Sekigahara: The Greatest Samurai Battle in History
The Battle of Sekigahara was the greatest samurai battle of all time and determined the fate of Japan for the next 250 years. The decisive battle was fought on October 21, 1600 in Sekigahara, a small plain on the western edge of Gifu Prefecture, a crossroads between the east and west of Japan.
It was a battle of east over west, and pitted friend against friend and family against family in a way that divided Japan into two major factions.
The battle opened on a misty morning with as many as 160,000 samurai warriors taking the ground. By the end of the battle, 30,000 samurai had died in the 7 hours of fighting that ensured.
The leader of the victorious Eastern forces was Tokugawa Ieyasu, a feudal lord (daimyo) from the Mikawa Province of Aichi Prefecture. The commander of the Western forces was the loyalist, Ishida Mitsunari, an administrator to the previous ruler of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
Photo: Serban Dumitrescu on Flickr
What led to the Decisive Battle?
Toyotomi Hideyoshi completed the unification of Japan, carrying on the work started by his lord and master, the first unifier of Japan, Oda Nobunaga. Unfortunately, he died in 1598 before his young son Hideyori was old enough to inherit his title and the country was ruled by a council of five regents, which included Tokugawa Ieyasu. The regents were the most powerful lords of the land and were responsible for maintaining the civil affairs of the country until the heir, Hideyori came of age. The death of Hideyoshi created a power vacuum in Japan with feudal lords jostling for power. Two factions quickly began to emerge, the loyalists led by Ishida Mitsunari who proclaimed they were protecting Hideyori’s interests, and those supporting Tokugawa Ieyasu and his personal ambition of gaining more power.
Gradually over time Tokugawa tried to seize more and more power which lead to a confrontation from Mitsunari, challenging his power as the most powerful of the regents. This power struggle ripped Japan in two with the result culminating in the greatest samurai battle in history at Sekigahara.
The Aftermath of the Battle
Victory at the Battle of Sekigahara allowed Tokugawa Ieyasu to seize control of the country and establish the Tokugawa Shogunate from his home base of Edo (modern-day Tokyo). In 1603, he was awarded the title of Shogun by the Emperor making him supreme military commander of Japan. The aftermath of the battle lead to a period of calm in Japan after years of civil war during the Warring States Period and ushered in the isolation of the Edo period, which would last until the Meiji Emperor took back power in 1868. This was a period of stability, where peace prevailed for over 250 years, and Japan regained back its national pride with its traditional arts and customs flourishing.
Photo: Stuart Rankin on Flickr
Where can you Experience the Famous Battle?
A great place to discover the history of the famous battle is the Sekigahara Battlefield, which gives you a chance to see first-hand where this decisive battle was fought. You can explore the army base camps and see many historic battle-related landmarks.
The Sekigahara Town History & Folklore Museum in Sekigahara gives you a wonderful overview of the battle with a large-scale diorama featuring flashing lights and narration in English, Japanese or Korean. There is also an impressive collection of items from the famous battle including armour, cannons, matchlock guns and conch shells.
You can even catch a glimpse of how the battle would have looked by attending the Battle of Sekigahara Festival, held annually in mid-October. The festival takes place over two days and features a variety of events including lectures, activities, music and best of all, a re-enactment of the famous battle which takes place on Sunday, the second day of the festival.
The Battle of Sekigahara was the biggest, bloodiest and most important samurai battle in history. It marked a turning point in Japanese history and led to a period of stability and culture in Japan for the next 250 years.
From Nagoya you can take the JR Tokaido Main Line which passes through Sekigahara on its way to Osaka.