Do You Like Hideyoshi? Maybe Not, But You’d Follow Him

File:Toyotomi Hideyoshi 1601.jpg

A painting of Hideyoshi in his later years

In Taiko, Yoshikawa tells the story of Hideyoshi, a young boy on a quest to advance himself, which ultimately culminates in becoming Taiko. Many of his characteristics seem negative at first glance, but as he grows, his uncanny ability to manipulate people and headstrong, violent tendencies will quickly become assets to his leadership.

He’s Got a Way With People

Hideyoshi seems to have a knack for giving just the right responses and playing just the right role in order to make someone react in a way that favors him – in short, he’s manipulative. He shows people what he wants them to see, especially his adversaries. One of the best illustrations of this is Hideyoshi convincing Koroku and his ronin to join Nobunaga‘s forces. It seems like a ridiculous proposition – ask a rebel force of samurai who have long-standing ties to one side of a war to join the enemy’s side? Even Koroku himself was incredulous that Hideyoshi would make such a foolish argument: “You’re just making your opponent angry, and I really don’t want to get angry at a youngster like you. Why don’t you leave before you’ve gone too far?” (Yoshikawa 255). But by some clever convincing on Hideyoshi’s part, and some strange, though lucky, comments from Master Ekei, Koroku agrees to his former servant’s proposal. This encounter really shows Hideyoshi’s sixth sense about just is going to work to get what he wants out of people. This particular skill, whether seen as intentionally manipulative or just incredibly understanding, shows incredible perception and a remarkable grasp of both the human condition and the different roles people play in society.

He’s a Little Bit of a Hothead

Hideyoshi sometimes seems to rush into things and is often given to jumping to violence as a solution, particularly in his earlier days. A great example of this is his frequent willingness to commit seppuku, or ritual suicide, for the smallest offenses. On multiple occasions and to multiple people, Hideyoshi offers this punishment as atonement for sometimes the simplest of mistakes, which at first glance might indicate that he is overly eager or that he doesn’t really mean what he’s offering, that he doesn’t take the punishment seriously. But if we look deeper, we see that Hideyoshi is really very serious, and this leads to the belief that he is incredibly courageous, sometimes to the point of apparent foolishness, but he sticks to his convictions, and that is what counts. He would not be opposed to losing his life if it were in the service of his master, dying a samurai’s death. What at first glance seems like stubbornness and impatience suddenly begins to take shape as courage in the face of fear and strong conviction in his beliefs, something necessary for effective leadership.


The crux of Hideyoshi’s leadership, as he continues to move up in the world, may rest in these two qualities. In the foreword to the novel, Yoshikawa gives a note to the reader about a verse known to every Japanese schoolchild. “What if the bird will not sing? … Hideyoshi answers, “Make it want to sing,”” (Yoshikawa foreword). This makes it clear that his manipulative understanding of his adversaries, as well as his strong convictions and courage, will continue to shape his leadership.

Works Cited

Image Credit:

Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan. 1st. New York City: Kodansha, 2012. Print.

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