The Archaeological Investigation of “Kamikaze”
The Mongol Invasion of Japan

Dublin Core


The Archaeological Investigation of “Kamikaze”
The Mongol Invasion of Japan


Session 1
Contexts of War and Conflict in Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Research and Management


The historical event that produced the term “Kamikaze,” the Mongol Invasion of Japan led by Kubilai Khan in 1281 Common Era (C.E.), was shrouded in mystery until a chance discovery off Takashima Island in Japan revealed the remains of his fleet. It is said that more than three thousand Chinese and Korean ships met catastrophic ends as a result of the powerful storm. Scholars have asked why such a large number of ships perished; their answers range from the effects of a typhoon to ill-prepared ships to the skills of Japan’s Samurai defenders. Despite detailed research efforts, no conclusion has been reached due to the lack of substantial evidence. The archaeological remains discovered at the Takashima underwater site may change how we view this significant battle that changed Japan’s history. Based on his own research, the author discusses various reasons why the invasion may have failed and whether the analysis of archaeological remains can add new evidence for understanding the fate of Kahn’s fleet. In particular, the author focuses on the construction and outfitting of the vessels used for the invasion.

Ships are arguably the most complex “artifacts” that humans have created and thus reflect the environment, society, and people that were involved in building the vessel. Furthermore, ships were the essential component for the invasion of Japan. Anchors, degraded timbers, possible repairs, artifacts such as personal effects and weaponry, as well as timber species analysis and the study of fleet organization all tell a story about what took place in the past. Close examination of information from Takashima sheds new light on the cause of the largest naval disaster in the pre-modern era.


Randall J. Sasaki


November 2011



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