1590. Sanada, a small daimyo (local lord) taunts Odawara’s Lord Hojo to attack Nagurumi Fort in modern-day Gunma Prefecture. Sanada knows that this action by Hojo breaks edicts by Osaka-based Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who now rules all of Japan except Hojo’s territories around Kanto (modern-day greater Tokyo area) and the Izu Peninsula. It’s the excuse Toyotomi has been waiting for, and he launches the full force of the nation’s military might against Odawara. The force, the size of which has never been seen in Japan before, surrounds Odawara on all sides, including a naval force in Sagami Bay on Odawara’s Pacific Coast to the south.
19C ukiyoe artist Hiroshige Ando’s depiction of Odawara, Tokaido Station #9
Odawara Castle is well fortified, and has previously fended off separate attacks by neighbouring warlords Takeda and Uesugi. But this time the numbers are overwhelming. Hojo eventually surrenders and commits ritual seppuku, concluding the five generation Hojo rule of the area. Hojo’s territories falling into Toyotomi’s hands also completes the unification of Japan under one ruler for the first time in centuries, ending the Warring States Period.
Toyotomi bestows Hojo’s captured territories to one of his greatest generals, Tokugawa Ieyasu. These territories include the small fishing village of Edo. Tokugawa concedes his homeland around Sunpu (modern-day Shizuoka) to Toyotomi and moves his base eastwards to Edo. This is part of Toyotomi’s plan, as Tokugawa is becoming very powerful in his own right, so having him further from the Osaka capital is a safety move. The Tokaido Highway (litterally Eastern Sea Route) is developed to link Edo and Sunpu with Kyoto and Osaka, bases of the Emporer and Toyotomi respectively. Tensions continue to rise between Edo and Osaka, and a quarter century later Tokugawa knocks over Osaka Castle to establish Edo as the new captial, and hence the Edo Period. Edo is now called Tokyo.
A visit to Odawara Castle today is rewarded with interesting recreations of the castle’s towering wooden gates and other structures, as well as graphic displays inside telling the story of 1590. The sad looking south-east Asian monkey in a small cage in the castle grounds is a remnant of more recent history. During Japan’s post WW2 recovery, money was tight, and so a small amusement park was set up in the castle grounds for Odawara citizens. Wild Japanese monkeys, far more impressive than the lonely captive, abound in the area anyway, so when our friend passes on so too will the vestages of more frugal times in Odawara.
Back to 1590. Hojo’s western boundary is protected by Yamanaka Castle, literally meaning “castle in the mddle of the mountain”. The site is true to its name, but despite impressive earthworks to create defences accentuating the site’s naturally steep terrain, Yamanaka Castle is quick to fall to the might of the force from the west on its way along Tokaido eastwards to surround Odawara. A visit to the castle remains today is rewarded with spectacular views from its highest point of Mt Fuji, weather permitting.