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Okazaki City Guide

Okazaki remained a regional town throughout the period of rule from Kamakura, and again through the period that followed it - the military government in Kyoto of the Ashikaga shoguns. The powerful shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu built Tenonji temple at this time, around about the same time that he built his villa in Kyoto (which is now Kinkakuji temple - famous for its golden pavilion). Corruption, poor governance and the on-going struggle for supremacy saw the country gradually descend into civil war and the breakdown of central authority. The prosperity and peace that Okazaki's economy and culture depended on was interrupted as battles between local warriors for power fractured markets, and tolls imposed on the highway by regional warlords disrupted trade between Okazaki and other parts of Japan. The rich agricultural lands of Okazaki became a prize, and it was as a result of this warfare that Okazaki was built in 1452. The castle built at that time was quite different from the structure we see today, what was significant about Okazaki castle was that it was one of the first castles to be built not on a mountaintop for defensive purposes, but on the plains to ensure the domination of the rice fields and rivers. The castle was built on the junction of the Sugo (Oto) and Iga rivers, forcing the relocation of the Inasaki Jinja shrine - where rice grown for the ceremonies at Ise Jingu was stored. The long history of Okazaki as a castle town had begun.

During this period, a family from the hills in northern Okazaki gradually came to prominence. They were called the Matsudaira, and by the late 15th century controlled Okazaki castle and the region. The 4th head of the family, Matsudaira Chikatada, built the Iga Hachimangu shrine on the banks of the Iga river upstream from the castle in 1470 (it's a beautiful shrine and the departure point for the parade of the Ieyasu Gyoretsu - a festival held early April each year) and the historic temple of aijuji in 1475, which became the family temple of the Matsudaira and is one the most important in Okazaki with many cultural assets. Much of Okazaki's streetscape has been lost over the years as architecture has embraced more modern designs, however an indication of the value Okazaki places on its heritage is best seen from Daijuji. Looking through the main southern gate, it is still possible to see the castle - as a city ordinance still bans the construction of any building large enough to obstruct the viewline enjoyed in the 15th century, despite the increase in the value of land over the years.
Chikatada's grandson did not fare as well, and by the time his great grandson Matsudaira Takechiyo was born in Okazaki castle in January 1543 (December 1542 by the old calendar) the clan appeared to be on the edge on being vanquished as powerful neighbours struggled to obtain control of Okazaki. The battlefield of Azukizaka near what is now the Hikarigaoka Girls High School, was the scene of one of many such clashes between the Oda family to the west and the powerful Imagawa clan to the east. When the Oda defeated the Matsudaira again in 1547, Takechiyo's father appealed to the Imagawa for aid - their price was that Takechiyo would become a hostage at their castle in Sumpu in what is now Shizuoka. However after he left Okazaki by boat he was he captured enroute by the Oda, who threatened to kill the young boy unless the beleagued Matsudaira broke the alliance with the Imagawa. Nobody in Okazaki who had seen Takechiyo leave the castle by small boat would have envisioned that 6 decades later, the former hostage would be the undisputed ruler of Japan, and the man who brought an end to centuries of civil war and chaos. The greatest shogun of all - Tokugawa Ieyasu.

To some extent it can be said that Tokugawa Ieyasu made Okazaki what it is today. Breaking free from the Imagawa in 1560, at the age of 17 he became the ruler of the castle town. Rebuilding its defences, he crushed a revolt by a religious sect, narrowly escaped death near Daijuji temple (where at one stage he was contemplating suicide rather than risk capture - the monks talked him out of it), and again at the second battle fought at Azukizaka - where he was shot - but the bullet didn't penetrate his armour. From 1566 onwards he took the name Tokugawa Ieyasu, and secured the title of daimyo of the Mikawa province. He narrowly escaped defeat again in 1572 by Takeda Shingen at Mikatagahara. Three years later with valuable support from his former enemy Oda Nobunaga (based in what is now Nagoya) he marched from Okazaki castle and defeated the Takeda at Nagashino and Shitagahara, completing the conquest of the Takeda's lands some 7 years of struggle later. Politically astute, he found an acceptable compromise with Nobunaga's successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and left Okazaki with his warriors for distant Edo, now Tokyo. After marching through Okazaki again enroute to the battle of Sekigahara, Tokugawa Ieyasu became the shogun of Japan in 1603.
During the long period of peace that followed during the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868), Okazaki prospered. Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered the demolition of minor castles, limiting each province to only 1 castle. Okazaki was strategically important, not only for its economy, but again for its position on the highway - the Tokaido - linking the new political capital in Edo (now Tokyo) with the imperial capital of Kyoto. The Tokaido had 27 curves as it approached Okazaki castle, improving its defence. A great bridge was built across the Yahagi river, and the town became the 38th "post town" (juku) on the highway. Travellers, merchants, processions of daimyo visiting or returning from Edo, missions from Korea, pilgrims en route to distant temples etc - all stayed and rested in Okazaki. The town took advantage of its place as the junction between the highway and the rivers, with Okazaki also becoming an important river port - transporting rice, miso, stoneworks, sake and other manufactures. An important industry was gunpowder production - the vassal families of the Tokugawa/Matsudaira clans in the Mikawa region being trusted with this vital industry. As gunpowder cannot be stored indefinitely, Tokugawa Ieyasu's son Hidetada granted permission for the manufacture of fireworks - and to this day 4 centuries later, Okazaki still dominates Japan's fireworks industry. As the Tokugawa's ancestral home - the town benefited throughout the shogunate's rule. Daijuji temple was bestowed with new buildings and land, the beautiful Takisan Toshogu was built by Ieyasu's grandson, Tokugawa Iemitsu next to Takisanji temple. It was during this time that most of the foundation of modern Okazaki were established, and the arts, crafts, festivals and other traditions continue today.

©Declan Murphy / Frontia Corporation - All rights reserved
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