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Researchers in Japan and South Korea are working together to file a joint request to get historic materials documenting the Korean missions to Japan placed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register to help improve the strained diplomatic relationship.

The project targets registration of materials related to the so-called Joseon missions, which were dispatched to Japan from the Kingdom of Great Joseon as part of diplomatic exchanges between the two countries during the Edo Period (1603-1868).

Researchers from Aichi, Gifu and Mie prefectures in the Tokai region will gather the materials for the application to be filed in 2016.

The project was started in 2012 after an initial proposal by the Busan Culture Foundation of South Korea.

The idea caught on, and 16 cities and towns, including Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, and Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, as well as an NPO liaison council supporting visits to areas related to the Joseon missions to Japan, got onboard.

With this year marking the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the researchers hope the joint project will “create opportunities to further strengthen Japanese-Korean relations.” One document found in Aichi Prefecture is a scroll depicting a scene from a Joseon mission traveling through Okoshijuku, a cluster of inns built along the Kiso River. The scroll is being kept in the Ichinomiya Bisai Museum of History and Folklore.

The illustration shows a makeshift bridge built over the river near the Owari Domain of the House of Tokugawa. It was constructed by closely lining up as many as 274 boats across the 860-meter-wide river and placing wood panels over them, just to let the mission continue on its way to the old capital of Edo, now Tokyo.

“Usually, this was only done when the shogun passed through the area,” explained Masayuki Nukii, a former lecturer at the Nagoya University of Foreign Studies and a member of the project’s academic committee.

The Tokai region group began selecting materials last summer and has narrowed the list down to five or six items so far. The short list currently includes materials taken from the Hosa Library in Nagoya and the Gifu Prefectural Archives.

The list includes records showing the lavish welcome accorded to the missions, as well as a picture depicting a parade at a local festival in which regular people dressed up as members of the mission, which was added as “evidence of how the diplomatic exchanges affected civilians.”

The Joseon kingdom dispatched 12 missions to the Tokugawa shogunate between 1607 and 1811. Each visit is thought to have brought several hundred representatives, including scholars and doctors, who interacted with civilians.

After landing in Osaka, the missions traveled along the Minoji and Tokaido roads.

It is believed that the Owari branch displayed the most lavish welcomes as a way to exhibit its power.

Nukii said the Tokai region group has found a great deal of materials in Aichi, but there has been “very little in-depth research on the subject due to lack of interest.”

“Japanese-South Korean relations may be strained, but the Joseon missions is an area on which collaboration between the two countries is not difficult to pursue,” Nukii said.

“Tokugawa Ieyasu made the decision to develop peaceful diplomatic relations, and he was from Aichi Prefecture,” he said. “So I hope we can do something similar in this region.”

The Memory of the World Register was started in 1992 to preserve and promote documentary heritage. The list includes the Netherlands’ Diaries of Anne Frank, Germany’s 42-line Gutenberg Bible and Japan’s Sakubei Yamamoto Collection of the artist-coal miner’s drawings and records of mines in the Kyushu region.

The project aims to win UNESCO’s recognition in 2017.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Jan. 7.

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