Discover the Battlefield of Sekigahara

Text and images courtesy of Matt Evans

Introduction

  • Aerial view of Sekigahara
    Aerial view of Sekigahara

    Visitors to Sekigahara may find it difficult to imagine that two vast armies once fought near this peaceful town to decide the future of a whole nation. On October 21, 1600, however, this is exactly what happened here at Sekigahara.

    The plain of Sekigahara long served as an important crossroads between the east and west of Japan. It was located on the Nakasendo highway, one of the few major roads that connected the cities of Kyoto and Edo, and was nestled between several mountains—an easily defensible and ideal strategic position for Mitsunari to challenge Ieyasu’s forces.

  • The Nakasendo and Tokaido highways
    The Nakasendo and Tokaido highways
    Gifu Castle
    Gifu Castle

The Nakasendo highway

  • Historical buildings on the Nakasendo
    Historical buildings on the Nakasendo

    Before industrialization brought trains and mass transit to Japan, people relied on just a handful of paved roads to travel over long distances. Kyoto and Edo were connected by the Tokaido highway along the southern coast, and the Nakasendo highway, which led inland through the mountains.

    Sekigahara’s position directly on the Nakasendo was one of the critical factors that led to the battle taking place there. While the Tokaido passed over relatively flat and easy terrain, it also required the fording of several rivers, which would have significantly delayed a large army, leaving the Nakasendo as the only viable option.

  • View of the Kiso Valley from the Nakasendo
    View of the Kiso Valley from the Nakasendo
    Section of the Nakasendo with Edo-Period paving stones
    Section of the Nakasendo with Edo-Period paving stones

The lead-up to the battle

  • Position of the two armies at the start of battle
    Position of the two armies at the start of battle

    In the lead-up to the battle, Tokugawa Ieyasu, already the most powerful warlord in Japan, had taken his army north to fight the Uesugi clan, who appeared to be preparing to rebel against Ieyasu. Seizing the opportunity, the daimyo Ishida Mitsunari, along with his anti-Tokugawa allies, raised their own army to stand against the Tokugawa.

    Mitsunari decided to make his stand here at Sekigahara, hoping to use the hills in the northwest to his advantage. Ieyasu marched his own combined army from Edo onto the east side of the plains of Sekigahara. On the morning of October 21, 1600, the two armies would clash, leading to one of the largest, most dramatic, and consequential battles of Japanese history.

  • Statue of Tokugawa Ieyasu at Sumpu Castle Park, Shizuoka
    Statue of Tokugawa Ieyasu at Sumpu Castle Park, Shizuoka
    Aerial view of Mitsunari's encampment
    Aerial view of Mitsunari’s encampment

Exploring the battlefield

  • The Gifu Sekigahara Battlefield Memorial Museum
    The Gifu Sekigahara Battlefield Memorial Museum

    For anyone interested in exploring the battlefield, the perfect place to start is the Gifu Sekigahara Battlefield Memorial Museum, located near Sekigahara Station. Here, visitors can watch the events of the battle unfold through the Ground Vision, experience a vivid recreation of the battle at the Theater, and view a host of arms, armor, and related artifacts in the museum’s three Exhibition Rooms. On the building’s fifth floor, the Observation Deck offers a magnificent panoramic view over the entire valley, making it the perfect spot to get oriented before setting out to explore the battlefield itself.

    With e-bikes available to rent from the museum’s information desk, it’s easy to cover the various battlefield sites in the space of a few hours.

  • Aerial view of the Okayama Signaling Ground
    Aerial view of the Okayama Signaling Ground
    Tokugawa Ieyasu's Final Encampment
    Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Final Encampment

Visiting Sekigahara

  • Tsumago, a post town on the Nakasendo
    Tsumago, a post town on the Nakasendo

    Sekigahara is filled with many cultural and historical treasures. It’s located in the heart of Japan and less than an hour by train from Kyoto, making it easy to fit into your travel itinerary. If you’re looking for the next step, why not follow in the footsteps of Tokugawa Ieyasu in the Kiso Valley along a beautifully preserved stretch of the Nakasendo highway, or experience the next chapter in Japanese history at Nagoya Castle and the nearby Tokugawa Art Museum.

  • View of Nagoya Castle
    View of Nagoya Castle
    Tokugawa-en Garden at the Tokugawa Art Museum
    Tokugawa-en Garden at the Tokugawa Art Museum

Access information

  • Relevance today_map

    To get to Sekigahara from Nagoya, take the JR Tokaido Main Line to Sekigahara Station. The journey takes just under one hour and is covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

    To get to Gifu City from Nagoya, take the JR Tokaido Main Line to Gifu Station. The journey takes 20 minutes and is covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

    To get to Magome from Nagoya, take the JR Chuo Line to Nakatsugawa Station (50-75 minutes depending on the train category). From Nakatsugawa, it is a 30 minute bus ride to Magome, with departures roughly once per hour. The Japan Rail Pass covers the initial train but not the bus.

    To get to Seki from Nagoya, take the JR Hida limited express to Mino-Ota Station (40 minutes) and change to the Nagaragawa Railway for Seki Station (20 minutes). The JR portion of the journey (the first train) is covered by the Japan Rail Pass, but the second is not.

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