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  • Writer's pictureHirokazu Kobayashi

Suruga: The history and climate of the confrontation between Eastern and Western forces!

Updated: May 31

Hirokazu Kobayashi

CEO, Green Insight Japan, Inc.

Professor Emeritus and Visiting Professor, University of Shizuoka


From "Nihondaira (Japan Plateau)," a filming location for the TV drama "The Grand Family" (2007 version starring Takuya Kimura), we can see Mt. Fuji to the northeast, Suruga Bay and Miho Peninsula to the east, Izu Peninsula further ahead, the Pacific Ocean to the south, the Southern Alps (Akaishi Mountains) to the northwest, and the cityscape of Shizuoka below to the north. Enjoying a cup of coffee at the Nippondaira Hotel (“Hihonndaira” and “Nippondaira” are synonyms) while taking in these views of Mt. Fuji's evening silhouette and the city lights costs 870 yen. I live in 1-chome, Kusanagi, Shimizu Ward, Shizuoka City, at the foot of these mountains. The name "Kusanagi" evokes the "Kusanagi no Tsurugi" (Kusanagi Sword). Additionally, 1-chome is known as "Tennohbara (Emperor Field)" and remains today as "Tennohbara Park." Approximately 500 meters southeast stands the "Kusanagi Shrine." These are place names that symbolize Japan and evoke mythology. What happened in this area? According to the Nihon Shoki compiled in 720, Yamato Takeru encountered a fire attack in the plains of Suruga during his "Eastern Expedition." Using the Ame-no-Murakumo no Tsurugi (Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven) entrusted to him by his aunt Yamatohime no Mikoto, which cut down the burning grass and he narrowly escaped death, hence the name "Kusanagi no Tsurugi" (Grass-Cutting Sword). Numerous burial mounds dating after that period have been found. Kubuzuka Inari," a shrine with a head mound, is located 300 meters east of Tennobara, and there is a legend that this is where the tribes that Yamato Takeru slew are enshrined. Records indicate that Emperor Keikoh, Yamato Takeru's father, visited the area and established the Kusanagi Shrine, dedicating the Kusanagi Sword as its sacred object to enshrine Yamato Takeru's spirit. The shrine was later relocated to its current site, explaining the origin of the name "Tennohbara." Yamato Takeru's exploits are estimated to have occurred between 300 and 400. In 686, Emperor Tenmu ordered the Kusanagi Sword to be transferred to the Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya.


From the western bank of the Ohi River, including the Abe River and Fuji River, extending to the vicinity of Numazu, the region is known as "Suruga." This area is characterized by the Southern Alps to the northwest and Mount Fuji to the northeast, which block the northern winds. Combined with the influence of warm ocean currents, this results in a mild climate and abundant marine resources. Approximately 5 kilometers southwest of Kusanagi lies the "Toro Ruins." This site, located near the fertile soil at the mouth of the Abe River, the class A river system, saw a prosperous rice cultivation-based life around the first century, during the late Yayoi period. Subsequently, this area became a battleground for eastern forces against the central government based in the Kinki region. The first was during an early time in the Kofun period (from the mid-200s) when Yamato Takeru brought the region under the control of the Yamato government. As depicted in the 2022 NHK Big River drama "The 13 Lords of the Shogun," in 1180, during the late Heian period, the allied forces of Minamoto no Yoritomo and Takeda Nobuyoshi clashed with Taira no Koremori at the Fuji River. This battle was part of the larger "Jishou-Juei War." According to the "Azuma Kagami (literally, "Mirror of the East")," "The sound of their wings was like that of an army," as Takeda Nobuyoshi's troops attempted to cross the shallows of the Fuji River to surprise the Taira forces. Startled by the sudden flight of a large flock of waterfowl, the Taira forces fell into chaos, paving the way for the Kamakura period. 1335, after Emperor Go-Daigo overthrew the Kamakura shogunate, he ordered Nitta Yoshisada to pursue Ashikaga Takauji. The Nitta and Ashikaga forces clashed near the west bank of the Abe River's mouth, at Tegoshi Riverbed. This battle, known as the "Battle of Tegoshi Riverbed" and the “Tegoshi Riverbed Ancient Battlefield," remains today, seeing a Nitta victory. Still, history soon shifted towards establishing the Ashikaga's Muromachi shogunate. During Imagawa Yoshimoto's (1519-1560) era, the region experienced a cultural renaissance. Court nobles and cultural figures seeking refuge from the war-torn capital of Kyoto flocked here, bringing a wave of prosperity. This cultural boom earned the area the nickname "Eastern Capital" or "Eastern Kyoto," A testament to its cultural significance. After Yoshimoto's death at the Battle of Okehazama, the region finally came under the control of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), who spent his later years here. His mausoleum, located at Kunozan Toshogu Shrine on the southern face of Nihondaira, is a testament to his influence. During the Edo period, the main route, "Tokaido," passed through Suruga, with twelve post stations remaining. Electricity business began in the Meiji era, with the Kansai region (west Japan) importing 60 Hz (hertz) generators from the United States and the Kanto region (east Japan) importing 50 Hz generators from Germany. Here is geographically the center of Japan, and the Fuji River, which is on the south side of the Itoigawa-Shizuoka tectonic line that runs through Honshu, Japna's main island, flows into the Pacific Ocean. As a result, the frequency became 60 Hz on the west side and 50 Hz on the east side, with the Fuji River as the border. This geographical peculiarity adds to the region's charm and uniqueness.


Shizuoka Prefecture is divided from west to east into Enshu (Totomi), Suruga, and Izu. Descriptive words for these regions' characteristics are "Enshu thieves," "Suruga beggars," and "Izu starving." Indeed, Enshu, centered in Hamamatsu City, is dotted with world-renowned industrial production companies, exuding a sense of strength. Suruga, centered on Shizuoka City, is a fertile area where people do not struggle for food, with commerce as its main industry. Izu's primary industry is tourism, and it also serves as a commuter belt for Tokyo, characterized by a more subdued personality. When we look at history from a geopolitical perspective in this way, we can naturally appreciate the appeal of Suruga.


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