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The Battle of Sekigahara

mathboss26

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Hi all! I recently spent a lot of time researching the Battle of Sekigahara with the goal of writing a condensed, yet comprehensive and approachable post which I thought I'd share with you here.

So without further ado:


The Battle of Sekigahara which occurred on October 21st 1600 was perhaps one of the most decisive battles in the history of Japan. It basically sealed the fate of the country for the following 250 years or so. But there are quite a few intricacies as to why and how it happened.

First, it is important to understand the political situation the country was in at the time. Japan was being ravaged by civil war with feudal lords (we call them "daimyo") possessing most of the land and wielding power locally. In the 1580's a man named Toyotomi Hideyoshi came to power and committed his policies to unifying the country. He came to be known as Japan's second "Great Unifier". Under his rule, the country achieved a level of unity that hadn't been seen in ages and his government was quite assertive.

However, come the 1590's Hideyoshi would launch a series of invasions in Korea which would eventually fail and deeply weaken the Toyotomi rule. This was one of the main reasons why the Battle of Sekigahara occurred. One important thing to note though: Hideyoshi appointed a young man named Kobayakawa Hideaki to lead troops during the second invasion of Korea. After said invasion had failed, a lot of the blame for the defeat befell upon Hideaki who was humiliated by most of the government's officials; this was something he would not forget anytime soon.

On top of a weakened rule, Hideyoshi's last living heir was only 5 years old at the time of his passing. This would be the cause for all the following conflicts.
Before Hideyoshi passed away, he appointed a "Council of Elders" who would've supposedly governed until his heir came of age. However, as you might expect, things did not turn out the way Hideyoshi hoped they would.

After Hideyoshi's death, tensions started to rise and two candidates stood in line for power:
  • On one side, the most prominent member of the Council of Elders and by far the most revered lord at the time: Tokugawa Ieyasu,
  • On the other side, one of Hideyoshi's top government administrator: Ishida Mitsunari.
Lords throughout the whole country now had to choose whether they would remain loyal to the Toyotomi government by joining the western army and following Ishida Mitsunari, or whether they would join the eastern army and the Tokugawa rebellion.

After weeks of campaigning and convincing, both candidates had rallied substantial numbers of men to fight alonside them. With that, tensions rose steadily until open hostilities appeared and armed conflicts ensued.

For a few weeks, the two armies fought local skirmishes, seizing castles throughout the Kansai region of Japan but didn't end up meeting face to face. It was only after a number of military operations that they finally met, in a valley at Sekigahara, in current Gifu Prefecture.

The two gigantic armies were ready to face each other. The eastern army comprised over 70,000 men, while the western army had between 80,000 to 100,000 men: they outnumbered the eastern army. However, Ieyasu, commander of the latter, was not planning on letting sheer numbers decide of his fate.

Indeed, before the armies met face to face, Ieyasu had been colluding with commanders from the western army to bring them to his side and ensure his victory. Among these alliances, there was one in particular that would prove crucial to the battle, despite its withering uncertainty. A week before the final battle, Ieyasu received a letter from the young commander Kobayakawa Hideaki - who, when faced with choosing a side, decided to stick with the succession of the Hideyoshi government and followed Mitsunari, despite the humiliation he suffered. This letter informed Tokugawa Ieyasu that Hideaki would betray Mitsunari, and fight alonside the western army.

However, could Ieyasu really trust this letter? Or was it a ruse orchestrated by Mitsunari himself to destabilize the eastern army?
Ieyasu had indeed taken Hideaki's side when faced with multiple accusations. Therefore such an act of grateful loyalty from Hideaki toward Ieyasu could remain plausible. There was only one way to break the uncertainty, and that time would soon arrive.

Finally came the time for battle. Rain had fallen heavily the night before and fog covered the battlefield.

Both armies fought valiantly. Swords were clinging. Warriors were raging through the chaos. Yet no army managed to take the upper hand. The battle stagnated into an endless fog of war. However, the western army still had a division on one side of the valley, waiting for the right time to come as backup. This division was led by none other than young Hideaki who watched the fight unfold from afar.

Despite relentless efforts, the eastern army led by Ieyasu started to falter. This was when Mitsunari gave Hideaki the order to attack. Yet he did not flinch. He hadn't made up his mind and wasn't sure what to do. Was he really going to betray Mitsunari and the western army? Or would he break his word to Ieyasu and attack him nonetheless, seeing how the eastern army was starting to waver.

Ieyasu quickly caught on to what was going on. But Hideaki had to make a choice. Ieyasu wasn't one to let others decide of his fate, and if Hideaki couldn't decide on his own, he was going to make him. So Ieyasu made a bold move, and ordered his troops to attack Hideaki's division at full speed. Whether it was against him, or with him, Hideaki could not be allowed to stand idle.

This risky strategy soon paid off. Hideaki quickly got the message Ieyasu was trying to convey, and decided to change direction, and charge the western army led by Mitsunari.

This betrayal triggered a cascade of defecting commanders and troops, leading to the collapse of the western army.

The eastern army soon took the lead in the battle.

In doing so, Ieyasu had won the battle for the seat of Shogun. He had won the battle for Japan.

The outcome of this event settled a new era for Japan which would know a period characterized by national unity and prosperity allowing for the people to explore new domains such as art and litterature, yet counterbalanced by strict social order and isolationist foreign policies.

This era would come to be known as the Edo period.



If you've made it this far, then I'd like to thank you very much for reading! I tried to sum up as much as I could to make for a compact yet comprehensive overview of this battle and its importance in the history of Japan. However, if you would like to go even more in depth and learn more about the intricacies of this historic event, you can head over to [ snip ] where I go into even fuller details on this battle, the historical / political situation around it and the aftermaths.

On that note, have a great day!
 
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thomas

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It’s very kind of you to share parts of your article, but we would appreciate if you asked before promoting your website.
 

mathboss26

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Oh I see, I hadn’t realized, I’m sorry. Thank you for allowing the thread to remain posted nonetheless.
 

thomas

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I share your interest in Japanese history. Next time contact me via Private Conversation and I'm sure we can work something out. :)
 
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