Japanese missions to Tang China (遣唐使)

Japanese missions to Tang China were diplomatic missions sent to Tang China by Japan, as described in the "Old Book of Tang" and the "New Book of Tang." Japanese missions to Sui China were replaced by those to Tang China because, in China, the Sui Dynasty fell and the Tang Dynasty appeared in 619. These missions were demised by the proposal of SUGAWARA no Michizane in 894.

Purposes of Japanese missions to Tang China
The main purposes of the missions were collecting information on overseas situations, advanced Chinese technology and Buddhist scriptures.

The first Japanese mission to Tang China was made by INUKAMI no Mitasuki in 630. Measures were taken to allow Japan called Wa at that time, a country far away, not to send a mission every year, as described in the Books of Tang below.

In 631, Japan sent an envoy to China to present a gift. Taking pity on the Japanese envoy because of the long journey he had had to make, Taiso (Tang tai zong) ordered the office in charge not to request tributes from Japan every year.
("Old Book of Tang" Wakoku Nihon den [Descriptions of Japan]")

In 631, during the reign of Taiso, Japan sent an envoy to China to pay a tribute. Taking pity on the Japanese envoy because of the long journey he had had to make, the emperor ordered the office in charge not to request tributes from Japan every year.
("New Book of Tang" Nihon den [Descriptions of Japan]")

After that, a rule was made before the eighth century for an emperor to send a mission once every 20 years as described in the book written by the Tang priest Yuiken and a mission was sent approximately every dozen to two dozen years.

The missions to Tang China were repeated for more than 200 years and this allowed Japan to adopt the cultures and institutions of the Tang Dynasty which was an advanced state, and considerably contributed to the introduction of Buddhism into Japan.

Number of times

There are several opinions about the total number of missions according to the interpretation of the number of cancellations and envoys.

12 times: Opinion of Reinosuke FUJIIE
20 times: Opinion of Haruyuki TONO and Wang Yong

Other opinions: 14 times, 15 times, 16 times and 18 times

In this article, we adopted 20 times.

Numbers in parentheses mean envoys who did not arrive at Tang.

The name of an unofficial post such as dispatching and receiving clerks was followed by the name of the holder of this post.

Routes and ships

People used to pray in Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine in Sumiyoshi Ward, Osaka, for safety of the ships for mission to Tang China, and put 'Sumiyoshi-Daijin,' the alter of the god of the sea, on the bow of the ships; they left Suminoe no tsu (Suminoe Port) (Sumiyoshi Ward, Osaka City) and entered the Osaka gulf from Hosoe in Sumiyoshi (current Hosoe-gawa River, commonly called as Hosoi-gawa River; Hosoigawa Station), stopped over in Naniwa no tsu (Naniwa Port) (Chuo Ward, Osaka City) and arrived at Nanotsu (Fukuoka City in Fukuoka Prefecture) via Seto Island Sea.
It is estimated that ships took the following routes:

Route in the period between 630 and 665: Northern route

Route starting at northern Kyushu (sometimes via Tsushima) and reaching Tonshung in the Shandong Peninsula via the west cost of the Korean Peninsula and the southern coast of Liaodong Peninsula. This route became unavailable afterward because of political change in the peninsula.

Route in the period between 702 and 752: Southern Island Route

Route starting at Bo no tsu (now Minami-Satsuma City in Kagoshima Prefecture) and crossing the East China Sea via the Nansei Islands. Ships went south at the first stage in consideration of possibly being swept away to the North by the black current in the East China Sea. Some researches say that this possibility cannot be confirmed.

Route in the period between 773 and 838: Southern route

Route crossing the East China Sea from the Goto Islands. Ships crossed the Tsushima current in the sea near Japan and went westward.

Japan was unable to send missions to Tang China through the northern route and had to find a new route, because Japan lost its base foot in the Korean Peninsula in the Battle of Baekgang in 663 and Silla drove the Tang army out of the peninsula to unify its country in 676. Therefore, Japan found a southern island route and southern route. Note that the mission to Tang China in 665 was a mission to send back to Tang the mission sent to Japan after the Battle of Baekgang.

It seems that, in the return journey in 839, people took the route starting at south coast of the Shandong Peninsula and reached Japan at northern Kyushu, crossing the Yellow Sea via the south coast of the Korean Peninsula.

The ships for missions to Tang China had a box-shaped structure similar to a flat-bottomed junk boat without keel and was equipped with sails. The possibility for the ship to complete a round trip was low because the ship could not handle beam sea well. A mission was composed of 4 boats and about 100 people were on each boat.

They risked their life in sailing because many of the late missions to Tang China encountered storms and went missing. While a mainstream view for these disappearances is that they were due to poor sailing, Arikiyo SAEKI says that it was due to the fact the boats got larger and Haruyuki TONO argues that it was due to the diplomatic conditions of the missions to Tang China. According to TONO, the sailing of the ship for missions to Tang China was relatively high. But because of the fact that the missions to Tang China were commanded by the emperor, they had to leave Japan in June or July, the months during which weather conditions were bad (and had to arrive at the capital of Tang within December in order to be present in the ceremony in which the Emperor received New Years congratulations) and had to return to Japan in a season in which weather conditions were severe. Therefore, it is estimated that boats were often sunken or went missing.

List of dispatched personnel
Composition of a mission ("the Engishiki" [an ancient book for codes and procedures on national rites and prayers] according to the section describing the codes of Okura-sho Ministry)
Ambassador, vice-ambassador, officers, clerical officers, on-board supervisors, translators, short-stay students, Shinto priest, doctors, master of Yin yang, painters, low-ranked clerks, archers, shipmen, and chief musicians
Silla and Amami interpreters, diviners, students studying abroad, Buddhist monks studying abroad, attendants, servitors, musicians, glass workers, hammer men, casters, wood craft workers, ship carpenters, chief quartmaster, and attendants of the mission
Quartmaster, chief sailor, sailors etc.

Demise of Japanese missions to Tang China
In 874, the Huang Chao Rebellion occurred in the Tang Dynasty. Huang Chao sacked Luoang and Chang'an and founded the Qi Dynasty (880 to 884). Although the Qi Dynasty fell in a short time, the Tang Dynasty was weakened and reduced to a local government which ran only Chang'an, the capital.

Therefore, the mission planned in 894 was dismissed by the proposal of SUGAWARA no Michizane. In 907, the Tang Dynasty perished and this brought an end to Japanese missions to Tang China.

[Original Japanese]