(POWER and CLASS IN JAPAN, 500 to 1333 -- continued)

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POWER and CLASS IN JAPAN, 500 to 1336 (7 of 7)

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Mongol Invasions and the End of Kamakura Rule in 1333

In 1274 the Mongols, backed by Koreans and Chinese, landed on the coast of Kyushu. They attacked the Samurai with explosive devices and poisoned arrows and gained advantage, but a storm arose in the evening and they were forced to abandon their invasion and withdraw from Japan.

The Shogun, Hojo Tokimune (r. 1268-84), was known for leading Japan's forces against the invasion and for having spread Zen Buddhism and Bushido among the warrior class. In the wake of the invasion he extended his power, appointing nine new governors in western Japan, six of them members of the Hojo or allied clans.

In 1281, the Mongols with their Korean and Chinese troops returned to Kyushu. Samurai kept the Mongol cavalry from deploying. After a week of fierce fighting the Mongols had established only a small beachhead. The Mongols were forced to retreat to small islands offshore. A storm arose that wrecked the Mongol armada. The Samurai attacked and slaughtered the 30,000 Mongol, Koreans and Chinese trapped on the small islands.

As with the first Mongol invasion, Shinto priests described the storm that smashed it as divine intervention, as a god (kami) wind (kaze). Japan's victory over the Mongols gave its military a sense of superiority that would remain to 1945. And among the Samurai it reinforced the notion that the shogunate was the right form of government.

The End of Kamakura Rule

Japan had become more defense conscious, and new taxes were levied to maintain the country's defense preparations. A new discontent arose against the Hojo shogunate, some of it from those who had expected more compensation for their help in defeating the Mongols.

Officials of the Hojo shogunate had created two contending imperial lines to alternate on the throne. In 1318 a new emperor Go-Daigo, ascended the throne. When it was his turn to step down, he instead raised an army in an attempt to overthrow the shogunate. In 1332 the shogunate's army won. The shogunate exiled Go-Daigo and placed another emperor on the throne. In 1333, Go-Daigo escaped and won enough allies to his side while the Hojo shogunate was abandoned by crucial backers. The result was a military victory for Go-Daigo. Rule by the Hojo clan and rule from Kamakura that had begun in 1185 was at an end. An attempt to re-establish rule by the emperor, the so-called Kenmu restoration, began – an attempt to restore traditional royal family rule after 150 years of a military rule.

A newly appointed shogun, Ashikaga Takauji, was supposed to be the emperor's military leader. A conflict between Emperor Go-Daigo and the shogun, Takauji, resulted in a military defeat for Go-Daigo in 1336. He escaped into the wilderness. The Kemmu Restoration was over. Another dynasty of military dictators began, to be known as the Ashikaga shoganate. Emperor Go-Daigo died in 1339. He was succeeded by one of his sons, and emperors for centuries would have little influence politically.


The History of Japan, by Louis B Perez, Greenwood Press, 1998

Japan: the Story of a Nation, by Edwin, by Edwin O Reichauer, Fourth Edition, Alfred A Knopf, 1989

The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol  3, editors Kazo Yamamura, John Whitney Hall, Cambridge University Press, 1990

Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan, by William E. Deal, 2006

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