the activities of wako to a large degree by winning fierce battles against them for years before the demise of the dynasty.

Goryeo established the system of suigun banko to maintain the power of the navy. This system, following the chiliachs system of Yuan and the system of the place guarded by soldiers of Ming, incorporated the citizens who were used to life on the sea into the navy in the ratio of one out of three households. Also, households that did not offer soldiers had the obligation to support the life of the soldier's family in exchange for a tax exemption. Yi Dynasty Korea, that took over Goryeo, succeeded the system. The Yi dynasty established a suigun banko system in the coastal areas and set the suigun banko agency to administer the system. In addition, the dynasty placed a Naval Commander (suigun regional military governor) in each province of Eight Provinces of Korea (administrative district) and had the commander administer each navy in the provinces. Especially in the two provinces of Jella and Gyeorgsang that have a complicated Archipelago Area, facing Japan and located in the south of the peninsular, two naval commanders were placed both in the right and left, and the number of suigun banko in each province was fifteen, which was rather large.

During the invasion by the Japanese navy (Jinshin waran, or Bunroku and Keicho War in Korea on Japan's side) that started in 1592, the left naval commander in Jeolla Province Yi Sun-sin organized and led the fleet consisting of Turtle ships that were reportedly invented by Yi himself. The fleet attacked Japanese transport ships and made a great success by damaging the Japanese navy. With the success, Yi was promoted to the Naval Commander of the Three Provinces of Chungcheong, Jeolla, and Gyeorgsang that administered the whole navy in the south. After that he chased the retreating Japanese navy and died during the war. It is said that by the Yi's reorganization, the Korean navy became extremely powerful and made a great contribution to fighting off the Japanese navy. But Yi's achievements were lost for some reason including political feuding. And Korea was never to be a nation with powerful navy in East Asia.