Hideyoshi’s and Sejong’s Ambitious and Revolutionary Visions

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Closing

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.” Samurai-Archives.com. 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.

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