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  • James Houser

Unknown Soldiers Episode 2 - Divine Wind: Commentary and Sources

Episode 2 is out and I'm stoked. If you're reading this, I'm glad you've decided to come with me on this historical journey and visit my website. As promised, I will be posting all my sources, some images, and some bits of context here for every single episode.

The 1274 and 1281 Mongol invasions of Japan are fascinating to me for a lot of reasons, not least because they stand as a shining example of how history can be distorted by both winners and losers to fit their preferred narrative. As I explain in today's episode, both sides found it convenient to focus on the typhoon that nearly destroyed the Mongol invasion fleet of 1281 than to discuss other factors that contributed to the Mongol defeat - like why their armies were still on those boats in the first place, and why after three months they hadn't managed to make a landing on the Japanese mainland.

Samurai boarding Mongol vessels. From the scrolls of Takezaki Suenaga
Letter from Kublai Khan to the "King of Japan", 1266, now on display in a Japanese museum

As usual, I'll address anything I left out. The biggest piece of context I cut from today's episode was some background on the Mongol takeover of Korea and that country's previous relationship with the Japanese, along with some other stuff about Kublai Khan's rise to power. Most of this ended up being irrelevant or distracted from the main story, so it went to the chopping block.

The Fight on the Beach at Hakata Bay, 1274, by Richard Cook

But other than that, I didn't leave much out today. This is partially because there isn't that much to leave out. I point out a few times in today's episode that our knowledge of the Mongol invasion of Japan is...spotty, at best, thanks to a lack of hard sources and evidence. There are very few contemporary accounts of the campaign, and one of the most important accounts - the scrolls of Takezaki Suenaga - are from an unreliable source, but the fact that they do exist and depict much of the fighting in great detail means they're still invaluable.

The defensive wall at Hakata, from the scrolls of Takezaki Suenaga

Building off this, I would be interested someday to tackle those other random Mongol seaborne invasions - particularly the Mongol invasions of Vietnam. The one in 1285 is one of the epic military sagas of Vietnamese history. Can't help but wonder if Afghanistan doesn't have a rival for the "Graveyard of Empires" title when I read about all the countries who have tried to conquer Vietnam and failed.

Later Japanese depiction of the typhoon of 1281

Anyway, plenty of images in today's post. Below I have depictions of the key leaders on each side, as well as a map of the Mongol invasions. Thanks for visiting, and I hope to see all of you next week!

Mongol principals, or, well, the Mongol principal: Kublai Khan in two depictions

Left, Japanese Regent Hojo Tokimune; Right, Japanese samurai Takezaki Suenaga, depicted during the battle of 1274 when his horse was shot by the Mongols

Best map I could find of the invasions of Japan, via National Geographic


Conlan, Thomas R. In Little Need of Divine Intervention: Takezaki Suenaga's Scrolls of the Mongol Invasions of Japan. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.

Davis, Paul K. 100 Decisive Battles: From Ancient Times to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Delgado, James P. Khubilai Khan's Lost Fleet: In Search of a Legendary Armada. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

Friday, Karl F. Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan. Milton Park: Routledge, 2004.

Morgan, David O. The Mongols, 2nd Edition. Hoboken: Blackwell, 2007.

Sansom, George. A History of Japan to 1334. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 1964.

Turnbull, Stephen. The Mongol Invasions of Japan 1274 and 1281. Oxford: Osprey, 2010.

Yamada Nakaba. Ghenko: The Mongol Invasion of Japan. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1916.

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