This is the detailed part of chapter 14|Late Kamakura Period History （鎌倉後期. Please read chapter 14 before starting this chapter.
Genko (元寇) — Mongolian Invasion
In Chapter 14, the Mongolian invasion was simply described. Here is the more detailed description. The Mongol Empire was a vast empire spread between present Mongol areas to all the way to Eastern Europe from 1206 to 1368. Grandson of Genghis Kahn, Kublai Kahn sent several official letters to Japan demanding Japan to become a dependency state of the Mongol Empire (Yuan) and demanded to send a tribute to them. They threatened Japan that they will invade if Japan did not accept their demand. Hojo Tokimune (北条時宗 ) who was in power in Kamakura Bakufu (government) then, refused and ignored the letters many times. That caused the two times invasions by the Mongol Empire. The prevailing notion is that the strong typhoon hit Japan on each invasion, Mongols were chased away by the typhoon. There were more to it to the story.
Bunnei-no-Eki (文永の役 ) 1274
The first Mongolian invasion is called Bunnei-no-Eki. The early part of October 1274, 40,000 Mongol troops (Mongol, Han people, and Korean) departed heading to Japan from Korean peninsula on 900 large and small ships. After they arrived on the Tsushima island (対馬 ), Mongol troop burnt villages and killed many people including the island people. Many people were captured and presented to the top officials of the Mongols as their slaves. It was a really miserable sad scene. The Mongols moved to Iki Island (壱岐の島), then to Hizen shore (肥前 ), Hirato Island (平戸 ), Taka-Shima (鷹島 ), then to Hakata bay (博多). At each place, the disastrous scene was the same as everywhere. At each battlefield, Japanese soldiers and villagers were killed in great numbers. Kamakura Bukufu (government) sent many Samurai to the battlefield, the Japanese side won and pushed the Mongols back here and there but mostly Japanese sides lost. Many wives and children were captured, eventually, even no soldiers dared to fight against Mongols. Mongols arrows were short and not so powerful, but they put on the poison at the tip, and they shoot the arrows like rain. Also, this is the first time the Japanese saw the firearms. Their loud sound of the explosion made horses and Samurai frightened. Japanese troops had to retreat and the situation was really bad for Japanese. But all of a sudden surprisingly, on morning of the of October 21st (today’s calendar, Nov 19th) all the ships were gone, nowhere to be seen on the shore. Mongols were all disappeared from the shore of Hakata. What happened was Mongols decided to quit the fight and went back. For Mongols, even though they were winning, they also lost many people and lost one of the major key person in the army. The different history book of Korea and Mongols had several records about the reasons to leave Japan. The Mongols realized no matter how Mongols were winning, the Japanese kept coming more and more from everywhere. The Mongols could not expect reinforcements from their country over the ocean. Also, their stocks of weapons were getting low. It was the Mongols decision to go back. Here is a twist. Around the end of October (November by the today’s calendar), the sea between Hakata (where Mongols were) and Korea was very dangerous because of the bad weather, unless the clear daytime of south wind day. This place is called Genkai Nada (玄界灘 ) famous for the rough sea. Yet Mongols decided to go back at night. They may have caught the moment of the south wind, but it did not last long. As a result, they encountered the usual severe rainstorm. Many ships hit against the cliff, ships capsized, people fell into the ocean, and several hundred broken ships were found on the shore. This is called Bunnei- no- Eki (文永の役 ). Mongols lost a large number of people, ships, troop, food, weapons, and Korea who was forced to supply all of them by the Mongols lost a great deal. Only old men and children were left to work on the farm, on top of it, they had drought and long rain.
At this Bunnei-no-Eki (文永の役), it was not a typhoon that caused the Mongols to be defeated, Mongols decided to leave but encountered usual bad weather.
Koan-no-Eki (弘安の役) 1281
The second Mongolian invasion is called Koan-no-Eki in 1281. After the first attempt to invade Japan, Kublai Khan kept sending messengers to Japan to demand to become a dependency state. Kamakura Bakufu kept ignoring and they killed messengers. Kublai Kahn decided to attack Japan again in 1281. Kublai Kahn’s top advisers suggested not to attack Japan because it is too far, the ocean is too dangerous, the country is small, and nothing to gain even if Mongols win. But Kublai Kahn still insisted to attack. This time they came in two groups. They were the East-route troop, the number was 60,000 soldiers on 900 ships, and the South-route troop, the number was 100,000 soldiers on 3,500 ships. This is the largest scale forces in history. Their plan was to depart from each one’s port and join on the Iki-no-Shima island (壱岐の島 ) by June 15th, then work together. The East-route troop arrived before the South-route troop came. Instead of waiting for the South-route troop, the East-route troop started to attack the Hakata Bay (博多) on their own. But by that time, Japan already prepared to fight and built a 20 kilometer long stone wall. This stone wall was 3 meters high and 2 meters thick. The East-route troop had to give up to land on Japan from Hakata and moved to Shiga-no-Shima (志賀島 ). At this place, the fight between Mongols and Japan was even battle but at the end, East-route troop lost and retreated to the Iki-no-Shima and decided to wait for the South-route troop to arrive. The South troop never arrived there, they changed the plan. On top of that, while they were waiting for the South-route troop to come, they lost over 3,000 men over the epidemic. With difficulty like this, the East- route troop discussed the choices they can take. One opinion was going back home but in the end, they decided to wait for the South-rout troop to arrive as long as the food last. Meantime, the South-route troop changed the plan and decided to go to Hirato-Shima (平戸島 ) where it is closer to Dazaifu (太宰府). That is the final and most important place they wanted to attack. Later, the East-route troop found out the South-route troop went to Hirato Shima. Finally, two troops joined at Hirato-Shima and each group stationed nearby island called Taka-shima (鷹島 ). The problem was this island had very high tide and low tide, the ships were not easily maneuvered. Meantime, 60,000 Japanese men were marching toward where the Mongols were stationed. Before those men arrived to fight against Mongols, A big typhoon came on July 30th and Mongols were caught in a big typhoon, ships hitting each other, people fell from the ships and drowned and the majority of ships sank. July 30th was about three months after the East- route troop left Mongol on early May. That means they were on the ocean and the shore of Japan for about three months or so. Around North Kyushu area (九州 ), usually, a typhoon comes average 3.2 times between the month of July to September. Mongols were on the ocean and the shorelines of Japan for approximately three months; they were bound to be hit by a typhoon soon or later.
The Mongol Empire lost 2/3 of its naval forces. After Mongols failed two attempts to attack Japan, Kublai Khan still insisted to attack Japan the third time, no matter how much his men reasoned him. But the plan was delayed and terminated because of many rebellions, upheavals and no lumber was left to build ships. Soon, Kublai died in 1294. The record book of Mongols and Korean indicated that Mongols officials gave a high evaluation of Japanese swords. Some even say one of the reasons it was not easy to defeat Japan was because of the long sharp swords. The experience of the Mongolian invasion changed Ikubi Kissaki (猪首切先) sword to a new Soshu-Den (相州伝) style sword.
The stone wall scene. Photo from Wikipedia. Public Domain
*Wikipedia was referred for the chapter 49 article.