A major battle took place at Sekigahara, Gifu in the year 1600. The outcome of which led to NAG local Tokugawa Ieyasu asserting his dominance over all of Japan as the leader of his eponymous shogunate. Another NAG local you may have heard of, media personality and samurai enthusiast Chris Glenn, has just released his book about the topic: The Battle of Sekigahara.
The Flight From Ogaki
October 21, 1600,
Time: 1:30 a.m.
Ishida Mitsunari left Ogaki Castle about 1:30 a.m., backed by 6,000 samurai, arriving at Sekigahara in the rain-drenched early hours of October 21, 1600. Under cover of darkness they set up camp on Mt. Sasao to the north of Sekigahara, overlooking the narrow plain. The site had been previously chosen and recommended by the Mori strategists as an ideal location from which Mitsunari could command. It had been a 14 kilometer march from Ogaki for his men along a narrow and often steep road made muddy by the driving rain and churned up by the feet of the horses and samurai ahead.
Using the lights of the brazier fires of Chosokabe Morichika’s camp high on Mt. Nangu as a guide, Mitsunari rode to meet Nagatsuka Masaie and then Chosokabe, giving each last-minute instructions and encouragement. From there he went to the fortress on Mt. Matsuo where Kobayakawa Hideie had been among the first to be stationed. He told the young Kobayakawa to wait for a signal flare to be sent up. “That’s when we’ll have Ieyasu trapped and begging for his life.”
Meanwhile Mitsunari’s ashigaru foot soldiers and laborers were scrambling in the dark and wet, felling trees and constructing rudimentary log and bamboo fences and barricades. With simple wooden shovels they dug trenches in the wet soil. Other worker units set up the tall banners and war flags used to stake out territory and for the soldiers in the field to identify rallying points. Towards the top of Mt. Sasao, the hill that served Mitsunari as his jin (war camp), his samurai set up the large white curtains featuring the Ishida crest as an enclosure, and a small, simply built hut.
Armed with his much-favored longbow, Shimazu Yoshihiro and his nephew, Toyohisa, had left Ogaki not long after Mitsunari and, cold and wet, stationed themselves together with 3,000 men to the south of Mitsunari’s camp. Situated between the Shimazu and Ishida was an army of 2,000, led by Ito Morimasa and Kishida Tadauji. This army was all that remained of Oda Hidenobu’s troops following the fall of Gifu. Both were former loyal retainers of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and had now gathered to assist Mitsunari. These valiant warriors would play a major role in supporting the forces of Shima Sakon and Gamo Bitchu at the foot of Mt. Sasao, and in protecting Mitsunari from the Eastern forces.
Arriving at about 4:30 in the morning were another 6,000 Western soldiers under the command of Konishi Yukinaga, who had been the third group to leave Ogaki. The disciplined Konishi ranks struck camp at the base of Mt. Kita-Tenma, while to Konishi’s left, on the lower slopes of Mt. Minami-Tenma, Ukita Hideie entered with some 17,000 samurai.
The Ukita samurai were among the last of the larger Western armies to arrive at Sekigahara. They too had taken a circuitous route, south of Mt. Nangu to the valley, while the Eastern troops, who pulled out of Akasaka about 2 a.m. with Fukushima Masanori taking the lead, had taken a more direct course. Both armies arrived at approximately the same time, and in the mist and heavy rain, Ukita’s rear guard had accidentally been rear-ended by the forward troops of the Eastern-allied Fukushima forces. A small fight had ensued in the darkness, but finished just as quickly as it had started, leaving minimal damage to either side.
The Ukita samurai wore tall blue sashimono flags protruding from the backs of their armor with the character for ko (兒) emblazoned twice upon it. This was in reference to the Ukita’s famed ancestor, Kojima Takanori, a hero of the Kamakura period. The Ukita forces were divided into five divisions, and were lined up one behind the other. Among the Ukita men was a 17-year-old foot soldier who had run away from home seeking glory and fame in battle. However, it wasn’t at Sekigahara that he made a name for himself: he was to achieve fame in the years to come as the master swordsman, strategist, artist, and writer, Miyamoto Musashi.
A further 13,000 Western-allied troops had been waiting high on Mt. Matsuo across the valley from Mt. Sasao. This strong force was under the command of Kobayakawa Hideie, while a smaller garrison of 4,000 soldiers led by Kinoshta Yorichika, Otani Yoshitsugu and his son, Yoshikatsu, as well as Toda Shigemasa and Hiratsuka Tamehiro, camped below at nearby Fujikawadai.
The Mori were based east of Sekigahara high on Mt. Nangu with a 30,000-strong army ready to attack the Tokugawa forces from the rear, while a contingent of troops under Ogawa Suketada, Wakisaka Yasuharo, Kuchiki Mototsuna, and Akaza Naoyasu held assorted strategic places in the south.
By early morning the Western army, although cold, wet, and tired, had itself in position for the Battle of Sekigahara, with over 83,000 soldiers strung out across the valley.
Eastern Field Positions
As field battles were his forte, Ieyasu’s desired plan from the beginning had been to fight Mitsunari on the plain between the mountains at Sekigahara. Leaving 1,300 samurai under the command of Horio Yoshiharu at Akasaka, Ieyasu moved into position with 30,000 soldiers and set his headquarters above Tarui-Hara on the small hill known as Mt. Momokubari just east of the Sekigahara battlefield. Mt. Momokubari itself was an historic site well before Sekigahara. It was here that the 40th emperor, Temmu, had handed out peaches (hence the name momo kubari, “peach distributing mountain”) to his soldiers during the Jinshin No Ran civil war of 672.
The headquarters, hastily relocated from the previous base at Okayama overlooking Ogaki Castle, consisted of a large white curtain strung up in a large square between stakes. This curtain or jin-maku, sported the Tokugawa clan crest of three inward pointing, circularly enclosed hollyhock leaves, the Aoi-no-Go-mon crest. The Tokugawa crest had been adopted by Ieyasu’s father, Hirotada. The Honda family used a similar crest, only with smaller leaves and longer stalks. Hirotada was once served cakes on hollyhock leaves by members of the Honda clan following victory in battle, a show of subservience to the Tokugawa. The hollyhock had long been regarded as a symbol of a loyal retainer, bowing his head and following his master, as the leaf does to the sun. Anecdotally Hirotada is said to have admired this crest, and asked Honda for its use, to which Honda replied “O ha-bakari,” or “Only the leaves.” Here Honda was making a clever play on words as O Habakari also meant “by your command.”
Surrounding this jin-maku curtain were seven banner-like flags sporting the Tokugawa crest and another twenty statuesque, plain white banners. Smaller banners featuring a rising sun motif were also placed at intervals around the camp. Set high on a pole above the site was Ieyasu’s large golden fan standard, used to command troop movements. The secondary standard was a silver kurihangetsu, or crescent moon device. The site also featured some very large rocks which, when covered with animal skins, were utilized as seats for Ieyasu, his generals, and for his audience. A modest outdoor kitchen had been set up a short walk behind the camp.
A special standard presented to Ieyasu by the Jushoku Temple and displayed at the battle of Okehazama was set up along with a flag of the Jodo sect of Buddhism, to which Ieyasu belonged. On it was written Onri Edo Gongu Jodo, or “Renounce the living world and embrace death. The afterlife is greater!”
This slogan was flown above Ieyasu’s camp to show his soldiers that death was nothing to be feared in the expectation they would fight with greater vigour. Interestingly this was the complete opposite to the positive philosophy prescribed in Ishida Mitsunari’s crest, which featured the characters representing Dai Ichi, Dai Man, Dai Kichi, (“great one, great abundance, great destiny”), or “Important Undertakings Begin.”
With everything in place by 7 a.m. on the 21st of October, the Eastern army was also ready to fight.
Holding position in the north was Takenaka Shigekado under Kuroda Nagamasa, with an amassed 5,400 troops. They were less than a kilometer from Mitsunari, within easy striking range. South, to Kuroda’s left and camped either side of the River Ai, were the 5,000 troops under Hosokawa Tadaoki. Below them was the campsite of Kato Yoshiaki and his 3,000 samurai. Alongside of Kato was Tsutsui Sadatsugu commanding 2,850. Tanaka Yoshimune headed another front line force with 3,000 men. To Tanaka’s left, across the Teradani River, sat Fukushima Masanori. Fukushima’s 6,000 men were the southern vanguard of the Eastern forces and had been ordered to fight just south of the Nakasendo. Behind these front line troops massed the armies of Furuta Shigekatsu, positioned just behind Kuroda. To Furuta’s left were the 450 soldiers belonging to Oda Yuraku, and then across the River Ai, Kanamori Nagachika’s 1,140 men.
Ieyasu had ordered his 21-year-old son Matsudaira Tadayoshi and his trusted general Ii Naomasa to set up camp in the center of the plain where the Sekigahara railway station now stands, and directly behind the armies of Kato, Tsutsui, and Tanaka. Ii’s camp was easily seen, being marked out with a wall of fluttering red banners, the taller ones featuring prayers to the god of war, Hachiman, written on small strips of silk, dangling from the top.
The Ii army were resplendent in their bright red lacquered armor and sashimono battle flags. Ii Naomasa was among Ieyasu’s four most trusted and senior samurai generals, and was always on the front lines of any engagement the Tokugawa entered. The Ii’s distinctive red armor, a trademark of sorts for the Ii troops, was an idea Naomasa borrowed from Yamagata Masakage, a general in Takeda Shingen’s army, who realized the importance of uniformity when facing an enemy and so would select any warrior happening to be wearing red to serve at the forefront.
Hailing from modern-day Gunma Prefecture, Ii had a 120,000-koku revenue, and commanded 3,600 soldiers. Ieyasu’s son led another 3,000, while yet another army of 1,830 positioned themselves directly behind the Ii and Matsudaira. These were the samurai of Ikoma Kazumasa of Owari, whose family had also long served the Tokugawa. Kazumasa’s father, Chikamasa, and his son, Masatoshi, were also on the battlefield that day, but were on the opposing side in support of Ishida Mitsunari. This strategy was chosen as a means of preserving the Ikoma name regardless of which side prevailed.
This was not as uncommon a strategy as may be thought. Sanada Nobuyuki, son of Sanada Masayuki of Ueda Castle, was fighting for the Tokugawa side while his father and brother faced off against the Eastern forces at Ueda. Similarly, while Kuki Yoshitaka, the famed naval commander under both Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, supported Mitsunari at Sekigahara, his son, Kuki Moritaka, would be on the other side of the battlefield in support of Ieyasu. Following the battle, Moritaka petitioned Ieyasu to spare his father’s life. Ieyasu granted the man’s request, and a messenger was dispatched immediately with the good news. However, Yoshitaka committed ritual suicide on November 17, shortly before news of his pardon arrived.
Terazawa Hirotaka’s 2,400 battle-ready samurai waited directly south of the village of Sekigahara, between the Tokaido and the Teradani River. Just ahead of them 2,490 of Todo Takatora’s warriors composed themselves for the approaching engagement.
Honda Tadakatsu, Ieyasu’s most trusted and senior advisor, was strategically positioned together with his 500 troops, just south of where the Tokaido intersected Sekigahara and the Nakasendo.
Also on the Tokaido, and the most southern site held by the Eastern troops, in what is now a residential area, was Togawa Michiyasu’s small army of 400, who were situated less than 100 meters left of Honda’s 500 men. This completed the Eastern forces line up, snaking its way along a north-south line like a sleeping dragon on the Sekigahara war front.
Far behind the front lines and stretching back towards Tarui were the 900 troops of Arima Toyouji situated between the River Ai and the Nakasendo, just northeast of Ieyasu’s position on Mt. Momokubari. East of Ieyasu’s position and sitting directly on an intersection of the Nakasendo was Yamanouchi Kazutoyo’s 2,058 samurai. Further east along the Nakasendo waited Asano Yukinaga and an army of 6,510, while Ikeda Terumasa sat just south of Tarui, his 4,560 warriors positioned to watch Mori’s forces on Mt. Nangu, as Ieyasu still distrusted Mori.
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