Shisen no Tatakai (The Battle of Shisen) (泗川の戦い)

Shisen no Tatakai was one of the Japanese battles which occurred during the Bunroku-Keicho War.

Seven thousand army soldiers of the Shimazu clan led by Yoshihiro SHIMAZU fought against the tens of thousands of soldiers (mentioned afterwards) of Ming and Korean Allied Forces led by TON Yi Yuan, who was the busho (military commander) of Ming, in Sacheon City on Korean Peninsula in October 1598. It was known as the legendary battle that led weak Shimazu army to victory despite the great difference in the size of the armies, but there were various theories depending on sources that the Ming army number ranged from thirty-seven thousand to two hundred thousand soldiers, and the number of casualties ranged from several thousand to eighty thousand soldiers.


The Ming and Korean Allied Forces simultaneously attacked Suncheon Waeseong (Yukinaga KONISHI army), Sacheon Waeseong (Sacheon Japanese Castle) (Shimazu army), and Ulsan Waeseong (Ulsan Japanese Castle) (Kiyomasa KATO army) from the west between early to mid-October 1598.

Two hundred thousand soldiers of Ming and Korean Allied forces led by the Ming General TON Yi Yuan carried out a siege on Sacheon Waeseong. Since Sacheon City was located midway between Busan Metropolitan City of the supply base of the Japanese army and Suncheon Waeseong and Namhae Waeseong (Namhae Japanese Castle) at the extreme left wing of the Imperial Japanese Army, the communication with the army on the western side would be cut off if the city fell. There were only seven thousand soldiers of Shimazu army led by Yoshihiro SHIMAZU and Tadatsune SHIMAZU stationed in this Shisen.

Yoshitoshi SO and Muneshige TACHIBANA armies tried to send the supporting army, but Yoshihiro rejected this offer and clashed with huge Ming and Korean army with only the Shimazu clan force.


Shimazu Army provided several hundred soldiers to Tadazane KAWAKAMI to defend the old Sacheon Waeseong and left ten thousand koku (1 koku=180.4 liters) worth of food. Shimazu Army stubbornly resisted despite having a few soldiers and taunted the allied army. In addition, Tadazane KAWAKAMI ordered Shigeharu SETOGUCHI to burn down the food warehouse of the enemy and succeeded. The allied forces with a great number of soldiers faced food deficiency and got into a difficult situation further by having their food supply burnt down and had to make the battles short.

Yoshihiro SHIMAZU formed a strong battle formation with the New Sacheon Waeseong at its back and positioned ambush soldiers. Yoshihiro used a massive amount of firelocks and buried land mines to retaliate against the attacks of allied forces and defended most attacks. In addition, they used canons loaded with metal pieces and nails instead of canon balls. When the Allied forces attacked, Yoshihiro had his soldiers carry out an ambush to confuse and scatter the enemy formation before shifting to the main battle formation that attacked the enemy. The Allied Forces suffering from food shortages and exhaustion, therefore, they were consequently annihilated.

There were only ten thousand military effectives, who were able to gather and retreat afterwards.
According to the Shimazu side, they 'beheaded thirty-thousand heads and an unknown amount of people were killed and cast aside.'
Yoshihiro SHIMAZU was feared as 'Oni-Shimazu' (Shimazu ogre) and his bushi name spread across not only Korea but Ming Dynasty.

According to the "Ehon Taikoki" (The Illustrated Chronicles of the Regent)

According to Ehon Taikoki, the one that defended Sacheon Waeseong (Old Sacheon Waeseong) was Sadamasa (his name was written as 定正 or 貞昌 with same pronunciation), who had the title of Ise Hyobu shoyu (junior assistant minister of the Hyobusho Ministry of War in Ise Province). In addition, the New Sacheon Waeseong was written as 新塞城. Furthermore, 'Oni-Shimazu' (Ogre Shimazu) was written as 'Osoroshi no Shimanzu' (Fearsome Shimanzu). The Ming force consisted of forty thousand soldiers. The military force of the Shimazu army consisted of six thousand and three hundred soldiers that included around five thousand Yoshihiro soldiers, one thousand soldiers of Tadatsune, three hundred soldiers of Sadamasa, who had the title of Ise Hyobu shoyu. They beheaded thirty thousand Ming people.

Factors that determined the outcome

Shimazu army with a castle would have faced the defeat with a long war due to the difference in their military strengths. On the other hand, Ming army with at least several ten thousand soldiers that surrounded the castle lacked food required to move the huge army and lost the food warehouse from the surprise attack of Shimazu army. As a result, both sides sought nothing but a short war.

Looking from the morale perspective, it was difficult to give out commands since the Ming and Korean army was the allied force and was difficult to rally once the confusion occurred due to any unpredicted events. In addition, they must have been optimistically confident since their enemy forces were extremely small, consisting of only seven thousand soldiers. These factors became the weakness of the allied force.

On the other hand, the Shimazu army strongly recognized that if they lost this battle, the formation of Japanese army would crumble and many of their allies would lose their escape route. Since Shimazu was greatly experienced with traditional guerilla attacks, the minds of the army as a whole seemed to have been united as well. In addition, since they were cut off from the supporting army of their comrades and only the soldiers of Shimazu family fought, there was an extremely strong morale as the army in spite of being small in size.

It could be assumed that the outnumbered Shimazu army was able to face a victory due to a combination of various factors mentioned earlier and the successful surprise and ambush attacks that led the allied force into confusion and fell. In addition, using a great amount of guns as defense to increase the strength of Shimazu army became a great factor contributing to victory.

The seize of the Ming force in the Battle of Shisen was not certain, but the record of the defeated Ming side mentioned 'eighty thousand war casualties.'
Since eighty thousand war casualties was large even when compared to past wars, the general on the losing side normally reported smaller numbers of casualties since there was a possibility of being executed. It is likely that a smaller number of casualties were reported, but in reality this remains uncertain due to the great difference in numbers for which the Japanese army proclaimed over thirty thousand casualties.


Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI passed away on August 18 before the Battle of Shisen, and his death was kept secret and the Japanese army was ordered to retreat on October 15.

Gotairo (Council of Five Elders) highly regarded the fine deeds of the Shimazu family, who defeated the Ming army and permitted the systematic retreat of its allies and assisted an escape of the Konishi army in the Battle of Noryang (they killed Korean Marine General Yi Sun-sin in the process) which occurred soon after, and the Shimazu family was the only one that was awarded with the estate among various daimyo that participated in the Bunroku-Keicho War.

There is a dance called 'Wadaiko-odori Dance' passed down in Kobayashi City, Miyazaki Prefecture, praising the victory at Shisen.

[Original Japanese]