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  • Writer's picturePhillip Radcliffe

The Extraordinary Life of Hideyoshi Toyotomi

By Yoshikuni Sato

(Japanese translation coming soon.)

Hideyoshi Toyotomi

His Career

Hideyoshi Toyotomi was the first person in the history of Japan who took control of the whole country. He is well known as the top of three generals with Nobunaga Oda and Ieyasu Tokugawa. There are many mysteries in his life. Hideyoshi changed his name during his life several times, and it is said that his birth name was Tokitiro Kinoshita. Tokitiro was born in Aichi In 1537. Actually, it is said that his parents were the lower-class peasants.

Tokitiro served under Nobunaga in 1554. At first, he engaged in the construction work and helped in the kitchen. He came to be appreciated by Nobunaga little by little. One famous anecdote is that one cold day he put Nobunaga’s Zori, traditional straw shoes, in his clothes to warm them, which Nobunaga admired.

Tokitiro stood out through many battles little by little and had changed his name into Hideyoshi Hashiba in 1573. The name Hashiba comes from a combination of two Samurai: Nagahide Niwa and Katsuie Shibata.

Nobunaga Oda was killed in Honnoji Temple in Kyoto during the rebellion of Mitsuhide Akechi in 1582. Hideyoshi defeated Mitsuihide a few days later. In a meeting at Kiyosu Castle he had an argument with Nobunaga’s retainer Katsuie Shibata about who would be Nobunaga’s heir more a few weeks later. In the following year, he defeated Katsuie at the battle of Shizugadake in Shiga.

Hideyoshi built Osaka castle in 1583. This castle had burned down once in 1615 and the original size was four to five times as large as the current one. The castle is famous for its gold tearoom and the wall and roof of the top floor is also made of gold.

Hideyoshi was appointed a position close to the Emperor Sengoku in 1585 and was given the name Toyotomi by the Emperor. To be given the name by the Emperor, does mean his greatness. In addition, he took control of Shikoku district at the same time, followed by Kyushu district in 1587 and Tohoku district in 1590. Accordingly, he achieved control of the whole country for the first time.

Policy and Warfare

One of Hideyoshi’s most famous policies is Taikokenti, which started in 1852. This was a policy for collecting taxes. In those days, taxes were collected in rice. Before that, Samurai had the feudal lords and the peasants report the size of their farmlands and the amount themselves.

However, many submitted false reports and it was difficult to understand who the owner was because the farmland was owned by the feudal lord leased by the peasants and sometimes it was leased between peasant and peasant.

On the other hand, Hideyoshi made Samurai measure the size and the amount and gave farmland to every peasant. As a result, he could organize the economic system throughout the whole country.

Hideyoshi is also famous for his strategic battle plans and he was good at it, too. For example, before the death of Nobunaga in 1852, he attacked Takamatsu Castle in Okayama for Nobunaga to take control of the Chugoku district, but the castle was built on a bog and it was not easy to attack.

He used water to counter this. He made his subordinates make a long bank around the bog and drew water from a river and made a lake to isolate the castle. Then he monitored his enemy’s movements by the lake. His enemy could not re-supply and the reinforcements could not help. Therefore, he was successful in dominating the situation.

Hideyoshi is well known for his long march on the above battle. During the attack on Takamatsu Castle, he got a message informing him that Nobunaga had been killed. He temporarily stopped the attack on Takamatsu Castle and prepared to battle Mitsuhide. After that, he started the march leading more than 20,000 men

It is said that he ran 90 kilometers through a heavy storm in two or three days. In addition, he left with part of his military in order to avoid any attack from Takamatsu Castle again and during the march he spread false information that Nobunaga had survived in order to dissuade other Samurai from joining forces with Mitsuhide’s out of fear of Nobunaga.

Evaluation of His Life

As noted earlier, Hideyoshi was the top general in the history of Japan. In addition, his life still has many mysteries, so there are various ways to evaluate him nowadays. Many people generally regard him as a very smart man because he was good at coming up with unusual strategies, and he was good at negotiating with the enemy and winning battles without fighting. He could also be a generous man at times.

For example, one hot day, he bought many caps and gave them to the soldiers injured by the battle, friend or foe alike. He did not kill all the generals that he defeated and took the generals in and gave them their own land.

On the other hand, he was also a cruel man. It is said that he sliced a traitor’s nose and ears off, and skewered children and crucified women in public.


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