One of the most remarkable men in Japanese history, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was born a peasant and yet rose to finally end the Sengoku Period. In fact, little is known for certain about Hideyoshi's career prior to 1570, the year when he begins to appear in surviving documents and letters. The autobiography he commissioned begins with the year 1577 (the year he came into his own with an independent command to fight the Mori) and Hideyoshi himself was known to speak very little if at all about his past. According to tradition, Hideyoshi was born in a village called Nakamura in Owari province, the son of a foot-soldier/peasant known to us as Yaemon. Hideyoshi's childhood name is recorded as Hiyoshimaru, or 'bounty of the sun', quite possibly a later embellishment contrived to give substance to a claim of divine inspiration Hideyoshi made regarding his birth. The popular image of Hideyoshi's youth has him being shipped off to a temple, only to depart in search of adventure. He travels all the way to the lands of Imagawa Yoshimoto and serves there for a time, only to abscond with a sum of money entrusted into his care by Matsushita Yukitsuna. Hiyoshi (now known as Tokachiro) returns to Owari (around 1557) and finds service with the young Oda Nobunaga, whose attention he manages to secure. He somehow becomes involved with the rebuilding of Kiyosu Castle and acts as a foreman, all the while earning the enmity of the senior Oda retainers. Tokachiro is then given a position as one of Nobunaga's sandal-bearers and is present for the Battle of Okehazama in 1560; by 1564 he becomes known as Kinoshita Hideyoshi and manages to bribe a number of Mino warlords to desert the Saito. By now, Nobunaga has become impressed with Hideyoshi's natural talent, and it's thanks to Hideyoshi that Inabayama is taken with ease in 1567 (owing to Hideyoshi throwing up a fort at nearby Sunomata and discovering a secret route leading to the rear of Inabayama). Some time later, probably in 1573, Hideyoshi adopted the surname Hashiba, which he created by borrowing characters from two ranking Oda retainers, Niwa Nagahide and Shibata Katsuie. By this time he is married to a woman known as Nene (or O-ne); his mother had by now remarried, and through her marriage to a certain Chikuami produced Hidenaga, Hideyoshi's trusted half-brother.
Hideyoshi certainly cut an odd figure, especially as a general and later as a ruler. Short and thinly proportioned, Hideyoshi's sunken features were likened to that of a monkey, with the rarely tactful Nobunaga taking to calling him Saru (monkey) and the 'bald rat'. He was said to enjoy his drink and women more then most and as a younger man made friends easily. He had an innate sense for manipulation and reading other men, attributes that no doubt helped him in his rise through the Oda ranks.
Hideyoshi commanded troops at the Battle of Anegawa in 1570 and was active in Nobunaga's campaigns against the Asai and Asakura; he finally and definitively emerges into the light of history in 1573. In that year Nobunaga destroyed the Asai clan of Omi and assigned Hideyoshi three districts in the northern part of that province. Initially based at Odani, the former Asai headquarters, Hideyoshi soon moved to Imahama, a port on Lake Biwa. Once there he set to work on domestic affairs, which included increasing the output at the local Kunimoto firearms factory (established some years previously by the Asai and Asakura). With Nobunaga engaged in almost constant warfare, Hideyoshi earned plenty of battlefield experience over the next few years, flying his 'golden gourd' standard at Nagashima (1573, 1574), Nagashino (1575), and Tedorigawa (1577).
Hideyoshi's stay in Omi would be relatively brief. By 1576 the Oda and Mori had gone to war and the following Nobunaga ordered Hideyoshi to co-command a campaign through the Chugoku with Akechi Mitushide. Mitsuhide would be responsible for subduing the 'Sanin' circuit (including Tamba, Tango, Tajima, and Inaba) while Hideyoshi advanced into the 'Sanyo' circuit (which consisted of those western provinces bordering the Inland Sea). In fact, both men would enjoy independence of command in their respective endeavors, an honor Nobunaga rarely conferred on his commanders (the notable exception being Shibata Katsuie, for some time involved in subduing Echizen and Kaga). Hideyoshi's first acquisitions were Himeji, Kozuki, and Sayo castles. Himeji was bought peacefully, with Kuroda Yoshitaka (Kanbei), soon to become a fast friend of Hideyoshi, convincing his father to surrender the strategically significant castle. Kozuki and Sayo had to be taken by force, with the former going to Amako Katsuhisa. Resistance to Hideyoshi's expedition stiffened quickly. Bessho (Betshusho) Nagaharu, originally in the Oda camp, defied Hideyoshi and shut himself up in Miki Castle. Hideyoshi reduced Miki's satellites (including Hataya and Ogo) and began a siege of the Bessho's stronghold; at the same time Ukita Naoie began attacking Oda holdings in the area, and Mori Terumoto sent a powerful army into Harima. The Mori force surrounded Kozuki, and when Hideyoshi marched to relieve the beleaguered fort, he was ordered to stand down by Nobunaga. Kozuki fell and Hideyoshi resumed the reduction of Miki, which proved a tough nut to crack. Miki was vital to the continued defense of the Ishiyama Honganji in Settsu and the Mori were therefore determined to see that it held. Supplies were shipped in and Bessho held out tenaciously, only surrendering in 1580. Needless to say, Hideyoshi's western advance was slow and tiring, although things began to look up with the defection Ukita Naoie from the Mori camp in 1580. This development essentially secured Harima and gave Hideyoshi a strong foothold in Bizen, an advantage he was quick to make use of. Later that year he dispatched a force to drive north into Inaba and surround Tottori, another significant Mori line of defense. The local lord, Yamana Toyokuni, quickly pledged his loyalty to the Oda, leaving Tottori, commanded by Kikkawa Tsuneie, isolated. Hideyoshi ordered that Tottori was to be starved out, regardless of the time required, and indeed, 200 days would be required for the defenders to give in.
In April 1582 Hideyoshi entered Bitchu province and besieged Takamatsu castle, a fortress the Mori considered absolutely imperative to the defense of their home provinces. If Takamatsu fell, Bitchu would be lost, leaving only Bingo province between the Oda and Aki, the Mori's ancestral home. At the same time, Mori Terumoto was a cautious leader and made no aggressive moves to counter Hideyoshi's advance. In fact, Hideyoshi had been heavily out-numbered, at least on paper, for much of his almost private war with the Mori. Occasionally, other commanders had been sent to assist Hideyoshi with important sieges (Oda Nobutada, the heir, had briefly been involved with the Seige of Miki, for instance) but for the most part, Hideyoshi and what averaged at around and at most 15,000 men had beaten back one of Japan's most powerful clans. Takamatsu was captained by Shimizu Muneharu, a resilient and dedicated warrior who ignored attempts at bribery and initial attempts to take his fortress by force. Concerned that the Mori would finally come against him in force, Hideyoshi decided to try an unconventional approach. Noting that Takamatsu sat on a flat plain just below sea level, Hideyoshi ordered that the waters of the nearby Ashimorigawa be dammed up and diverted around the castle, creating a lake that left Shimizu and his garrison completely isolated. When Terumoto arrived with an army, he hesitated to make any move, electing instead to sit and wait for developments. For his part, Hideyoshi aggressively harassed the garrison, bombarding their island castle with constant rifle and (according to some sources) cannon fire. He was nonetheless concerned about the menacing Mori army and sent a request back to Nobunaga in the home provinces for reinforcements. Oda obliged and sent along a number of contingents, one of which, led by Akechi Mitushide, decided instead to fall on Nobunaga himself.
On 20 June 1582 Nobunaga was killed by Akechi troops at the Honno Temple in Kyoto. The event carried with it great opportunities for Akechi, Hideyoshi, and the Mori, depending on just which of the last two learned of the news first. Naturally, Akechi wanted Terumoto apprised of the situation first and in a position to tie down Hideyoshi's army. It so happened that the messenger Mitsuhide dispatched west with news of the assassination was apprehended within 48 hours and his letter delivered into Hideyoshi's hands. Hideyoshi was now presented with a situation both rich in promise and complication. Of Nobunaga's chief retainers, only two were likely to have the initiative and strength to avenge Nobunaga-Shibata Katsuie and Hideyoshi himself. At the time, Katsuie was heavily involved with the Uesugi in Etchu province-it would take him some time to get extricated and in position to challenge Mitsuhide. Hideyoshi stood a much better chance of getting into the Kyoto area quickly, but had the Môri to contend with. He knew that Takamatsu was teetering on the brink of surrender, and he knew that unless it fell, the Mori would never negotiate. At the same time, Hideyoshi had the narrowest of windows in which to capitalize on the fact that unbeknownst to Akechi, he and not the Mori knew of the death of Nobunaga. He decided to force the issue by communicating directly with Shimizu in Takamatsu, promising him that if he surrendered, his men and family would be spared. Muneharu, aware that many of his men were becoming ill in the abominable conditions the flooding had created, agreed, and slit his belly in grand style on a boat in full view of both armies. The fall of Takamatsu thus secured, Hideyoshi entered into hasty negotiations with the Mori, helped, no doubt, by friendships with both Kobayakawa Takakage and Ankokuji Ekei. Terumoto agreed to cede those provinces already in Oda hands (Hoki, Mimasaka, and Bitchu) and just days after learning of the Honnoji event, Hideyoshi made a show of entering Takamatsu. He then wasted no time in racing for the capital. With his army in tow, Hideyoshi force-marched into Settsu in about four days, completely catching Akechi off guard. Mitsuhide had done very poorly at collecting support for his cause, while men flocked to Hideyoshi, including Niwa Nagahide and Takayama Ukon, swelling the ranks of his army to 20,000. Mitsuhide, on the other hand, had only 10,000 men and these were engaged at Yamazaki on 2 July. Mitsuhide took up position just south of Shoryuji Castle, with his right flank secured by the Yodo River and his left flank at the foot of the 270-meter Tennozan. Hideyoshi managed to score an immediate tactical advantage by securing Tennozan's heights with troops under Kuroda Kanbei, Hidenaga, and Mikoda Masaharu. Hideyoshi's vanguard moved up to face Akechi's along the Enmyoji River. The battle began with an abortive effort by Akechi troops to dislodge Kuroda and his compatriots from the Tennozan. Eager to gain the initiative early, Hideyoshi dispatched Ikeda Nobuteru to add weight to the right flank of his army, which crossed the Enmyoji in the face of Tsuda Nobuharu and turned the Akechi flank. At the same time, the troops of Nakagawa Kiyohide and Takayama Ukon advanced against the Akechi front with élan; panic broke out in Akechi's ranks, and after just two hours Mitsuhide's army was routed. Mitsuhide himself made for Sakamoto, only to die en route. Hori Hidemasa brought down Sakamoto soon afterwards, and the Akechi coup was brought to an end. Hideyoshi was able to present Akechi's head before Nobunaga's grave and acted as the central figure at the funeral.
Hideyoshi's remarkable response to the Honnoji assassination gave him a place of special importance in the following months. Much to the chagrin of Shibata Katsuie in particular, Hideyoshi now ranked as highly as any of Nobunaga's senior retainers. In fact, Hideyoshi had always been seen as an upstart, and even today his rapid rise through the Oda ranks is difficult to explain. Of course, Hideyoshi's rise is usually attributed to his many talents and determination. Just as significant, no doubt, is Nobunaga's own character. There seems little doubt that Oda distrusted many of his senior commanders, a condition that may be related to their association with the turbulent times in Owari before 1560. Akechi Mitushide had also been considered an upstart, coming as he did from an obscure Mino family that had joined Nobunaga sometime after 1565. Like Hideyoshi, he ascended into the Oda high command rapidly; in the same vein, the fall of Sakuma Nobumori (one of Oda's oldest retainers) in 1580, gives some hint that Nobunaga was gradually distancing himself from the old guard. Of course, in the summer of 1582 all this was relatively moot, except that two camps formed around Hideyoshi and Shibata Katsuie. Ostensibly the divisive issue surrounded Nobunaga's successor. Hideyoshi favored Oda Samboshi (Hidenobu; 1582-1602), whose father, the original heir Nobutada, had been killed in Kyoto during the Honnoji Incident. Katsuie threw his support behind Oda Nobutaka, Nobunaga's third son and present at Yamazaki. Niwa Nagahide and Ikeda Nobuteru, who acted as co-governors of Kyoto along with Shibata and Hideyoshi, vacillated on the issue and in the end fell in with Hideyoshi. At the 'Kiyosu Conferences' that this issue was hotly debated, the Oda domain was divided up among the chief retainers; Hideyoshi received Yamashiro, Tamba, and Kwatchi, while Shibata retained Echizen as well as adding northern Omi to his fief. Takigawa Kazumasu, an opponent of Hideyoshi at Kiyosu, was confirmed in Ise, which he fortified in expectation of war. No real definitive resolution was reached regarding succession, much to Oda Nobutaka's dismay. For Hideyoshi, the whole business may well have been a simple formality, designed to establish his legitimacy as de facto ruler of the Oda lands and to force the issue with those who would oppose him. That possibility is given considerable substance in a letter he sent during this period to one of his young consorts (and likely intended for her father, Meada Toshiie) which read, 'When there is time I shall recover Osaka and station my men there. I shall order them to level the castles of the whole land and prevent further rebellions and to preserve the nation in peace for fifty years."1
Shibata Katsuie returned to Echizen and began to plan a strategy against Hideyoshi. He secured the promise of aid from Oda Nobutaka at Gifu (Mino) and Takigawa Kazumasu in Ise but failed to extract a promise of support from Tokugawa Ieyasu in Mikawa. In addition, both Meada Toshiie and Kanamori Nagachika, whose support Shibata had hoped for, were lured into Hideyoshi's corner in the opening stages of the crisis. Finally, the Uesugi clan, still fairly strong if hardly what it had been under Kenshin, remained aloof; Shibata could hardly hope for the support of a family he had been warring with for well on six years. Nonetheless, Katsuie was in a solid enough position to defy Hideyoshi. He possessed an experienced army, and was personally at least comparable to Hideyoshi when it came to rallying and leading troops in battle. He also knew that if Hideyoshi were to be seen as losing the war, support for the upstart would likely vanish. Hideyoshi was hardly ignorant of the trouble brewing, especially with Nobutaka petulantly refusing to release the infant Samboshi from his custody. In the event, though, it would be Shibata who was in for a nasty surprise. In December Nobutaka, probably panicked by thinly concealed threats Hideyoshi sent to some of his retainers, openly defied Hideyoshi and rashly called his soldiers to arms, at a time when the passes down from Echizen were still choked with snow. With the game called, Takigawa had little choice but to rise up in support. Hideyoshi quickly surrounded Gifu and forced Nobutaka to surrender, costing Shibata; in one stroke Katsuie had lost an ally and any element of surprise. He hadn't lost the will to fight, though there was little he could presently do but gnash his teeth.
Hideyoshi next turned against Ise, marching into that province in March. At the same time Shibata ordered his adopted son Katsutoyo, who held Nagahama, to attack Hideyoshi's outposts in northern Omi. Hideyoshi nullified this threat by bribing key officers within the walls of Nagahama to surrender the fort. This allowed Hideyoshi to attack Kameyama in Ise and force Takigawa to surrender. By this point, however, the snows in Echizen had begun to thaw, and Shibata was able to put an army in the field. Nobutaka took the cue to once again unfurl his war banners, prompting Hideyoshi to march for Mino. Katsuie dispatched his top general, Sakuma Morimasa, to reduce Hideyoshi's defensive line in Omi, an assignment he preformed a little too well. Iwasaki Castle was taken from Takayama Ukon, and Shizugatake was surrounded. The defending captain, Nakagawa Kiyohide, was killed but the garrison held on; Shibata sent messengers urging Sakuma to withdraw lest he become too heavily engaged. Sakuma effused to budge until Shizugatake could be captured, allowing Hideyoshi to perform another forced march north that surprised the Shibata army. In the one-sided Battle of Shizugatake, Sakuma Morimasa was defeated and his army routed. A number of warriors destined to become pillars of the future Toyotomi house made a name for themselves in this struggle, including Kato Kiyomasa and Fukushima Masamori. When Katsuie heard the news, he shut himself up within Kit-no-sho in Echizen and committed suicide as Hideyoshi's army spilled into the province. His wife, Nobunaga's sister, chose to die with him, but her daughters (through her late ex-husband Asai Nagamasa) were released to Hideyoshi. One of these would become his chief consort and the mother of his eventual heir, Hideyori.
Hideyoshi's victory over Shibata all but established him as the real successor to Nobunaga. Samboshi's inheritance was quickly forgotten and he was stuck in Gifu, vacated by the suicide of Nobutaka after the battle. In fact, there was one more claimant-Oda Nobuo, Nobunaga's 2nd son and the lord of Owari, presently courting the friendship of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Though Tokugawa had failed to make any moves during Hideyoshi's war with Shibata, he evidently saw some use to stepping up now. In the spring of 1584 Tokugawa and Nobuo allied and began issuing statements defaming Hideyoshi's suppuration of the Oda and calling on support from other clans. Chosokabe Motochika, recently the lord of Shikoku Island, Sasa Narimasa of Etchu, and the warrior-monks of Kii all sent promises of military aid, but this amounted to little in the event; a key local figure, Ikeda Nobuteru of Mino, wavered and finally came down on the side of Hideyoshi. Tokugawa took the initiative by marching into Owari and establishing his headquarters at Komaki, a hill about ten miles north of modern day Nagoya. Ikeda Nobuteru struck first blood by capturing Inuyama Castle from Nakagawa Kanemon, an ally of Nobuo murdered almost as soon as he declared his allegiance. Meanwhile, Hideyoshi was busy mustering troops for the campaign in Osaka and gave Ikeda permission to test the Tokugawa defenses. Mori Nagayoshi, Nobuteru's son-in-law, marched towards Komaki with 5,000 men, only to be met and defeated by a force of Tokugawa men headed by Sakai Tadatsugu.
On 7 May 1584 Hideyoshi led an army into Owari and after pausing at Inuyama marched south and took up position at Gakuden, establishing a defensive line some ways northeast of Komaki. The size of Hideyoshi's army is difficult to guess at, although commonly quoted figures of 80,000 to 100,000 are most likely exaggerations. Neither side made any immediate move, and their behavior is generally attributed to a fear of a Nagashino repeat. Given the room Hideyoshi had to maneuver and the predominance of firearms in his army, this fear likely extended only to Tokugawa. Hideyoshi was probably aware that Tokugawa stood to gain much more from any confrontation than he did; the best move Hideyoshi could make would be to wait him out. To an extent, this is just what happened, with one exception. In May Ikeda Nobuteru suggested that as most of Ieyasu's troops were presently committed on or around Komaki and at Kiyosu, the opportunity presented itself for a move into lightly defended Mikawa. Tokugawa would have little choice but to retreat and counter the threat, at which point Hideyoshi could move forward and apply enough pressure for a settlement. Hideyoshi gave his assent and dispatched Nobuteru (under the overall command of Hashiba Hidetsugu), who brought his two eldest sons and Nagayoshi, who was still smarting from his earlier defeat. Unfortunately for the Ikeda family, villagers tipped Ieyasu off to their movement, and he was able to arrange for a hot reception on the morning of 15 May near Nagakute. In the course of the fighting, Nobuteru, his son Yukisuke, and Nagayoshi were all killed and their army routed. Hideyoshi hastily marched out in the hopes of salvaging something of the embarrassment but finding that Tokugawa had gone back on the defensive as quickly as he had struck, went back to Gakuden.
The Bountiful Minister
Rather then focus on the formidable Ieyasu, Hideyoshi began to undermine Nobuo, the weaker of the two. In fairness to Nobuo, he was much more vulnerable to Hideyoshi's military might. A number of his strongholds in Ise had been reduced by Gamo Ujisato and Tsutsui Junkei in the opening days of the campaign; by December Nobuo was eager for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, whilst he still had some lands left. Hideyoshi and Nobuo thus concluded a separate peace, which left Tokugawa with little choice but to follow suit in January. Hideyoshi returned to Kyoto to receive the courtly rank of gondainagon, the first in a remarkable series of promotions that Hideyoshi seized upon to in order to provide what one might loosely describe as a legal grounding for his rule.
Following the end of hostilities with Tokugawa, Hideyoshi moved to consolidate the core Oda domain. As his personal lands he took the 'Home Provinces' (Yamashiro, Kwatchi, Yamato, et cetera…) while establishing both old Oda retainers (such as Niwa, Kanamori, Ikeda, Maeda) and his personal followers (including Ishida Mitsunari, Kuroda Kanbei, Hori Hidemasa, et cetera..) in the remaining territories. There was a decided method to most of his confirmations or rewards, all of which were designed to hold intact the young Hashiba domain. His wisdom in this regard is demonstrated by the fact that the lands within the 1584 borders of Hideyoshi's domain would be almost free from rebellion while he lived. Beyond this immediate sphere, relations were strengthened with the Mori and Uesugi, both families essentially becoming compliant vassals though they were treated in the manner of allies.
In recognition of his ascendancy, the court awarded him with the title of naidaijin in April, the same month he attacked the Negoroji and Saiga warrior-monks of the Kii area and forced their submission. The Negoroji was destroyed but the Saiga complex was spared once it turned over its weapons. Perhaps as a show of support for Buddhist institutions (provided they carry out their affairs unarmed) Hideyoshi gave permission for the Enryakuji (destroyed by Nobunaga) to be rebuilt on Mt. Hiei, and even allowed Kennyo Koju to begin work on a new Honganji temple (the Higashi-Honganji) to replace the one besieged and forced to submit to Oda Nobunaga.
Hideyoshi next turned towards Shikoku. Chosokabe Motochika, by now the master of that island, had in theory opposed Hideyoshi during the Komaki Campaign, though his only contribution was to defeat Sengoku Hidehisa, a Shikoku warrior allied with Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi could still find in this as a pretext, and demanded that the Chosokabe surrender Iyo and Awa. Motochika asked that only Awa be surrendered, an attempt at negotiation that prompted Hideyoshi to order an invasion. In the largest operation launched during the Sengoku Period to date, a total of 90,000 warriors landed on Shikoku in June. 60,000 came ashore on Awa, commanded by Hashiba Hidenaga and Hashiba Hidetsugu (Hideyoshi's nephew), while 30,000 Mori under Kobayakawa Takakage and Kikkawa Motoharu landed on Iyo. After a little over a month of desultory resistance, Motochika surrendered. In a marked departure from the policies of Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi showed the defeated Chosokabe lenience. Motochika was forced to give up Iyo, Awa, and Sanuki but was allowed to retain both his head and Tosa. The Chosokabe retainer band was also left intact, and Motochika himself was not expected to retire. This stood in sharp contrast to Nobunaga's treatment of the Asai, Asakura, and, especially, the Takeda-clans all but eradicated following their defeat. In fairness, however, Hideyoshi could afford to be generous with the Chosokabe (and later, with the Shimazu), families on the periphery of Japanese politics who stood to be useful (and grateful) allies. By way of comparison, Hideyoshi had obviously not intended to spare Shibata Katsuie, nor were his policies regarding resistance among the lesser classes much different from Nobunaga's. At any rate, Hideyoshi's conquest of Shikoku put out a strong message. Four provinces had fallen under his sway within a month and a half, with the Mori, one of Japan's most powerful families, acting as Hideyoshi's spearhead.
The next month, on 6 August, Hideyoshi was named Kampaku (or Imperial Regent) by the court; a remarkable step that must surely have raised eyebrows the length of the country. In point of fact, all previous regents had been of Fujiwara descent, a distinction peasant-born Hideyoshi could hardly claim. To add at least a token legitimacy to his new posting, Hideyoshi arranged to be adopted by Konoe Sakihisa, a court noble with the appropriate bloodlines. Hideyoshi attacked domestic issue with the same speed and in the same broad strokes with which he launched his wars; he established a team of five administrators (bugyo) to administer Kyoto (among whom was Ishida Mitsunari) and issued an edict outlawing merchant za (guilds). A series of all-encompassing land-surveys began almost immediately, and by 1597 would be carried out over the length of the country. Perhaps to place an exclamation point on the developments of the last year, on 29 September Hideyoshi adopted the surname 'Toyotomi', which consisted of characters that read 'bountiful minister'. Never one for excessive subtlety, Hideyoshi was now advertising his intention to rule Japan. Two obstacles stood between Hideyoshi and his dreams. On Kyushu, the Shimazu family was invading Bungo, the last piece of the island not in their hands. To the east, the Hojo ruled over the vast Kanto region and eyed the developments in Kyoto with suspicion, confident, perhaps, in the Hakone Mountains and the imposing walls of Odawara Castle to shield them from Hideyoshi's ambitions. Once affairs had been settled in Shikoku, Hideyoshi was in a position to concern himself with the Kyushu matter. On 12 November 1585, following a personal plea from Otomo Sorin, he dispatched a message to Shimazu Yoshihisa demanding that he withdraw from Bungo and make peace with the Otomo, to which Shimazu replied with thinly veiled insults. As doubtlessly displeased as Hideyoshi may have been, it would be a little over a year before any Toyotomi troops could be put on the island. In December an advance force under Chosokabe Motochika and Sengoku Hidehisa arrived at the Otomo capital of Funai. Once there, Otomo Yoshimune and Sengoku decided to take an offensive approach and went out to relieve a fort besieged by the Shimazu, ignoring both orders by Hideyoshi to stand on the defensive and Motochika's objections. The result was the Battle of the Hetsugigawa and a defeat for the Ôtomo-Toyotomi forces. Motochika lost a favorite son in the battle and the reinforcements were forced to flee the area, allowing Shimazu to march into Funai in triumph. This moment would be Yoshihisa's final brush with glory. On 20 January Toyotomi Hidenaga landed on Kyushu with as many as 60,000 men, followed by Kobayakawa Takakage and the Mori, who had with them a further 90,000. Faced with this mighty host, the Shimazu withdrew south rapidly, allowing Hidenaga to proceed with an advance along the eastern coast of the island. Hideyoshi himself arrived with yet another 30,000 in February and secured the submission of most of the warlords of the provinces conquered by the Shimazu in the past decade, including the Akizuki, Arima, Goto, Nabeshima, Omura, and Ryuzoji. The Toyotomi progress was almost leisurely, especially since the only real Shimazu resistance would come at the Sendai River on 6 June, and this was in essence a show of simple defiance by the proud Shimazu warriors. Within days of this battle, Shimazu Yoshihisa arrived in Hideyoshi's presence with a shaved head and surrendered. Hideyoshi accepted the Shimazu submission and announced that they would be allowed to retain Satsuma, Osumi, and southern Hyuga. Yoshihisa was ordered to retire and was replaced by his younger brother Yoshihiro.
Hideyoshi dallied in Kyushu for a time, making land grants to his loyal generals, with the largest tracts going to Konishi Yukinaga (Higo), Kato Kiyomasa (Higo), Kuroda Kanbei (Buzen), and Kobayakawa Takakage (Chikuzen). These men and the native Kyushu warriors would provide the vanguard for Hideyoshi's greatest endeavor-the Invasion of Korea in the 1590's. While in Kyushu Hideyoshi also acquainted himself with the powerful Christian presence on the island and made the first step in quelling what he saw as a dangerous destabilizing influence. On 24 July he issued the first Christian Expulsion Edict, declaring that all Christian missionaries were to depart Japan within 20 days. At the same time, this edict and a Limitation on the Propagation of Christianity (issued the day before) were worded somewhat ambiguously. The Limitation order actually allowed landholders to become Christian, but with certain stipulations and only with permission, although forced conversion was outlawed. There seemed to be some room for maneuver here (from the Christian stand-point) and Hideyoshi was clearly not prepared or interested at the moment in pressing the matter any further.
Hideyoshi now controlled a vast domain that stretched from Kagoshima Bay in Satsuma to the Hakone Mountains and eastern borders of Echigo. The Hojo and a myriad number of northern warlords (most notable among them being Date Masamune, Mogami Yoshiakira, and Nambu Nobunao) remained outside Hideyoshi's influence but of these, only the Hojo constituted a real threat - in the sense that if he failed to take Odawara, the political ramifications could be damaging. He was in no hurry, and for the time being contented himself with summoning the Hojo to Kyoto, a request, unsurprisingly, Hojo Ujimasa ignored. While preparing for the final act of in the unification of Japan, Hideyoshi spent much of his time in Kyoto, throwing himself into the role of 'Bountiful Minister' and further obscuring his humble roots with a study of the tea ceremony and poetry. During the 1590's, he would even delve into no, going so far as to have a number of plays written about his own life in 1594, which he then starred in for a select audience of nobles and daimyo in Osaka. He regularly preformed at his Nagoya headquarters during the Korean Invasion of 1592-93 and prompted his men to join in, including Tokugawa Ieyasu. As for how well Hideyoshi mastered his new hobby, we have only the somewhat laconic and amusing remark by Konoe Sakihisa, writing after a performance in Kyoto before the Emperor: "The Taiko's performance conveys the impression of enormous development."2
In November 1585 Hideyoshi showcased his newfound cultural acuity with the Grand Kitano Tea Ceremony, an extravagant event that saw the finest tea items displayed and provided a lucky few with an opportunity to let the Kampaku personally prepare them tea (in fact, he served 803 individuals in one day). Nothing of the sort had been seen in well over a hundred years, and while Hideyoshi cancelled the event after just one day he had provided the highpoint of a time of spectacles that would later be called the Momoyama Period. Surpassing even Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in sheer extravagance, Hideyoshi sought to over-awe his subjects and, probably, endear his name to posterity. On 9 May 1588 Hideyoshi hosted an Imperial Visit by Emperor Go-Yozei at the Juraku Palace, an elaborate event that truly marked the pinnacle of his career. The son of a farmer/foot soldier, Hideyoshi, the one-time sandal-bearer, read waka to the Emperor and treated him to a series of lavish feasts over the five-day visit. In addition, he made generous grants to the Imperial treasury and rebuilt Imperial properties. Yet, in fact, Hideyoshi and the court shared a symbiotic relationship: Hideyoshi reinvested the court with luxury and pomp while the court provided Hideyoshi with legitimacy. Hideyoshi's peasant background (his aspirations towards Fujiwara descent aside) doubtlessly irked some and was probably very much in people's minds as Hideyoshi visited with the Emperor.
That same year (1585), Hideyoshi made the most controversial and far-reaching domestic move of his career. In August he ordered what has become known as the Great Sword Hunt, beginning with the words, "The farmers of all provinces are strictly forbidden to have in their possession any swords, short swords, bows, spears, firearms or other types of weapons. If unnecessary implements of war are kept, the collection of annual rent (nengu) will be more difficult, and without provocation uprisings can be fomented."3 Hideyoshi went on to promise that the many thousands of weapons thus collected would be melted down for use in the building of a Great Buddha statue. Designed to reduce the danger of Ikki uprisings, the order also cut into the potential manpower pool any given daimyo had at his disposal, thus reducing the risk of insurrection.
In 1591 Hideyoshi would follow up the Sword Hunt with his Edict on Changing Status. This extremely important document was divided into three articles, with the first demanding that any warriors who had recently returned to village life be expelled. The second article forbad villagers from becoming townspeople or engaging in trade, and third article essentially prohibited the hire of warriors who had deserted their previous lords. In no uncertain terms and without precedent, Hideyoshi drew a wide line between villager and warrior status, one that was absolutely not to be crossed. In one stroke, Hideyoshi slammed the door shut on social mobility, abolishing the concept of the ji-zamurai, or 'samurai of the land' who tilled the soil when not at war. Even lowly ashigaru were made samurai, albeit low-ranking ones, and were forbidden to do village work and were eventually ordered to live in the castle town of their lords. Almost as unpopular as the land surveys Hideyoshi ordered, the Sword Hunt and the Status edict guaranteed that there would not be another Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
In 1590, Hideyoshi moved to bring the last of the Japanese provinces under his sway. Hojo Ujimasa and Ujinao had refused to bow to Hideyoshi, even though the latter had hinted that by doing so they would retain most of their lands in the Kanto. Perhaps emboldened by their ties to the neighboring Tokugawa, the Hojo dug in. In the event, Tokugawa Ieyasu cut his ties to Odawara and formed the vanguard of the enormous host that descended on the Kanto in May. Toyotomi forces assaulted the Hojo from three sides, with Tokugawa marching along the Tokaido coast, Sanada and Uesugi advancing into Kozuke, and Chosokabe and others landing on Izu. The Hojo opted for a strategy that had in the past proved successful against invaders, withdrawing within the ample defenses of Odawara. The Hojo counted on the sheer size of Hideyoshi's invasion force saving the day-such a host would require an enormous logistical commitment that could easily go disastrously awry. Unfortunately for Ujimasa, Hideyoshi had assigned logistical experts to handle that side of things, and soon the 'Siege' of Odawara developed into an almost festive event for the Toyotomi troops. To keep morale up, Hideyoshi brought in performers, allowed for markets to be established to cater to the men, and even allowed his generals to send for their wives. A few sharp actions did take place in the course of the three-month siege, although these had little effect other then to break up the monotony for both sides. Finally, with no end in sight and supplies running low, the Hojo decided to surrender. On 12 August the gates of Odawara were opened and Ujimasa committed suicide. Perhaps through the intercession of Tokugawa the daimyo Ujinao was spared, but his clan was finished as a political force. The event allowed for a certain irony: the Hojo, the clan many consider the first true 'sengoku daimyo', were the last of the great families to lose their independence. Date Masamune had already appeared in Hideyoshi's camp to show his fealty, and a brief campaign was required to see the far north subdued. Japan in its entirety was Hideyoshi's by January 1591.
Now in a position of national hegemony, Hideyoshi began to work towards the stability of the new Toyotomi dynasty. Concerned about the power of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Hideyoshi transferred him to the now vacant Kanto region, a move that on paper increased Ieyasu's holdings considerably while moving him further from Kyoto. Ieyasu dutifully left his ancestral homeland of Mikawa and set up his new headquarters at Edo in Musashi while Hideyoshi filled the holes the move created with men particularly loyal to himself, such as Asano Nagamasa (Kai), Kyogoku Takamoto (Shinano), Ikeda Terumasa (Mikawa), and Yamaouchi Kazutoyo (Totomi). Much like Nobunaga, Hideyoshi saw impressive structures as useful symbols of power, and so continued on a building program that by his death would produce Osaka and Fushimi (or Momoyama), the last becoming synonymous with his reign while the first was the greatest castle ever built in Japan.
Hideyoshi's hopes for a stable realm after his death were dealt a blow with the death of his infant son Tsurumatsu in September 1591. The three year old (whose mother, the so-called Lady Yodo or Yodo-gimi, was one of the daughters of Asai Nagamasa acquired from Shibata in 1583), had been Hideyoshi's only child. This left Hideyoshi with two back-up heirs-his half-brother Hidenaga and his nephew Hidetsugu. Unfortunately, Hidenaga died not long after Tsurumatsu, a loss Hideyoshi was said to have felt keenly. His passing left Hidetsugu, whom Hideyoshi adopted in January 1592. On 11 February Hideyoshi retired as Kampaku and passed that rank on to Hidetsugu, while assuming the title that he would become most famous for: Taiko (Retired Regent).
Even as clouds formed around the issue of succession, Hideyoshi was looking for more worlds to conquer. As early as 1586 he had told Mori Terumoto that he intended to invade China, and some have asserted that he even uttered comparable statements while still an Oda general. While that last part is a bit hard to prove, there can be no doubt that even before the Shimazu were defeated Hideyoshi planned on some sort of over-seas adventure. It is even tempting to see such an endeavor as one of his reasons for the invasion of Kyushu. In 1587 Hideyoshi began communicating with the Koreans in this vein, essentially requesting unmolested passage into China. The Koreans made no reply at that time, and in 1591 twice flatly refused demands that Japanese troops be allowed to march through Korea (April, July). In August, Hideyoshi ordered for preparations to commence for an invasion of Korea.
On 13 April 1592 the first Japanese troops landed on Korean soil, marking the opening phases of what Hideyoshi hoped would be a conquest of Asia. To this end he had gathered a massive host, composed largely of western daimyo families, notably the Mori, Chosokabe, Shimazu, Nabeshima, Kato, and Konishi. As many as 200,000 men, spearheaded by two main assault forces under Konishi Yukinaga and Kato Kiyomasa were embarked from Kyushu and made a rapid advance up the Korean peninsula. Hideyoshi himself opted not to go, instead staying on Kyushu at Nagoya (present-day Karatsu).
Many attempts have been made to explain the reasoning behind Hideyoshi's efforts to conquer Korea. Some have suggested that he was intentionally bleeding away the power of the daimyo, so as to strengthen the security of the Toyotomi. This theory has always been rather popular but overlooks the fact that the majority of daimyo who would fight in Korea were staunch supporters of Hideyoshi, including Kato, Konishi, Mori, and Chosokabe. By way of comparison, some less trustworthy elements never set foot in Korea, including Tokugawa Ieyasu and Date Masamune. Another slightly different but comparably popular suggestion has Hideyoshi invading Korea to provide an outlet for his daimyo, lest they have the time to begin plotting against their new overlord. Both arguments are essentially sides of the same coin, and are both weakened by the fact that most of the daimyo east of Kyoto never saw a day of service on the Korean mainland. The most likely explanation for Hideyoshi's campaign on the Asian mainland, then, was the same driving force that had seen him to rise to become Kampaku and had intoxicated so many other would-be conquerors: ambition.
Unfortunately for Hideyoshi's dreams of true ascendancy, the Korean expedition bogged down after initially impressive gains. In May Seoul had been occupied, and on 16 June Konishi Yukinaga marched into Pyongyang. At the same time, Kato Kiyomasa was driving hard up the eastern half of the peninsula and would even cross briefly into Manchuria. Within four months, then, Japanese forces had cleared a road into China. Three factors would combine to slam that door shut: Koran guerillas, the arrival of large numbers of Chinese troops around Pyongyang, and the Korean Navy, which under Admiral Yi Sun Shin proved almost invincible. Admiral Yi inflicted a series of naval defeats on the Japanese that cut deeply into Hideyoshi's logistical organization. Korean guerillas further harassed supply lines while tying down significant numbers of Japanese warriors behind the lines attempting to ferret them out. The Chinese, while not militarily the equal of the Japanese, outnumbered Konishi's command and forced him to retreat from Pyongyang in February to avoid being isolated. Kato had no choice but to retreat as well, and by July the operation was clearly stalemated and in danger of ultimately developing into a complete disaster. Hideyoshi found it wise to negotiate, and stated that he would agree to a peace if, among other things, a daughter of the Ming Emperor was given to the Emperor of Japan. The Chinese, while probably amazed at the audacity of that demand (which, needless to say, was never fulfilled), agreed to a ceasefire. Hideyoshi, whose forces still controlled some territory in Korea's southern-most province (Kyongsang), could boast to Luis Frois later that year that "he had already conquered the kingdom of Korea." and that the Chinese "had sent him their submission".4 He further demanded that Luzon show him obedience, threatening to invade if this was not done.
The birth of Hideyoshi's second son, Hideyori, in 1593 both distracted the Taiko from the depressing results of his Korean misadventure and created another problem. The threatening clouds of a potential succession struggle must have haunted Hideyoshi, who had already named Hidetsugu heir and yet devoted himself to Hideyori. The matter was brutally decided in 1595, when in August Hidetsugu was exiled to Mount Koya and then ordered to commit suicide. Those of his family who did not follow suit were murdered en mass in Kyoto, including 31 women and a number of infant sons and daughters. The specific reasons behind Hidetsugu's fall are entirely unclear, so much more the reasons for the excessive brutality with which Hideyoshi treated the family. Scholars continue to make assertions regarding this event; in truth, the specifics will never be more then a matter of speculation, except that a possible succession dispute had been dealt with.
On 19 March 1597 Hideyoshi ordered a resumption of the war in Korea after the Chinese had disregarded Hideyoshi's demands for a princess and actually acknowledged him as the 'King of Japan', a humiliating incident for Hideyoshi. While a man known for his skill at negotiating, nothing in Hideyoshi's record leads one to believe that he ever entered a negotiation without intending to get everything he wanted.
This second Korean Invasion was almost perfunctory, and the Japanese bogged down without having seen any significant gains beyond the capture of Namwon in August. At this same time, Hideyoshi and Hideyori were amusing themselves at Osaka with the spectacle of an elephant provided by the Spanish (perhaps to smooth over relations). The 'Miracle of Myongyang' on 19 September, in which 16 ships under Yi Sun Shin defeated a Japanese fleet of 133 vessels, probably sealed the fortunes of the invasion. Kato Kiyomasa and Asano Yukinaga were actually isolated in the fortress of Ulsan and underwent a long and brutal siege that lasted into 1598.
In the summer of 1598, Hideyoshi fell ill and summoned his most important vassals to his bedside. During August he established a council of regents (Tokugawa Ieyasu, Meada Toshiie, Mori Terumoto, Ukita Hideie, and Uesugi Kagekatsu) to rule while Hideyori came of age as well as a team of five administrators (bugyo) to handle domestic matters. These bugyo included Ishida Mitsunari, Natsuka Masaie, Maeda Gen-I, Mashita Nagamori, and Asano Nagamasa. Each man was made to sign a pledge of loyalty to the five-year old Hideyori, providing the scene with an element of pathos. Hideyoshi insisted again and again that the five men he had chosen as regents (whom he hoped would keep one another in check) be loyal to Hideyori, and no doubt counted on Maeda Toshiie, the powerful lord of Kaga who was close to Hideyoshi and shared rural Owari roots. Finally, he succumbed to his illness and finally died on 18 September 1598. The war in Korea was called off and the peninsula abandoned; Maeda Toshiie died in 1599 and within two years of Hideyoshi's death the council of regents would be broken and Tokugawa Ieyasu would rise supreme, assuming the title of shogun in 1603. Hideyori resided in Osaka Castle until 1615. After two sieges (Winter and Summer, 1614 and 1615) by Tokugawa forces, he committed suicide, along with the Lady Yodo. The Toyotomi name was eliminated.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi was truly a remarkable figure, an anomalous character in the pageant of Japanese history that continues to provoke debate and study. Few Japanese leaders have attracted as much adulation and hero-worship from both scholars and the general public, to the extent that Hideyoshi is recreated, it seems, every twenty years in a new, ever-more relevant image. Eiji Yoshikawa, in his famous book Taiko (also published much more recently in America), presents Hideyoshi in the role of an infallible, spunky metaphor for the author's idealized version of Japan itself. Mary Berry's 1982 biography sifts through Hideyoshi's career, attempting to place his decisions and activities in a manner compatible with modern assumptions regarding developments in Japanese history. Modern Japanese television dramas and novels continue to popularize Hideyoshi's life (updated, of course, to account for more modern social standards), essentially regurgitating events portrayed in the Taiko sujoki and Taiko-ki, some of which are historically shaky, to say the least.
All of these tend to distract us from a clear and well-rounded picture of Toyotomi Hideyoshi the man. Hideyoshi is often portrayed as a hero, a shining figure and the progenitor of a golden age. The inconsistency his later actions create is often simply ignored. Yoshikawa, for instance, even in the original (unabridged) Taiko, elects to end the story prior to 1590, conveniently avoiding the less-than flattering events that follow. Furthermore, few works on Hideyoshi care to mention the almost unbelievable suffering his ill-advised invasions of Korea caused the Korean people. Few structures dated prior to 1592 can today be found anywhere in the country south of Pyongyang, a mute testimonial to the savagery of the war. One damaging result of Hideyoshi's Korean endeavors to the Toyotomi house may have been that it denied him the sort of peace in which to cement his control over the country that Ieyasu would enjoy between 1600 and 1603. One of the subtle consequences of the Korean war was that it sapped the strength of those families who might be counted on to support the Toyotomi cause in the future while sparing the potential usurpers - namely, Tokugawa Ieyasu.
The Korean Invasions aside, Hideyoshi deserves much of his acclaim. More then Hojo Soun, Saito Dosan, or Takeda Shingen, Hideyoshi embodied the spirit of his age, and as fate would have it, was the one to bring it to a close. His policies and initiatives made the Tokugawa shogunate possible, shaping and changing Japanese history in ways still discernable today. For good or bad, Toyotomi Hideyoshi looms large in Japanese history, larger, perhaps, than any man before or since.
Notes to the Text
1 Berry. Hideyoshi. pg. 75
2 Berry. Hideyoshi. pg. 231
3 Lu. Sources of Japanese History. pg. 186
4 Cooper. They Came to Japan. pg. 113
5 Cooper. They Came to Japan. pg. 111-112