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programme of conquest, leading an army in 1524 against Edo castle, which lay in the centre of the important rice growing area of the Kanto plain.


Edo castle is now the Imperial Palace


in Tokyo. The capture of Edo set in motion 17 years of war between the Hojo and the Uesugi for control of the Kanto, and the initiative continued to swing from one side to the other and back again. Soon the Hojo had rivals on their western flank as well, because when Imagawa Yoshimoto succeeded to the headship of the Imagawa in Suruga province, he turned his back on the service once provided to his ancestors by Soun, and made an alliance with the Takeda against the Hojo.


Ujitsuna handed over the succession to the third generation in 1540. This was Hojo Ujiyasu (1515-1570), who is generally regarded as the finest of the five Hojo daimyo. He was the contemporary of Uesugi Kenshin, Takeda Shingen, and Imagawa Yoshimoto, all of whom kept the Hojo armies very busy during his long reign. In 1561, Uesugi Kenshin laid siege to Odawara castle, but he could make no impression on it after two months of fighting, and withdrew when the Takeda threatened his own territories. Two years later, Hojo Ujiyasu and Takeda Shingen were to be found as allies besieging Uesugi’s castle of Musashi-Matsuyama, just one example of the shifting pattern of alliances between the ‘three kingdoms’ during these turbulent times. Hojo Ujiyasu died in 1570, and the fourth daimyo Hojo Ujimasa (1538-1590) was to find himself as busy with diplomatic negotiations as his father had been with fighting. This was the decade that saw the notable victories of Oda Nobunaga. Secure behind the Hakone Mountains, the Hojo stayed well out of Nobunaga’s affairs, but when Hideyoshi took over Nobunaga’s domains, the balance of power in Japan changed rapidly. Once Shikoku and Kyushu were added to Hideyoshi’s territories, the Hojo began to wonder if their mountain passes and strong castles would be likely to hold back Hideyoshi any better than stretches of sea. The answer came in 1590. Odawara Castle fell, and with the exile of Hojo Ujinao (1562-1591), five generations of the most consistently successful Sengoku daimyo came to a final and bloody end.


THE ULTIMATE PRIZE As the years went by, most minor daimyo were forced to seek alliances or to pledge allegiance to the emerging strong men of the provinces such as the Takeda, Hojo, and Uesugi, any of whom had the potential to re-unite Japan under his sword. There was still a Shogun in Kyoto while such petty local wars were going on, but his existence was of little consequence except for providing the traditional legitimacy for a potential power struggle for ultimate supremacy. If a samurai lord could control the Shogun, his power was confirmed, but to succeed in such a scheme a daimyo had to capture Kyoto, and if any of them was rash enough to try and march on the capital, he could almost guarantee that one of his local rivals would rush to attack his province and try to take possession of the territory he had left lightly defended. None out of


Hojo Soun, the founder of the five-daimyo dynasty of the Hojo of Odawara who ruled the Kanto, the area that contains modern Tokyo, for much of the Sengoku Period.


The suicide of the Hojo leaders at the siege of Odawara in 1590. www.military-times.co.uk 5


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