Japan’s most famous Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was Lord of Hamamatsu Castle for 17 years, from age 29 to 45. Here he is said to have matured as a samurai leader, and lessons he learnt protecting this local realm no doubt helped him in his eventual quest to unify Japan after two centuries of civil war. Ieyasu went on to found Japan’s new power base in the then tiny fishing village of Edo (now Tokyo), after he was victorious at the battle of Odawara in 1590.
Hamamatsu Castle is a reconstruction, but don’t be disappointed, there are only five remaining original feudal era castles in Japan. Why’s that? Well, think about what a castle is. A castle is a weapon of war. All five remaining feudal castles are located in quieter regional parts of Japan where they haven’t been put to the full test of constant war. Not so for castles along Tokaido Old Foot Highway, which links Japan’s ancient power centers of Kyoto and Osaka in the west with the modern power center of Tokyo (Edo) in the east. Being in the middle of the chess board, the football field, etc controls the game and feudal politics was no different. Castles along the Tokaido Highway saw plenty of action over the centuries. And if that didn’t finish them at some point, the numerous earthquakes of this tectonically active zone where the Philippine plate smashes northwards into the Eurasian plate (popping up Mt Fuji in the process), would.
Hiroshige’s delightful depiction of Hamamatsu is set in winter. Hiroshige uses the cold weather to emphasize the adventure of traveling – complete strangers from very different walks of life gather around a fire for warmth. A wealthy patron and luggage carriers alike enjoy the warmth of the flames – we are all not so different at heart. One of the luggage carriers inadvertently displays to us his bare behind – Hiroshige had quite a sense of humor and his works are said to be the origin of our modern age world famous Japanese manga culture.
You can enjoy a day hike of Old Tokaido Highway from Tokyo.