Strategic Vulnerability: Masculinity & Intellect in Feudal Japan

Hideyoshi and his Five Wives Viewing the Cherry-blossom at Higashiyama

Hideyoshi and his Five Wives Viewing the Cherry-blossom at Higashiyama

While gender role is a malleable concept in Eiji Yoshikawa’s Taiko, characters demonstrate their masculinity through physical and emotional brutality; however, the most influential male figures express an intellect defined by their ability to balance emotional vulnerability with harsh stoicism, recognizing where each is appropriate.

It is clear that the world of Taiko is a culture mainly run by men, where female characters have little say in the direction their lives take. Tokichiro notes in Book Two that a woman’s “happiness depends on the man she marries” (141), explaining the power associated with masculinity. When Oichi reunites with her brother (Nobunaga), she refuses to acknowledge Nobunaga as anything “more than the enemy general who had killed her husband” (421). Oichi’s outburst of emotion for her late husband infuriates Nobunaga, causing him to display his (and his sister’s lack of) power by sending Oichi away. Nobunaga’s authoritative masculinity is evident in his ability to denounce his sister and disregard her emotions entirely. In this way, Nobunaga demonstrates an unsympathetic masculinity, acting out of passionate distaste rather than evaluating the situation with understanding or intelligence. Yoshikawa paints a vivid picture of masculinity regarding physical strength insomuch as the samurai is the archetype of masculinity, thus correlating violence with the quintessential man.

However, it is not just physical or emotional severity that make a man, nor is it mere masculinity that allows a man to successfully rule over and protect a group of people in Japanese culture. The most powerful men are those with incredible intellect, which is apparent when considering military strategists and the art of war.  Though the shogun Yoshiaki was born into power and represents masculinity as a military leader, he lacks the intellect necessary to earn respect as a male figure. When Nobunaga wants to kill Yoshiaki out of rage, it is Hideyoshi who evaluates the situation and deems it inappropriate to act on emotional disturbances, though he acknowledges and validates Nobunaga’s anger.

Hideyoshi demonstrates intellectual stoicism even when he makes a promise to commit seppuku if he is unable to finish building the castle wall in three days. While Nobunaga and others are worried he will not be able to finish in time, Hideyoshi knows not to waste time feeling anxious, Instead, he designs a plan to “make the laborers on the construction site work hard… using their strength to the full” in order to complete the task (157). Rather than utilizing threats or violence, Hideyoshi uses his intellect to inspire the workers. Despite his ability to drop emotion and fearlessly take on a life-or-death situation, Hideyoshi is not invulnerable to emotion; the scene in which he reads and cries over a letter from his mother is not an exceptionally masculine representation of him, because “it was the upbringing of a samurai not to let anyone see his tears” (149). However, it is noteworthy that Hideyoshi chooses this particular scene, which does not have high-stake implications, to become vulnerable. Still, he does not allow his vulnerability to negatively affect his work.

Taiko presents an insightful perspective of the impact intellect and emotional control have on masculinity and power in Japanese samurai culture, which makes way for Hideyoshi’s inevitable rise to power as Taiko.

Works Cited

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

Utamaro, Kitagawa. “Taiko Gosai Rakuto Yukan No Zu.” Online Image. 1803. Japan. The British Museum. Web. 11 Mar 2014.

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