Sekigahara was the site of the epic Battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原合戦 Sekigahara gassen) between Tokugawa Ieyasu and Ishida Mitsunari, representing Toyotomi Hideyoshi's son and designated successor Toyotomi Hideyori. Ieyasu's victory on September 15, 1600 heralded the beginning of the Edo Era, with the feudal Tokugawa shogunate unifying all Japan in its iron grip and Japan's capital shifted to what is now known as Tokyo. Consequently, the town is filled with ruins, memorials and shrines to the dead, even down to place names like Kurochigawa (黒血川, "Black Blood River"), where the Tokugawa armies washed the cut-off heads of those fallen in battle.
Today's Sekigahara is a rural town with a population of less than 9000.
James Clavell's Shogun (ISBN 0440178002) is a fictionalized account of Tokugawa Ieyasu's rise to fame (thinly disguised as "Toranaga"), culminating the Battle of Sekigahara and the gruesome — but historically accurate — death of Ishida ("Ishido"), who is captured as he runs away from the field of battle and is executed by having his head slowly cut off by a wooden saw.
The closest Shinkansen train station is in Maibara. One of two hourly Hikari services from Tokyo stop here, and you can transfer to the Tokaido Line local for the run to Sekigahara (3 hours, ¥12070, no charge with Japan Rail Pass).
While Sekigahara's museums and a few sites can be visited on foot from the station, getting out to the main battlefield will require your own wheels. Bicycles can be rented near the station.
Battle of Sekigahara
While a site of major significance to the Japanese that draws a steady stream of history buffs and school groups, foreign visitors are rare and information in English is generally minimal. A solid grasp of Japanese and/or a local guide will come in handy here.
One of Sekigahara's few non-martial attractions is the profusion of fireflies in the area.
Fans of shogi (Japanese chess), can buy chessboards set up like the Sekigahara battlefield from souvenir shops around town (¥800).