Month: April 2014

Masculinity: East and West



A man grasps the silhouette of the sun to represent power.

In both Taiko and “Tree With Deep Roots”, masculinity is determined by a man’s intellect, interpersonal relations, and his ability to see beyond the boundaries of societal structure thereby surpassing class limitations. By contrasting the concept of masculinity from the modern-day west with that which is depicted in these two Asian platforms, we will determine the impact of lens in cultural understanding.


The characters in each of these texts embody the strength of intellectual growth and application as they advance through their individual stories. By examining the concept of masculinity through the lens of modern-day, western civilization and comparing it to that which is depicted in Taiko and “Tree With Deep Roots” the impact of viewing both texts through preexisting lenses will be determined and heavily criticized.


The cover image of the book Taiko depicting samurai in feudal Japan.

The cover image of the book Taiko depicting samurai in feudal Japan.


The developments of social norms and expectations have long been the foundation upon which generations are built. However, the 21st century, westernized lens through which Taiko is now being analyzed renders itself flawed and vastly inadequate.

Yokishawa provides readers the unique opportunity to witness the growth and maturation of a young boy in feudal Japan. Hideyoshi experiences social construct differently than others in the story, and it is his application of experiential learning that stimulates his intellect and allows him to overcome class boundaries. From the beginning of the text, masculinity is heavily emphasized as desirable if not mandatory. The psychological development of masculinity begins with the opening scene of the text in which Hideyoshi is playing with a group of other young boys when confronted with the return of Japanese soldiers. The use of his nickname, Monkey, acts as a fire which when ignited encourages Hideyoshi to achieve more and gain subsequent respect. In Joseph Tobin’s discussion on the differences between child rearing in Japanese and American cultures, he states, “Japanese culture is group-oriented, in contrast to American culture’s individualism,” (Tobin 1156). This dramatic contrast in the development of interpersonal relationships is vital to the understanding of the relationships in this story.

Hideyoshi’s relationships with both his father and his stepfather become strong catalysts in the next stage of masculine development, both in their own ways. Hideyoshi’s father, Yaemon, is a wounded soldier, which further emphasizes the association between war and masculinity. However, Hideyoshi’s stepfather, Chikuami, is more agrarian focused with an emphasis on gender roles and familial duty. Later in the text, readers are presented with further characteristics attributed to masculinity: mental stamina, a balance of physical and emotional strength, and a deeply rooted understanding of duty. It is here that readers see the most contrast with western culture as intellect becomes as valuable as physical strength. Though other areas, such as emotional openness, are familiar and comfortable for the western mind. However, the unique interlocking of intellectual capability and capacity with success as a soldier and leader is the dropping off point for most readers. The Japanese culture of the time valued intellect in tandem with physical strength, embodied within Hideyoshi as he continues to prove his maturation and gain in ranks through his understanding of emotional appropriation, intellect, and honor. “The samurai political organization rested on the formation of strong emotional bonds between military masters and vassals upheld by a strict code of honor,” (Levine 164).

Through the text, it is important that the reader shed his or her cultural lens so as to fully appreciate the depth of characterization within the story. Though masculinity and gender roles are not unfamiliar to any culture, those that exist within this text challenge the western perspective and encourage the reader to extend beyond the preconceived notion of western masculinity.

Japanese illustration of a samurai warrior.

Japanese illustration of a samurai warrior.

A notion must accurately depicted by the following statement by Donald Levine:

“Even if humans possess a genetically-based behavioral system that tends towards physical aggression, cultural systems process that disposition in various ways – by glorifying it, polishing it, or suppressing it. They determine whether or not and how aggressive inclinations get molded into an ideal of what it means to be a ‘real man’.”

Furthermore, the emotional reserve so highly regarded in the Japanese culture, as mentioned in Taiko, “it was the upbringing of a samurai not to let anyone see his tears” (Yoshikawa 149), a unique familiarity and sense of harmony with one’s emotional state and awareness, is a characteristic of masculinity that was established during this period of feudal Japan – the context of this text – and continues still to be a major factor in the culture. “It was the spirit of reserve, collected force, and not primitive but deeply studied simplicity; it was a spirit which sought to compress the deepest meaning into the simplest form, and to put the most concentrated energy under the most perfect control,” (Asakawa 2)


Feature image for the Korean drama series "Tree With Deep Roots".

Feature image for the Korean drama series “Tree With Deep Roots”.

“Tree With Deep Roots”

This Korean drama series depicts the creation of the Korean alphabet by King Sejun. The ability to read and write gives agency to the people. However, the lower the socioeconomic status, the less time is available for activities other than work. The propaganda that has made its way through the Korean people in “Tree With Deep Roots” about the new alphabet must be disposed of, and it must be made clear that this new alphabet provides new opportunities and new promise.

Prior to the creation of the new Korean alphabet, the thousands of characters not only presented numerous obstacles for those learning them, but also limited the audience for its use. As expressed in episode 15, farmers do not have the time to waste hours learning how to read and write. However, this belief that the new alphabet will be similar to its predecessors is misguided, as made clear by the Prince. The King has a vision to create an alphabet that will unite the people and build the nation as a whole. The honest nature of the letters to the sound made by the mouth and throat is meant to encourage its usage.

With the attempted rise of the scholars into power, the manipulation of social status is key. The power of the scholars comes from their ability to read and write; their exposure to the written world gives them agency. However, if the lower classes of people were capable of reading and writing, as made possible by this new alphabet, the power might be equalized. It is for this reason that the implementation of the alphabet poses a threat to the scholars. Intelligence is power, and the power of the scholars stems directly from their ability to spend time learning, a luxury not afforded to the lower classes.

The implementation of the new alphabet will readjust the power in the nation and does indeed pose a threat to the plan  of the scholars to rise to power. The ability to express oneself through the written word and thusly converse on a wider platform is arguably one of the most important tools in gaining agency as both an individual and as a nation. A perfect depiction of this understanding can be found 13 minutes into the 17th episode of the series. How does this reflect masculinity in Korea? This concept of intellect being of equal if not greater importance in regards to power and respect, two things which are attributed to men in this patriarchal society.

28 letter alphabet created by King Sejong in the KDrama "Tree With Deep Roots".

28 letter alphabet created by King Sejong in the KDrama “Tree With Deep Roots”.

In Conclusion

The western concept of masculinity holds physical strength, independence, and emotional reserve in high esteem. A man who is aggressive is deemed more masculine than one who possess great intellectual depth. However, as proven through both Asian texts, intellect in these cultures is vital in the application of strength and strategy. Unfortunately, the conditioning most readers have when coming into contact with this text, specifically as it pertains to the class of Asian Literature, is in the realm of westernized stereotypes. This understanding of masculinity, femininity, and gender roles skews the overall perception of the characters in both contexts. In order to fully appreciate and understand the importance of the text from a historical standpoint in regards to reflection as well as a gender criticism, one must shed the lens of western culture.


Works Cited 

Asakawa, K. “Some of the Contributions of Feudal Japan to the New Japan.” Journal of Race Development. 3.1 (1912): 1-32. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.

Levine, Donald. “The Masculinity Ethic and the Spirit of Warriorhood in Ethiopian and Japanese Cultures.”International Journal of Ethiopian Studies. 2.1/2  (2005-2006): 161-177. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.

Tobin, Joseph. “Using “The Japanese Problem” as a Corrective to the Ethnocentricity of Western Theory.” Child Development. 71.5 (2000): 1155-1158. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.

Tree with Deep Roots. Writ. Lee Jung Myung. Dir. Jang Tao Yoo and Shin Kyung Soo. SBS, 2011. DramaFever.

Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan. 1st ed. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1992. Print.


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The Art of Surviving and Thriving: Strategically Embracing Social Change

This image is a word cloud featuring the most popular words and phrases that are associated with social change.

This image is a word cloud featuring the most popular words and phrases that are associated with social change.

Social change is often inevitable; however, attitudes toward social change are more fluid. The ability to survive and thrive in a chaotic new world relies on open-mindedness and the foresight to understand the implications of change. This is illustrated through the development of firearms, Christian missionaries, and the Korean alphabet.


 Concerns about drastic social change and its resulting chaos in the world are issues found at the core of the novel Taiko, by Eiji Yoshikawa, and the Korean television drama Tree with Deep Roots. These changes create much unrest and anxiety among the characters of these texts and, in their minds, the state of the future is cast in serious doubt. Some of these social changes are deliberate, such as King Sejong’s creation of the Korean alphabet in Tree with Deep Roots, and other changes, such as the introduction of firearms into Japan or the infiltration of Christian missionaries in Taiko, are unavoidable realities. Whether intentional or inevitable societal alterations, these changes necessitate adaptation and an open mind. Although there will always be opposition to social change, the characters who achieve and endure in Taiko and Tree with Deep Roots are the ones who willingly embrace the changes of the times, and those who resist are gradually extinguished.


Japanese soldiers firing tanegashima (matchlocks), using ropes to maintain proper firing elevation

Japanese soldiers firing tanegashima (matchlocks), using ropes to maintain proper firing elevation.

Although Taiko, a novel by Eiji Yoshikawa, is set in feudal Japan, many technological advancements and societal changes occur in this world of war and chaos. Oda Nobunaga’s success as a military leader is largely due to his utilization of significant changes in weaponry and military strategy. In Book 5 of Taiko, the mountainous Kai warriors are defeated by Nobunaga’s army on the basis of inferior weaponry and a failure to understand how war tactics have changed since automatic weapons. The Portuguese revolutionized warfare with the introduction of firearms in Japan, and thus, the traditional style of fighting could no longer win on the battlefield. Historical analysis of this development explains that, “As a result of the adoption of firearms, close combat was largely replaced by long-range fighting” (Brown, 244). Nobunaga understands this, but Kai, “protected by its mountains, ravines, and rivers, was cut off from the center of things and isolated from foreign influences” (Yoshikawa, 436). The Kai are proud of their province and put all of their confidence in the fierce bravery of their troops. They assume that since they have not been defeated in the past, defeat will not be theirs in the future. For the opposing Oda forces, however, “Nobunaga had planned a fully scientific strategy using modern tactics and weapons” (Yoshikawa, 436).

When the Oda and Kai forces clash on the battlefield, the Kai emerge as clearly superior in hand-to-hand samurai combat. This boosts the fighting spirits of the Kai; Takeda Katsuyori and his generals subsequently order the Kai army to advance and destroy the Oda. As the Kai forces march onward, Nobunaga signals to his soldiers hidden on Mount Chausu, and suddenly, “the earth shook at the volleys of gunfire. The mountain split open and the clouds were shredded… The horses and men of the Kai army fell like mosquitoes into piles of corpses” (Yoshikawa, 437). This scene highlights that, although the Kai are superior warriors, their skills and brute strength cannot compete with a shower of bullets, and thus, they suffer great casualties and complete defeat at the hands of Nobunaga.

In a later chapter in Book 5, Nobunaga receives a letter indicating an old-fashioned formal challenge to battle from Uesugi Kenshin, lord of Echigo. Nobunaga laughs when he reads this note because the gesture makes Kenshin look archaic. Nobunaga thinks, “How sad for Kenshin that he wasn’t born during the colorful olden days when they wore scarlet-braided armor with gold plates. I wonder what he thinks of Azuchi, with its mixture of Japanese, Southern Barbarian, and Chinese styles?” (Yoshikawa, 452). While reflecting on these recent social changes, Nobunaga sees old traditions and modes of thinking as obsolete, saying, “All of the changes in weaponry and strategy in the last decade have brought us into a new world. How could anyone say the art of war hasn’t changed too?” (Yoshikawa, 452). Nobunaga’s perspective argues that if traditional warfare has no actual benefits in the current times, then holding on to those customs is useless. Yoshikawa reminds readers that, “Civilization moves on like a horse at full gallop” (Yoshikawa, 436).  Historical analysis indicates that these “new long-range weapons provided the more capable and foresighted barons with an important means of extending their military power, and therefore, facilitated the establishment, by Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, of Japan’s first strong, central government” (Brown, 253). Successful survival in a changing and disorderly world can only occur when people adjust to these inevitable social changes. Refusal to adapt, much like the Kai or Uesugi Kenshin, results in an abrupt end to one’s history.


Christian missionaries in feudal Japan preaching to the Japanese people.

Christian missionaries in feudal Japan preaching to the Japanese people.

Taiko features Christian missionaries surfacing periodically throughout the text. The infiltration of the Christian faith into Japan highlights important commentary on social change. Christianity is a Western religion, so it is not neutral; it is connected to Western culture. In Book 4 of Taiko, Nobunaga visits a Christian school and states that he is very pleased with Western technology, medicine, and weaponry coming to Japan. He is not, however, satisfied with certain aspects of Westernization, stating, “There were two things that his digestion absolutely rejected: Christianity and Christian education. But if these two things had not been allowed to the missionaries, they would not have come with their weapons, medicines, and other wonders” (Yoshikawa, 331). Nobunaga is in favor of Westernization as long as it serves a valuable purpose to him (technological advancements, medicine, etc.). He is tolerant of the Christian schools for the present, but he plans on closely watching over the missionaries.

Nobunaga’s doubts about Christianity illustrate some of the complexities of adapting to social change. Nobunaga strategically adapts to the social change brought by the Christian missionaries. The technology, medicine, and weaponry are easy for him to digest; they benefit him and give him power. Embracing these aspects of Western culture is not as complicated as the religious doctrine that accompanies these advancements. Nobunaga is skeptical of the philosophy and accompanying modes of thinking that are sneakily working their way into the country too. Nobunaga is not in awe of this religion and cannot even appreciate its value system. Nobunaga can understand the societal implications of technological advancements brought by Westernization; the implications of the Christian faith are less clear, so Nobunaga is waiting to see the direction it will take and whether or not that is a social change worthy of adaptation.

Nobunaga does eventually recognize the work of the Christian missionaries. In Book Seven of Taiko we see the growing spread of Christianity throughout Japan. Oda Nobunaga, as the ruler of Japan, has accepted the work of the Christian missionaries, and he has publicly recognized their work in spreading their religion; he even invites them to dine with him at his banquets. However, he has also forced Buddhist monks “to their knees” using extreme force and violence, risking permanent disdain from his people. The text reads, “the Buddhist monks raised a hue and cry about which of them Nobunaga considered to be the foreigners—the Christians or themselves” (Yoshikawa, 646). Nobunaga willingly turns his back on Buddhism, a religion cherished by his people for centuries. This action communicates Nobunaga’s important attitudes toward tradition. Nobunaga isn’t turning his back on Japan; he realizes that Christianity in Japan is now inevitable so it’s a matter of ruling the country and helping the nation advance into the modern world. In order to help lead his people, Nobunaga has to adjust as the world changes. It’s important to keep in mind that Buddhism itself is not native to Japan; it was also a foreign doctrine that required adaptation many years prior.


The 28 letters of the Korean alphabet, as developed by King Sejong, in the television series Tree with Deep Roots.

The 28 letters of the Korean alphabet, as developed by King Sejong, in the television series Tree with Deep Roots.

The creation and development of the Korean alphabet by the ruler of Korea, King Sejong, in the Korean television drama Tree with Deep Roots does more than promise the equal opportunity of literacy for all Korean citizens; it establishes a source of nationalistic pride and unity for the country through its accessibility and sound. It is a revolutionary idea; King Sejong wants to construct a language that will be easy for his people to learn—even those who labor all day on fields and farms. Throughout many episodes of Tree with Deep Roots, the Korean alphabet is described as “easy enough for a fool to learn in a day and a wise man to learn in half of a day.” It is this accessible feature of the language that is ultimately what wins over the character Kang Chae Yun when he discovers Hangul; he is incredibly intrigued by the alphabet’s 28 letters (as opposed to thousands of symbols like the Chinese language) and, although he was a staunch opponent of King Sejong’s actions and methodologies, he comes to see the value and power in creating a literate society. He eventually respects King Sejong’s efforts and understands that the king truly does care for the well-being of his people.

In Tree with Deep Roots, King Sejong’s alphabet will (eventually) teach Koreans of all social statuses how to read and write, but ultimately Hangul has a more symbolic, nationalistic meaning. The language will serve as a way to empower the common people and establish a distinct language and voice for Korea. Understanding the implications of this revolutionary new alphabet is important when considering social change in Joseon. Many characters are opposed to King Sejong’s alphabet because they view it as a threat to the nation-state and insist that it violates Confucianism, an ideology that has become entwined with the identity of the country. One notable character who repeatedly opposes King Sejong’s work in Tree with Deep Roots is the leader of Hidden Root, Jung Gi Joon (the identity Ga-Ri-On the simple-minded butcher is his cover). Jung Gi Joon does everything in his power to stop the publishing of this new alphabet. In Episode 19 of the show, Jung Gi Joon meets with King Sejong and tells him, “It [the alphabet] goes against Confucianism. The praise of China in Joseon is only a realistic way of survival” (5:20). He elaborates further in Episode 20, explaining that literacy for all will throw off the balance of Korean society; the existing social status will be in turmoil. He says, “But your writing system is trying to destroy that controlled system” (11:57).

In the quotations mentioned above, Jung Gi Joon represents obstinacy in face of social change, particularly when this change brings many benefits for Korean society, including literacy, national pride, and societal survival. The common people will actually have a way to voice their opinions to their king, which better ensures that their issues will actually be properly addressed. Throughout the series, people die because of their inability to read. This is seen at the beginning of the series when the character Dam incorrectly pretends to know the meaning of a royal letter, and as a result, the King’s father-in-law and his household are killed. Jung Gi Joon fails to see how the Korean alphabet will actually advance the people of Korea; he is content with a stagnant Joseon. He cannot envision the ways that Joseon will be better because of this social change. King Sejong tries to explain this to Jung Gi Joon when he proposes that literacy won’t shatter Confucianism in Korea; it could actually bring Koreans closer to Confucian ethics and ideals since they will be able to learn the codes for themselves and better understand the meaning of these codes. King Sejong eventually does successfully implement his alphabet, and historically speaking, “King Sejong’s reign has been considered the most glorious period not only of the Joseon dynasty, but in all of Korean history” (Jongmyung 136).


This image depicts a road sign indicating "CHANGE AHEAD."

This image depicts a road sign indicating “CHANGE AHEAD.”

Social change elicits a variety of responses from people, good and bad. Some individuals immediately rise to adapt to these changes and cast off tradition without a second thought; others cling to the ideals of tradition and worry that social change will result in societal collapse. Many of these changes are simply inevitable; they require adjustment if one wants survival and societal advancement. Social change, however, is continuous and fluid; as soon as society adjusts and settles, there is typically a new development to be addressed.

Works Cited:

Brown, Delmer M. “The Impact of Firearms on Japanese Warfare, 1543-98.” Far Eastern Quarterly. 7.3 (1948): 236-253. Print.

Jongmyung, Kim. “King Sejong’s Buddhist Faith and the Invention of the Korean Alphabet: A Historical Perspective.” Korea Journal. 47.3 (2007): 134-159. Print.

“Tanegashima (Japanese matchlock).” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 16 Feb 2014. Web. 11 Mar 2014.

Tree with Deep Roots. Writ. Kim Young-hyun and Park Sang-yeon. Dir. Jang Tae-yoo. Seoul Broadcasting System, 2011.

Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko. Trans. William Scott Wilson. New York: Kodansha USA, 2012. Print.

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Hideyoshi’s and Sejong’s Ambitious and Revolutionary Visions


Hideyoshi later in life, ambitions realized

Hideyoshi from Eiji Yoshikawa’s Taiko and Sejong from the Korean drama Tree with Deep Roots are historically praised in their respective countries.  Both men’s revolutionary visions are conceived through personal turmoil and the desire to prove themselves when others in the past doubted them.

Hideyoshi’s Vision

Hideyoshi’s vision is to unite Japan for the sake of the samurai. He unites Japan through tactical warfare and forming key allies. This stems from his deep respect for his father and his high respect and awe for samurai.  Not many people he meets early in the novel believe he can become a samurai, let along revolutionize Japan. Through patience and perseverance, Hideyoshi is able to enact his vision by slowly building his way up to the top and proving wrong all those who doubted him. By the time Hideyoshi becomes Taiko when he was older, he is not just a military leader, but he is seen as a cultural force. Japanese studies scholar Elizabeth Berry  identifies Hideyoshi place in Japanese culture and why he remains there. She writes, “Hideyoshi is the realm” (250). This encompasses how important he is. I will discuss the beginning stages of his samurai life in this essay.

Sejong’s Vision

In Tree with Deep Roots, King Sejong‘s revolutionary vision of a new Joseon is conceived through personal turmoil and the desire to prove himself through the dynamics of two characters: his father (Taejong) and Ddol Bok. Sejong unites Korea by creating an alphabet all his people can understand. Victor H. Mair, an Asian Studies researcher, notes the importance Sejong placed in the well-being of the common people through his creation: “It is clear that Sejong was deeply concerned about literacy for the common people and that he believed a phonetic script permitting them to write out easily the sounds of their own spoken language would be much more appropriate for that purpose than the clumsy sinographs” (732). Sejong understood the power of language. For example, in one episode of the show, he realizes that many of his people are dying of a disease in the town because they were not able to read the precautions posted throughout the town. I will discuss the character relationships that motivated him to create the alphabet.

Mitsuhide’s Keen Eye

Mitsuhide, a country samurai, is one of the first men to notice Hideyoshi’s potential, but he still sees him as a young men who needs improvement. “You’re very clever, but your eyes are too sharp, and they go right through the thing they’re looking at. When a man hits a nail, he stops where he’s supposed to, because going too far is just as bad as not going far enough” (Yoshikawa, 77). Mitsuhide is warning young Hideyoshi that being different and ambitious is great and sets him apart, but he must know when too much is too much. He must also learn to have a more discerning eye for excess.


Mitsuhide, as depicted in art

Sejong and His Father: Solving the Puzzle

Taejong wants Sejong to rule Joseon the way he did, with force and power, but Sejong disagrees. Sejong wants to prove to his father  that he will not be remembered as merely his successor, but as an individual with his own unique ideas. When Taejong is still alive in the show, their character dynamics form Sejong’s ambitious plans to make Joseon a place it never was before: a country ruled by knowledge, not force. This ambition is realized when Taejong sends him an empty lunchbox, which in that culture is an invitation to suicide. This forces Sejong to consider the invitation as a riddle, which he solves. Upon this revelation, Sejong says to his father, “You have taught me the method to solve any Su-Do-Ku [problem]” (episode 3). To which his father replies, “You must have found the answer and the way. Your Joseon.” Sejong always knew he wanted to rule differently than his father, but turning Taejong’s death order into a solvable puzzle  motivated him to rule the country and tackle any rising problems. This confidence leads to later ambitious endeavors during his reign, mainly the creation of the Korean alphabet.


Sejong confronts his father about the puzzle

Comparison: Hideyoshi and Sejong: Realizing Ambitions

 Hideyoshi realizes his recognizable potential when Mitsuhide takes notice of his talent. If Mitsuhide had not done this, Hideyoshi might have been a needle peddler all his life with an unreachable ambition. Sejong, on the other hand, has all the resources he needs in the royal palace to reach his goal. The moment he truly believes he can accomplish his vision is when he overcomes a puzzle and his barrier to success: his father. Both Hideyoshi and Sejong need this early recognition of potential before they can begin to flourish.

Monkey to Group Leader

Hideyoshi’s dream as a child is to become a samurai. In order to become one, he has to serve a great master. Although this takes him a long time time and many masters to find an ideal one, he eventually is content working for the lord of the Oda clan, Nobunaga. Along with Mitsuhide, Nobunaga is one of the earliest samurai to see potential in young Hideyoshi. Although Nobunaga favors his new retainer greatly, Hideyoshi’s fellow Oda retainers do not hold him in high esteem. Due to his physical appearance,  he was both lovingly and scornfully referred to as Monkey. People saw him as someone not be to taken seriously, but instead, as an amusing and clever boy who did not know when to keep his mouth shut or when to stop cracking jokes.

The first true assignment that Hideyoshi completes is building a wall commissioned by Nobunaga. This forces people to look at him more seriously.During construction, Hideyoshi shows his leadership potential by saying, “There are three rules governing over construction. The first is to build with speed and secrecy. The second is to build with unadorned strength… The third is constant preparedness, which means to be ready for attack despite the confusion of construction” (154). He speaks all of this against the authority of the construction master, Ukon. Although Nobunaga initially sees this as disobedient, he is impressed and puts him in charge of the project the next day. Under Hideyoshi’s leadership, the wall is built in three days, as opposed to about the 20 days it would have taken if Ukon remained in command. Upon completion, Nobunaga says to Hideyoshi, “You’ve done well. You must be sleepy. You’d better sleep for  the entire day” (169). From that point on in the novel, all the characters treat Hideyoshi with a lasting and newfound respect.

Ddol Bok’s Criticism of Sejong

Early in Tree Withe Deep Roots, Sejong comes across a helpless slave boy named Ddol Bok. The imperial army suggests that Sejong kill the boy, since he was an escapee from a revolt, but Sejong chooses not to. His vision is ignited when he saves Ddol from being killed.  He realized that the lower class citizens should not be treated like swine and should have a chance in the world along with the upper class.  After saving him, Ddol angrily tells Sejong to “Cut the crap,” meaning he needs to improve his leadership as the king. Upon reflection, Sejong notes, “I was a king for a moment when I saved that child” (episode 2). Ddol lets him know that the lower class will not tolerate anymore cruelties from the ruling class as they did in the past. This utterance from Ddol sticks with Sejong for his entire life. It causes him to rethink power and humanitarian ethics in the country. This deep thinking eventually materializes into the Korean alphabet, a system that enables the lower class to learn to read.

Comparison: Hideyoshi and Sejong’s Early Crticisms

Both men experienced ridicule early in their visions. In this stage of their vision, both Hideyoshi and Sejong realize it is time fro them to get serious with their, because they are tired of hearing criticisms from others. Hideyoshi proves to others that he is more than a clever and witty character; he can also he an incredible leader, evident from his direction the successful construction project. When Ddol tells Sejong to “cut the crap,” this is a wake up call for hid narrow mindedness. Until that point, Sejong knew he wanted to rule with knowledge, but he could not truly materialize his goal then, because he was not considering his Joseon completely; Ddol’s warning made Sejong realize that the common citizens who could not read needed to be a part of his vision as well.

Proving Hideyoshi’s Resilience: Making Allies with Hanbei

Hideyoshi’s persistence helps him to overcome many difficulties blocking his goals. In order to become Taiko, Hideyoshi must gain valuable allies. One of the most important allies he makes is the strategist, Habei, who lives in a mountain wilderness.When he tries to speak to the hermit type character at first, Habei dismisses Hideyoshi. However, Hideyoshi knows Hanbei will be a key factor in winning battles with his valuable insights. Hideyoshi persists, saying to Hanbei’s sister after many attempts to see him,  “…I’m resolved to call here until Master Hanbei agrees to see me, even if it takes two or three years” (280). This seemingly reckless behavior may be seen as a character flaw, but I think it is just an extension of his persistence. He knows that in order to reach his goal, he cannot miss a chance in strengthening his power. When Hideyoshi is finally able to talk to Hanbei, Hanbei is incredibly impressed at his willingness and potential, two traits important for a good leader. Hanbei is very important for Hideyoshi’s vision because he helps a great deal in the long run in many key victories. Winning these battles gives Hideyoshi even more respect as a samurai. After many other events in the novel, Hideyoshi becomes Taiko. It is not simply an event that happens, but it is Hideyoshi’s solid foundation that elevates him to such a position.

Sejong and Ddol Bok: The Vision Realized through Partnership

Later in the series, Sejong and Ddol motivate each other through the creation of the alphabet. Ddol originally finds drive in his life with a vendetta to get closer to the king to kill him. He believes it is Sejong’s fault that his father was killed. In the process, Ddol learns more about his true intentions; he is fighting for equality, not vengeance. Sejong provides this equality and proves his proficiency as a king by “cutting the crap” and completing the alphabet. When Ddol learns how to read the alphabet, he remarks, “It’s the first time I saw that life had something to offer” (episode 16). Sejong’s vision as a unique and progressive leader not only provided purpose to Ddol, but opened opportunities for the entire population of Korea through his monumental creation.

Comparison: The Importance of Hideyoshi’s and Sejong’s Allies

Both men make key allies along the way to help realize and strengthen their visions. Hideyoshi recruits Hanbei when no one believed he could. He defies the probable. Sejong recruits Ddol to be his secret messenger  after Ddol’s only previous purpose was to kill Sejong. Gaining such improbable allies proved to doubters that the leaders’ visions were possible. In addition, gaining supporters allowed Hideyoshi and Sejong to have serious helping hands. Hanbei helps Hideyoshi win wars, and Ddol helps keep Sejong’s alphabet safe from the treacherous hands of the Hidden Root.

Mitsuhide Fears Hideyoshi, Tries to Bring Him Down

Although Mitsuhide is Hideyoshi’s ally for the majority of Taiko, Mitsuhide takes a dark turn in Book Seven. After Nobunaga makes a few questionable decisions and embarrasses Mitsuhide during a banquet, Mitsuhide decides that he wants to kill Nobunaga. Once he kills him, Mitsuhide sees Hideyoshi as a threat, since Hideyoshi will most likely seek vengeance for the death of his lord. “So far Mitsuhide had been absorbed by the question of who would be his allies; he had given little thought to who would be his strongest enemy. It was only then that Hideyoshi’s existence struck Mitsuhide like a blow to the chest” (Yoshikawa, 691). Hideyoshi is well aware of this threat. Both armies engage in battle, and Mitsuhide dies from an attack from  an unnamed man. Once he is gone, Hideyoshi’s path toward his ultimate goal is much clearer.

Hidden Root Tries to Bring Sejong Down

The Hidden Root organization does not want Sejong to publish his alphabet, because they fear their position as knowledge guardians will be of lesser use and prestige if the common people are able to read and carry their own scholarly knowledge. Sejong knows that if he acts too slowly, the Hidden Root will destroy his goal and ambitions. A portion of the ancient Hidden Root scrolls reads: “If the King is the flower, the root is the world. If the root dies, so does the king. If the flower withers, the roots do not die” (episode 3) It can be argued that Sejong is motivated to make his own root; the educated common citizen through his alphabet. Although the Hidden Root is a secret organization, Sejong is aware of its members’ intentions. Sejong is determined to prove to the Hidden Root that he will not be brought down by them, and he works hard during his reign to prevent this.


Tree With Deep Roots episode 3. First Message of the Hidden Root (34 minutes in)

Comparison: Hideyoshi and Sejong’s Main Adversaries

Both Hideyoshi and Sejong encounter major adversaries in the later stage of their visions. When they are taking down these dangerous challengers, their visions are nearly complete. They have shown all those who doubted them in the past that all they worked for has become a success. No one believed Sejong’s alphabet would be effective for social change, mainly because the Hidden Root was trying to destroy it before it was published. After Nobunaga’s murder, Hideyoshi knows he too is in danger. After Mitsuhide is killed, Hideyoshi still has many other obstacles to overcome before he becomes leader of Japan,  but his ultimate goal is certainly closer.


Throughout Hideyoshi and Sejong’s individual journeys, they overcame challenges and proved those wrong who did not believe in them by accomplishing monumental achievements. Hideyoshi united a war-torn Japan into a coherent country, and Sejong created hope for success in the lives of many Korean citizens by creating an alphabet specific to the Korean language. There is a reason these two figures are loved in their respective countries; it is not only for their grand changes to the countries, but for their visions’ lasting impacts. They left clear and glorious marks in history that will never be forgotten.

Works Cited

Berry, Mary Elizabeth. “Public Peace and Private Attachment: The Goals and Conduct of Power in Early Modern Japan.” Journal of Japanese Studies 12. No 2 (1986): 237-271. Web. 13 March 2014.

Kunimaro. Akechi Mitsuhide Escaping across Lake BiwaFuji Arts. Web. 25 April 2014.

Mair, Victor H. “Buddhism and the Rise of the Written Vernacular in East Asia: The Making of National Languages.” The Journal of Asian Studies 53. No. 3 (1994): 707-751. Web. 31 March 2014.

“Toyotomi Hideyoshi.” n.d. Web. 28 April 2014.

Tree with Deep Roots. Writ. Kim Young-hyun and Park Sang-yeon. Dir. Jang Tae-yoo. Seoul Broadcasting System, 2011. Web, Drama Fever, HuluPlus. Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko. New York, NY. Kodansha USA: 2012. Print.

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

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Hideyoshi’s and Sejong’s Ambitious and Revolutionary Visions by Brett Gubitosi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

I am Woman, Hear Me Roar: Powerful Women in “Tree with Deep Roots”

So-yi assists King Sejong with the creation of the Korean alphabet in "Tree with Deep Roots"

So-yi assists King Sejong with the creation of the Korean alphabet in “Tree with Deep Roots”

“Tree with Deep Roots” is a very male-dominated Korean drama, something to be expected from a series that is based in 15th century Korea.  Yet, the female characters that are in the story have rather active and important roles.  Instead of making all of the female characters weak or helpless, the writers of “Tree with Deep Roots” have created some strong, independent women who not only make for a more dynamic show, but also help drive the plot in an interesting way.

The audience witnesses strong female characters from the very beginning of the series.  Episode one centers on King Taejong’s plan to murder the father of his daughter-in-law, the Queen.  She goes to her husband, King Sejong, and begs him to spare his life.  It’s a powerful, tearful moment, something that may not seem strong in the beginning; however, the Queen actually shows great strength here, more so than her husband.  The fact that she is able to approach the King and ask for this shows that she has courage.  This is later emphasized when she comes to King Sejong and tells him that her father has been killed and that he did so with honor.  In doing this, she is essentially telling King Sejong that this is his fault, that he was not a strong enough man to stop this.  By pointing out the King’s shortcomings and by calling him weak, the Queen is potentially taking a huge risk – he would have every right to retaliate.  But she refuses to allow him to sit back and think this will all just pass.  Instead, she knows she must show him how he was wrong in order to spur him into action because she does not have the power to do anything on her own.

The best example of a strong female character in “Tree with Deep Roots,” however, is So-Yi.  Though some might perceive her inability to speak as a weakness, her eidetic memory and ability to read and write prove she is anything but weak.  In fact, she is a key player in King Sejong’s mission to create a Korean alphabet because of her eidetic memory.  In addition to being a sort of advisor to King Sejong, So-yi is also trusted with important, discreet missions.  Because of her intelligence and loyalty, she is able to demonstrate her worth to King Sejong and proves to be an important character and pivotal in creating the Korean alphabet, King Sejong’s most important life work (and one of the key points of the show).

Though women in ancient East Asian culture were often minor characters, “Tree with Deep Roots,” goes against this norm and brings them to the front, and not purely in stereotypical female roles.  The drama not only gives women a role, but also gives them strong, independent parts that are key to the storyline of the show.



Jung-Myung, Lee, Kim Young-Hyun, and Park Sang-Yeon. “Episode 1.” Tree with Deep Roots. Dir. Jang Tae-Yoo and Shin Kyung-Soo. 5 Oct. 2011. Television.

Image:  HeadsNo2. “Tree with Deep Roots: Episode 16.” Review. Web log post.Dramabeans. N.p., Nov.-Dec. 2011. Web. 14 Apr. 2014

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Why So Shy? Lee Do’s Intelligence as Leadership


Lee Do and the empty lunchbox his father sent, traditionally a suggestion of suicide

At the beginning of Tree with Deep Roots, Lee Do is already king, though his father is still alive. His father overshadows him; Taejong acts like he is still king. However, once Lee Do realizes it’s his intelligence that defines his leadership, he’s able to challenge his father and assert his rightful place as leader.

Clever Boy

At the beginning of the series, Lee Do hides from his father and his responsibilities by playing Sudoku. Clearly, he’s intelligent, but he seems too afraid for it to do any good. When his father sends him this empty lunchbox, it’s all the push he needs. He sees his Sudoku game in the lunchbox, and not only is he able to solve the game in the box, he solves his giant puzzle on the floor. He’s found his own way, through this math game and his game of wits with his father, to rule, rather than using his father’s way. Before sending the box, Taejong ridicules his son for his games and gave Lee Do his advice: “Remove every number except the one,” which is to say, keep all the power to yourself, and then you win. Lee Do decides his Joseon requires a balance between politics and intelligence. But in order to do that, he must outwit his father. The following confrontation between father and son is clearly tense, with both sides both concealing from the other and trying to figure out what the other is concealing. But when Lee Do finally gets his father to agree to build Jip Hyun Jun, his place of study with his scholars, it’s a win, though Taejong doesn’t realize. It is here, through this battle of wits and his acknowledgment and use of his intelligence, that Lee Do begins to make progress in becoming the leader he was born to be.


Lee Do’s intelligence is the defining characteristic of his leadership style. It’s ironic that his father is the one to push him into discovering this, through what is intended as an order of suicide. Lee Do takes this and twists it, turning it into a guiding principle for the rest of his reign.


“Episode 2.” Tree with Deep Roots. . 6 Oct. 2011. Television.

“Episode 3.” Tree with Deep Roots. . 12 Oct. 2011. Television.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.