Relics of the Kamikaze
Excavations off Japan’s coast are uncovering Kublai Khan’s ill-fated invasion fleet.
Excerpt: Stepping off the dock into the warm, murky waters of Imari Bay, I swam to the bottom, then followed a line staked out down a steep slope. The visibility was poor, particularly as excavations had stirred up soft mud, but suddenly I saw the wreck. Unlike other sites I’ve dived on, the seabed here was not dominated by a large hull. Instead, clusters of timbers and artifacts suggested that a ship, or ships, had crashed into the shore and been ripped apart.
There were bright red leather armor fragments, a pottery bowl decorated with calligraphy, and wood with what seemed like fresh burn marks. My heart started to pound when I swam up to one object and realized it was an intact Mongol helmet. Nearby was a cluster of iron arrow tips and a round ceramic object, a tetsuhau, or bomb. Scholars had doubted whether such bombs, filled with black powder, existed this early, yet here it was. I just floated there, lost in thought that the detritus of this ancient battle lay here as fresh as if the ship had sunk yesterday, not seven centuries ago. The experience brought the story of Kublai Khan’s invasions of Japan and the kamikaze–the legendary “divine wind” said to have destroyed his fleets in 1274 and 1281–into the realm of the tangible, touchable past.