Siege of Ōsaka Castle

After the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Hidegori, the son and heir of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was one of the last individuals in Japan capable of mounting a challenge to the Tokugawa shogunate. Tokugawa Ieyasu used a trivial excuse to mount a campaign against Hideyori’Ōsaka castle in 1614 and captured the fortress, driving his rival to suicide in the following year and eliminating the last obstacle to the establishment of a Tokugawa dynasty.

Summary of Event

After nearly 150 years of civil war, central power in Japan was once again restored by a trio of military strongmen, known as the Three Unifiers Three Unifiers , in the late sixteenth century. The process was begun by Oda Nobunaga Oda Nobunaga , the lord of a small domain in central Japan who expanded his power and gained control of half the country, including Kyōto, the imperial capital. Nobunaga died as a result of the rebellion of one of his own generals, Akechi Mitsuhide Akechi Mitsuhide , in 1582. Another of his followers, Toyotomi Hideyoshi Toyotomi Hideyoshi , a man who had risen from humble beginnings to become one of Nobunaga’s most capable commanders, defeated and killed Akechi in battle and set himself up as Nobunaga’s successor. Hideyoshi further consolidated Nobunaga’s gains but died in 1598, leaving his son, Hideyori Toyotomi Hideyori , as heir in the care of a council of five regents. The most powerful of the regents, Tokugawa Ieyasu Tokugawa Ieyasu , decided, however, to seize power for himself and, after defeating his rivals at the Battle of Sekigahara Sekigahara, Battle of (1600) in 1600, established the Tokugawa shogunate that was to rule Japan until the nineteenth century. Hideyori was given substantial landholdings and allowed to take up residence at Hideyoshi’s castle inŌsaka. [kw]Siege ofŌsaka Castle (1614-1615)
[kw]Ōsaka Castle, Siege of (1614-1615)
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Expansion and land acquisition;1614-1615: Siege of Ōsaka Castle[0650]
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[c]Government and politics;1614-1615: Siege ofŌsaka Castle[0650]

In the 1610’, however, Tokugawa Ieyasu considered Toyotomi Hideyori to be the most serious threat to the Tokugawa shogunate, and the 1614 and 1615Ōsaka campaigns are thought to have begun because of Ieyasu’s desire to eliminate him.Ōsaka Castle was a massive construction. It was similar in size and defensive strength to the Tokugawa bastion in Edo. Legislation enacted by Ieyasu in the 1610’s shows that he was concerned with limiting the ability of the daimyos, or feudal lords, of various fiefdoms to build and repair castles. It is clear thatŌsaka Castle, arguably the most substantial fortress in Japan at the time, was one of the few remaining threats to the Tokugawa polity. Ieyasu also feared that Hideyori, while lacking the military prowess and leadership abilities of his father, could nonetheless serve as a rallying point for those opposed to or disenfranchised by the new system of Tokugawa rule.

Scholars are almost unanimous in their agreement that the Shomei Incident of 1614 Shomei Incident of 1614 was simply a pretext that Ieyasu used to launch a preemptive strike against Hideyori. Hideyori had bankrolled the restoration of the temple Hokoji in Kyōto. The inscription on the temple bell that Hideyori commissioned was interpreted as a possible insult to Ieyasu and a call for rebellion against the Tokugawa. Ieyasu immediately called for the young man’s complete surrender. When Hideyori refused, Ieyasu launched the first of theŌsaka campaigns.

Hideyori and his mother, Yodogimi, Yodogimi called upon the various daimyos to fight against the Tokugawa, but the system of domains and alliances that Ieyasu had cemented after 1600 proved stable, and none of the daimyos came to the aid of Hideyoshi’s heir. Instead, it was individuals who had lost their social place or political power in the post-1600 reorganization of Japan’s feudal system who stood to gain from a rebellion, and thousands of rōnin, Rōnin[Ronin] or masterless samurai, as well as former vassals of Hideyoshi such as Ono Harunaga Ono Harunaga , rallied to Hideyoshi’s banner. In the ranks of the rōnin were men like Sanada Yukimura Sanada Yukimura , who proved to be an able commander during the fighting.

While the figures may have been exaggerated by contemporary chroniclers, it is estimated that Hideyori’s forces eventually came to number more than 100,000. Ieyasu, on the other hand, was able to call on the various daimyos from all over Japan for military support because of the alliance system that he had developed. Ieyasu’s forces are said to have numbered more than 200,000. He led these forces along with his son Tokugawa Hidetada, who held the official title of shogun at the time.

The first siege, called the fuyu no jin, or “winter campaign,” ended in mid-January of 1615. Despite his superior numbers, Ieyasu was able to make little headway as a result ofŌsaka Castle’s nearly impregnable defenses and the tenacious resistance of Hideyori’s supporters. Ieyasu negotiated a withdrawal. Under the terms of the withdrawal, Hideyori granted Ieyasu permission to fill in the castle’s outer moats and dismantle the fortress’s perimeter defenses.

Ieyasu went too far, however. In violation of the terms of the agreement, Ieyasu had his men begin work dismantling and burying some ofŌsaka Castle’s inner defenses as well as the outer ones. As a result of these measures, Hideyori’s security was severely compromised. When he protested, Ieyasu requested that he remove himself fromŌsaka Castle and take up residence in another part of Japan. This demand was totally unacceptable to Hideyori and his supporters, and the young man chose once again openly to challenge Ieyasu.

The Tokugawa for their part were able once again to assemble a fighting force of more than 200,000 men and the natsu no jin, or “summer campaign,” began. The Ōsaka Castle’s defenses were now far less effective than they had been in the previous year, and Hideyori’s forces decided to engage Ieyasu’s men in sporadic fighting aroundŌsaka rather than rely on the castle alone to protect them. Poorly equipped and suffering from morale problems because of the reversal of their fortunes, Hideyori’s troops were easily crushed by the Tokugawa army.Ōsaka Castle fell to Ieyasu’s siege parties in early June of 1615. Hideyori and his mother, Yodogimi, were protected by holdouts but took their own lives before the last part of the fortress fell.


The fall ofŌsaka Castle is typically regarded as the end of large-scale resistance against the new Tokugawa government and a final end to the century and a half of civil strife that had prevented the formation of a strong central authority in Japan. The elimination of Hideyori allowed Ieyasu and his son Hidetada to rule virtually unchallenged. While Ieyasu died shortly after the end of theŌsaka campaigns, his victory over Hideyori gave his successors an ability, unparalleled in previous Japanese history, to promulgate laws to support the Tokugawa power system. Ever suspicious of the other feudal lords, the Tokugawa went on to introduce a series of laws governing their conduct. The laws barred alliances between daimyos and eventually introduced a system of alternate attendance at the shogun’s capital of Edo whereby the families of important daimyos were kept hostage to ensure their loyalty.

In 1624, a policy of national seclusion was introduced. Japanese trade with foreign countries was strictly regulated, and travel abroad was made impossible. Seclusion policy, Japan These measures were designed to limit Christian influence and also to ensure that the powerful domains on the fringes of Japan could not gain an advantage against the shogunate by engaging in trade with Europeans. In short, rebellion was made next to impossible, and these measures allowed the Tokugawa to remain in power until the arrival of America and other Western powers in the 1850’s sparked internal dissent and caused the system to collapse. The Tokugawa shogunate finally came to an end in 1867. Despite this end, however, the Tokugawa ruled for more than 250 years, and this long tenure in power was made possible in part by Ieyasu’s victories against Hideyori atŌsaka.

Further Reading

  • Berry, Mary Elizabeth. Hideyoshi. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982. The best single volume treatment of Hideyoshi’s career in English. Contains information about Hideyori’s life as well.
  • Sansom, George. A History of Japan, 1334-1615. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1961. Sansom’s three volume history of premodern Japan is still the most authoritative coverage of the subject in English. Provides extensive coverage of the period of civil war and the events leading up to theŌsaka campaigns.
  • Sato, Hiroaki. Legends of the Samurai. New York: Overlook Press, 1995. Contains accounts of the careers of Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu as well as details about their battles.
  • Totman, Conrad. Early Modern Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. The most comprehensive single-volume treatment of the Edo period of Japanese history in English. The book places the fighting inŌsaka into historical context and outlines its lasting effects.
  • Turnbull, Stephen. Samurai Warfare. London: Arms and Armour Press, 1996. The best English language history of the Japanese wars of unification. Includes details about theŌsaka campaigns.

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