Nagasaki: Takashima Hopes to Capitalize on Mongol Invasions

Courtesy of Matsuura City Board of Education
An artistic impression of a Mongol army ship based on historical documents

NAGASAKI — A wooden anchor from one of the Mongol Empire’s ships — which attacked Japan in the 13th century and then sank in a storm off Nagasaki Prefecture — will be salvaged in the fall of 2021. The Mongol invasions have recently fascinated people both in Japan and abroad as the subject of video games and manga.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A reconstructed stone defense wall in Nishi Ward, Fukuoka

When Japan was under the nation’s first shogunate during the Kamakura period (late 12th to early 14th century), the northern part of Kyushu was invaded twice by the Mongol-led army, which also comprised Koreans and Chinese.

In the second invasion (1281), the Mongol-led army was prevented from landing thanks to stone defense walls built by the Kamakura shogunate on the shores of Hakata Bay. It is said that after gathering in Imari Bay, the entire Mongol army of 4,400 ships was destroyed by a storm. The Japanese called the storm kamikaze, or divine wind, believing the storm thwarted two Mongol army raids.

The anchor to be salvaged is sunk in Imari Bay, off Takashima island, which saw one of the fiercest battles during the invasions. The seabed off the island was designated a national historic site in 2012 as many remains, including ships, were sunk there. More than 4,000 items have been found so far through research that has been conducted since 1980 by the local municipality and other entities.

In 2011, a ship was found for the first time in the sediment on the ocean floor at a depth of about 25 meters, and a second ship was found in 2015. However, the cost of salvaging the two ships is too great.

Courtesy of Matsuura City Board of Education
Divers investigate remains left on the seabed off Matsuura in 2015.

Matsuura city government, which Takashima island is a part of, has recreated the Mongol ships using computer animation and is developing an app on which people can view them, all to promote itself as “the island of the Mongol invasions.”

They will salvage an anchor, about 2 meters long and 0.25 meters wide, found on the seabed near the ship that was discovered in 2011. The anchor has been left on the seabed for so long there was fear it would become deformed or decayed if it was salvaged. However, a new preservation technique has been developed to prevent corrosion by infusing the anchor with a carbohydrate material called trehalose. The city government has concluded the new technique will enable the anchor to be salvaged, sources said.

On Nov. 20, the city government began soliciting donations to raise the about ¥10 million needed for the salvage of the anchor by conducting crowdfunding through the internet.

As funds raised stand at ¥369,000 as of Dec. 3, the city government plans to use government subsidies to cover the shortfall. The city government said it eventually aims to also salvage the ships after accumulating know-how in anchor conservation.

It is hoped examining the anchor will lead to an understanding of the structure of the invader ships. The anchor will open to the public on Takashima island after it has been treated for preservation. The city government is also considering showing the preservation process to tourists.

“Mongol ships are a valuable piece of history from 740 years ago,” said Matsuura Mayor Yoshiyasu Tomoda. “I hope this will be the first step to make Takashima more widely known and attract more tourists.”

■ Genko-themed video games and manga

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Poster promoting “Angolmois” and Tsushima are seen in 2018.

In recent years, there have been several releases of video games and manga based on the Mongol invasions, or Genko in Japanese.

Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc. released a game called “Ghost of Tsushima,” which is based on the battle between Japanese samurai and invaders in Tsushima. The game has become a worldwide hit, selling over 5 million copies in about four months.

The manga “Angolmois Genko Kassenki” (Angolmois: Battle against the Mongol army) published by Kadokawa depicts the battles in Tsushima and other areas, and it has become a hit with 1.3 million copies sold.

The Tsushima Local Promotion Association said it has been receiving inquiries from tourists asking for information on places that appear in games and manga.

The Genko Summit was also held in Matsuura on Nov. 8. The event, which was organized by three municipalities — Matsuura, Tsushima and Iki — attracted about 350 enthusiasts. The three city governments confirmed they will work together to make use of the historic event in their city planning. In the future, they will seek to cooperate with Fukuoka City and other cities as well.

Nanahiko Takagi, the author of “Angolmois,” also participated in the summit.

“I think people are attracted to the fact there are few historical records, and so many mysteries remain,” he said of the Mongol invasions.