Japanese priests claimed credit for its appearance, and many still give them credit today.
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Others, less devout, point out that August is the worst month of the year for those storms which have been dreaded by sailors since they first sailed the Eastern seas. Be that as it may, a typhoon of unparalleled violence burst from the northwest on to the unprotected invasion fleet. The ships were doomed. Swamped by the enormous waves, blown on to the rocks by the force of the blast, thousands of vessels. The harbors of Hakozaki and Imari Bay were a mass of wreckage.
Some say that a man could walk from the shore of Imari Bay clear to an island in the gulf on the litter of broken ships. Inspired by what seemed supernatural aid, the Japanese quickly exterminated the Mongols left ashore. In the space of a few hours 4, ships were lost; , men are said to have died in the sea or by Japanese swords.
It was a stunning, overwhelming victory, far more complete than Britain's victory over the Spanish Armada with which it has often been compared. The sea, with its attendant dangers, had once again proved to be an actual weapon on the side of the Japanese. This marked the last time, within the scope of this article, that Japan's shores were threatened by an alien foe. The "Divine Wind" is still revered in Japanese tradition. Suicide aircraft of the Japanese forces today are called Kamikaze units.
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No account of the Japanese on the sea would be complete without some attention to pirates. A curious difficulty arises here. Strictly speaking, pirates and their activities, being outside the law, should not be considered as representative of the government or of the people of Japan. For centuries, however, there was no government of Japan in the sense that one group of men represented or was responsible for the people of a unified nation. The Mikado was a figurehead most of the time. The Shoguns had varying success in trying to control feudal lords, each of whom was apt to have his own army and all of whom were constantly fighting each other.
As for pirates, the Shogun might frown; but a particular band might well be under the protection of a powerful lord - indeed, it was often the case that the lord himself, was leader of the pirates. Moreover, numerous instances can be cited in which the pirate bands were loaded down with honors by the Shogunate. The conclusion must be that piracy, although technically outside the law, was an important feature of Japanese maritime life and should be considered an integral part of Japan's naval history.
Nobody knows when the first pirates started operating from Japan.
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Doubtless they plundered their own coasts before looking for loot farther afield. By the First Century A. In the vanguard of these mariners were the pirates. Korea suffered heavily from them. Early and inaccurate Korean chronicles list 36 major forays against their coasts from the First to the Sixth Centuries. The pirates operated in fleets often of 50 or more small ships. With no sea forces to deter them, they would moor or beach their ships, swoop down on a coastal village, burn, loot, rape, seize captives and make off.
The raids were not confined to Korea. The entire coast of China, particularly the Shantung area, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies - all suffered heavily from the ravages of these marauders. At times, it is said, the coastal areas of Korea and the Shantung Peninsula were completely uninhabited as a direct result of pirate depredations.
There was nothing left to loot. Chinese mothers frightened their children with the words, "The Japanese are coming! It must be emphasized that these forays were often on a very large scale, amounting at times to actual invasion of a foreign country. In the Tenth Century Fujiwara no Sumitomo, a member of one of Japan's great families, was most successful for a time in hunting out and destroying individual pirate bands. But, having an eye for the main chance, this Japanese war lord turned pirate himself, and with phenomenal success.
At one time he is said to have had 1, ships under his command. Against such power no government in all Asia could contend on the seas. Fujiwara plundered almost at will for years until, betrayed by one of his own lieutenants, he was defeated by the forces of the Shogun.
During the Ming dynasty in China the Japanese were so feared, largely as a result of experience of pirates, that an edict was passed prohibiting Chinese subjects from having any intercourse whatever with the Japanese and ordering that any Japanese caught in China be decapitated.
An Englishman, Sir Edward Michelborne,. One effect, then, of the pirates' activity was to make the Japanese feared throughout Asiatic waters.
A second effect was manifest in Japan itself. The pirates needed fast, seaworthy ships. There can be little doubt that this demand gave impetus to the development of shipbuilding in Japan. Several Chinese accounts describe the pirate ships of the Sixteenth Century. One writer says:. They were constructed low and narrow. Thus, when they meet a big ship they have to look up to attack her. The sails are not rigged like those of our ships which can be navigated in any wind. But wicked people on the coast of Fuhkien sold their ships to the foreigners; and the buyers, having fitted them with double bottoms and keels shaped so as to cleave the waves, came to our shores in them.
In order to prevent leakage they use grass called Tansuiso instead of using hemp fibre and tarpaulin. Their method of building is very costly in labour and materials The biggest of their ships are so small that when they meet with our great ones they are unable to attack and are easily sunk. Therefore they always fear our great ships from Canton and Fukkien, and, above all, they fear our kosen, which have side-oars resembling a fence. Wako [Japanese enemy] ships are flat-bottomed and do not cut through the waves.
Their sails are suspended in front to a movable mast, while ours hang on the sides of a fixed mast. They can only sail before the wind and when there is no wind, or an adverse one, they have to unstep the mast and row. Consequently it takes them more than a month to cross the sea.here
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Nowadays, however, evilly disposed men on the coast of Fukushu and Sekko buy ships abroad and reconstruct the keels. Thus reconstructed they can stand up well against any kind of wind, and being very easy to handle can cross the sea in a few days.
Until Commodore Perry woke Japan to the ways of the western world, these pirate ships were probably the closest thing Japan had to a Navy. Since the days of Empress Jingo the Japanese had made no attempt at permanent conquest of a foreign nation. Among other things, they had been too busy fighting among themselves.
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During the Sixteenth Century, however, the rise of a great soldier with imperialistic ambitions altered this state of affairs completely. In Hideyoshi, a former stable boy, later a general, assumed the position of Shogun, although he could not bear the title because of his lowly birth. Hideyoshi was a statesman, a warrior and a man of boundless ambition. He conceived the project of conquering China, and to further that purpose demanded Korea aid at other times he proposed invading India and the islands south of Japan. Korea, long on friendly terms with China, refused.
Hideyoshi declared he would conquer Korea. While diplomatic missions fruitlessly debated the issues, Hideyoshi made feverish preparations for war. He levied a force of , trained soldiers; it was easy to get soldiers in Japan. Transport, however, was a much more difficult problem. Every lord living in a coastal area was forced to build a quota of ships, the number depending upon the extent of his dominion.
In this fashion Hideyoshi assembled about 2, ships. His emphasis was entirely upon the problem of getting his armies from Japan to Korea. As a result most of the ships were transports, clumsy "square-enders".