Kuniyuki, Japanese Armies Defeating The Mongol Invaders

Ichiyusai Kuniyuki (active 1860’s) Japanese Armies Defeating The Mongol Invaders, 1860’s. Oban Triptych.

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This fascinating triptych is superbly described by John Fiorillo at his excellent Osaka Prints site as follows:

For centuries, China had fallen prey to hoards of invaders from the north, in particular the Tartars and later the Mongols. By 1259, Khubilai Khan (1215-1294), the grandson of the celebrated Ghengis Khan, declared himself Emperor of China, while also exerting control over Korea. During the years 1266 to 1274, the "Great Khan" sent emissaries to Japan in an attempt to establish diplomatic relations, but his envoys failed to secure compacts with the suspicious Japanese government; in fact, the Japanese beheaded a number of these hapless envoys. With Korea as his ally, the Great Khan initiated his first invasion of Japan in late 1274, easily taking the islands of Tsushima and Ikishima north of Kyushu (just south of Korea). The Mongols gained little else, however, as unexpectedly fierce Japanese resistance, a shortage of weapons and provisions, and a violent rainstorm all conspired to compel a retreat.

The Japanese, anticipating another invasion, spent the next seven years fortifying their defences along the northern shore of Kyushu. They erected a stone wall at Hakata Bay stretching from Hakozaki through Hakata and past Imazu — a massive, five-year-long project that would play a pivotal role in the coming battle. All the while, the Japanese were also devising military strategies aimed at repulsing the vast Mongol and Korean armies and fleets. When the Korean forces attacked Tsushima and Ikishima in June of 1281, they met with far greater resistance than they had encountered in the first invasion. The main body of the Mongol invasion forces then entered Hakata Bay, but its attempts to take the Japanese northern flank were unsuccessful. Regrouping at Tsushima and then launching another attempt to take land was also a failure. Finally, on August 15, the now celebrated kamikaze ("divine wind") — a typhoon of monumental proportions — sealed the fate of the Mongols, obliterating the fleet and leading to mass slaughter (by the end of the conflict, an estimated one-third of the 40,000 northern Chinese troops had perished, along with half of the 100,000 southern Chinese invaders). From that day forward, the Japanese considered the kamikaze to be a weapon from the gods, a symbol of divine protection that would lead them to an exaggerated ethnocentric view of the fate awaiting any foreign invader.

As John Fiorillo goes on to explain, there were many connections that could and would have been made about the contemporary political scene with which this print makes an analogy, not least the gradual arrival of American warships in the same decade in which Kuniyuki produced this print. Viewers would have been fully aware of the intentional hostility to the foreigners, explicit in the story and indeed in the imagery of the exploding paddle steamers on the left-hand sheet.

The print is in fairly poor condition, reflected in the price. Nevertheless an important and rare piece.