Eiji Yoshikawa’s Taiko presents a wide spectrum of male characters who challenge Western ideals of masculinity throughout the text. Some characters balance emotional intelligence with intellect and strength while others fail to achieve this equilibrium; this creates a complex masculinity that speaks to Japanese culture at the time.
Toward the beginning of Book Two, Tokichiro becomes quite emotional after receiving a letter from his mother. Yoshikawa claims that “Tokichiro cried and read the letter over and over. The master of the house was not supposed to let his servants see him cry. Moreover, it was the upbringing of a samurai not to let anyone see his tears. But Tokichiro was not like that” (149). This description of Tokichiro’s highly emotional state at first seems to claim that samurai, as paragons of masculinity, should avoid displays of emotion. However, readers are presented with other examples of samurai emotion later in the text. At the conclusion of Nagamasa’s funeral ceremony, for instance, Yoshikawa writes: “Someone began to weep, and soon everyone was affected…the armored men hung their heads and averted their eyes. Not one of them could look up” (405). In this situation, one in which warriors are faced with the death of their leader and their clan, the role of the retainer in mourning seems to take precedence over that of the stoic samurai. Similarly, Tokichiro’s emotions upon receiving his mother’s letter are acceptable because of the value placed on family relationships. While both Tokichiro and Nagamasa’s men clearly have physical strength and knowledge of the art of war, they are viewed in an even more positive light when these attributes are coupled with emotional intelligence; they are not indulgently emotional, but rather they know when and how to properly display their feelings.
Readers of Taiko are also presented with foil characters that serve to emphasize ideals of masculinity in Japanese culture. Chikuami, Hiyoshi’s stepfather, is characterized as a man who cannot balance his own physical strength with intellect and emotion. He was once a samurai but, as his story unfolds in the first few books of the text, he struggles with a drinking problem and an inability to provide steady income. In his case, brute strength is not enough to make him a true man; he is not respected by many people, especially his wife and his stepson. Readers also see the shogun, Yoshiaki, as a less than respectable male character. He has military and political power by virtue of his birth into the shogunate, but he lacks emotional maturity and virtuous intellect. His masculinity is not one to be idolized, and it can be argued that this contributes greatly to his downfall. By providing these examples, Yoshikawa seeks to highlight the positive aspects of masculinity that other characters (Tokichiro, Nagamasa, etc.) possess.
While these differences are not always readily apparent—character development is often complex and nuanced—they are essential to understanding cultural representations of masculinity in Taiko. I look forward to exploring this concept in further posts and in my digital essay.
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