Aichi Prefecture is the birthplace of samurai heroes. The Three Unifiers, warlords who fought to control Japan and bring peace, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the future shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, were all born in Aichi.
(Tokugawa Ieyasu was born at Okazaki Castle)
Tokugawa Ieyasu was born in Okazaki Castle in 1542 during the peak of civil war. The Tokugawa controlled the rice rich Mikawa plains, or what is now Eastern Aichi Prefecture. The area was highly desired by the surrounding warlords, each of whom tried to take the lucrative lands. The Tokugawa managed to maintain and expand their territories and power, and in 1603, after victory the Battle of Sekigahara, Ieyasu became Shogun, allowing the Tokugawa family to rule Japan for 260 years.
(A bit of trivia for you, the character of Toranaga in the James Clavell novel, Shogun, was based on that of Tokugawa Ieyasu!)
(Statue of Tokugawa Ieyasu at Okazaki Castle)
(Highly fortified Okazaki Castle)
Originally built in 1455 by the warrior Saigo Tsugiyori, Okazaki was just a small wooden fort at first. Ieyasu’s grandfather captured the fortress, and rebuilt the castle in 1531, using the Otogawa river as a natural moat. Over the years Okazaki was expanded and defensive elements developed and strengthened, becoming one of Japan’s top four biggest, most respected castles.
The castle town of Okazaki thrived during the Edo period being located along the Tokaido Highway, the major thoroughfare between the capital, Kyoto and Ieyasu’s seat of government at Edo
(modern day Tokyo).
In 1868, Japan ended it’s feudal system, and abolished the samurai caste. In 1873, like many other castles around the country, Okazaki was demolished, leaving only the moats and the sturdy stone walls.
(Okazaki was one of the most important strongholds of the Tokugawa clan,
and one of the biggest castles of the Edo period.)
The castle grounds are a popular cherry and wisteria blossom viewing spot in spring. The remaining stone walls are most impressive. Within the grounds are the oldest municipal Noh theatre in Japan, various shrines , an ancient teahouse, a well from which Ieyasu’s first bath was drawn, and even a monument to the Alamo!
(Why the Alamo? Well, there are some similarities between action at the Alamo, and a battle that involved Okazaki,…more in a later post!)
The main keep, rebuilt in 1959 is now a museum featuring samurai weapons and armor
Another attraction is the Ieyasu and Mikawa Bushi (warrior) Museum, featuring the Great Ieyasu Aoi Busho Tai, a team of performing samurai wandering the grounds in full armor, or putting on open air shows.
(The Great Ieyasu Aoi Busho Tai, samurai performance group perform
for the crowds before the Ieyasu and Mikawa Bushi Museum at Okazaki Castle)
Apart from Tokugawa Ieyasu and the castle, Okazaki is most famous for it’s fireworks. The Tokugawa government had restricted the manufacturing of gunpowder, and even now, some 70% of Japan’s fireworks are made in Okazaki. Every summer the castle grounds host a number of events and festivals, the most famous being the annual Fireworks Festival, when an amazing 30,000 fireworks are exploded in the night sky.
Okazaki Castle is a great place to visit. It’s a symbol of Okazaki City, and the birthplace of the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu!
Chris Glenn is a bilingual radio DJ, TV presenter, producer, narrator, MC, copywriter, author and columnist, and Japanese historian, specializing in samurai castles, battles, armor and weapons. He is an inbound tourism advisor, and is often called upon as a lecturer and speaker on Japanese history and topics. He was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1968, and has spent over half his life in Japan, most of that time in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. Chris is dedicated to promoting and preserving Japans’ long history, deep culture, traditions, arts and crafts.