Death Is Power!

An artistic's rendition of a Samurai preparing for seppuku ritual.

An artistic’s rendition of a Samurai preparing for seppuku ritual.

From a personal and militaristic perspective, in most cultures it is regarded as honorable to die fighting for what one believes in. In Yoshikawa’s Taiko, Hideyoshi frequently utilizes the threat death – to himself and others – as a way to enhance his power by showing the utmost respect for what he believes in, and a means of acquiring what he wants.

To meet death fearlessly shows unwavering commitment to ideals, a rare sight in a modern context. One of the most prominent examples of Hideyoshi’s display of this behavior can be found in Book Three when he tries to meet Hanbei, a great leader who lives at the top of Mount Kurihara. He states to Hanbei’s sister, “’If I see that it will be impossible to complete my lord’s order, I’ll commit seppuku right here by this swamp” (285). Hideyoshi merely wishes to speak with a man who refuses to acknowledge him. Though by threatening to kill himself, Hideyoshi is able to attain the respect he desires by Hanbei. Another example of this fearless commitment to leadership can be found in Book Five. Hiding from his enemies, the narrator claims that Shikanosuke “had one great hope: to get close to his mortal enemy… and die stabbing him to death… after he had snatched away Kikkawa’s life, he would rejoice to meet his former lords in the afterworld” (473).  In this culture, it seems that dying for one’s leader is the ultimate reverence for whoever is in command.

Although there is evident honor and commitment in these men, they are not necessarily greeting death without caution. Their reasons are carefully constructed. Hideyoshi displays his prudence when he approaches Nobunaga in Book Five: ““’I don’t want a single soldier to die in vain’” (468). Although these men are obviously committed to a certain code of honor, they are not careless in their decisions when it comes to approaching death.

Warriors of feudal Japan show total commitment to their values through a fearless acceptance of death. Not only does this make battling even more gruesome, but also shows a value for less individualized glory and an emphasis on intellect, especially for military strategy.

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Death is Power! by Laurel Wiebe is licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.