Eiji Yoshikawa’s Taiko follows the rise of the protagonist, Hideyoshi, from son of a crippled soldier-turned-farmer to general. As a child, Hideyoshi is often criticized for being unruly and boisterous; however, there are those who take a chance on him. The key to Hideyoshi’s success is his inexplicable, almost secret ability to convince people of his worth and abilities.
As a child, Hideyoshi is a “precocious little brat,” (Yoshikawa, pg. 8) and incredibly difficult to control – he often gets into trouble and causes problems. His mother, Onaka, struggles to control him and worries about his future because he lacks obedience and is incapable of following instructions (Yoshikawa, pg. 8). His stepfather, Chikuami, resorts to hitting him in an attempt to gain some kind of control over Hideyoshi; he says to Onaka, “I’m beating this twisted little monkey because I think it’ll do him some good. He’s nothing but trouble!” (Yoshikawa, pg. 13). However, these beatings, locking Hideyoshi in the shed, and not permitting him to have dinner have no real affect on the young, unruly boy. In fact, the more that Chikuami tries to beat Hideyoshi into submission, the more Hideyoshi resents his stepfather. He has been given no reason to respect his stepfather and thus does not even attempt to behave.
Yet there are those who see the potential in Hideyoshi. Even after Hideyoshi accidentally breaks an important incense burner, the pottery merchant, Sutejiro, makes an offer to one day be his master because Hideyoshi “seems to hold promise,” (Yoshikawa, pg. 19). This is just the beginning; ultimately, Hideyoshi enters into the service of Nobunaga with whom he builds a relationship. Nobunaga trusts Hideyoshi so completely that he stops even asking what Hideyoshi’s plan is and just allows him to carry it out. For example, Hideyoshi is tasked with going to Koroku, head of the Hachisuka clan, and convincing him to betray his loyalties to the Saito clan and support Nobunaga instead. Because he is an honorable man, Koroku is inclined to reject this request, but reconsiders after talking with a monk, Ekei, who says to him, “Someday this man is going to do something extraordinary… That man may move the entire country someday,” (Yoshikawa, pg. 258). Ekei knows nothing of Hideyoshi, but he could tell from their brief meeting that, someday, Hideyoshi would change everything.
Hideyoshi is an undeniably nuisance at the beginning of Taiko – he resists his mother, tries to avoid responsibility, and has difficulty following rules. And yet, as he got older and found masters whom he wanted to serve, he learned respect and loyalty and in return was given the same. But it is this hidden, subtle promise that serves Hideyoshi the best – it is what makes people take chances on him and it has served him well.
Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1992. Print.
Digital image. THE GOLDEN AGE OF OLD JAPAN. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
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