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#Focus ICAS12 | An Analysis of the Types of Ships Used by Japanese Pirates (wakō), 1350-1450

#Focus ICAS12 | An Analysis of the Types of Ships Used by Japanese Pirates (wakō), 1350-1450

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Du 24 au 28 août prochain, l’Université Kyoto Seika accueillera la douzième édition de l'International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS). Cet été, le GIS Asie, partenaire de l'événement, vous propose de découvrir une sélection de communications qui seront présentées lors de l’événement.


Damien Peladan présentera une communication intitulée "An Analysis of the Types of Ships Used by Japanese Pirates (wakō), 1350-1450"

During the second half of 14th and first half of the 15th century, Japanese pirates (usually referred to as wakō 倭寇) regularly crossed the sea to plunder the coasts of China and Korea. At their peak, between 1350 and 1390, their fleets numbered up to several hundred ships and thousands of men, to the point of launching head-on attacks against the armies and navies of continental States.

Although this piracy has been the subject of much scholarship, focusing on a wide range of topics such as their geographical and ethnical origins, their ties to feudal powers, the economic and geopolitical impact of their activities, etc., not a single study has so far been devoted to their ships. This presentation thus aims at remedying this gap in our collective knowledge by analyzing, within the limits of available textual and archeological evidence, the types of ships used by Japanese pirates during the second half of the 14th and first half of the 15th centuries, understanding how these ships might have evolved during this period, and how they might have influenced shipbuilding techniques in the rest of Japan.

Indeed, as we shall discuss, it is widely known that Japanese shipbuilding experienced rapid development during the late 14th and early 15th centuries, a development which chronologically coincides with pirate activity overseas, although no one has ever drawn a link between the two phenomena. In this presentation, I argue that piracy abroad was the main impetus for this naval revolution in Japan, as piracy created a need for larger and more seaworthy vessels suitable for long voyages across the China sea. We further argue that the shipwrights who built the pirate ships took inspiration from continental shipbuilding techniques, and especially Korean techniques, when designing these new types of vessels.

Damien Peladan is an associate professor at the Université Bordeaux Montaigne, France. He specializes in East Asian maritime history in the Middle Period (mainly 13th to 15th centuries) and his research primarily focuses on the issue of Japanese piracy (wakō/waegu/wokou) and regional trading networks.

Figure 1 : Japanese seagoing ship from the 13th-14th centuries (reconstitution by Ishii Kenji).