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A Premodern History of Odawara

by Robert Ketcherside and Maki Noguchi

[Reprinted here with permission from Robert Ketcherside]

Throughout Japanese history there have been several cities which have housed the national capitol, each of which, in modern Japan, is an important cultural and tourist center. Although Odawara never served as the national capitol, it did serve, for a period of a hundred years during the Warring States Period, an important role as the center of power in the Kanto region. Why, then, is the modern day Odawara regarded, more or less, as an unimportant, out-of-the-way town?

A look at the development of the Odawara region is best started at the beginning. People have lived in Odawara for more than 10,000 years. The first signs of man were found in 7 sites dating from the preceramic period. Located along the edges of river valleys, these sites were all in small clusters, and within them were found grindstones and spear heads, leading to the assumption that these people were hunter-gatherers who were still dependent on nature to bring them what they needed to survive. From the Jomon period, a number of sites have been found throughout Odawara. However, unlike others in Kanagawa prefecture, the Odawara sites contained no shell mounds, possibly due to the lack of shellfish in the Kosakawa Gulf. The people in Odawara, it can otherwise be presumed, lived a lifestyle similar to others in Kanagawa, using pottery for steaming and boiling, using bows and fishhooks to increase the range of animals in their diet. They were, though, still dependent on the land, as the preceramic people had been . Towards the end of the Jomon period there was a sudden, drastic decline in the number of people dwellings in Kanagawa prefecture, coinciding with, and thought to be the result of, a major eruption by Mt. Fuji which dumped volcanic ash throughout the Kanto plain and greatly affected plant and animal life in the region. From the third century BC a new culture spread over Japan, and a number of sites are evident in Odawara. These people developed communities around the Hisano and Kari rivers, using the water for rice cultivation. Although this showed a break from the reliance of man on mother nature to bring food to him, the natural disasters and possible food shortages at the end of the Jomon period were problems which would come back to plague the people in Odawara time and again.

The first burial mounds, signature of the Kofun period, of Sagami (the ancient province which more or less corresponds to present day Kanagawa Prefecture) were constructed around 350 AD, but they were slower to reach Odawara. During the fifth and sixth centuries, large caves were used for burial, natural in origin but widened and raised by man, and 66 of these caves have been found to date. The burial mounds began to be constructed in Odawara in about 700 AD. In all, 15 of the mounds remain of various shapes and sizes, the largest of which was circular and 130 meters in diameter. Inside could be found, among other things, pottery, swords, axes, and jewelry. These mounds served as a symbol of the spread of Yamato rule and influence throughout Honshu and into the Kanto plain. However, by the time the mounds were built, events in Kansai had led to the reorganization of administrative patterns throughout Japan and reassertion of the power of the 'emperor' which are called the Taika reforms by the questionable Nihon Shiki. One of the results was the creation of provincial capitols in each of the districts. For Sagami, the capitol was moved several times, and evidence has been presented that it was located at one time in Ashigara in Odawara. During the Nara period, Kanto warriors were sent to the west coast of Kyushu to protect against a possible attack from the continent, and many poems of these men and their wives were recorded in a document called the Manyoshu. Ashigara appeared frequently in these poems, with rememberances of the land they left, and images of last sights of loved ones as they entered the Ashigara Pass. Another thing which Ashigara Pass and the Odawara area were famous for in early Japanese history was the banditry of a group of men called the "horse borrowers". Since the reforms of the seventh century, official traffic had increased over the pass at Ashigara, not only due to information flowing back and forth with the provincial capitol, but also due to the need to deliver provincial taxes to the central government, taxes on such local goods as mandarin oranges, rice, lumber, wheat and barley, and possibly stone. These "horse borrowers" were men who would steal horses from farmers, sometimes killing the victims, and use them as pack horses for the ongoing demand for freight and baggage to be taken across the mountain passes. The situation slowly escalated: the men gathering to form small bands, and their marauding began causing many problems for life in western Kanto. In 899 the governor of Kozuke province, neighbor to Sagami, asked the government at Heian to deal with the problem, resulting in the construction of barriers at Ashigara Pass which would check papers of travelers to ensure they had an official reason to cross to the other side. Additional barriers were constructed in the Hakone mountains, due to the increased traffic there. Before 802 all official traffic was routed over Ashigara Pass, but in that year Mt. Fuji erupted and the ensuing ashfall caused Ashigara to be impassable. Traffic was rerouted to a road in the Hakone mountains as a result, a road which led through Odawara on its way east, and even after Ashigara was cleared Hakone remained opened.

In 1180, Minamoto Yoritomo, nursing old grievances and touting an edict from Prince Mochihito, rose against the Taira family, who held military power in the Kanto region. He first met them in battle at Odawara, where, outnumbered 10 to 1, he was forced to flee to the island of Awa in Chiba. There he joined with the Miura family, who were supposed to have supported him by ship at Odawara but were held back by a storm. From Chiba he built up an army while moving through Musashi province, and finally crushed the Taira, setting up the Kamakura bakufu. Samurai estates had been prevalent in Odawara since Heian times, and the Kamakura era found the Nakamura family, strong supporters of Yoritomo against the Taira, flourishing across western Kanagawa from their estate in Odawara. While Yoritomo was raising his army in Izu he had often gone to three shrines in the Hakone mountains to pray for divine assistance, and after his victory he made annual pilgrimages there in thanks. This became a customary practice, and traffic began to increase over this route and through the post station at Odawara. Perhaps both routes were traveled equally at this time, with post stations along each, but by the Muromachi period, in the early fourteenth century, the Ashigara road was traveled much less often than Hakone.

Ashikaga Takauji
Ashikaga Takauji

As with the battle between Yoritomo and the Taira at the start of the Kamakura period, at the start of the Muromachi period an important battle was fought at Odawara. Ashikaga Takauji and his brother Tadayoshi had formed the Muromachi bakufu in 1338, but quarrels between the two eventually turned into war. In 1350, Takauji finally defeated his brother at Hayakawajiri in Odawara. In 1482 peace was made between the Muromachi shogunate and Koga kubo, a conflict which had caused great disunity in Kanto. One condition of the peace was that Izu was given to Masatomo, by title the Kanto kubo. However, his death in 1490, and the internal dissention which followed, left Izu in a weakened state. Seeing this as an opportunity, Ise Sozui, a former vassal of the of Suruga, attacked and conquered Izu, building a castle at Nirayama. Ise was left unchallenged due to the warfare which was raging at the same time across Musashi and Sagami provinces. Another such opportunity would soon present itself to Ise.

In 1418 a man named Omori Yoriharu, a man whom little is known of, built a castle in Odawara. Several generations later, his descendant Ujiyori served as an important general for the Ogigayatsu Uesugi, one of the three major groups vying for power in the Kanto plain. Ujiyori died in 1494 and his son Fujiyori took control. Meanwhile, Ise Sozui had established ties with Hakone Gongen, the ruler in Hakone, and sat waiting for a chance to attack Odawara. Now seeing his chance, Ise began moving his troops towards the castle of Fujiyori in 1495, sending an advance notice that it was a simple hunting party, and that he had no hostile intentions. He took the castle with relative ease, and over the next several years began spreading his operations gradually further and further eastward. In 1512 he began an attack on the Miura, a nearby daimyo family. He won this war in 1515, giving him control of all of Sagami, including Kamakura and the Miura Peninsula. In 1519, at the age of 88, Ise died and was given the Buddhist name of Soun. During his administration of Odawara he had begun vast reforms in many areas, such as taxes: before his time, generally half, and as much as seventy percent, of farmers' produce went to taxes; during his reign, this amount was reduced to the point that only forty percent was taken as tax.

After Soun, his son Ujitsuna took control, changing their family name to Hojo. Ujitsuna continued the military campaigns of his father, pushing progressively further into Musashi province. He also continued the reforms of his father, exempting taxes for temples and beginning reconstruction of damaged temples in Kamakura, and creating a register of all men able and unable to fight in his domain. In 1550, seeing how impoverished the land had become due to the heavy warfare of his family, Ujitsuna's son Ujiyasu reformed the tax system, implementing for the first time a money-based system. In addition he continued the cadastral surveys which had been stared by his grandfather, the first since the Nara period, and readjusted the system of roads which had been centered at Kamakura so that Odawara was the hub. Post stations and markets were established at strategic locations along the thoroughfares. In Odawara an artisans' guild was created, with tanners, lumbermen, carpenters, blacksmiths, sliding door makers, weavers, papermakers, pearl jewelers, swordsmiths, and other types included, an indicator of the bustling economy which was developing in the city.

Odawara Castle
Odawara Castle

Warfare continued almost non-stop, however, and the retirement of Ujitsuna in 1560 and handing of power to his son Ujiyasu was seen as a green light for attack by the Hojo's enemies. On orders of the shogunate, Deputy Minister Kagetora began attacking the Hojo in that same year. In 1561, weaving his way through Hojo forces, he reached Odawara Castle, setting fire to the city and setting in for a siege. However, due to the distance his army had come and a famine at the time, he was forced to withdraw and return to Echigo. A counterattack by Ujiyasu in 1563 took Kagetora's castle at Musashi Matsuyama, and was part of 14 or so attacks and counterattacks between the two. In 1569, trouble began surfacing with the Takedas, and the Hojos quickly made peace with Kagetora. The fighting with Takeda escalated, and Odawara Castle was again besieged, its town again set fire, but the seige was even shorter than that of Kagetora's, as Takeda was forced to withdraw after several days due to a lack of supplies. After Ujiyasu's death, under his son Ujimasa, the Hojos were still alternately friend and foe with the powers in Kai province. In 1582 Nobunaga, moving east, crushed the Takedas, and began putting pressure on the Kanto plain. With Hideyoshi taking power and putting renewed pressure on Kanto in 1587, the Hojos, now under the rule of Ujimasa's son Ujinao, mobilized their troops, repaired subsidiary castles, made new weapons, and began stockpiling supplies: each family was ordered to create two or three years' worth of food in one year, or, if an artisan, to sell goods for food.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Following urges of Tokugawa Ieyasu, a representative was sent from the Hojos to meet in audience with Hideyoshi, and as a resolution to an old argument they were granted Numata Castle from the Sanada. The fact that they sought counsel is an obvious sign of the decline of the Hojos, and the rise in power of Hideyoshi. Despite their earlier submission to Hideyoshi's will, in 1589 the Hojo troops at Numata stormed the nearby Nakurumi Castle of Sanada, violating the resolution. Using this as a pretense, Hideyoshi ordered Ieyasu to destroy the Hojo. Arriving at Odawara with over 170,000 troops, 40,000 of his own and 130,000 of Ieyasu's, in April of 1590 Hideyoshi was prepared to undertake a long siege. Bringing with him huge stores of rice to avoid the problems that previous invaders of Odawara had faced, Hideyoshi headed to a nearby mountain and began building his castle of Ichiya. By constructing a wall of storehouses and fences, and covering it with white paper, Hideyoshi created the illusion of having built his castle in one day, which severely demoralized theHojo army. In truth, his construction began behind the wall, and was finished in late June with the hard work of 40,000 soldiers from Shikoku in the still amazing figure of 80 days. The castle was only used for 100 days, from the start of construction, and would be left abandoned after the defeat of Odawara. Hideyoshi had had an easy time of getting to Odawara because the Hojo, confident in their abilities to withstand a siege, pulled their forces back in to Odawara Castle, and their vassals, confident that Hideyoshi would be forced to retreat, all gave up without a fight in their subsidiary castles. In July of 1590 the Hojo surrendered to Hideyoshi and Ieyasu, realizing they could not win. It is true that they were outnumbered, only having 60,000 troops in Odawara, but there were also other inferiorities in their army. Unlike Hideyoshi's army, which was composed purely of bushi, and had plentiful guns and cannons, the Hojo army was made up of both bushi and farmers, the later of which were often equipped with hoes, spades, and scythes, and had little battle training. After defeating he Hojo, Hideyoshi headed back to Kyoto and handed Kanto over to Ieyasu.

Surely this must have been a crazy time to live in Kanto: total disunity for more than a hundred years; armies marching back and forth acrossed the landscape; the master of any given village changing at a seemingly yearly rate. The time of warring states had been hard on villagers. While still in the midst of the siege on Odawara, Hideyoshi issued a decree attempting to restore peace and order by commanding peasants of the Kanto to return to their homes, forbidding his soldiers from burning and stealing, and ensuring that no criminal acts would be performed toward peasants, shrines, or temples. In Odomo, an old Odawara samurai estate formed in the Heian period, 207 of 352 units of farmland lay abandoned or unarable. In Kanagawa prefecture, as in all of Kanto and later in other regions as well, Ieyasu applied his "divide and rule" policy, splitting the land up into small pieces and giving them to various lords. Odawara was the only large territory remaining during this time, and Ieyasu appointed it to Okubo Tadayo. Tadayo went to great lengths to attempt to restore order and rebuild, and began the redirection and reirrigation of the Sakawa river, but died, after a short reign as daimyo, in 1594. His son, Tadachika, took up the reigns, however, and undertook cadastral surveys and flood control, while being very generous with the old Hojo followers. On an expedition to suppress Christians in 1614, however, he was transferred to Omi, and Odawara was put under the care of Honda Masanobu, who had gained the shogun's favor. For several years Odawara was passed between caretakers, and must have seen a decline under indirect rule. In 1632, though, Inaba Masakatsu took control of the province. As occured repeatedly during the entire Edo period, an earthquake hit Odawara in the following year, killing travelers in avalanches on Hakone, toppling the castle, and leveling every house in the city. Forced to redevelop, reorganize, and rebuild Odawara, Inaba was put into severe financial difficulties. His followers, expected to pay their portion, were all pushed beyond the limits of their finances, the hardest hit of course, being those with less money to start with. This lead to heavy borrowing, sometimes at as much as 10-15% interest, which became difficult or impossible to repay. Masakatsu died in 1635, Odawara probably still largely decimated. His son, Masanori, took control from him, and among his accomplishments were a cadastral survey and village census of the Odawara region.

The establishment of Ieyasu's headquarters at Edo had direct effects on Odawara. In order to build Edo Castle, stone, a well-known commodity of the region since before Nara times, was quarried along the coast stretching out on either side of Odawara. The road system was once again readjusted, this time with Edo at its hub, and the Tokaido became, as always, an important link between the eastern military capital and the western royal capital. Ieyasu, like rulers before him, issued an edict which repaired and revised the tokaido and its post stations. In the new system, there were 53 stops from Edo to Kyoto, the ninth of which was Odawara. The road system in the Edo period did not just serve for the transportation of goods and normal official business, but also was used by daimyo for their regular visits to the capitol at Edo. Ieyasu forced each daimyo to spend alternate attendance in Edo, effectively keeping them and their families prisoners and tying up their funds in travel and maintenance of multiple estates. Their families were forced to stay in Edo, and the longing to see loved ones was perceived as such a real problem that at the barriers in the Hakone mountains and Ashigara Pass, there was a saying: "Stop the daimyos' wives from leaving and enemies from entering." At each of the post stations on the kaido were 3 major types of accommodations: one honjin, one waka-honjin, and several hatagoya. The honjin served the daimyo and other official visitors who passed through, the waka-honjin served as overflow when the honjin was full, or served commoners when it was not needed, and the hatagoya were established to accommodate the growing common (peasant or merchant) tourism. In Odawara, perhaps the busiest stop along the Tokaido, there were 95 hatagoya, and 110 inns, as well. After 1635 there was a rapid increase in private and public travel. The daimyo, before this time, had come to the capitol more or less on their own will, but after this the system of alternate attendance was enforced by law. Also in this year, the loan system which had previously only been available to daimyo and merchants was made available to the peasant class, leading to a great increase in tourism. Odawara was well-known for its uido (a medicine which every traveler carried), wood inlays, ume boshi, shiokara or salted fish guts, kamboko or boiled fish paste, and, although it didn't apply to tourists, later guns and cannons. The pilgrimages which had begun to become popular in the Kamakura period saw a huge boom at this time, and the Oyama roads, a system of roads leading to an important shrine of an agriculture god at Oyama and also passing through Odawara and leading to Enoshima, also began to be heavily used. The post stations on the Tokaido were expected to provide horses and porters for official travelers, and as travel increased on the roads, it became necessary to implement the sukego system, in which nearby villages were also expected to supply supplementary men and horses. Villages 4-8 kilometers from the post station were regular sukego, providing constant aid, while those from 8-16 kilometers were called greater sukego, and only used when needed. In 1694, when the system was implemented, there were 16 regular and 63 greater sukego in Odawara, more than most stops on the tokaido. During times of heavy traffic this was still not enough, however, and in 1713 a new arrangement was worked out, in which all villages up to 14 kilometers away would be used as regular sukego, now numbering 113, and the villages up to 20 kilometers away would be used when needed, those 64 in number and termed 'added sukego'. Already 'volunteering' their time and effort to rebuild Odawara and its surroundings time and again, and too far to realistically be able to provide the aid they were expected to, the villagers became very negative towards the post station authorities, leading to tension and, eventually, riots. These riots spread from Odawara throughout the region.

The villagers were not the only ones under duress. As stated above, the bushi of Odawara were already beginning to see financial difficulties at the start of Inaba's rule, but their financial state would just continue to worsen throughout the Edo period. One reason was the switch of the economy base to money, while bushi pay was still made in rice. Although disasters would raise the price of rice temporarily, over the course of the period, rice's value sank in a steady decline vis-avis money. Adding to the problem, the domainal finances were such that the bushi's pay itself was constantly reduced. In 1712 their pay was slashed in half, and by 1839 it was one-third of its original amount. Intricately linked with this economic failure were the constant and numerous natural disasters that hit Odawara during this two-hundred year period. The earthquake in 1633 emptied Inaba's and his followers' pocketbooks, and it would be consistently more and more difficult for Odawara's rulers to be able to repair after these disasters. In 1683, Inaba Masamichi, the third Inaba ruler, took power, and he was transferred in 1686 to another province, a common practice of the Tokugawa shoguns. In 1687, Okubo Tadatomo, grandson of the Okubo who had been transferred out of Odawara in 1614, was transferred in, and the Okubos would have the misfortune to rule Odawara until the Meiji restoration.

The seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries saw Odawara in a constant state of (dis-)repair. The earthquake of 1633 was followed by another in 1697 and a yet another, more devastating than the 1633 quake, in 1703. This earthquake entirely destroyed both the samurai residences and the houses and shops in the common part of town, either by shaking or burning them to the ground. As many as 800 people in Odawara died in this quake. Although peasants from the nearby villages were brought in for repairs in 1704, the dikes of the Sakawa river, which had been destroyed as well, lay in disrepair, and in heavy rains the following two years the river flooded and ruined the majority of the Ashigara Plain's farmlands. Just as the area was beginning to recover, another quake shook Odawara in 1706, followed by a massive earthquake in 1707 which rumbled up and down the entire Pacific coast of Japan and toppled the walls of Odawara Castle. The following month Mt. Fuji erupted, dumping more than four meters of ash at its base and up to a meter of ash in Odawara. Farmlands lay covered in ash, and the Sakawa River was choked with it, causing the river to flood over and over. Food sources for man and animal alike were devastated, the government had no money to allocate to repairs, and it must have seemed that this was the climax of the bad days of Odawara. Disasters continued to occur regularly, however, and ensured that Odawara would never return to its former glory. Soon after this time is when the peasants who were expected to service the Odawara post station, already trying to recover from a decade of natural disaster, rose up in riots due to their inability to fulfill requirements placed on them. In 1782 another earthquake, its epicenter in Sagami Bay, rocked Odawara. Samurai homes were destroyed by the hundreds, and peasants fared no better. Odawara Castle was leaned over at a 30 degree angle. Several years of unseasonable, bad weather led to poor harvests, and a series of fires repeatedly wasted Edo. Due to the small amount of rice available for sale, its price rocketed up 100 percent over the course of a few years. Merchants and wealthy peasants, seeing an opportunity, began hoarding all of the rice they could get their hands on, leading to resentment by the poorer peasant, and in 1787 they rose in Odawara in protest, smashing up the stores and houses of the wealthy. The dikes of the Sakawa River failed in 1802, collapsing and flooding the Ashigara Plain once more. A fire in 1817 destroyed most of the post station and city. 1833 saw more crop failures, and as was the case 50 years earlier, the population was so dense, the crops were so close to their limit, that the society couldn't handle the misfortune. Rice prices began to skyrocket again, and more raids were made on merchants and wealthy peasants in 1836. These raids came as a result of wide-spread famine: the dead were eaten by dogs, men were eating ground straw, arrow root gruel, even tobacco leaves. 1853 greeted Odawara and Commodore Perry with a nice earthquake centered right in the city, causing further decimation. In the final days before the Meiji restoration Odawara served as the portal for a cholera epidemic coming over Hakone pass in 1858, and was ravaged by a fire in 1867 which destroyed several hundred homes.

Odawara, slowly developing over thousands of years into what, under the Hojo family during the Warring States period, was the center of power and development of the Kanto plane, was struck the double blow in the Edo period of the financial difficulties which crippled the entire nation, as well as constant, debilitating natural disasters. Steadily ground down from its former glory, the Odawara of today seems as a crippled old man telling of his days as the star high school quarterback.

Modern Odawara
Modern Odawara

[Author's Note: My thesis implies that natural disasters and economic strife of the past is the only thing holding back the city of Odawara in the modern day. In reality, this should have been presented as the explanaiton for why Odawara had declined by the end of the Edo period, as my paper ended there. In examining the reasons for why Odawara has become a less-important city in Japan through this century (and the end of last), a study of travel patterns would need to be included. Through the end of the Tokugawa/Edo period, Odawara was a major stop between Kyoto and Tokyo, benefitting from its status as one of the few portals between eastern and western Honshuu, and turning big business off of catering to travelling officials, merchants, and peasants. In modern day Japan, people travelling between east and west either fly across, or ride the Shinkansen (bullet train), which only stops momentarily in Odawara.]


Fukuda, Ikuo and Uchida, Tetsuo. Wagamachi no rekishi Odawara (History of My Town Odawara). Tokyo: Bun'ichi Sogo Shuppan, 1981.

Hall, John Whitney. Japan - From Prehistory to Modern Times. Germany: Tuttle, 1971.

Odawara, Ashigara no rekishi (History of Odawara and Ashikaga). Shizuoka: Kyodo-Shuppansha, 1994.

The History of Kanagawa. Japan: Kanagawa Prefectural Government, 1985.

Also visited Odawara Castle, the musem inside the castle, and the Odawara City Library.

[Author's homepage: http://www.zombiezodiac.com/rob]