How “Honorable” is Honor in Taiko?

Artwork of a Samurai warrior contemplating self-disembowlment (Seppuku). Art by Nick Purser

Artwork of a Samurai warrior contemplating self-disembowlment (Seppuku). Art by Nick Purser

Yoshikawa’s Taiko is a complex novel. It shows the humanistic side of 16th century Japan, and how characters, like the protagonist Hideyoshi, handle situations with sometimes flawed moral and emotional choices. Honor as a concept in Taiko is difficult for all characters, as it can actually put their lives at stake.

This conflict is first detailed in Book Two where Nobunaga’s Oda Clan must fight the Imagawa clan, who outnumber them by the thousands. Hideyoshi and the rest of the Oda’s are almost sure of their impending death, as Hideyoshi questions “Could people really just toss their lives away like this?” only to be stopped by the cries of his fellow Oda’s- “To the death. To the death!” (Yoshikawa, 198). Before the battle, Nobunaga rallies his troops, asking “Will you all give your lives to a fool like me?” with the reply from commanders and soldiers- “You don’t even have to ask” and “Should our lord die alone?” (199). Both of these responses, from Hideyoshi and Nobunaga’s troops, represent the diverse ways in which the Japanese sense of honor is expressed. Honor, in one sense, is more important than life itself, where the idea of self- sacrifice is positively rewarded with the hope that one is praised and remembered if one is to die. On the other hand however, Yoshikawa manages to subtly intertwine Hideyoshi’s own personal questioning of this supposed “honor,” who wonders, whether the Japanese cultural expectation to sacrifice your life just to be considered honorable, is really necessary. In this sense, it may be that social change is necessary to somehow amend these codes of honor, or atleast bring them to light as not universally desired of all those that had to adhere to the 16th century Japanese code of honor.

Following this initial battle scene, Taiko becomes rife with commentary on the disillusionment on the ways honor affects Japanese culture, both positively and negatively. We see seppuku; or suicide by disembowelment, brought up frequently by samurai’s in the face of difficult tasks, particularly when they involve acts that conflict with each other in relation to honor. One scene involves Nobunaga’s generals as they question his motives behind his order to destroy the warrior monk temple on Mount Hiei. The soldiers consider this a blasphemous act, as it directly violates their respect of their religion and forces them to prioritize what they consider truly honorable- that is; should they respect their religion or their senior military retainer?- “We may be forced to commit seppuku one after another for going against His Lordship’s orders, but we cannot let him carry out this reckless fire attack” (360). Conflicts like this come up frequently in Book four, where Eiji Yoshikawa finally takes a stand on how he feels about the ethical dilemma that is honor in Taiko– “What were they fighting for, indeed? If they thought or worried about it, they risked their reputations by rebuking Nobunaga” (358).

Yoshikawa, in this sense, almost seems to take the views of the Oda generals as his own, implying that although honor in Japanese culture has its place, sometimes it’s priorities can grow dangerously out of whack, and as a result, may hurt those that follow it too meticulously.


Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko. New York, NY: Kodansha USA, 2012. Print.

Purser, Nick. Seppuku. N.d. Graphic. society6Web. 10 Mar 2014. <

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