Aichi Prefecture is the birthplace of the Samurai heroes who formed the nation! Particularly, it is the birthplace of the three warlords who fought to unify Japan, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu were all born in Aichi.
Nobunaga was born at Shobata Castle in June 1534, and while a baby, his father Nobuhide moved the family to the larger, safer, more centrally located Nagoya Castle. From Aichi, he commenced his dream of unifying the nation under one ruler, and bringing an end to the warfare and bloodshed that had long rocked the nation. Nobunaga seemed unstoppable, and had conquered most of Japan when one of his most trusted generals, Akechi Mitsuhide suddenly turned, and attacked Nobunaga while he was staying with just a handful of guards at the Honno-ji, a temple in Kyoto. Nobunaga was just two days short of his 48th birthday when he was killed.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi was born on the outskirts of Nakamura Village, in what has now become Nakamura Ward of Nagoya City. At an early age he had joined the ranks of ashigaru foot soldiers under Imagawa clan vassal, Matsushita Yukitsuna. Having been given a sum of money to purchase a chain mail vest for his master, the young Hideyoshi absconded with the money, bought himself a set of armor and weapons, and ran off to join the Oda Nobunaga’s army. Proving himself time and again to be an able administrator, negotiator and an asset to Nobunaga, he gradually rose in the ranks to become a general, and was among the first to respond when Nobunaga was struck down. Hideyoshi then took control of Nobunaga’s lands, and went on to succeed in unifying the nation. Hideyoshi finally brought peace to the land, confiscated weapons off the non-samurai castes, reformed the tax system, and then promptly died in 1598 aged 62 with a five-year-old son to inherit his lands and wealth.
Tokugawa Ieyasu was born at Okazaki Castle in Okazaki City in January 1543. At the age of six, Ieyasu was sent as a hostage to the rival Imagawa clan, but en route to his new home, his entourage was intercepted by yet another rival clan, the Oda, and the young Ieyasu was whisked away to Nagoya Castle, where he spent the next few years of his life, before being a bargaining chip between the Oda and the Imagawa clan, and being returned as a hostage to the Imagawa around the age of nine. Ieyasu broke free of the Imagawa’s grasp in 1560, when Imagawa Yoshimoto invaded the Oda clan lands in western Aichi with 25,000 samurai. The Oda could raise only 2,500 men with which to fend them off, but even them managed to defeat the Imagawa at odds of ten to one in the battle of Okehazama. Tokugawa Ieyasu was at last free to return to his own lands at Okazaki, and forever remained indebted to Nobunaga. Following Nobunaga’s death, Ieyasu served alongside Hideyoshi. Before Hideyoshi died, he had organized a team of 5 Regents to rule in the stead of his 5 year old son until he came of age and could rule on his own. Hideyoshi had appointed Tokugawa Ieyasu as the leader of this group of samurai. When Hideyoshi died, Ieyasu then took the opportunity to gain control of the nation for himself as Japan broke into two factions, East and West. The two sides clashed at the biggest, most decisive battle in samurai history at Sekigahara in 1600, the victor, Tokugawa Ieyasu and his family then went on to become the uncontested rulers of Japan, with Ieyasu then building the most impressive, impregnable Nagoya Castle on the site of the Oda clan’s smaller Nagoya Castle, where a young Ieyasu had been kept as a child.
Other famous samurai who were born in Aichi include the first Kamakura Shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo. Yoritomo was born in Atsuta, alongside Atsuta Shrine, Japan’s second most venerated shrine after Great Shrine of Ise, where his grandfather was the chief priest.
Kato Kiyomasa was also born in what is now Nakamura Park, Nakamura Ward of Nagoya City in 1562. He and his cousin, Toyotomi Hideyoshi have a small museum dedicated to the two men at the western end of Nakamura Park. Known as one of the Seven Spears of Shizugatake, he fought under Hideyoshi, later receiving lands at Kumamoto where he built a magnificent castle. His castle stone base construction methods were considered superb, and so he was recalled to Aichi in 1610 to build the stone base of Nagoya Castle. Other famous names include Honda Tadakatsu (Okazaki) Kato Yoshiaki (Mikawa) Maeda Toshiie (Arako) Shibata Katsuie (Kamiyashiro) Yamamoto Kansuke (Toyokawa) and Yamanouchi Kazutoyo (Iwakura) among many more.
While many famous samurai were born in Aichi, many famous samurai died here too. Takeda Shingen is said to have been killed by a sniper during his siege of Noda Castle. The gun that killed him, and other records are kept in nearby Shinshiro City, in eastern Aichi Prefecture.
If you think about it, Aichi is not only the birthplace of countless samurai heroes, but also the birthplace of modern Japan. Many of Aichi’s heroes ended up being sent all over the country. Hideyosahi went to Osaka and developed that into a major city, as did Ieyasu, going to the then small village of Edo, and turning it into Tokyo, one of the largest cities on Earth. Kato Kiyomasa went on to build Kumamoto city, the Maeda did likewise with Kanazawa, Fukushima Masanori built Hiroshima, and so on. Each of those men took a little bit of home, the people, the culture, the tastes and styles of Aichi with them to their new domains, creating the culturally rich Japan we know today. It all began in Aichi!
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.