The First Mongol Invasion of Japan – 1274 — The Second Mongol Invasion of Japan – 1281
Both China and Japan have a long-intricate history, each with a unique and compelling back story. These two powerful, neighboring, nations have also been at each others’ throats since the beginning of fire. Today practically everything in the world is manufactured from one of these two economic powerhouses, but before the advent of Nintendo and General Tso’s chicken, these two very different cultures were all but isolated from the rest of civilization.
During the 1200’s the two great warrior nations were under the rule of two legendary military forces: The Mongol Warriors and the Samurai! It was at the later half of the Thirteenth Century when these two old school militants, the most bad-ass warriors in all of Asia, finally came into conflict with one another, and regardless of the outcome it was sure to be a spectacular showdown that would echo through the halls of their respective ancestors, like the profane taunts of opposing football teams echoing through the locker rooms…
The Mongols were a group of hardcore warriors who first came together with the sole purpose of dominating the continent of Asia (and beyond!). This rambunctious horde of horse-back riding, arrow-shooting, felons were first brought together, under the united banner of the Mongolia tribes, by a larger-than-life ass-kicking fiend by the handle: Genghis…
GENGHIS KHAN (1162-1227) was born as ‘Temujin’ which literally translates to: Iron Man. Khan (not to be confused with the Trek villain… as in ‘The Wrath of’) certainly lived up to his title as he conquered everything in sight and ruled over it with an iron fist, between siring an astronomical number of heirs. Whole villages would bow down before him, because they’d heard of the unpleasant alternative. “I am the scourge of God. Had you not created Great Sins, God would not have sent a punishment like ME upon you!” With an army of one-hundred-thousand, Genghis Khan took on the world, and won.
The empire he left behind eventually stretched from the Eastern Coast of Asia to Germany! That’s larger than any single country today! This Mongolian legacy was inherited down the line by Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis, who established the Yuan Dynasty of China, and once met a guy named Marco Polo. Kublai Khan also decided to expand the Mongolian Empire. These guys meant business. The Mongols were basically the only ones in history to lead a successful assault on Russia in the middle of winter! So naturally they figured those islands off the coast of Korea shouldn’t be too much trouble, right?
Meanwhile, in Japan…
Feudal Japan was an interesting place. The only way I can think to describe it is a mix between the Wild West and a classic Kung-Fu movie. For much of its history, Japan was at war, with itself. Originally established as a government that closely resembled the Chinese, the Japanese soon began to culturally differentiate themselves from their neighbors across the bay, during the Heian period.
In 645 CE, a series of tax / land reformations were issued by the Japanese Emperor, a disastrous failure known as the Taika Reforms which inevitably backfired, and directly led to the land owners and farmers gaining more potent political power than the actual government. This gave rise to the Fujiwara Clan headed by Nakatomi no Kamatari from the capitol of Kyoto. The Fujiwara family ruled Japan until the 11th Century when public order evaporated like an ice cube in Death Valley. The islands fell into chaos.
Enter: THE SAMURAI!!!
The Samurai were armor-wearing martial artists with the single-coolest weapon ever created: The Katana, a sweet-ass sword with a curved blade and elongated hilt. These lone, Katana-sporting, mercenaries began to pop up all over the land of the Rising Sun. The often nomadic Samurai warriors answered to no one… except for the guy with the biggest check book. The wealthy landowners hired armies of these masked mercenaries to protect their property.
The Samurai lived by an ethical code of honor known as Bushido, ‘The Way of the Warrior’ which was similar to that of the Knight’s code of Chivalry, with a Zen Buddhist twist. The Seven Virtues of Bushido are as follows: Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Respect, Honesty, Honour, and Loyalty. The Samurai were more likely to follow this code of conduct than any beard-twirling, noodle slurping jerk-wad who just so happened to call himself Emperor. Above all else, their goal in life was to die an honorable death, a trait shared by Klingon warriors. The two most powerful clans of Japan at the time: the Taira and Minamoto clans constantly vied for supremacy, pitting their greatest warriors against one another in single-combat death-battles.
Eventually, in 1192, Minamoto Yoritomo emerged the victor. Minamoto established a new order: martial law enforced by the Shogun, military commanders of the Samurai forces. The Samurai would maintain balance for the next 700 years…
The year was 1266. Between raping and pillaging his way across the continent of Eurasia, in an attempt to make his Grandpa Genghis proud, Kublai Khan paused for a moment to insult the Japanese emperor before asking him to send a donation. In his letter, Kublai Khan referred to the Emperor as “the ruler of a small country” and advised hi to pay tribute, or else. The 1200’s equivalent of sending a fax of one’s ass.
The Mongolian emissaries returned with no response (although I’m willing to bet the messengers simply didn’t want to repeat the real response to their kill-crazy despot’s face).
Over the next six years, Khan sent Five separate notifications to the shores of Japan, and each time the Mongolian messengers were sent packing with nothing more than the finger in response to Kublai’s request. Finally, after losing his patience, Kublai Khan said “That’s it!” in 1272, and commissioned the construction of about 600 sea-faring attack-ships, and drafted an army of 40,000 Mongols, Chinese, and Koreans over the next two years in preparation for a full-scale invasion. Japan was extremely outnumbered with 10,000 Samurai who were typically fighting among each other. I would’ve put my money on the Mongolians. Any way you slice it, Japan was screwed….
The Mongolians had an armada of ships that would embarrass the Greeks during the Siege of Troy. They set sail for the East, and got all pumped, cranking up the death metal tunes en route. On their way across the sea to Japan’s mainland from Korea, the Yuan warriors stopped by a few smaller islands along the coast and kicked their asses, just because.
These nut-punting, stab-happy Mongolian warlords were all walk and no talk, that’s just how they rolled. The Samurai on the other hand were smooth operators, calm and efficient in everything from trimming a Bonsai tree to committing suicide when they failed. This ragtag group of honorable bad-asses knew they were hopelessly outnumbered and geared up for battle anyway, assembling along the shore. They wore elaborate armor that was evocative of demons, striking fear into the hearts of their enemies like a medieval Japanese Batman. And just like the Dark Knight, they were not to be trifled with.
Round One: FIGHT!
On November 18th, 1274: the Khan’s armada was in sight of Hakata Bay, on the island of Kyushu (near Fukuoka, which sounds like an awesome insult). When the Mongolian boats appeared, a lone Samurai warrior walked out onto the beach. He bowed before the intimidating might of the Khan’s forces, barely acknowledging the approaching war drums. This single samurai warrior shouted above the roar of the tide, announcing his full name, line, and lineage, as was his time-honored custom. The brave Samurai was preparing for one-on-one combat, a tradition passed down through the ages by his ancestors. However, halfway through listing his heritage his face became a pin-cushion for a volley of poison-tipped arrows…
I presume he was dead before his corpse hit the bloodied sand. Next, another samurai appeared out of the bamboo woods and swore to avenge his fallen master openly challenging the entirety of the Mongolian invasion force, right before he was obliterated by a dozen catapult-launched exploding shells that bombarded the island in a coordinated attack pattern that the Japanese had not foreseen in their meditations. This went on a few more times till the honorable samurai came to the realization that the Mongols had no problem playing dirty. It was akin to an ant attempting to fight off a magnifying glass.
This brutal onslaught would have decimated the first wave of samurai if it weren’t for last-minute reinforcements which allowed them to retreat and lick their wounds. The remaining samurai said their prayers, kissed their families goodbye and prepared for a futile last stand against this unstoppable legion. However, fate had different plans in store.
That very night prior to the armada’s landfall on the nation of sushi and anime, a torrential downpour came over the bay. The soldiers of the Great Yuan Fleet worried the incoming winds would crash their wooden ships against the rocks along the coast, so the commanders decided to set sail into the ocean and sit out the storm. “We’ll just slaughter them tomorrow.” Unfortunately, for Khan’s men, the entire armada was welcomed by a ginormous swirling monstrosity, known today as a TYPHOON!
48 hours after sailing into the oncoming storm of doom, the Mongolian Fleet was completely and totally annihilated after taking a brutal smack down from Mother Nature herself! One-Third of their ships lay at the bottom of the bay with the bodies of 13,000 war-warmongering Mongolians. This devastating defeat at the vicious hands of hurricane-force winds forced the Mongols to retreat back to China after a single day of combat.
The unfortunate news of the monstrously huge fleet’s utter destruction soon reached the Yuan capital at Dadu (Beijing). Upon hearing the reports of their losses, Kublai Khan didn’t seem so much phased by the incalculable loss of life as he was preoccupied with the fact that his plans for world domination had been foiled by a freak storm. However, he seemed to take the news reasonably well considering he’d just lost a large-scale game of Battleship against himself. After silently brooding in contemplation, Khan dispatched a delegation of six Chinese diplomats to Japan, giving the Kamakura Emperor a choice: bow down before his might (in person), or be destroyed. The Japanese response came in the form of six decapitated Chinese diplomats.
You would think that having just suffered a PR nightmare, Kublai Khan would keep his cool and not do anything brash in response to this hollow provocation. Instead the Mongolian Emperor decided to invest all his resources into crushing his new sworn enemy by any means necessary. Over the next seven years the Mongolian forces regrouped, rebuilt, and rearmed a brand new and improved armada under a newly created government department: The Ministry for Conquering Japan (I shit you not). This newly minted division of Mongolian bureaucrats (oxymoron?) drafted a two-pronged, fail-proof, plan of attack which would surely decimate those pompous samurai bastards. Pleased with this, Kublai Khan put his stamp of approval on it. Another, even larger, fleet was commissioned with the sole purpose of crushing the Japanese resistance.
This time however the Samurai had been given a Seven Year window of prep time. A 25 mile long, 15 foot high, defensive wall was built around the perimeter of Hakata Bay and there were now 40,000 samurai awaiting their dreaded enemy from the west. This time they were ready to kick some Mongolian beards in, this time it was personal.
The Mongolian Yuan army was also eagerly anticipating a quick end to this cursed campaign. There would indeed be a quick and decisive end, just not the way they had in mind. A whopping 140,000 aboard 900 ships in two separate forces set sail from Southern China and Korea.
The Korean fleet arrived at Hakata Bay on June 23, 1281. This imposing force of 900 ships and over 40,000 troops was surprised to find a militarized fortification in their path. The Chinese fleet was running late, so they decided to wait for reinforcements. The Great(er) Armada never arrived…
Over the next 50 days, while the Mongols awaited backup, the sneaky Samurai silently rowed out into the bay, under the cover of darkness. These Samurai black-ops would raid their ships, assassinate their soldiers, and then to add insult to injury, set their boats on fire for good measure. After committing naval arson, the Samurai quietly rowed back to shore before the remaining Mongolian commanders smelled smoke the next morning.
Meanwhile out to sea… an even larger convoy approached on the 12th of August: 3,500 ships manned by more than 100,000 Mongolian soldiers! The Japanese had a bad feeling about this. While the brave samurai sharpened their steel, the Shinto monks desperately prayed against all odds for a miracle. Funny thing is, it was answered.
On August 15, 1281, this unprecedented Mongolian armada had Japan in its sights when it started to hear the cracking of thunder over the bay.
This is what they saw:
This even bigger, stronger attack force was met with an exponentially bigger, stronger thunderstorm. That’s right folks: A SECOND TYPHOON!!!
This was the kinda storm that only occurs once every three hundred years or so. This perfect storm chose this particular moment to show up and rain on their Mongolian parade, effectively fucking their shit up once again. Relentless winds, torrential rain, and towering waves battered the ships into one another until they were nothing but splinters. The few Mongols unlucky enough to wash ashore were then stabbed to death without mercy by a swarm of angry samurai. This swirling vortex of doom completely annihilated any potential chance the Mongols ever had of conquering Japan… a second time in a row! Only a handful of beat-up Mongols made it back to China alive.
Most of what we know about these invasions comes from a scroll scribed by a samurai by the name of Takezaki Suenaga, who survived both campaigns, barely. According to the Japanese, who had prayed to the Shinto God of War (Hachiman) for help, the gods had indeed showed up to aide them with Kamikaze, or “The Divine Winds”. This led to the belief that Japan was invincible.
Unfortunately for the Kamakura bakufu (the Japanese government of the time), their treasury had already run dry between paying the veterans of the first invasion, and the Shinto priests who claimed responsibility for their miraculous victory, leaving the actual samurai soldiers who fought and bled for their emperor with nothing. This directly led to a 15 year civil war in 1318 when Go-Daigo seized power and the samurai took his side.
Following the Second (FAILED) Invasion of Japan, the Mongols had once again suffered monumental losses, in both sheer casualties and incomprehensible expenses. Not only that, but the notion of their perceived invincibility had been forever stained. All of these factors would eventually lead to the inevitable decline of the Mongolian rule. Kublai Khan didn’t give a shit or two.
This vengeance-obsessed douchebag was completely and utterly determined to mount a THIRD invasion regardless of the horrendous economic pitfall they’d already fallen into. However, the Mongolian Khan died while preparing to launch an even bigger assault on the resilient Samurai. His successors unanimously decided to cancel the whole operation, because the Gods were obviously not on their side.