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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Toyotomi Hideyoshi - Japanese Badass

The army - there's no life like - or so thought a young Japanese peasant who rejected a life of serenity now as a Buddhist monk before rising to become Japan's second great unifier.

Toyotomi Hideyosohi (surname first), this is your life! That's you on the screen above!

When you were born as 豊臣 秀吉 - difficult name for most of us to write - back on that cold morning of February 2, 1536 in Owari-ken (a province that nowadays forms the western half of Aichi-ken and includes the city of Nagoya) one would hardly suspect that you were destined for fortune and glory, kid, fortune and glory.

Your father was a peasant foot soldier named Yaemon and was part of the Oda clan. He was so poor - HOW POOR WAS HE? - he did not have a surname. He certainly had no samurai lineage in him.

Was it true that your father sent you off to study at a Buddhist temple? Is it true that you didn't want that boring old praying stuff and craved the glory of fighting in battles as your father might have done?

Is that why you cobbled together a new identity for yourself - and who who hasn't reinvented himself in Japan? - as Kinoshita Tōkichirō (木下 藤吉郎) - surname first… running off to join the Imagawa clan as a servant to local ruler Matsushita Yukisuna?

Wait? A servant?! What happened to fortune and glory, kid? Fortune and glory?

Don't answer that. Toyotomi Hideyoshi… since this is your life, do you recall this voice from the past?


Yes, that's right! It's the horse you used to run beside as you traveled to Suruga Province (now the central part of Shizuoka-ken).


So… you served your master there for a while until that night you were entrusted a large sum of money by Matsushita - and you stole it! And this horse, too!

Of course, there are no dates or times to confirm this, but it's not something you have ever denied, correct? Do you recall this voice from the past?!

"Bakayaro (stupid idiot)!!!"

That's right! It's Oda Nobunaga (image above), who took you in in 1557. Old Oda was now the leader of the Oda clan, and he kept you on in the important position of sandal-bearer, an important position, especially when a man wants his sandals, but weren't you just like your old man - a foot soldier… or worse… not even a soldier?

Don't answer that. Let's now look at your time when things really began cooking for you. Do you know this voice?


No, it's not the good daimyo Oda-san, it's your wife One. When you met her, did you know she was the One? It's a joke. Yes, we are aware that it is pronounced "Oh-nay". It was a bon mot, you foot soldier! Sorry, sorry! I forgot you became a powerful warlord. (Obviously not because you got to carry around someone's smelly straw sandals.) What? Nothing! Nothing.

Let's let One tell us about the next part of your strife, I mean wife, I mean life.

"I remember when I first met Toyotomi. He was very strong from having to carry the daimyo's sandals around all day. You must recall that they would be locked away in a small chest - even smaller than my own - and then in a larger chest, and then a larger chest and then wrapped in red silk and strapped to his back, as though he were a simple beast of burden. But I knew he was much more than that.
I recall the many playful hours when he began courting me, how he would spend hours at the front of my father's house - never coming in, preferring to kneel on the cold stone floor and smell everyone's wooden geta (sandals). He was such a suke--"

Okay, thanks, One, I can see the reports were correct--you certainly are one.

Now… Toyotomi… as a reward for carrying around your boss' shoes, you were, according to your biographers, in 1560 charged with supervising the repair of local Kiyosu castle?  That doesn't sound right - especially when the very next job you were promoted was as the manager of the castle's kitchen. Important, but barely a step up from sandal bearer, and certainly a few bricks shorter than someone asked to manage the repair of a castle - and why would anyone let alone a man nearly 25 years old who had never done anything more important than carry shoes - fix a castle? Your biographers seemed to have plumped up the legend bit. But maybe your old boss thought you carried his sandals and yourself well. It's not like you had to design the castle, you just had to manage its construction.


Do you recall that voice? That was one of the nameless peasants you, your younger half-brother who you would continue to goad into leading your armies in later life, and some bandits you hired to bully the locals into working faster to repair Sunumata Castle still in 1861 - it was like you married the One and then left her to go and work in enemy territory, which was where the castle was.

It was here that you first began to make a name for yourself as a warrior - sort of - as your beating and whipping skills must have been legendary.


Shut-up, you! You aren't fit to carry my sandals! Hey!!!! And Toyotomi was! Apologies! Much respect.

Map of Japan in the 1500s - click to enlarge (I hope).
Toyotomi reportedly constructed a fort in Sunomata in a single night, and then discovered a secret way into Mount Inanba, which helped your boss defeat his enemies. Well done!

Apparently Toyotomi-san, you were a shrewd negotiator in the past (not now, as you only asked for my sandals as payment to appear on this show, This Is Your Life - Hey!!! Again). As of 1864 you were able to convince many warlords to desert a rival clan - sandals or money? Money? Good. You also did not have to bribe some of them, and convinced many to join your master, including a chief strategist, to follow Nobunaga.

Thanks to you, in 1567, Nobunaga had an easy time of taking Inabayama Castle - for which you were named General. Did you have a boy carry YOUR sandals then?

No? Still preferred to carry your own and even those of some of your followers? A leader's prerogative, I suppose.

It was at this time that you took the new name of Hashiba Hideyoshi, perhaps currying favor by taking kanji characters from the Oda clan's leading men: Niwa Nagahide (not pronounced the way you think, it's actually "naga-he-day") and Shibata Kasuie. A kiss ass, or incredible steering of politics?

In 1570, your boss Nobunaga teamed up with Tokugawa Ieyasu (the man who would one day in the future get rid of your son as ruler, and name himself ruler of Japan as a shogun at the start of the Edo-era!). How did you feel about that? 

Don't answer that! You were dead by that time, and you hardly knew your boss' new friend would turn out to be evil.

After more crushing victories, in 1873 Nobunaga made you - the little peasant boy who rejected the life as a monk! - into a Daimyo (a warlord) over three districts in the northern part of Omi Province (now a part of Shiga-ken).

Pissing in the corner to mark your territory, you moved to the city of Kunitomo and said you were now renaming it as Nagahama in honor of your leader Nobunaga, which while I will admit has the same number of syllables, but was that the best you could do - adding a "Naga" to it all? Alexander the Great has literally hundreds of cities named after him - Alexandretta-this, Alexandria-that.


Another voice from the past! Again with castle-building, you were asked to go to Lake Biwa and work on Imahara Castle. But, it was there that you took control of the firearms factory, and violently with whipping, we imagine, increased firearms production dramatically.

In 1576, Nobunaga asked you to to go to Himeji Castle to take the Chugoku area held by this enemies, the Mori clan.

But it all came for naught. Do you recall this voice from the past?


Yes, that's right, that was your old boss Norunaga, who along with his oldest son Nobutada, was killed by one of his own generals in 1582, Akechi Mitsuhide. It caused you to go on a rampage, ne? To actually make peace with the Mori clan, but to defeat Akechi at the Battle of Yamazaki.

When it came time to choose a successor to the Oda clan, you went in a different direction and supported Nubutada's young son, Oda Hidenobu, bypassing his older uncle (and brother to his father). Was it smart to choose a 2-year-old?


Hell, yeah! As part of the two-year-old's trusted inner circle, you got to make plenty of decisions for yourself on his behalf!

Eventually, after taking care of your lord's now angry and less powerful uncle, you consolidated the rest of the Oda clan under your, I mean young two-year-old Hidenobu-kun's control. Bravo. Well played Toyotomi!

Of course… you should have dealt harshly with that other older brother of your new master, what was his name? Oh yes… Oda Nobukatsu… who, as you began building Osaka Castle in 1583, decided to align his forces with that guy you used to fight alongside with - one Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Osaka Castle, circa 1990. Photo by me, Andrew Joseph. Yes, it's about to rain.
While your forces and Tokugawa fought tooth and nail against one another, it began to turn after you, Toyotomi, made peace with your lord's older baba, I mean brother, Nobukatsu.

As a sign of trust, you, Toyotomi sent your young half-sister and her mother (your step-mother) Ohmandokoro (your dad certainly liked to do the wild thing with her, ne?) over to your now former enemy, Tokugawa.

While Tokugawa eventually agreed to become a vassal under yourself, what really stung was when your half-sister married him!

While it is true you never achieved the rank of shogun, you did in 1585 become known as Kampaku Toyotomi - you were a Regent.

Of course… it was only in 1586, that you actually were formally given the name Toyotomi by the Japanese Imperial Court - you had those other names before. Not bad for a shoe-sniffing, peasant boy who had no surname when he was born.

Audaciously, in 1586 you built yourself a very nice home - some would call it a palace - on the very same exact site in Kyoto where the old Imperial Palace had sat during the Heian period (794 to 1185AD). It is now the present-day Kamigyō. Cheeky. It only took 19 months to build, and I assume there was much abuse of the workers. I mean - 19 months? Wow. It was called Jurakudai.
Screen painting of Jurakudai.

Anyhow, blah-blah-attack this place, blah-blah-blah-conquer this city, you took over Kii (now part of Wakayama-ken), Shikoku (the smallest of Japan's main four islands), Etchu (now part of Toyama-ken) and Kyushu, the main part of Japan's most western province on the main island. You old conqueror, you.

"Gee-zahsu Ka-ree-stu!"

Do you recall that fitting epitaph? That was in 1597 when you ordered the execution of 26 Christian Missionaries who were spreading the name of their filthy god, Ka-ree-stu. Well done, sir. Well done. You crucified them all and then had their sides pierced with a spear! How ironic! To have them die just like their own Gee-zahsu! Where's your savior now, boys?

But we did jump ahead. Back in 1587 you merely banished Christian missionaries from the Kyushu area, but anyone who was already there as a Christian was still okay in your books, because your finance books were getting larger with riches thanks to trade with them. Gift horse/mouth and all that.

I like how in 1588 you laid down the law that peasants were no longer allowed to own weapons - which would stop any future thoughts of revolution - and even organized your own sword hunt, which you melted down to make a giant Buddha statue. Religion and politics? It could work, right? It has in the past.

Now… just why on Japan did you in 1591 order your faithful retainer and master of the tea ceremony, a man named Sen no Rikyu, to kill himself? Rikyu had made many changes to the tea ceremony, sure, but these changes continue to have positive influence on Japanese culture - changes you liked. Was he peeing in your tea?

I know you said you were sorry, but come on!

Perhaps it was zen, when later that year, your three-year-old son - and only son - Tsumatsu - died. Then your half-brother Hidenaga (Dad!!!!??? How many more half-siblings are there?) died.

In January of 1592 you named Hidenaga's son, your nephew, as your heir and adopted him. You then decided to retire, taking the title of taikō (retired regent), with Hidetsuga (your new heir) succeeding you as kampaku.

How was retired life? Was it tough for a warrior chief to settle down, or did it finally allow you the time to stop, sit and smell the roses, or whatever it is you wished to sniff?

We do know that in some sort of bizarre fealty to your long-dead master Nobunaga, you were making plans to conquer China by making plans with the Koreans since 1587 to allow unfettered passage through them and into China.

Toyotomi - despite not receiving permission from the Koreans (who were afraid that any attack on China would also mean attacks by the Chinese on Korean soil) - you then made plans for an invasion force in August of 1591.

In the first invasion of Korea in April of 1592, the Japanese took Seoul on May 10, and then made plans to march into China from eight different directions!

And this is what you do in your retirement?! Granted you weren't there overseeing the forces, but it was all under your command. What a badass!

But perhaps you should have been there. Your generals weren't as good as you, because some Korean leaders went to China and requested helped from them to take back their country from the invading Japanese. How inconsiderate those Korean dogs are! We hate them!

By 1593, the Chinese had taken back Pyongyang and had surrounded Seoul, but your generals had won many battles in the outer areas of Seoul, and had the Koreans surrounded - an acceptable stalemate.


Do you know who said that? No, it wasn't your newborn son Hideyori born in 1593, thereby creating a succession problem with your current heir and nephew - it was your nephew!

To avoid a problem of power, you ordered your adopted heir (renounced) and successor (renounced) to kill himself with honor, along with HIS son and heir Hidetsuga.

Of course, when a master dies, his household is expected to follow suit, so you did also order the extinction of all members of that household - murdering some 31 women and many children, too. Badass!

That brings us back to those 26 crucified Christians in 1597. Nice one!

Japanese monument in Nagasaki dedicated to the 26 Christian martyrs who were crucified there in 1597. Photo by me, Andrew Joseph. It was raining, hence the water stains on the wall. I am the Ame Otoko (Rain Man!).
But, failure followed in 1598 when you tried a second complete invasion of Korea and was stymied thanks to those damn, dirty Chinese who must have stolen our great culture for their own barbaric use.

Anyhow… all of this fussing and a fighting within Korea to be able to attack the Chinese took its toll on the finances of  you, Toyotomi - especially when it continued to drag on and on and on and not achieve victory - war costs more money, the longer it drags on, the more it hurts, because you hoped to replenish the coffers with the spoils of Korean and Chinese war!


Yes, I am sure you recognize that last voice. That was you, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, on September 18, 1598, when you succumbed to the bubonic plague.

Your ally, then nemesis, and then the ally who married your half-sister - Tokugawa - he took over after many a skirmish, when he took complete control of Japan in 1603… banning any military campaigns into foreign and smelly countries, as well as closing off Japan (pretty much) for the next 250 years or so (1603-1868).  

Your Achievements:
  • Rigid class structure - even more than what was there before, to stop peasants (such as you himself once were) from thinking about taking over the world. Peasants no longer had a chance of becoming warriors. As well, you made all samurai leave their farms and move to the castle towns;
  • census and surveys of land and production;
  • restrictions on travel - once all Japanese citizens were registered, you said no Japanese could leave their part of Japan unless they had official permission. The land surveys helped figure out how much tax an area should pay;
  • Osaka Castle finished in 1590 to guard the western gas of Kyoto.;
  • 1590 also saw the banishment of slaves and labor by the same (sure, since your castle was built!), but family debts could still be incurred, as could prison labor;
  • helped bring about a rise in the tea ceremony;
  • helped bring about an interest in fine pottery as art, not just as practical items. You are said to have liked that Korean pottery some of your generals brought back from various campaigns;
  • set up a government system gave balance to the Japanese warlords (Daimyo) and created a council of influential lords;
  • Forbade political marriages (but that might have been because your half-sister married your greatest rival Tokugawa Ieyasu) - but once you died (who are we talking to? Great Toyotomi's ghost!!!), Tokugawa started up the marriage for political convenience thang…. which helped him set up his shogunate a few years hence.
Anyhow, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, I hoped you enjoyed your time here on This Is Your Life.

Oyasumi nasai (Good night),
Andrew Joseph
Portions for tonight's episode were fictional - namely the whole foot-fetish thing. He was a sandal bearer, and his father a foot soldier (ha-ha) but he did not have a thing for sniffing feet or shoes. I don't know if he stole a horse, either. That would be bad... a shoe-sniffing, horse thief... but like I said - I just made that up for a laugh. Hopefully you laughed.   
As well, the concept of this show was based on the popular at one time American show This Is Your Life, that ran on the radio between 1948-1952, and on television from 1952-1961.
In the show, the host surprises a guest, and proceeds to take them through their life in front of an audience, including special guest appearances by colleagues, friends and family. I probably should have mentioned this at the beginning of the blog. Next time. What? We've been canceled like a sound check? Too bad.

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