Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Toyotomi Mon

Toyotomi Hideyoshi




Toyotomi Hideyoshi was born in 1537 as the son of a poor farmer in a village in Owari province. Not particularly handsome youth and having a penchant for adventure and trouble making, his nickname was Pine Monkey. His father died when he was eight. For a while, Hideyoshi made a living as a peddler. Later his stepfather tried unsuccessfully to apprentice the young Toyotomi to a blacksmith. Toyotomi ran away and entered the service of an up and coming young warlord named Oda Nobunaga. In keeping with his peasant background, Hideyoshi had no last name when he began to serve Oda Nobunaga. It was later on that Hideyoshi assumed the family name, Toyotomi, or Abundant Provider.


As a young man Toyotomi Hideyoshi has strong social skills. He was said have the ability to make friends easily. He had a greater than average tendency to party. Most significantly, he had an uncanny ability to read people’s intentions. Professionally, he was clever, courageous, ruthless, and effective. In spite of his non-samuari origin, he rose rapidly through the ranks of Nobunaga’s service and became a top general. It was during that time, when Hideyoshi acquired his adult nicknames of Monkey Servant and Bald Rat.


When Oda Nobunaga was overthrown by Akechi Mitsuhide (another of his inner circle of generals). It was Toyotomi Hideyoshi who mobilized his forces to confront and defeat Akechi Mitsuhide at the battle of Mount Tennozan.


His victory at of Mount Tennozan established Hideyoshi as military dictator of Japan. However, his peasant-class origin prevented the Emperor from bestowing on him the title of Shogun. Hideyoshi ruled under lesser titles such as Kampaku (Imperial Regent) and Taiko (Regent Emeritus). It is ironic that while he himself was a model of upward social mobility, Hideyoshi implemented social legislation that effectively formalized the class distinction between samurai and farmers into a cast distinction. After the rule of Hideyoshi, entry into the samurai class became almost exclusively a mater of birthright.


Toyotomi Hideyoshi was one of the few leaders of feudal Japan to have much of a foreign policy. However, Hideyoshi’s policy was ambitious. He wanted to conquer China. In 1592 and again in 1597, Hideyoshi ordered Japanese forces to invade Korea in order to prepare a jumping-off point for the conquest of China. Both attempts resulted in expensive stalemates and after his Hideyoshi’s death in 1598, the Japanese holdings in Korea were abandoned.


While his foreign policy appeared to be ill-conceived, Hideyoshi’s social policy set the stage for a strong central government that rule by controlling semi-autonomous provinces. His first task was to finish the work of Oda Nobunaga and unify Japan by defeating the armies of any opposing warlords. His next tasks were to conduct a survey and census of Japan. These were followed with a new tax code and restrictions on unauthorized travel. Hideyoshi established a place for everyone (both socially and geographically) and everyone was to be in their place. Hideyoshi saw organized religion as a political threat and alternately persecuted and tolerated both Christians and Buddhists.


One of Hideyoshi’s most memorable initiatives was the Great Sword Hunt initiated in 1585.


The people in the various provinces are strictly forbidden to have in their possession any swords, short swords, bows, spears, firearms, or other arms. The possession of these unnecessary weapons makes difficult the collection of taxes and tends to foment uprisings . . . Therefore the heads of provinces, official agents, and deputies are ordered to collect all the weapons mentioned above and turn them over to the government…


Hideyoshi’s official spin on this policy was that it was also for religious purposes since the recycled metal would ostensively be melted down and used in the construction of a monumental statue of Buddha.


Hideyoshi’s three pronged social strategy of ending: social mobility, free travel, and private ownership of weapons, would be followed by Shoguns until the end of the Japanese feudal period.


Socially, Hideyoshi promoted culture. It is widely speculated that this was an effort on his part to compensate for his own lower class origin. Hideyoshi spent generously in support of the Imperial household. He also was a major proponent of the No theater and tea ceremony, which he began to practice while he was in the service of Oda Nobunaga.



In November 1585 Hideyoshi produced and participated in the Grand Kitano Tea Ceremony; proclaiming that:

Rich or poor, high or low born might bring one pot for hot water and one bowl for tea, and attend the gathering .

This event brought together tea masters and tea ceremony aficionados from across Japan. During the event, Hideyoshi himself served 803 individuals in one day.


Hideyoshi is remembered for a famous fabulous portable tea room called The Golden Chamber. It was covered with gold leaf and lined inside with red gossamer. The portable tea room was taken to the imperial palace in Kyoto in 1586, for a special tea to honor Emperor Ogimachi.


Hideyoshi had a complex relationship with Sen no Rikyu, the grandmaster of the tea ceremony. Rikyu had been the tea master for Oda Nobunaga and later became one of Hideyoshi's closest confidants. Yet, the two great figures had a tempestuous relationship. Hideyoshi had a flare for both the flamboyant court style of tea ceremony as well as the austere Zen influenced style that Rikyu practiced. The relation between Rikyu and Hideyoshi took a big downturn when Rikyu refused to let his daughter become Hideyoshi’s mistress. This infuriated the Hideyoshi.


Eventually, Hideyoshi ordered Rikyu to commit ritual suicide. While the reasons are not known, tradition holds that Hideyoshi was infuriated when he entered the gate of Daitoku-ji temple (whose construction he had funded) and saw that he was walking under a statue of Rikyu. After Rikyu's death, Hideyoshi was said to have repented, regretting the loss of such a great person.


Succession planning was not one of Hideyoshi’s strong points. In the summer of 1598, Hideyoshi fell ill. His designated heir was his 5 year old son, Hideyori. Hideyoshi summoned his most important vassals to his sickbed and established a council of five regents, each of whom was made to sign a pledge of loyalty to the young Hideyori.  The theory was that rivalry between the five regents would prevent any one of them from consolidating power and displacing Hideyori. Hideyoshi died on 18 September 1598. Within two years this council of regents was broken and Tokugawa Ieyasu rose to supremacy, assuming the title of Shogun in 1603. Hideyori resided in Osaka Castle until 1615, when after at the battle of Seki ga Hara, Osaka Castle fell to Tokugawa forces and Hideyori committed suicide.


Hideyoshi was made a Shinto deity shortly after his death and given the title Hokoku (Wealth of the Nation).

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