When we read a new book, we don’t always take notice of the gender ratio of the principal cast. Taiko by Eiji Yoshikawa has a fair amount of women present, but despite their importance in the story and to the other characters, they tend to be glossed over.
Mother and Son
The most frequently mentioned woman in Taiko is Hideyoshi’s mother, more likely mentioned in Hideyoshi’s internal monologue than actually present. Many of Hideyoshi’s ambitions are driven by thoughts of making his mother happy, shown towards the beginning of the book and on: “how to make his [Hideyoshi’s] mother, whom he imagined to be the unhappiest person in the world, the happiest, was what drove him on” (Yoshikawa, 54). It is clear Hideyoshi loves his mother quite a bit and that he values their relationship, however she only seems to appear in his thoughts when he needs a source of inspiration or direction. Once he does not need such a source, his mother fades back into the background. It feels that his relationship with his mother reduces his mother’s importance as a character, and makes her seem like a convenience.
Husband and Wife (and wives to come)
One important relationship to recognize is the relationship between Hideyoshi, Nene, and the women who later become romantically affiliated with Hideyoshi. At the end at book one, we learn that Hideyoshi is in love with Nene. The last sentence in book one is: “Even though he could not tell how Nene felt about him, he was in love with her” (136). This is the first indication we receive about Hideyoshi having romantic feelings for anyone at all, though we have already gone through so much of his life. This is also the first time we see him interact with a person that is not his mother or his younger sister. The writing does not go into the details of how the two met, only that they had been exchanging letters at that point in time. This takes away our understanding of how Nene feels and focuses on Hideyoshi’s emotions, which in turn reduces Nene’s characterization. This may also be a result of the close third person storytelling, however there is less focus on Nene as the novel continues on. The focus on Nene even after she and Hideyoshi are married dwindles down as Hideyoshi meets new women, such as Oyu, and Hideyoshi becomes a more well known person.
Importance of Representation in Writing
Why is it important to hear from women in a novel centered around those who had a role in history? You might think, why are these characters important when only men were expected to go out and change the world? This is important because these women do have a crucial role in this story and in the history of Japan. After all, Hideyoshi’s mother gave birth to him and raised him, and Nene was his wife who supported him.
Based on the writing style that is chosen, it feels as if we are not giving these women the credit they deserve. And while it may seem like women’s roles in Japan are lesser due to their expected duties, they are equally as important considering if they were not there, the events would not have fallen into place.
Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan. New York: Kodansha USA, 2012. Print.
Utamaro, Kitagawa. “Edo beauties: ‘The Cultivation of Polychrome Prints, a Famous Edo Period Product’.” Online image. 1803. The Japan Times. Web. 10 Mar 2014.
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