Why did the Mongols Attack Hakata Bay Twice?

I’ve been doing Japanese history for fifteen years, now, and Chinese history for a decade, and I’ve never figured out why the Mongols, after their first attack failed, would make landfall at the exact same spot where they made landfall before and the Japanese had been building fortifications for over half a decade. Didn’t they have any advance intelligence? Was the cross-strait navigation really that difficult that no other option existed? Did the Koreans not care if the Mongols succeeded, and steer them into the waiting Japanese defenders? (OK, I know that’s not terribly likely, as thousands of Koreans were forced into service in the invasions as well.) This has always troubled me. Successive typhoons, the kamikaze, don’t bother me because freak natural occurences are beyond our ken or control. Inexplicably dumb human behavior troubles me.


  1. 1) Merchants from Hakata had been trading with Korea and China since the 600s at least (and some evidence is emerging to show that commercial relations may have begun even early). Hakata was remarkably active throughout the period from the 600s to 1300s, and even sent trade ships to Sung China in between the two Mongol Invasions. A noticeable Chinese population lived, married and owned land in Hakata during this time. No-one seems to be 100% sure why Kublai Khan launched the invasions (one suggestion is that a single monk was remarkably persuasive) but another is that the Sung traders who visited Hakata Bay carried back tantalizing stories of the wealth on offer in Japan. Hakata was far from the only active port in Kyushu at this time but it seems to have been the major one.
    2) The Mongols often launched reconnaissance missions before attacking an enemy properly. This involved a light or even a heavy skirmish to gauge an enemy’s strengths. The first invasion lasted two days and the Mongols seem to have left without the need of a kamikaze to scare them off. The second one invasion lasted weeks.
    3) Geography. Hakata was located almost at the entrace to the Straits of Shimonoseki and hence the Inland Sea and Kansai.
    Considering that you can see Korea from some parts of Fukuoka-ken on a clear day and Tsushima and Iki provided excellent steppingstones (as well as target practice), it was the sensible choice. Every merchant and diplomatic mission from the 600s onwards sailed this route except for those that passed via the Ryukyus or those that were afraid of pirate activity on the Korean cost.
    All of this is taken from Japanese sources – theres little on this in English. However Charlotte von Verscheur has a new book out soon in translation that might change that. Its called “Across the Perilous Sea: Japanese Trade with China and Korea from the 7th to the 16th Century”.

  2. Interesting material, particularly the Chinese settlement.

    I need to check my medieval books, but my recollection of the first invasion is that it was indeed severely damaged by a storm. It doesn’t seem likely that a few days, particularly given the difficulty of sea transport, would suffice for a real test of Japan’s defensive strength (unless the Mongol forces really were overwhelmed by the Japanese defense).

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