Odawara Castle was once the center of power for the large part of of central Japan, which also includes present day Tokyo. The Hojo Clan ruled from here during the Warring States period of Japanese history called the Sengoku jidai. Odawara Castle is the closest castle to Tokyo and the site of many historic battles between famous historical Japanese figures.
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Odawara Castle Moat
The history of Odawara Castle actually began in the 15th century with a stronghold built by the Omori Clan. After Hojo Soun controlled the area in 1495, he and his ancestors gradually expanded the castle as the Hojo clan gained power. At the height of their power, the Hojo controlled much of the Kanto area with support castles on the fringes in modern day Chiba, Ibaraki, Saitama, and Kanagawa prefectures. This area covers a large part of central Japan, which also includes the location of modern day Tokyo.
Odawara Castle faced three major attacks by Uesugi Kenshin in 1561, Takeda Shingen in 1569 and Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590. The last siege by Toyotomi Hideyoshi was the end of the Hojo clan's supremacy and the castle was turned over to Tokugawa Ieyasu.
In the final siege by Hideyoshi, he brought many of his generals and allies from around the country with about 200,000 troops to bear on Odawara Castle. In the lead up to the siege, the various generals took over Hojo castles and strongholds on their way to Odawara. As Hideyoshi closed the net around Odawara he flaunted his strength by creating an almost festival like atmosphere with performances and tea ceremonies and he even brought in his concubine (Yodo-dono) and tea master (Sen no Rikyu). Hojo eventually conceded his defeat and turned over the castle with little bloodshed.
Once Tokugawa Ieyasu took control of the castle, he stationed his vassal Okubo Tadayo as castle lord. Okubo reduced the size of the castle from the Hojo days because it represented a threat to the Tokugawa power. The Okubo family ruled over Odawara for the entire Edo Period except for a brief period in the 1700's. The castle was dismantled in 1870.
The present structure and layout of the castle grounds dates back to the Edo era (1603-1867). This was a time in Japanese history when castles were used as projections of power and influence by the central government in Edo (modern day Tokyo) and their regional allies.
The Siege of Odawara
The siege of Odawara in 1590 was a major battle in the history of Japan, marking the end of the Sengoku period and the beginning of a new era of peace and stability under the Tokugawa Shogunate. The siege lasted for almost three months and involved some of the most skilled military commanders of the time.
Odawara Castle was located in the province of Sagami, which was controlled by the powerful Hojo clan. The castle was one of the most well-fortified in Japan, with high walls, multiple moats, and numerous defensive structures. The Hojo clan of Odawara had been a major player in Japanese politics for about a century and had successfully repelled several attempts to take the castle by force.
However, in the late 16th century, the Hojo clan's power began to decline. The Tokugawa clan, led by Tokugawa Ieyasu, had become increasingly powerful and had allied with other regional lords to form a coalition against the Hojo. In 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the most powerful ruler in Japan at the time, launched a massive campaign against the Hojo clan, with the aim of taking control of Odawara Castle and securing his position as the supreme ruler of Japan.
Hideyoshi's forces consisted of over 200,000 soldiers, including some of the most skilled warriors in Japan. The defenders of Odawara Castle were well-prepared for the siege and had ample supplies of food and water.
The first phase of the siege involved a blockade of the castle, with Hideyoshi's forces surrounding the fortress and cutting off all supply lines. The defenders responded by launching frequent sorties, attempting to break through the enemy lines and gather supplies. The siege quickly became a stalemate, with both sides suffering heavy losses.
In an attempt to break the deadlock, Hideyoshi ordered the construction of a series of earthworks and trenches around the castle. The earthworks were designed to protect his soldiers from the castle's defenders and to allow his artillery to get closer to the walls.
The defenders responded by launching a series of counterattacks, attempting to destroy the earthworks and prevent the enemy from advancing. However, the defenders were outnumbered and outgunned, and their attacks were largely unsuccessful.
The turning point of the siege came when Hideyoshi ordered a massive assault on the castle's main gate. The gate was one of the most heavily defended areas of the castle, but Hideyoshi's forces managed to breach the walls and enter the castle grounds.
The defenders fought fiercely, but they were outnumbered and outmatched. After a long and brutal battle, the defenders were forced to retreat to the castle's inner keep, where they made their last stand.
About three months after the siege of Odawara had begun, the sudden of appearance of Ishigakiyama Ichiya Castle on a mountain top overlooking Odawara Castle dealt a psychological impact that spend the surrender of the remaining defending forces. Hojo Ujimasa and his brother Ujiteru were forced to commit suicide after the end of the siege. The castle and surrounding land was given to Tokugawa Ieyasu, on of Hideyoshi's top generals. Tokugawa Ieyasu would later become shogun and his family would rule Japan from 1603-1868 during the Edo Period establishing the city that would later become Tokyo.
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