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Quadricentennial Celebrations Fill the 2000 Calendar

December 11, 2000
Ogaki Expo 2000 featured lifelike displays of warriors riding out to the Battle of Sekigahara.

Sekigahara is located in the center of the Japanese archipelago in the Fuwa District of Gifu Prefecture. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, it spreads across a valley running 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from east to west and 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from north to south and serves as a major junction linking eastern and western Japan. Though today a sleepy rural village, in 1600, exactly 400 years ago, Sekigahara was the backdrop for a major battle for lordship over the country that brought together more than 150,000 warriors belonging to two forces--the eastern army spearheaded by Tokugawa Ieyasu and the western army led by Ishida Mitsunari.

Tokugawa Ieyasu Versus Ishida Mitsunari
In the middle of the sixteenth century Japan entered the final phase of a century of civil war known as the Sengoku period (1467-1568). The authority of the Ashikaga clan, which had ruled the country until that time, was on the wane, and local feudal lords known as daimyo were constantly waging war in an effort to gain hegemony. Ultimately, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598), a peasant's son who had risen up through the ranks to become one of the country's most powerful figures, succeeded in reunifying Japan and bringing the age of warring states to a close. Hideyoshi died before he could consolidate his power, however, and his son Hideyori (1593-1615), whom he had chosen as his successor, was just six years old at the time.

Taking advantage of this situation Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), the most powerful daimyo under Hideyoshi, moved to realize his ambition of grabbing the reins of power. He formed alliances with many daimyo, mainly in eastern Japan. His maneuverings led Ishida Mitsunari(1560-1600), Hideyoshi's closest aide, to call together powerful warriors in western Japan and declare war against Ieyasu.

On October 21, 1600 (September 15 under the old, or lunar, calendar), 75,000 soldiers in Ieyasu's eastern army and 79,000 soldiers in Mitsunari's western army clashed at Sekigahara. Though the battle was the biggest and most decisive in feudal Japanese history, it lasted only six hours. The western forces initially had the advantage, but under a plot Ieyasu hatched before the battle, Kobayakawa Hideaki, a powerful western Japanese daimyo, defected to the eastern army and tipped the scales in favor of its victory. Ieyasu subsequently consolidated his position as the ruler of Japan and became shogun in 1603. He set up his government in Edo, now Tokyo, and inaugurated the Edo period, an era dominated by the Tokugawa line of shoguns lasting two and a half centuries.

Novels and Dramas About Sekigahara a Hit
The Battle of Sekigahara was a major landmark that determined who would rule the land and is a highlight in Japanese history. The event was interwoven with tales of Ieyasu's struggle for hegemony and Mitsunari's attempt to defend the Toyotomi regime, local warlords' waverings between the two sides with the hope of ensuring their clans' survival, defections, and other Machiavellian plots. Though four centuries have passed, these stories continue to enthrall Japanese audiences today.

As Japan's most celebrated battle, Sekigahara has been the subject of countless novels and television dramas. Taichi Sakaiya, former director general of the Economic Planning Agency and an author, has written a bestselling novel titled Oinaru Kuwadate (Great Scheme) based on it. And a PlayStation 2 software that simulates the battle with striking computer graphics has been a hit since its appearance in March 2000.

Quadricentennial Events
The calendar of events commemorating the battle has been particularly full in 2000, which marks its quadricentennial. The biggest among them was the quadricentennial festival organized by Sekigahara and neighboring villages and towns on the theme "Encounters with History: Where East Meets West."

A highlight of the festival was a reenactment of the battle, held on October 8 in the town of Sekigahara. A total of 800 members of the general public who applied to take part and descendants of the battle's commanders donned suits of armor and played out the decisive moment in history. As the eastern and western armies unfurled their banners, the normally quiet town was filled with the sounds of gunfire and shouting, and visitors who crowded the site were drawn into compelling scenes of the battle. In addition to the more spectacular events were services for the repose of warriors who lost their lives in the battle and memorial concerts.

Another noteworthy event was Ogaki Expo 2000, held in the city of Ogaki in Gifu Prefecture at the remains of Ogaki Castle, which served as the base for Ishida Mitsunari's western forces during the battle. An exhibition of arms and introduction of the commanders in the battle and a compelling reproduction of the battle on video proved particularly popular. Ogaki Expo 2000 attracted 748,000 people during the six months that it was open, from March 25 to October 9.

An elderly couple visiting the area commented as they gazed down upon the valley of Sekigahara from Mount Sasao, where Mitsunari's troops took position, "It's hard to believe 150,000 people actually came together in this place." Little about the area, lush with vegetation and covered with rice fields, hints at the glamorous role it played in history. Nevertheless, the dramas that unfolded at this spot have captured the hearts of the Japanese for four centuries and will undoubtedly continue to do so for many more to come.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.