The Mongol Invasion of Japan

The Mongol invasion of Japan drastically shaped the country's history.
The Mongol invasion of Japan drastically shaped the country's history.

Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Archaeological evidence indicates that humans have lived in Japan since at least 30,000 BCE. During Japan's long history, several communities have invaded the nation, one of the most well-known being the Mongols. The Mongols are an Asian community with significant populations living in the countries of China and Mongolia. The Mongolian people significantly altered the destiny of parts of the Asian continent as they conquered vast tracts of territory under leaders such as Genghis Khan. At the time the Mongols invaded Japan, they were under the rule of Kublai Khan.

Kublai Khan

Kublai Khan was a Mongol ruler with ambitions to rule over the entire territory of China. He was a direct descendant of Genghis Khan and one of the most prolific leaders to rule over the Mongol people. Kublai Khan considered Japan a small nation and sent emissaries to the Shogun demanding that Japan pay tribute to the Mongols. The Shogun did not give any permission to the emissaries to get to Honshu which angered Kublai Khan. After Kublai had conquered the Song Dynasty, he concentrated on building his army to defeat the Japanese and punish the Shogun. In 1274, the Mongol army comprised about 40,000 soldiers with the intention of conquering Japan.

The Initial Invasion 

The Mongol army began their attack by launching ships and boats, at least 500, into the Sea of Japan. The Mongol army was ruthless in crushing the Japanese resistance and in one of their first battles, slaughtered the residents of two Japanese islands: Tsushima and Iki. The Japanese and the Mongols had different approaches to combat as the Japanese valued the code of Bushido while the Mongols valued victory and would rely on any method to achieve their success. The Mongol army encountered a devastating typhoon which offered a reprieve to the Japanese military as the Mongols lost close to 13,000 soldiers. The Mongol army retreated from Japan after the loss of their men, and for about seven years an uneasy peace prevailed in the region.

The Peace

During the period of peace, the Japanese tried to improve their defenses in anticipation of a second attack by the Mongols. The Japanese leaders ordered the residents to construct a wall that would defend Hakata Bay. Kublai Khan tried to communicate with the Japanese leaders but all his diplomats were beheaded which enraged him.

The Invasion of 1281

The second Mongol invasion force comprised roughly 140,000 soldiers split into two armies. The Japanese were better prepared and had a force of approximately 40,000 soldiers. The initial attempts of the Mongols to conquer the territory were futile as only part of their army had arrived in Japan. When the full Mongol army was assembled, they greatly outnumbered the Japanese. Japan managed to hold onto their independence as a second typhoon struck the Mongol army significantly weakening them. The Japanese soldiers were able to kill the remaining Mongol soldiers thus ending the invasion.

The Results of the War 

Due to two subsequent losses in similar ways, Kublai Khan decided not to conquer Japan as he believed it had divine protection. The Kamakura bakufu, the leaders of Japan at the time, were some of the biggest losers as they were later overthrown after a civil war. The most significant impact of the war was that it introduced the term Kamikaze to Japanese culture.


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