Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Battle of Sekigahara Festival - Samurai Battle Festival


In the small town of Sekigahara a festival is put on to commemorate one of the most decisive battles in Japanese history - the Battle of Sekigahara. In 1600, two massive armies converge on Sekigahara and fought a great battle. The winner, Tokugawa Ieyasu went on to become shogun and started a new era known as the Edo Period named after his capital which is today Tokyo.

The main star at the festival is not either of the two opposing leaders suprisingly but Otani Yoshitsugu, a warlord suffering from leprosy who fought for the Western Army against Tokugawa. He's the tragic hero of the tale of Sekigahara. It's his forces which get attacked from the rear by a turncoat by the name Kobayakawa Hideaki.

Overall it's a small re-enactment for such a pivotal piece of history but they do a good job with the drama. The festival is held around the 3rd Sunday in October.




It was October 21, 1600 in the small town of Sekigahara which lies somewhere between Kyoto and Nagoya. Two great armies were poised to do battle which would change the course of Japanese history. It was the culmination of adroit political maneuvering, plots, assassination attempts, and double-dealings. By the day's end, tens of thousands of soldiers would lie dead on the field as one army would be completely routed while the leader of the winning army would go on to establish a dynasty that would rule Japan for over two hundred years. 

On one side was Ishida Mitsunari who was more bureaucrat than samurai. He purported to support the cause of his late master's clan, the Toyotomi. Against him was the crafty warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu who claimed to be fighting to defend himself against the manipulations of Ishida. Both were ambitious scheming men.




At Sekigahara, Ishida had the greater army and the better position but Tokugawa had an ace up his armored sleeve. His battle plan depended more on the treachery than strategic positioning. Unbeknownst to Ishida, there were turncoats in his army - one of them being the nephew of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Kobayakawa Hideaki. 

Ishida thought he could count on Kobayakawa due to the family connections with the Toyotomi's heir but Ishida forgot one thing - that he was insufferable and had a bad habit of putting most people off. Several warlords didn't even bother to participate in the Sekigahara campaign like Kato Kiyomasa who was an ardent Toyotomi supporter while others straight up joined Tokugawa simply because they hated Ishida.


Otani Yoshitsugu - Western Army Leader





Kobayakawa was torn. He owed much to the Toyotomi house which Ishida was supporting but he also owed Tokugawa. When his uncle had the grandiose dream of conquering Korea and then China, Kobayakawa was given command of the second Korean expedition. Ishida criticized his performance causing him to be removed from command and losing his fief as well. Tokugawa interceded on his behalf and before Toyotomi died, Kobayakawa was restored to his original status.





Kobayakawa eventually decided to throw in his lot with Tokugawa and at a crucial point during the battle he turned on the forces of the Western Army. The Western Army was mauled fairly badly and soon fell apart. Some of their leaders were caught and executed and others exiled. Tokugawa later was named Shogun in 1603 and in 1615 lived long enough to see the last of his enemies defeated. Japan would be under the control of his descendants for more than two centuries.




At the small town of Sekigahara, they put on a small festival to commemorate the battle every year. Instead of focusing on the major players like Ishida Mitsunari and Tokugawa Ieyasu, they focus on a minor player at the battle - Otani Yoshitsugu. Otani is the tragic hero of Sekigahara's battle drama. He fought for Ishida out of respect of friendship. It was his forces which bore the brunt of Kobayakawa Hideaki's treacherous assault. Otani's troops put up a fierce fight but they were assailed on two sides and eventually were crushed. 

Poor Otani could not escape as he was suffering from the debilitating disease of leprosy. By the time of the Battle of Sekigahara, Otani had to be carried on a litter. When his warriors were routed, Otani committed seppeku. This is the last scene at Sekigahara's festival rather than the triumph of Tokugawa.




There were around 20,000 gunners at the Battle of Sekigahara




Kobayakawa Hideaki - the villain of the battle drama


Otani Yoshitsugu fights with Tokugawa general Todo Takatora



Kobayakawa's forces attack their former allies







Otani Yoshitsugu commits seppuku on the battlefield








1 comment:

  1. Nice! And very useful as I am making Sekigahara wargames armies.

    ReplyDelete

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Tokyo, Japan
Vagabond traveler currently hold up in Tokyo. I've done a far bit of traveling and had a few interesting adventures along the way. This blog is a chronicle of adventures past and present and those yet to come. I’ve been to about 30 countries though some no bigger than a kitchen table. I’ve run with the bulls of Pamplona, hiked the Inca Trail, got mugged in Mexico City, floated down the Nile in an old boat, climbed the Great Pyramid of Egypt, got ripped at Oktoberfest, and rode the notorious Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Party Train.