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Hideyoshi launched the invasion of Korea in 1592, with the aim of conquering Korea first and using it as a base for eventual conquest of China. As things turned out, although the superior Japanese army made great progress at first (starting from Busan, taking Pyongyang and most of the peninsula in 3 months), they could not advance any further and were pushed out of Korea eventually, in 1598. The way I see it, the Japanese had severe strategic shortcomings that made the stated goals (conquest of Korea and China) wildly unrealistic:

  • The Japanese navy could not match the Koreans, and thus were mostly limited to guarding the Tsushima supply route, greatly hampering the land advance
  • They met with strong guerrilla resistance, tying up scarce manpower in defensive operations
  • Korea was an important tributary state to China at the time, and the latter would not sit idly by

These shortcomings would have been obvious to any competent commander, and Hideyoshi was no slouch. So what reasons did Hideyoshi have to initiate the invasion in the first place? Were there political intrigues, domestic issues, was this a golden opportunity (relatively speaking), or just plain arrogance/stupidity on Hideyoshi's part?

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They really wanted to sit on the Dragon Throne. –  Lohoris Jan 9 at 17:25

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I knew nothing about him before reading the Wikipedia article on him five minutes ago, so hopefully someone will come up with a more informed answer.

According to Wiki:

Hideyoshi's health beginning to falter, but still yearning for some accomplishment to solidify his legacy, he adopted Oda Nobunaga's dream of a Japanese conquest of China and launched the conquest of the Ming Dynasty by way of Korea (at the time Joseon).

It seems to me he wanted his place in History. He felt he wasn't going to live much longer and wanted to be remembered for a great accomplishment. That desire was probably stronger and more important, and the practicality or feasibility of the task was secondary. A form of gambling for immortality?

(He may have failed but here we are discussing him for that, so perhaps it did work to some extent :)

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