Sin Gayeong “Research on the Mimana Nihon-fu and colonialist historiography” 2016 – summary

Mimana map (Sōkichi 1913)

Map of Mimana’s territory according to Tsuda Sōkichi (津田左右吉 1873-1961), originally from 『満洲歴史地理』第壹卷 「朝鮮歷史地理硏究」(南滿洲鐵道株式會社 1913).

The following is a summary of points and information from a useful article by Sin Ga-yeong (신가영) concerning modern and current historiography on the topic of Mimana, again found in the same issue of Yeoksa-bipyeong (역사비평 ‘history criticism/review’, vol.114 spring 2016) as the articles by Ki Kyoung-ryang and Wee Kaya

Mimana is the Japanese pronunciation for 任羅, which in Sino-Korean is pronounced Imna (임나). For the sake of consistency I transcribe it throughout as Mimana, though it should be noted that in the original Korean, Sin uses Imna, even in the context of the exclusive Nihon Shoki term ‘Mimana Nihon-fu’ (任羅日本府, Sino-Korea: Imna Ilbon-bu 임나일본부) which most literally translates as ‘Mimana Japan administrative office/bureau’. However, the exonymic term 倭, found in Chinese and peninsular sources denoting the ancient Japanese people – both on the archipelago and peninsula – I transcribe with Sino-Korean Wae (왜) rather than Japanese Wa.

The article is subdivided into the following five sections, though I omit summary of the first as this is another recapitulation of the issue of pseudo historian Lee Deok-il, and in this case his mis-characterization of Kim Hyeon-gu’s works as constituting a continuation of the so-called ‘colonial view of history’, and the section 5 as this is a short conclusion. 

  1. Mimana Nihon-fu standing in court (임나일본부설 법정에 서다)
  2. Invasion and Resistance (침략과 저항의 이중주)
  3. The current situation of research on ‘Mimana Nihon-fu’ (‘암나일본부’ 연구의 현주소)
  4. Biases and misunderstandings concerning the ‘Mimana Nihon-fu’ (‘임나’에 대한 편견과 오해)
  5. In expectation of a dynamic history of early Korea-Japan exchanges (역동적인 고대 한일 교류사를 기대하며)

Numbers in square brackets correspond to the original endnotes. 


Research on the Mimana Nihon-fu and colonialist historical perspectives (‘임나일본부’ 연구와 식민주의역사과)

2. Invasion and Resistance (침략과 저항의 이중주)

Debates on the Mimana Nihon-fu concern not only the question of ancient Korea-Japan relations, but also research pertaining to Gaya history.

Edo period scholars utilized myths and legends from the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki to argue Japan’s control over the peninsula. An early example is Dai Nihon-shi ((大日本史 1720) which dated the establishment of the Mimana Nihon-fu to Empress Jingu’s conquest over the peninsular Samhan.

Empress Jingu’s legendary conquest continued to be raised during the 19th century in the context of the debates over whether to (re)invade Korea (征韓論). (p235)

“Mimana-kō” (任那考 ‘study of Mimana’) compiled by the 參謀本部 in 1882, argued that the Nihon-fu was established in the region of Gaya to administer peninsular polities. Research on toponyms premising Mimana as belonging to Japan was continued by scholars including Tsuda Sōkichi (津田左右吉 {1873-1961}), Imanishi Ryū (今西龍 {1875-1932}) and Ayukai Fusanoshin (鮎貝房之進 {1864-1946}). (p235)

In this way, colonial historiography was created in order to legitimize the invasion and colonization of Korea, and one of the most heavily researched areas was the Mimana Nihon-fu ‘theory’. (p235)

According to this theory, the Mimana Nihon-fu was established by Wae (the Yamato administration of ancient Japan) in the mid 4th century and it would rule over the south of the peninsula for more than two centuries.[5] This theory was most systematically laid out by Suematsu Yasukazu (末松保和 {1904-1992}).

[5] 末松保和 『任那興亡史』 大八州出版, 1949 (2nd edition 吉川弘文館 1956 – English title given as “The Rise and Fall of Mimana: Japanese-Korean Relations before A.D. 646”).

In addition to the Nihon Shoki Mimana references, they also interpreted similar references from the Gwanggaeto Stele Sinmyo and Yingle 10 year passages, as well as from the Songshu “Waeguo account” and the Chiljido (seven pronged sword) inscription as evidence of the Mimana Nihon-fu.

This Mimana research portraying early Korean history to have begun with interference from Wae influence constitutes is an archetypal example of the colonialist discourse of Korea being ruled from outside (타율성론 ‘discourse on heteronomy’) (p235-6)

Suematsu’s treatment remained the dominant theory included in Japanese textbooks until the 1960s, when it started to be challenged by North Korean scholar, Kim Seok-hyeong’s (1963) hypothesis that the Samhan and Three Kingdoms polities had ‘branch polities’ (分國) on the Japanese archipelago. [6]

[6] 『력사과학』 1963-1; 『초기 조일관계 연구』. These works argue that the namesake polities occurring in Nihon Shoki had crossed from the peninsula to the archipelago several centuries before Common Era (i.e. BC), and that the Mimana Nihon-fu was established by Yamato to rule over the region of modern Okinawa, and so had no relation to peninsular Gaya.

Despite its various deficiencies, this work provided an opportunity for Japanese scholars to reexamine the question of the Mimana Nihon-fu. [7]

[7] A representative work negating Suematsu is Inoue Hideo’s (井上秀雄) 『任那日本府と倭』 (東出版 1973). This work argues that just as there were people from the Korean peninsula who had crossed to the Japanese archipelago, so there were Japanese Wae residing in the region of Gaya, and the Mimana Nihon-fu was established to administer those of mixed birth.

These new studies still largely treated the Gaya region as having been under Japanese influence but, for example, interpreted Gaya as a tributary state to Yamato, or as having been under Wae political and military influence. (p236)

South Korean postwar scholarship, meanwhile, sort to disprove the notion of the Mimana Nihon-fu.[8] (p236)

Amongst South Korean scholars, Cheon Gwan-u (千寬宇 1977, 1991) critically utilized the Nihon Shoki to revive the notion of an independent Gaya history. Cheon argued that the Nihon Shoki passages referring to the invasion and rule exerted over Gaya was a misappropriation of records originally brought to Japan by Baekje refugees, and that it had been Baekje which had subjugated Gaya. Thus the Nihon Mimima-fu had in fact been a Baekje military office. [9] (p236)

[9] 千寬宇 – 「復元加耶史(中)」 in 『文學과知性』29, 1977; 『加耶史硏究』, 一潮閣, 1991.

Building on Cheon Gwan-u’s hypothesis, Kim Hyeon-gu (金鉉球 1985, 1993) {who has been attacked by pseudo historians as promoting Japanese colonial historiography} argued that Baekje actively employed Wae mercenary soldiers in order to subjugate and administer the Gaya region. Thus the focus of ancient Korea-Japan relations was between Baekje and Wae mercenaries. [10] (p237)

[10] 金鉉球 – 『大和政權の對外關係硏究』 吉川弘文館, 1985; 『加耶日本府硏究: 韓半島南部經營論批判』, 一潮閣, 1993.

Archaeological discoveries from the 1980s have demonstrated a distinct Gaya culture undermining Suematsu’s hypothesis of Japanese control, although discoveries on the south coast also point to a Wae presence but these are best interpreted as evidence of exchanges. [11,12] (p237)

[11] From 1916 the Government General initiated archaeological investigations across the peninsula; that the Nakdong river basin region was a focal point for this research indicates they were trying to discovery the Mimana Nihon-fu. However, they produced no concrete findings, and Hamada Kosaku (濱田耕策) who participated in the surveys, admitted {later or at the time is unclear} that it was impossible to prove the existence of Mimana Nihon-fu through archaeology. (Ju Bodon 朱甫暾, 「日本書紀의編纂背景과任那日本府說의 成立」 in 『韓國古代史硏究』15, 1999).

[12] Eight Wae type tumuli have so far been identified in the Gaya region, however, their distribution is concentrated on the southern coast. By contrast, no Wae tombs have yet been found in Goryeong, Ham’an or Gimhae which are the regions associated with Gaya/Mimana that appear mostly frequently in the sources.

3. The current situation of research on ‘Mimana Nihon-fu’ (‘암나일본부’ 연구의 현주소)

Since 1980s research on Gaya has been primarily driven by archaeology.

The weakness of Cheon and Kim’s Baekje hypothesis is that the Nihon Shoki contains no mention of the Mimana Nihon-fu having been ruled by Baekje. There is no evidence of the Wae people receiving orders from Baekje or taking actions in a manner to Baekje’s advantage; if anything, it describes closer relations between the Gaya states and Silla. Whilst transferring agency from Japan to Baekje, the hypothesis still ignored the agency of the Gaya states themselves. (p237)

Consequently South Korean research has focused on Gaya’s external relations from two angles: 1) those between Baekje on one side and Gaya and Wae on the other, and 2) between the Gaya states and the Wae.[13] (p238)

One starting point is to note that the term ‘Nihon-fu’ (Japan office) itself occurs solely in Nihon Shoki and not even in the Kojiki. The Nihon Shoki references to Nihon-fu occur in entries for Yūryaku (雄略) year 8 (c.464), and Kinmei (欽明) years 2~13 ( c.541~552), during which period neither the term Nihon, nor fu was yet in usage. [14] Thus the term Nihon-fu was likely created during the compilation of the Nihon Shoki and opinions are divided on what alternative terms to use in scholarship, in turn dependent on interpretations. (p239)

[14] Ju Bodon 朱甫暾 (1999 – cf note 11) posit that during the compilation of Nihon Shoki, influential Baekje refugees created the Nihon-fu and notion that Japan had once directly administered Mimana in order to encourage the Japan emperor to lend them forces to restore Baekje.

There are two main interpretations of the fu. One is as some kind of office or bureau (기관/기구) operated by, or for, Wae people which would correspond to the later notion of a fu (governmental office). The other is as an envoy dispatched by the Wae royal house. In this second case the character fu is interpreted according to its vernacular Japanese reading as mikotomochi (御事持), and the original term for Mimana Nihon-fu is matched to the term 在安羅諸倭臣等 which also occurs in Nihon Shoki Kinmei 15, entry (欽明15年12月). [15] (p239)

In this way, the Mimana Nihon-fu is generally interpreted by South Korean scholars as a product of Gaya’s external relations. Even amongst those who argue for Baekje influence, it simply becomes an office administered by Baekje. It is either way accepted that during the first half of the 6th century either an office or envoy group (사신단) was present in the region of Alla {安羅안라} (Gaya), modern Ham’an, which could correspond to the Nihon Shoki references to a Mimana Nihon-fu. [16] (p239)

[16] The Mimana Nihon-fu is generally regarded to have been in Alla, however, there is a new theory that it also included the region of Dae Gaya (see Baek Seung-ok 백승옥 「’任那日本府’의 所在와 등장배경」 in 『지역과 역사』 36, 2015.

Present day scholarly debates on the Mimana Nihon-fu are no longer concerned with whether it was operated by Wae, or whether the Wae were ruling the south of the peninsula, rather they focus on how to understand the reality of Wae people who were active in the Gaya region regardless of whether the Nihon-fu existed or not. (p240)

Broadly, three main research foci have been pursued. The first looks at the relationship with peninsular Wae and the Yamato administration. In general the peninsular Wae are interpreted as having been dispatched by Yamato but that they were outside of Yamato’s direct administrative control and identified with Baekje or Gaya. They are alternatively interpreted as originating in the Kyūshū or Kibi (吉備) regions of Japan (distant from the Yamato court).

The second looks at the question as to how Wae people came to the Gaya region, with hypotheses including that they were dispatched from Baekje or requested by Alla. The third seeks to examine the relationship between the Wae people and the Gaya states, and what function the Wae played.

Currently Japanese interpretations are also similar. The Mimana Nihon-fu is no longer argued to have been an organ for military control, but more often than not, as a diplomatic or bureaucratic office of Yamato that sought to monopolize the introduction of the Korean peninsula’s advanced culture (선진문물) into Japan. [17] (p240)

The problem of the interpretation of the Mimana Nihon-fu stems in its original representation in the Nihon Shoki, which due to its own context – being compiled by Japanese at a later date – displays an attitude of superiority towards the peninsula.[18]

[18] That Mimana is also referred to in Nihon Shoki as 任那官家 shows that Mimana was regarded as under direct administration by the Japanese royal house.

The various Baekje sources cited within the Nihon Shoki (Baekje-gi 百濟記, Baekje-sinseon 百濟新選 and Baekje-bongi 百濟本紀) both will have displayed an original Baekje centered bias, and may also have been altered during their incorporation into the Nihon Shoki. (p241)

4. Biases and misunderstandings concerning the ‘Mimana Nihon-fu’ (‘임나’에 대한 편견과 오해)

Pseudo historians today conflate the notion of the Mimana Nihon-fu with the colonial era Government General (總督府) and therefore interpret any opinion that Mimana existed as a colonialistic view of history. (p242)

Consequently they use Nihon Shoki to argue that Mimana was located in Japan or Tsushima Island; one argument they promote is the fact that Mimamna continues to be mentioned after the 562 date of Gaya’s overthrow and therefore could not have been the same entity. [19] (p244)

[19] The Nihon Shoki references to Mimana occurring after its 562 overthrow are generally either taken to understand it as an office managing Japan’s relations with Silla, or simply as evidence that the Nihon Shoki compilers concept of Mimana was false.

However, these arguments ignore that the term appears in peninsular sources: Mimana/Imna Gara (任那加羅) is attested on the 414 Gwanggaeto Stele; as Mimana/Imna (任那) on the 924 Jingyeong pagoda text at Bongnim-sa temple (봉림사 진경대사보월능공탑비), and as Imna Garyang (任那加良) in the 1145 Samguk-sagi, thus demonstrating that Mimana/Imna was used on the peninsula additionally to Gara/Gaya.

Imna is also attested in multiple Chinese sources, including the “Wae” accounts in the Songshu, Nan Qishu, Liangshu, and Namshi (宋書,南齊書,梁書) and in the “Silla” accounts of Hanyuan and Tongdian (翰苑 通典). The Hanyuan (卷30:蕃夷部:新羅), compiled 620, in particular attests people of Silla recounting that both Gara and Imna were overthrown by Silla.[20]

Some pseudo scholars take the fact that Chinese sources refer to both Imna and Gara to argue that Mimana and Gaya were two distinct states, but in these cases they are likely to refer to two polities centered at Gimhae and Goryeong respectively, within the greater region that, from the time of the compilation of the Samguk-sagi came to be referred to as Gaya. (p245)

Sin Gayeong (신가영)

Doctoral candidate at Yonsei University department of history. Having majored in early Korean history, his recent interests concern the relations between the Gaya confederacy and Silla and Baekje.