Hello, everyone. It's your all-too-infrequent author, back from 6ish weeks in Japan, where the Army sent me because speaking Japanese is critical for my job, and amazingly enough I do not get too many opportunities to practice here in Podunk, Louisiana. I attended a business Japanese course, saw friends and family, had a few work meetings, traveled up to Tohoku to volunteer and sight-see, and generally had an awesome time. I'll cover some of that in later posts--particularly some of my historical related sightseeing, and my trip to Tohoku. Things are better up there, but there is still a lot to be done.
Anyways, the beautiful thing about this trip was that I got to pick the school and program, and I found one perfect for me in many ways. I won't bore you with the details of the class (though if you're interested, feel free to ask in the comments), but it was in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, Japan. Location-wise, it couldn't have been better: 30 min by express train from Nagoya, where I spent a year in college and still have close ties with my hostfamily; a neat little town in and of itself, with Okazaki Castle and the only two hatchô miso factories in the world; and...an hour and change from a certain battlefield I may or may not be obsessed with. (Spoiler alert: I am).
So without further ado, we'll get to what all two of you who visit this site come here for. I took a trip to Nagashino for a day and change during our week-long Obon break. I arrived in the afternoon, went to the castle to take pictures, and then stayed over night in Shinshiro. Early in the morning, I got in my rental car and was on the battlefield (picture above) at dawn. The picture above was taken at 4:58 AM, 12 August, and gives a good approximation of what it was like looking across Shitaragahara as visibility improved enough to fight a battle. I then spent 7+ hours roaming around the battlefield, driving and walking to all the different points of interest. The video below (1 hour long...a lot packed in there) is the mashup of all my recorded thoughts and sights as I walked around. I also took about 350 pictures, some of which will be uploaded into an album and made available here for people who are interested.
So, what did I learn this trip that I had not observed in the previous two trips to Nagashino?
First, let me explain how this time was different. You see, I'm married with kids. Wonderful, beautiful children, and a wonderful, patient, and loving wife who indulges my hobby by allowing me to plan trips to random battlefields in the hinterlands of Aichi prefecture into our family vacations.
Our first trip to Nagashino was as we were moving back to the main US Army base in Kanagawa from my remote assignment out in Kyushu; we took a 2 hour detour off the highway to go spend a couple of hours at the museum at Shitaragahara and Nagashino Castle. Our second trip was after I returned from Afghanistan, and we took a long trip around central Japan, visiting friends in Nagoya and traveling all around the Chubu region. We stayed in a ryokan about 45 minutes from the battlefield, and again all we really saw was the center of the battlefield at Shitaragahara, the museum, and the castle. With a (at the time) 4 year old and 1 year old, it was about all we could manage.
This time, however, it was just me. No limitations on my time, no naps to plan around, no "I'm bored, can we watch a movie on the iPaaaad..." And it was beautiful.
If you follow my blog and research (and I know there are at least a whopping two of you who do), you already know my approach to Nagashino and my general concept of what happened. I won't rehash that, because if you haven't read this before, all you have to do is scroll through the blog (and go listen to our podcasts (http://samuraipodcast.com/) to get the whole shebang. For this post, I'm going to concentrate on three new observations that I had, directly due to having the opportunity for an extended examination of the battlefield.
1. The role and effect of light on the battle
Why was I up at 3AM in order to get out of my hotel and onto the battlefield by 4:30? Because the battle started at 5AM (the Hour of the Hare), according to contemporary accounts. I wanted to see what it looked and felt like standing on the terrain at that time, and it was incredibly en"light"ening.
Summer in Japan, for those who have not experienced it, can be a disconcerting time. There is no adjustment for daylight savings, no "spring forward, fall back". Consequently, in the peak of the summer it's bright light out at 4:30 AM, which is really strange when you wake up and see the sun streaming in your window that early. In my research in grad school, I looked up the historical averages for first light (BMNT, or Before Morning Nautical Twilight in military speak--essentially, when does it first get light enough to see anything), and for the 29th of June (the date of the battle) historically it's 4AM. Full sunrise is 4:37AM. These historical values vary by a grand total of 4 minutes from 1695 until 2011 (when I conducted the research), so it's a fairly straightforward assumption that they'd vary only slightly for 1575.
Now, I was not at Nagashino on June 29th; I was there on August 12th. And sunrise shifted 31 minutes, from 4:37 on June 29th to 5:08 on August 12th. However, I still was able to capture what the light conditions were like, viewing from Danjoyama, at the time the battle started. The cover photo for this blogpost, above, shows what the light conditions would have been like looking across at the Takeda positions, right as the Takeda began moving forward. With first light at 4AM, and sunrise at 4:37, it makes sense that combat started an hour later; the armies would have gotten up before light, and moved into position between 4 when they could start to see and 5 when the various chronicles say combat started. There's not really any grand conclusion to be drawn, other than yes, the light conditions I observed at 5AM confirm that this makes sense.
Here we see two pictures taken between 0550 and 0600, about an hour after "sunrise", when the sun really started to rise over the eastern ridgeline. These were taken in the open area south of Ieyasu's position on the southern flank, looking east towards where the Takeda were coming from. I'm not sure how well it comes out in the pictures (darn you auto-adjusting camera and software), but it's BRIGHT. BLINDINGLY bright. So bright it would be very, very hard to face due east, standing in a line with, say, 2,999 of my closest teppô-wielding friends, and aim my gun at any random Takeda who just happened to be charging directly at me. You could make the argument that 16th century firearms had limited accuracy, and you'd be right; however, you still have to actually look at your target to point your gun in its general vicinity.
What does this mean? It would have been extremely difficult, for about a 45 minute period of time, to face due east and aim at targets coming at you. Given that this 45 minute period of time would have been from about 0515 to 0600, if we adjust for the light-timing difference from June to August, we're talking about the first hour of the battle. IF, as conventional historiography would have us believe, the Oda and Tokugawa lined up 3,000 (or 1,000) gunners and had them rotate in line, firing at the charging Takeda, then they wouldn't have been able to see (or hit!) anything for the first hour of the battle! It's hardly likely that the Takeda began the attack, only to pull back and politely wait for the sun to clear from the Oda troops' eyes. Had the Takeda attacked straight east with the sun at their backs, we wouldn't have had the story book mowing down of Takeda cavalry; they would have closed and engaged.
It's one more data point suggesting that rather than a line running north-south in front of Danjoyama, the Oda and Tokugawa defenses (and the Takeda attacks) were oriented on the flanks. Let's take the southern side for example--it makes sense that Tokugawa's forces were oriented more south-east than south, as they A. could see in that direction, rather than staring into the sun, and B. Yamagata Masakage's attack across the southern avenue of approach, if slowed by barricades, would present an open flank to not only arrow and gunfire, but infantry charging off the hillside.
2. Danjoyama is steeper, higher, and more heavily wooded than you can tell on a map, making it easier to defend than I had thought
My previous two trips to Nagashino were in 2009 and 2010, before I spent hours and hours poring over maps of the area and reconstructing the battle in graduate school. As I said before, I had limited time to explore the area, and so concentrated on the castle and the open area between the ridgelines at Shitaragahara, because that's where "the battle was fought". The very photogenic reconstructions of the babôsaku barricades draw attention to the front of Danjoyama facing east. Consequently, I didn't really pay much attention to Danjoyama itself.
Looking at maps and Google Earth, Danjoyama does not appear to be that high. And in reality, it isn't exactly a mountain. It appears very climbable, and in my terrain assessment I asserted that it could have been assaulted and taken by foot or by horse. Because of this, I disagreed with the statement by Dr. Thomas Conlan** that there was no need for barricades in front of Danjoyama. He calls the positioning there "nonsensical"; I felt this was extreme. While I obviously agree that the vast majority of the fighting took place on the flanks, and that is where the obstacles really did their job of disrupting Takeda movement, my map reconnaissance led me to believe that the Oda would have placed at least some barricades in front of Danjoyama as well, if only to assist in blocking any potential (if unlikely) advance against it that could split the Oda lines.
Which brings us to this visit. I climbed Danjoyama. I climbed all over Danjoyama. I climbed the north end, the south end, the back, and walked the length of it. And while I COULD climb it, it was much harder than I thought. It was much steeper than I thought. The picture at the top of this section should give you some idea. The picture below, if you imagine the road not being cut out and the slope continuing down, should also show you.
Also, look at the trees, in both this picture and the picture above. Pretty tight together, aren't they? Hard to know if Danjoyama was as thickly wooded (or wooded at all) at the time of the battle, but if it was, it makes ascending in any sort of order difficult. Between the steep grade of the hillside and the thick trees, I do not think that one could charge a horse up Danjoyama--certainly not under fire. An infantry assault against the ridgeline is conceivable, but would be bloody difficult. I'm in relatively decent shape (usually run between three and six miles a day, at least four times a week), and I was winded and straining making it up the side. And I was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes, not a full set of armor. Nor was I fighting my way up! Bottom line, it would have been pretty difficult to attack Danjoyama directly. Impossible? No, but difficult. Which leads to two conclusions. First, it supports my belief that Katsuyori's attack was primarily directed on the flanks, using the northern and southern avenues of approach to go around Danjoyama. Second, it makes me agree more with Dr. Conlan that the barricades were not necessary, and may have in fact been superfluous, in front of the Oda positions on Danjoyama. I have no evidence that there were not any there, but they do not seem to have been necessary.
** Thomas Conlan. Weapons & Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior, 1200-1877 AD. London: Amber Books, 2008. His comments on the placement of barricades at Nagashino are found on page 171.
3. Chausuyama may have been where Nobunaga's headquarters remained during the fighting, but if so he did not have a clear view of the battle
Nobunaga's honjin, or headquarters, was on Chausuyama, to the rear of Danjoyama. This is where he established his headquarters on the 27th, and despite many historians teleporting him to the center of the Danjoyama line for battle on the 29th, I have not found any evidence that he moved from Chausuyama in any of the textual sources. Further, as a commander, it makes the most sense to be where you can command and control the entire battlefield. Were Nobunaga in the center of the Oda positions on Danjoyama, his control is limited to the immediate combat to his front. This may make sense if you believe that the Oda lined up in front of Danjoyama and fired in ranks against a charging Takeda horde, but we know this is not what happened. Given that the Takeda attacks were on the flanks, and the Oda and Tokugawa defenses were arrayed in-depth to destroy the Takeda on the flanks, it makes the most sense for Nobunaga to have been further back, where he could see and direct the entire battle from north to south, rather than in danger of being surrounded on Danjoyama.
Much like the previous discussion, however, much of this assessment was made while looking at maps and Google Earth. A view from Google Earth shows a panoramic view of the entire battlefield north to south from Chausuyama with great fields of vision, and Danjoyama does not appear to be that high. Therefore, it stands to reason that Nobunaga could sit atop Chausuyama at his honjin and direct the entire battle with ease.
THIS is the view from Chausuyama looking towards Danjoyama. There's very limited visibility to the east and south from Nobunaga's honjin. Once again, vegetation is the main culprit. The trees are just too thick to see, and climbing further down the hillside only leads to more trees. Sure, there might not have been trees--or, they could have all been cut down to build the barricades--but when climbing Chausuyama, I thought I'd have the same panoramic vista I envisioned from Google Earth, and I did not. What I could see was this:
This is the northern avenue of approach, seen very clearly from just a little ways down the hillside from Nobunaga's position (the bridge construction you see is for a new highway bypass). What I make of this is that Nobunaga could clearly direct his forces arrayed against Baba Nobuharu's attack along the northern flank of Danjoyama.
But what of the southern avenue of approach? I think he left that to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ieyasu, stationed on the southern end of Danjoyama, had a commanding view of the entire southern maneuver corridor, and could very easily control things from his vantage point. Further, Nobunaga's son Nobutada was stationed on a hilltop a bit to the rear of Ieyasu's position, ready to provide support in case Ieyasu was hard-pressed. Essentially, Nobunaga divided command and control between himself and Ieyasu, and each controlled one flank of the battle. Nobunaga would have been updated continuously on developments to the south by messengers to keep track of what was occurring, but left command of the south in the hands of Ieyasu. I still think he stayed on Chausuyama, but after climbing it (and fighting my way through spider webs along paths not trod very often these days, it seems) this division of command makes the most sense, given the terrain and visibility.
Those are my three main takeaways from this trip. I did see other things I had not had the opportunity to visit before. The spot at which Torii Suneemon was crucified was in the middle of an eggplant field on the side of the Toyokawa River. I climbed Tobigasuyama, mostly with my rental car but enough on foot to recognize what a complete badass Sakai Tadatsugu was to take 4,000 troops up the side of the mountain to attack the Takeda fort on the top. While these were interesting, I don't think they altered my perception of Nagashino in any way like the other three observations. If anyone has questions about those, or anything, as usual feel free to ask in the comments section. My pictures from the day at Nagashino (and the previous day at Nagashino Castle) are located here:
Feel free to look around if you like and ask any questions on anything you see. There's too much for me to cover everything on the blog, but if anything is noteworthy I could discuss it in a post.
More to come shortly, I promise. I'm going to depart from history in the next post and share a bit about the two days I spent volunteering in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, a city hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. Things have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go before the area regains any sense of "normalcy." Also, I did some other history-related travel (Kiyosu Castle, Okazaki Castle, Nagoya, Sendai Castle, Matsushima and the Date Masamune museum) so I might cobble together a post with highlights.
Until next time!