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The Japanese Origin of the Chinggis Khan Legends

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Most members of the Japanese public today, when hearing the words Mongols or Mongolia, immediately think of three different tales: 1) That the forefathers of the Japanese Imperial Family were the horsemen of the Mongolian Plateau, who came through the Korean Peninsula to conquer Japan; 2) that Chinggis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire, was really Minamoto no Yoshitsune, a Japanese general; and 3) that the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century failed because of a typhoon caused by a Divine Wind (kamikaze), which saved Japan from Mongolian subjugation. Each of these three stories emerged to fill the psychological requirements of national pride in the times after Japan experienced the modernisation process launched by the Meiji Restoration in 1868. These can be seen as a Japanese version of The Invention of Tradition famously described by Hobsbawm and Ranger. The second of these tales was also born in England. Kenchō Suyematsu, 1855–1920, was ordered to study in England at national expense in 1878–86. He wrote a book in English, The Identity of the great conqueror Genghis Khan with the Japanese hero Yoshitsune, An historical thesis, and published it in London in 1879. Suyemastu’s arguments for the identity of Chinggis Khan with Minamoto no Yoshitsune are all absurd. Nevertheless, in 1924 after the Japanese dispatch of troops to Siberia, there appeared a study by Mataichirō Oyabe entitled, Genghis Khan is Gen Gi–kei (Jingisu Kan wa Gen Gi–kei nari) packed with the abundant results of numerous field surveys, which became a runaway best seller. This paper aims to explain why the Japanese became so particularly interested in the Mongols, among the many Asian nations of the Asian Continent, and why they displayed such enthusiasm about the Mongols, but not the Chinese, in relating connections with the history of the past.


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