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Japanese Kamikaze: Winds of Heavenly Favor for Japan

Japanese Kamikaze: Winds of Heavenly Favor for Japan

Anyone who is interested in the World War II might hear of the term “Kamikaze”. Japanese Kamikaze refers to the Japanese suicidal pilots. The duty of these pilots was to fly their aircraft loaded with explosives into the ships of their enemies. This was to cause the largest damage to the enemies and of course it came at the expense of the pilots’ lives.

Image of Kamikaze in World War II
A photo of WWII Kamikaze provided by Toshio Yoshitake (right) who was a Japanese Kamikaze that survived when an American warplane shot him out of the air and he was rescued by his Japanese comrades. Except for Yoshitake, none of the pilots flying with him surived.

The initial use of this term can trace back to the middle of the 13th century, during the Mongolian invasion of Japan.

During the 13th century, the emperor of Yuan Dynasty whose name was Kublai Khan set out to invade Japan. Despite being a Mongolian, Kublai was the emperor of Yuan Dynasty of China. It was a long journey for Kublai to gain such great power. There were two attempts to invade Japan of Kublai, in 1274 and in 1281 AD. But two times Kublai Khan brought his warriors to the borders of Japan, two typhoons washed away his intention of invading. The Japanese believed that it was the winds that gods sent down to help them. And they called it the “Kamikaze”.

The ambition to make the whole world his home of Kublai Khan

People in the past didn’t know how big the earth was. So the emperors always fostered the ambition of becoming the king of the land beyond their borders. After controlling the southern China and a part of Korea, Kublai renamed his kingdom as the Yuan Dynasty “the new beginning”. The Japanese which was not so powerful at that time had the reasons to fear this tribe of Kublai. Constantly between 1265 and 1274, Kublai Khan sent numerous messages to demand the Japanese to submit part of their fortune to Yuan Dynasty or they would wage a war. But there was no reply to any of his message. This was because the shogun which was the main power of Japan at the time hid the messages.

Image of Kublai Khan monument
Kublai Khan’s monument

Kublai Khan viewed this as an insult and prepared his army to shut down this small tribe. Numerous warships were built and the emperor recruited many warriors from China and Korea.

The First Attempt of Invasion

Autumn of 1274 witnessed the first attempt of invasion from Japan. We know this first battle as the Battle of Bun’ei. Up to 9,000 vessels and 40,000 warriors arrived at the Hakata Bay. The two armies met there. The weak power of Japan was worsened when facing the great troops of Kublai. That night, while many of Kublai warriors were on their ships, a sudden typhoons appeared and swept away the majority of the vessels as well as the warriors. When the dawn broke in the skyline, there were few vessels left and most of the army was drowned.

The Second Attempt And Failure

The narrow escape in 1274 of Japan was not potent enough to destroy the Kublai ambition of invading Japan. Seven years later, when the preparation for the second war finished, Kublai once again brought the warriors to the shore of Japan. Meanwhile, the Japanese built the protective walls around the shores to prevent any intrusion. The Mongols returned with up to 4,400 ships and around 140,000 warriors. One troop set off from Korea and one from the south of China in 1281. But the walls of Japan proved useful as Mongolian ships could find no place to land their ships. They were afloat on the waves for months and finally used up their supplies. Then a typhoon struck, resulting in the worse damage to the Mongolian warriors.

Image of Kamikaze japanese
Typhoons swept away the vast majority of the Mongolian vessels and warriors

This invasion of Kublai Khan became one of the biggest naval battle failures in history.

Japanese Kamikaze, a Sign of Heavenly Favor

According to the Japanese legends, the Kamikaze “Divine Wind” was from God Raijin who was the god of lightning and storm. He wanted to protect his people from the Mongols. The word “Kamikaze” is a compound word with “kami” meaning “god, deity” and “kaze” meaning “wind”. Raijin was the demon-looking god who would play his drums to create the sound of thunder for the world below. Another sources mentioned god Fujin god of wind was the creator of Japanese Kamikaze.

Image of Japanese gods Raijin and Fujin
God Raijin (left) and God Fujin (Right) in one depiction

Later use of Japanese Kamikaze

As mentioned above, the term “Kamikaze” was famous during the World War II. It pointed to the brave pilots who would sacrifice their life by driving explosives to the ships of the enemies. This was to create the largest damage to the army of the enemies. This carries a metaphoric meaning that the Japanese would once again destroy the enemies from the ocean. And yes, they managed to create so much damage. But it also came at the expense of 2,000 lives of the young Japanese. When Japan could not manage to gain the upper hand in the war, the project of “Kamikaze” was shut down.

In this day and age, the term “Kamikaze” is to refer to the ones who take risky actions without caring about their own security.

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