Continuing with my posts about my favourite places in Japan, I’m going to write a bit about another – Sekigahara (関ケ原). Although I have never stayed there, and more often not I just pass through, I have always liked the look of the area and like its special place in Japanese history and culture.
The Seki (関 – which can also be read as kan) in the name of the town is the division point – albeit in a very exaggerated form – between the west and east of Japan and the respective terms of Kansai (関西) and Kanto (関東). The significance of the location can easily be seen from the map below. Due to the mountains in the area, the most effective passage between eastern and western Japan (at least if trying to get between Osaka/Kyoto and Tokyo, for example) ends up being through Sekigahara. This is why roads and railways get squashed into this narrow corridor.
The dotted blue and white line going through the map is the Tokaido Shinkansen. I have already done posts about the shinkansen in the area and passing through Maibara, which is just off the left-hand side of the above map. But as you can also see from the page showing the photographs that appear in my book Shinkansen: From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan, I have also got out to take photographs of the shinkansen in Sekigahara. This is the photograph that appeared in the book:
These are some other photographs that I took in Sekigahara that day…
The following map shows where these two photographs were taken. The map shows where Sekigahara station is, which is likely to be your access point to the area if using public transport. The first photo was taken from point A, next to the town gymnasium, whereas the other two photos were taken from point B close to Hanamizuki restaurant (I think there was a petrol station there when I was there in 2003)
As well as photographing shinkansen and the geography, there is another reason why Sekigahara interests me and I love to visit and that relates to its history. To cut a long story short, a decisive battle took place here – largely due to the geographical reasons discussed above (albeit without the roads and railways as the battle happened in 1600). Although my interest in history tends to be more modern, I do find this particular battle and its long term significance particularly interesting. A sign makes it clear where the battle ranks in terms of its significance.
It was very interesting visiting one of the museums in 2016 and walking around the area which would have been the centre of the battle.
Another thing that you can see around Sekigahara are flags of the various clans that fought in the battle with their kamon (家紋, family crests). These crests also appear on the information boards like the one below, as well as souvenirs that you can buy in the shops. This is one of my research interests and links to my interests in symbolism. To date I haven’t done a significant amount of research about kamon, but plan to do more going forward, possibly including it in a second edition of Japan: The Basics or in a future academic book that I am planning. Either of these may also provide an opportunity to discuss Sekigahara more as it hasn’t really featured much in my writing to date.
In relation to the battle of Sekigahara, I recall enjoying watching the Japanese movie by Masoto Harada – who I had previously met and interviewed in relation to my research about Climber’s High (Harada directed the 2008 movie). I watched this on a trip to Japan in 2017. I had been due to go to Hakodate from Osaka by plane and then on to Morioka, but the flight was cancelled due to a typhoon. So instead I took shinkansen to Moriokam, going via Tokyo (and taking the photograph earlier in the post as I passed Sekigahara) and, having some time to spare, went to the cinema.
That evening I went to an izakaya and part of what happened during that meal became inspiration for a scene in my third novel, FOUR – albeit the location was changed to Hakodate. Also in FOUR (but in different part of the novel, set in Nagoya), and taking us back to Sekigahara, there is a mention of Mount Ibuki, which as unimpressive as it looks in the satellite image above, actually looks very good from the shinkansen as I mentioned in my post about photographing the shinkansen around Maibara and you can see below.
Update 16 March 2021: See my post about Age of Samurai which relates to the battle of Sekigahara.