Legendary Kamikaze (“Divine”) Winds May Have Protected Japan from Mongol Invasions

by Owen James Burke

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Kamikaze winds (“divine winds”) are depicted sinking Mongolian warships during the 1281 A.D. invasion of Japan in this 19th century painting by Japanese artist Issho Yada. (Photo: Koji Namamura/NatGeo)

Back in the 13th century when the Mongolian Empire was at its height, ruling all the way from the edge of the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea, they also had Japan in their sights. According to legend, however, there was an impenetrable typhoon-force wind which sank thousands of ships and prevented not just one but two invasions of Japan.

The Japanese refer to the winds brought about by these tempests at sea as “divine,” or kamikaze winds. So sacred were they, that the term kamikaze was resurrected for the thousands of infamous WWII pilots, who volunteered to suicidally crash their planes into enemy ships.

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Of Kublai Khan’s two attempted invasions of Japan during the 13th century, neither were successful in crossing the Korea Strait, and multiple thousands of ships are said to have been lost. (Graphic: Maggie Smith, NG Staff; David C. Chang)

There had been some dispute as to whether or not these legendary winds were any more than myths, but University of Amherst Geologist Jon Woodruff recently traveled to Japan to seek evidence in what are now Japanese lake beds, where the then emperor Kublai Khan’s ships were believed to have sunk following the Japanese emperor’s summoning of the “divine” storms. After taking various soil samples from the area, his findings revealed that typhoons were much more common in western Japan during the earlier part of the past millennium.

Read more about Woodruff’s findings on NatGeo — OB

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