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The kamikaze (Japanese: 神風) literally "divine wind" were two winds or storms that are said to have saved Japan from two Mongol fleets under Kublai Khan. These fleets attacked Japan in 1274 and again in 1281. Due to the growth of Zen Buddhism among Samurai at the time, these were the first events where the typhoons were described as "divine wind" as much by their timing as by their force. Since Man'yōshū, the word kamikaze has been used as a Makurakotoba of waka introducing Ise Grand Shrine.
The latter fleet, composed of "more than four thousand ships bearing nearly 140,000 men" is said to have been the largest attempted naval invasion in history whose scale was only recently eclipsed in modern times by the D-Day invasion of allied forces into Normandy in 1944.
In the first invasion, the Mongols successfully conquered the Japanese settlements on Tsushima and Iki islands. When they landed on Hakata Bay, however, they met fierce resistance by the armies of samurai clans and were forced to withdraw to their bases in China. In the midst of the withdrawal, they were hit by a typhoon. Most of their ships sank and many soldiers drowned.[better source needed]
During the time period between the first and second invasion, the Japanese prudently built two-meter-high walls to protect themselves from future assaults.
Seven years later, the Mongols returned. Unable to find any suitable landing beaches due to the walls, the fleet stayed afloat for months and depleted their supplies as they searched for an area to land. After months of being exposed to the elements, the fleet was destroyed by a great typhoon, which the Japanese called "kamikaze" (divine wind). The Mongols never attacked Japan again, and more than 70,000 men were said to have been captured.
In popular Japanese myths at the time, the god Raijin was the god who turned the storms against the Mongols. Other variations say that the gods Fūjin, Ryūjin or Hachiman caused the destructive kamikaze.
The name given to the storm, kamikaze, was later used during World War II as nationalist propaganda for suicide attacks by Japanese pilots. The metaphor meant that the pilots were to be the "Divine Wind" that would again sweep the enemy from the seas. This use of kamikaze has come to be the common meaning of the word in English.
- McClain 2002. p. 17.
- 『高麗史』巻一百四 列伝十七 金方慶「諸軍與戰、及暮乃解、方慶謂忽敦茶丘曰、『兵法千里縣軍、其鋒不可當、我師雖少、已入敵境、人自爲戰、即孟明焚船淮陰背水也、請復戰』、忽敦曰、『兵法小敵之堅、大敵之擒、策疲乏之兵、敵日滋之衆、非完計也、不若回軍』復亨中流矢、先登舟、遂引兵還、會夜大風雨、戰艦觸岩多敗、侁堕水死、到合浦、」
- Science HD Channel program "Unearthing Ancient Secrets" first aired: 1/26/2009. Episode named "Khubilai Khan's Lost Fleet"