I recently ran across two separate references to the Hideyoshi invasions of Korea, both of which credited Hideyoshi’s initial success to firearms. That didn’t ring true for a few reasons, the first of which is that I’m a professional Japanese historian and didn’t remember ever seeing that sort of assertion before. My impression was that the initial Japanese success was a result of having a large number of battle-hardened veterans against a nation which hadn’t seen large-scale combat in over a century. The ability of the Ming to throw the Japanese back when they committed enough troops (and really, not that many, though the Koreans were committing a great deal more) seemed to me to argue against a significant technological differential.
I’ve sent a query to H-Japan, and the first reply I got back deepened my confusion. Andrew Dyche of UBC reminded me of the “Turtle Boats” which Korea used to such great effect against Japan’s military and supply ships. In that respect, at least, the technological advantage was in the wrong direction. I’m not a military historian by trade, but this doesn’t look good.
A bit of google work (all my relevant books are at the office, and it’s summer, so I don’t get in much) led me to this article about why Europe colonized the world. It has some interesting details about the reported effectiveness of both firearms and turtle boats, but also relies heavily on pretty old sources (which explains why, for example, Japan after 1636 supposedly only traded with the Portuguese instead of the Dutch, Chinese and Koreans). Interesting, but not dispositive, and certainly not the original source of the idea. Nor are these sites, though they are typical of the genre. All of them seem to indicate that Ming military technology balanced the war (and the Turtle boats tipped it in the other direction).
I suppose I’m going to need to go in and look this up, but if anyone knows of a good monograph on the subject of the 1590s wars I’d be grateful.