Wako (aka wokou and waegu) is a term used to refer to Japanese (but also including Chinese, Korean, and Portuguese) pirates who plagued the seas of East Asia from Korea to Indonesia, especially between the 13th and 17th centuries CE. Besides the disruption to trade, the devastation which befell coastal communities, and the many thousands of innocents who found themselves sold as slaves, the pirates caused significant tensions in diplomatic relations between China, Korea, and Japan throughout this period. Indeed, the pirates seriously damaged the reputation of Japan in the eyes of their East Asian neighbours in the medieval period. It was only after the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1582-1598 CE) had unified central Japan that the government was finally strong enough to effectively deal with the pirate scourge and put an end to their reign of terror.

More about: Wako


  • c. 1250 - c. 1600
    Wako pirates cause mayhem in East Asia.
  • 1367
    Korea sends an embassy to Japan requesting action be taken against the wako pirates.
  • 1380
    Choe Muson leads a successful Korean attack against a large wako pirate fleet at the mouth of the Kum River.
  • 1389
    The Korean navy attacks the wako pirate bases on Tsushima Island in Japan.
  • 1419
    The Korean navy attacks for a second time the wako pirate bases on Tsushima Island in Japan.
  • 1443
    The Japanese and Korean governments sign the Treaty of Kyehae which permits legitimate trade with the intention of weakening the wako pirates.
  • 1544
    Wako pirates launch significant rids on Korean ports.
  • 1557
    Ming dynasty forces capture the wako pirate chief Wang Chih.
  • 1592
    The Japanese military leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi permanently weakens the wako pirates.