Fukuoka, Japan (1274 AD & 1281 AD)
The Mongol Empire was the largest single land empire in world history. But for all of its military supremacy in Asia, the Mongols were never able to finish off its last major opponent in the Far East: Japan. Twice the Mongols attempted to invade, in 1274 AD at the Battle of Bun’ei; and again in 1281 AD at the Battle of Koan. Both of these battles, thanks in part to bad weather, were among the largest military defeats ever suffered by the Mongols. They also popularized the term ‘Kamikaze’, or ‘Divine Wind’, in honor of the storms which did so much damage to the two Mongol invasion fleets.
By the second half of the 13th century, the Mongol Empire had absorbed almost all of Asia. Of the major realms of the Far East, only one, Japan, was still free by the 1270s. The Mongols, whose enormous cavalry forces were essentially invincible on land, were less powerful at sea. Because of this they sought first to cow the Japanese into submission rather than risk a seabourne invasion. These attempts were rebuffed, and in 1274 the Mongols finally sent in a fleet with over twenty-thousand men.
The initial landing looked as if it would lead to an easy Mongol victory. The invading army, which initially outnumbered the Japanese, also made use of superior arms and tactics. A heroic effort by local samurai warriors at the Battle of Bun’ei failed to stop the initial advance, but did give Japan enough time to marshall further forces. After their initial victory at Hakata, the Mongols retreated to their ships due to the threat of greater opposition. While at sea a storm struck, sinking most of the invasion fleet. Japanese raiders finished the Mongols off.
The Battle of Bun’ei was a victory, but also a warning which Japanese leaders took seriously. Again the Mongols attempted to cow the Japanese with threats. Japan responded by building up its forces and constructing new fortifications along the coast of the island of Kyushu. In 1279, ambassadors from the Mongols were beheaded, and the two sides prepared for a second war. In 1281 the Mongols returned with a two-pronged invasion force of over a hundred thousand men.
This time the Mongols made several landings, but due to poor coordination were unable to fully capitalize on their advantage in number. The Japanese rallied at the Battle of Koan, also near Hakata Bay, where a ferocious and nearly suicidal assault by the Samurai drove the Mongols back to their ships once more. Once again a storm even larger than the first (the original Kamikaze) came to Japan’s aid, destroying the vast majority of Mongol ships and killing over a hundred thousand troops. Although the Mongols contemplated a third invasion, this was never carried out, ending the last major outside threat to Japan until the 20th century.
Hakata Bay, at the north end of the island of Kyushu, was the site of both invasions due to its proximity to the Korean Peninsula. Most of the fighting took place on the beaches and areas immediately inland in what are now the Chuo, Hakata and Higashi wards of the city of Fukuoka. The Hazozaki Shrine was the site of some of the fiercest fighting during the Battle of Bun’ei. Destroyed during the fighting, the shrine was rebuilt and is revered for its role in the war.
The places where the Battles of Bun’ei and Koan were fought are now largely obscured by modern development. Some of the areas where fighting took place can still be seen in the beach areas of Hakata. The Hazozaki Shrine is located in the Higashi ward on the east side of the city of Fukuoka, approximately five hundred miles west of Tokyo. As of this writing no visitor information was available for the shrine. Web: http://visitkyushu.com (official tourism website of Kyushu).