The wreck of a ship, believed to be from the ill-fated fleet that attempted to invade Japan in 1281 has been found in Imari Bay off Matsuura.
Discovered near Takashima island, the ship is believed to have gone down during the Battle of Koan in 1281 when Kublai Khan sent 140,000 troops in over 4000 ships to subjugate Japan. According to Prof. Yoshifumi Ikeda, an archaeologist with University of the Ryukus, Okinawa, this will be the first time a nearly intact ship’s hull has been excavated from this infamous period of Mongol invasions.
Fragments of Yuan dynasty (1279-1368 AD) ships, anchor stones, cannonballs and many other artefacts had been found around the island, but this is a unique find.
Part of the ship’s hull was located last year at a depth of one metre below the seabed itself, 25 metres underwater, using the latest ultra-sound equipment.
According to sources from the University, the keel of the vessel is around 15 metres long, and substantial sections of planking – up to 5 metres in length – on either side of the keel are still intact. The archaeologists think the ship may have been more than 20 metres long when afloat.
In the short term, the team will only undertake conservation measures to protect the wreck until a strategy can be considered for its future.
The site was surrounded by Chinese pottery and other items identified as coming from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). It is the date of these artefacts, that leads Ikeda’s team to consider the ship as a Mongolian vessel which sank during the second Mongolian invasion of 1281.
The Mongol invasions and the Kamikaze
Fukuoka’s Hakata bay is Japan’s gateway to Korea and China. In 1268 the ruler Kublai Khan of the Mongol Empire turned his attention to Japan. At first he sent an envoy to Japan to force the Shogunate to acknowledge the Khan’s suzerainty but the Kamakura Shogunate refused. Mongolia sent more envoys, each time urging the Shogunate to accept their proposal, but it was always refused.
In 1274 Kublai Khan mounted the first invasion of the northern part of Kyushu with a fleet of 900 ships and 33,000 troops, which included troops from Goryeo (the present day Korean peninsula). This first invasion was compromised by a combination of incompetence and storms
After this invasion, the Japanese samurai built a stone barrier 20 kilometres long bordering the coast of Hakata Bay in what is now Fukuoka city. The wall, between 2-3 metres in height and 3 metres wide was constructed between 1276 and 1277.
Kublai Khan sent another envoy to Japan in 1279, but this time Hojo Tokimune of the Hojo clan (1251-1284) not only declined the offer but beheaded the five Mongolian emissaries after summoning them to Kamakura. Angered and frustrated, Kublai Khan made preparations for another invasion in 1281 reinforcing the numbers of troops to 140,000 soldiers and 4,000 ships. The Japanese samurai numbering around 40,000 were no match for the Mongolians and the invasion force made it as far as Dazaifu, 15 kilometres south of the city of Fukuoka. By sheer luck the Japanese were aided by another typhoon which struck a crushing blow and the invasion was thwarted.
It was this typhoon that was originally called the Kamikaze or Divine Wind.