Living Near the Mongol Wall

Iki-no-Matsubara Stone Fortifications

The Mongol Wall

I’ve known about this wall since we got here and there are several areas in and around the city you can see parts of it.  We finally had an opportunity to ride out to the most popular place to view it as part of a coastal bike ride we took last weekend.

This particular stretch of beach is only about 2-3 miles from where we live.  It contains part of the 12.4 mile long rock wall that was built along the coast almost 750 years ago to keep the Mongols out of Japan.  What is left of the wall is not really that interesting, but the story behind it certainly is.  Right now it reads more like a folk tale than actual history.  In fact, most of what is known about these attempted invasions comes from a scroll written by a samurai who fought in both battles (the scroll was heavily damaged and had to be put back together).  There have since been several archeological investigations to help decipher the myths from the facts.

The Scroll

The Scroll

The gist of the story is that twice the Mongols tried to take over Japan and twice they failed.  With the exception of the occupation of Japan at the end of World War II, these failed invasions are the closest Japan has come to being conquered by a foreign power in the last 1500 years.  The first attempt was in 1274, when an army of some 400+ ships and 40,000 soldiers descended upon 10,000 squabbling, unprepared samurai.  The Japanese were not only vastly outnumbered but their fighting techniques were primitive compared to the Mongols.  Had it not been for some very rough seas one night in November, the Mongols should have been victorious.  Instead they retreated to sea (fearing their ships would be forced onto shore), and headed into a violent storm which supposedly destroyed 1/3 of their ships and drowned 13,000 soldiers, causing the rest of the fleet to abandon the mission.

Up to 15 feet high and 12.4 miles long

The Mongols continued their conquests elsewhere and increased their armies only to return to Japan seven years later.  The first fleet to arrive in Japan had 900 ships and 40,000 soldiers.  The Japanese were more prepared this time with 40,000 samurai, better fighting tactics and their newly built wall.  The evenly matched forces were in a stalemate for 50 days, until the rest of the Mongol forces arrived (3,500 more ships and 100,000 more men).  Now the Japanese were faced with a force three times their size and were in serious danger of being taken over.   Then a massive typhoon rolled into Hakata Bay destroying nearly every enemy ship and drowning all but a few thousand Mongols.  These coincidental storms that protected the Japanese both times gave rise to their belief that they were protected by ‘divine winds’ (kamikaze) and that no foreign power could take them over.  Interesting enough, this was also the first time the samurai fought for the sake of Japan and not amongst themselves.

It really doesn’t matter what the details of these battles end up being, the point is that the mongols never conquered Japan.  It’s odd to think how different Japan would be had these battles gone the other way.  And it’s just plain cool to be living where these events took place.


Feeling like Home

Hanging out at the Beach

We’ve both been commenting on how different our second year of living in Japan is versus the first.  The whole ‘newness’ factor is gone, but so is the ‘stress and anxiety’ factor.  We don’t feel like complete outsiders anymore.  In one sense it has made it more enjoyable to live here, but at the same time it’s not quite as interesting. There is a sense of calm and familiarity about everything now; however, there is still a lot we don’t know or understand and I’m pretty sure no matter how long we stayed here, that wouldn’t change.   I can only imagine how much richer and deeper our whole experience would be if we knew how to speak and read Japanese – as I feel we are just barely scratching the surface.


Yakatori Restaurant – yes, fish on a stick!

Despite that big gap, we do know enough Japanese to ‘get by’ and we are very comfortable using the subways and trains, going to the post office, booking hotels, shopping, and trying new restaurants.  We know the city well enough, that it would be hard for us to get lost.  All the clerks at our little local grocery store know us and we’ve even gotten ‘point cards’ at the places we shop the most.

We’ve been sort of limited on the things we could do recently, (given all the extra work Robert’s had to do with his new position at school and the fact we had to wait for our new passports), but that forced us to do a lot more exploring around our neighborhood.  We’ve met some new people, and found some interesting shops, quaint little parks and pretty little beaches.  And since eating out is one of our favorite things to do, this ‘down time’ has also allowed us to find a great Spanish restaurant, a fun yakatori restaurant, a yummy French restaurant, a Taiwanese restaurant, and a darn tasty Hawaiian restaurant.  We are really excited we’ve finally commenced our culinary tour of Fukuoka and I’m sure this will continue for quite awhile.  All in all, I think we both agree it now feels a lot more like home.


Back in Business

Happy News!  We are now fully capable of traveling again.

Our first order of business upon returning to Japan was to get new passports.  Even though they were not going to expire, we were both about to run out of pages.  The standard passport the US government normally issues has no where near enough pages to last 10 years, so our choice was to ‘add more pages’ or ‘get a new passport’.  For a mere $30 difference, we opted to get new passports (this time with 52 pages instead of 28, which, by the way, is the same price).  Also given the strength of the yen, it felt like we were getting them at a 25% discount.

The whole process ended up being incredibly easy and miraculously FAST (especially considering it involved both US and Japanese government agencies).  All I had to do was call the US Consulate and make an appointment to drop off our completed applications (I could have mailed them, but I just didn’t like the idea of putting our passports in the mail).  I arrived at the Consulate building about 10 minutes before the assigned time.  I had to go through an XRAY machine, buzzer locked doors, and wait in a jail like room until exactly 2pm.  They told me it would take about 3 weeks, maybe sooner, since it was a slow time of year.  I passed the necessary documents and payment through a small window and was on my way.  To my delight our new passports arrived at the school 10 days later.  It was like I had gotten express-service for free!

However, after checking our new passports out, I was pretty sure we weren’t quite done since all our ‘important’ Japanese documents were still in our old (and no longer valid) passport.  After some failed inquiries to our business office, Chieko came to my rescue and was kind enough to call the immigration office to find out what we needed to do.  It turns out we had to go back to the Ward office ASAP and inform them, since our Alien Registration card now had old information on it.  We thought they’d have to issue us new cards, but the 10 minute procedure simply meant filling out a form and having the new information written on the back.  The only other thing we had to do was to go back down to the Immigration office at the airport and get our ‘important’ documents transferred into our new passport.  We filled out another form and about 30 minutes later we were done.  Amazingly, neither the Ward Office or Immigration Office charged us for the services.

We are quite excited we have 9 years before we need to worry about our Passports again, and that we have a LOT of pages to fill!

Old Passport – New Passport