The Personality of Superior Leadership in Hideyoshi and Sejong

Statues of Hideyoshi and King Sejong

Statues of Hideyoshi and King Sejong

In Taiko and Tree With Deep Roots, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and King Sejong have personalities that are vastly different from their predecessors and their distinctive personalities allow them to succeed in their respective conflicts. Each of their successes can be attributed to their individual personalities.

Hideyoshi and Sejong both demonstrate that they have unique personalities and their personalities have a serious impact on the way that they resolve conflicts and the decisions that they make. As a result of this influence, much of their success can be attributed to their personalities. Furthermore, Hideyoshi and Sejong each demonstrate characteristics that are in contrast with their predecessors, Lord Nobunaga and Taejong respectively. These differences in character similarly validate their success when compared to their predecessor. For Hideyoshi, he is charismatic and strategic, while Nobunaga is paranoid and rash. Hideyoshi’s personality aids him in his rise of the ranks of samurai and eventually in his reign as Taiko. Sejong is kind and loving to his people, which is vastly different from his father Taejong who was violent and power hungry. The conflict that Sejong is faced with is the creation of the Hangul alphabet and his personality benefits him in his struggle to educate his people.

Hideyoshi’s Personality

The first distinct part of Hideyoshi’s personality is how personable and charismatic he is. Prior to his being in Nobunaga’s service, Hideyoshi serves other masters who all express their fondness for and trust in him. They describe parts of his personality that they are drawn to and which make him a more valuable samurai. Despite his many screw-ups and flaws, Hideyoshi is still inexplicably liked and trusted. Sutejiro, a pottery maker who employs Hideyoshi, calls him a “promising little monkey”, even after Hideyoshi has a run in with bandits and Sutejiro’s own son complains about his behavior (Yoshikawa, 32). When he becomes employed by Koroku, he is known to be talkative and quick-witted and, despite being only a servant in the gardens, was trusted as a guard, an assignment “given to the most trusted men” (60). Later, Hideyoshi meets another master named Kahei who thought, “here was no ordinary man” and hires him right away. In that household, Hideyoshi is popular and well liked by everyone from the other samurais to his master’s wife and children (88). These masters all have similar reactions to Hideyoshi, hiring and keeping him in their service because of their personal feelings towards him rather than his actual skill. Hideyoshi’s unexplainable charm is a large part of why all of his masters eventually take him into their households.

In addition to his natural charm, Hideyoshi also has a calculated and strategic way of thinking. His use of battle strategies and tactics make him invaluable to Lord Nobunaga as one of his most trusted retainers. Hideyoshi continues to receive promotions and gain Nobunaga’s trust until his lord trusts him so much he does not feel the need to hear Hideyoshi’s plan before authorizing it (324).In a conversation with Kanbei, Hideyoshi demonstrates his knowledge of military strategy and his tactical nature when he does not want “just a rough estimate, but concrete figures and a flawless plan” (588). His deliberate personality is also seen in his desire to appoint Nobunaga’s infant son as his successor. Although he argues that it is because “the province has its laws and the clan has its household regulations” (729), there is also a tactical advantage to appointing a two-year-old to the throne in that it will allow Hideyoshi to seize power. These actions all demonstrate the strategic side of Hideyoshi’s personality as he uses his cunning and intelligence to advance his position amongst the samurai.

Hideyoshi’s Strength and Nobunaga’s Weakness

A 17th century painting of Hideyoshi and Nobunaga at the Nagashino battle camp.

A 17th century painting of Hideyoshi and Nobunaga at the Nagashino battle camp.

While Hideyoshi is likable and strategic, Nobunaga is difficult to deal with and rash. In a single scene, Kanbei expresses that “he felt cold and hollow toward Nobunaga” while he “was unable to keep from shedding tears at Hideyoshi’s inordinate show of affection” (522). This interaction is one example of the dichotomy that exists between Hideyoshi and Nobunaga. The clash of their personalities can again be seen when Hideyoshi comes to Nobunaga for instructions and he responds, “What a troublesome general you are…If you keep asking my opinion about everything, there’ll be no time to put your tactics into action.” (468) Hideyoshi is concerned with doing things the proper way, but Nobunaga favors the most expedient approach. Nobunaga again differs from Hideyoshi as he changed under the pressure of power. His paranoia can most clearly be seen with his treatment of Mitsuhide who he once trusted. Following his most recent military success, Nobunaga entrusts Mitsuhide with planning a welcoming feast and when his preparations are not to Nobunaga’s liking he is publicly embarrassed as punishment (602). Nobunaga’s behavior towards someone who has always served him well is not something that would be seen with Hideyoshi who is respectful even with his enemies (597).In a historical account of Hideyoshi’s life, Mary Elizabeth Berry suggests, “conviction, as well as personality, may have shaped Hideyoshi’s decisions” (Berry, 163). In this way, Hideyoshi’s actions can be attributed to his personality in general, but more specifically in the ways that it differs from Nobunaga.

Hideyoshi’s Rise in the Ranks 

Hideyoshi’s strong personality plays a major role in how quickly he rises through the ranks of samurai. Hideyoshi rises from simple worker to a retainer of Nobunaga’s rapidly and with relative ease. Much of Nobunaga’s treatment of Hideyoshi stems from how quickly he comes to like and trust Hideyoshi rather than his actual service as he frequently finds himself having to ask for forgiveness. When Hideyoshi first pleads his way into Nobunaga’s service, Nobunaga is “swayed by his sincerity” and tells his general “he [Hideyoshi] interests me”, which is only moments after their first encounter. This is the beginning of Hideyoshi’s climb as a samurai (Yoshikawa, 109). Nobunaga’s trust and faith in Hideyoshi are characteristic of his relationships with most people and his personality serves him well as a samurai and later as a retainer. As a result of his sociable personality, Hideyoshi is able to become a samurai and further escalate his status until he himself is a leader. Hideyoshi’s personality plays a key role in his the frequency with which he receives promotions. He is able to serve his masters, particularly Nobunaga, and lead others because they are so drawn to his charismatic personality. Even historical accounts of his life explain that he “legitimated his rule in part by exercising a ‘charismatic’ authority…an inner calling to lead and may well have inspired obedience in his vassals ‘because they believed in him’…that force of personality” (Berry, 189).

Sejong’s Personality


King Sejong works in a field in Episode 5

King Sejong works in a field in Episode 5

Throughout Tree With Deep Roots, Sejong demonstrates his caring and nurturing personality. His interactions with the people closest are especially telling of his personality and his relationships with So Yi and Mu Hyul in particular speak to his kind-hearted nature. With So Yi, Sejong is affectionate and fatherly, going as far as to work tirelessly on the alphabet so that she can write her own name. In Episode 12 (5:38), Sejong is excitedly sharing the newest part of the alphabet but So Yi’s distraction halts his joy and he dismisses everyone else so that he can find out what is bothering her. The relationship between Mu Hyul and Sejong is one of friendship and unwavering loyalty. Mu Hyul has been protecting Sejong for his entire life and their relationship reflects this long-term commitment. In Episode 12 (15:00), Sejong teases Mu Hyul for his incessant nagging about his health and Mu Hyul is left to ask, “Your Highness, why do you treat me like a jealous woman?”. This teasing and light heartedness speaks to Sejong’s demeanor that even when faced with something serious like his illness he cannot be discouraged from his joy at the alphabet’s progress.

Evidence of Sejong’s kindness is also seen in his treatment of the common people. He is seen interacting with the common people in Episode 5 (12:14) when he works in a field and converses with some of the slaves working the same field. His endeavor to create a Korean alphabet is a direct result of his love for his people. He is inspired in part by a plague that could have been avoided if the common people knew how to read (Episode 13, 21:00). From that point on, he works on the alphabet so that his people may better themselves as well as protect themselves. There is a widely held belief that Sejong is “the most outstanding ruler of the [Yi] dynasty…the key to his success was that he knew the limits of his power and was able to operate efficiently within them” (Suh, 7). His ability to be such an effective ruler is linked with being a ruler for the people as he was able to bring about successful “military affairs, institutional reforms, and cultural achievements” (Suh, 7) in order to create a better Joseon. The love he had for his people can further be seen in the way he is still remembered and revered by the people of Korea. According to an academic look at the development of the alphabet, the people believed “Sejong was not a mere inventor, but rather the Heaven-appointed agent of natural principle” (Kim-Renaud, 31). The respect shown for Sejong when he was king still resonates throughout the nation.

The Difference Between Father and Son

King Sejong makes it abundantly clear that his first concern is the well being of the common people, which immediately puts him at odds with his father Taejong. Despite the obvious power of the bureaucracy, King Sejong was concerned for the slaves and commoners. Even prior to his reign as king, Sejong is concerned with people whose status is very low. For example, when the prison break occurs and Ddol Bok has escaped, it is Sejong who not only spares him but also swears to protect him (Episode 2, 14:00). Sejong even goes as far as disobeying his father in order to protect a boy he does not even know. His vision of Joseon is one of patience and words rather than violence. While he hopes to construct a Joseon that is favorable to all of people, Taejong is concerned with his power and the bureaucracy. He is even willing to kill chancellor Shim Won and other members of his daughter-in-law’s household because they begin to pose a threat (Episode 1, 1:03:01). As Taejong lies dying, he wonders if Sejong still hopes to achieve his goal and Sejong insists that he is. Despite always doubting Sejong’s vision, the dying king says “Do it! Succeed! That way, making you king will be the greatest achievement that I made” (Episode 4, 16:05). While their personalities were in opposition, Taejong’s dying moment illustrates their constant tension but also approval for Sejong’s endeavors.

The Development of Hangul 

Sejong’s two pursuits, his people and education, are combined in a single endeavor with his creation of the Hangul alphabet. As king of Joseon, he spends his time benefitting the country by pursuing the well being of his people and fostering education. His dedication is clear early on as he devotes his time to playing Sudoku (Episode 1) and his decision to create Jip Hyun Jun, the library for the scholars (Episode 3, 35:20). The creation of the library takes power from the bureaucrats, which creates continuous tension during Sejong’s reign. His use of the scholars and the assembly divides power and that frustrates the bureaucrats. Sejong’s emphasis on education is clearly seen in his development of the Hangul alphabet. Hangul was conceived to be simple enough for the uneducated, common people to learn without difficulty. Sejong relies on a small group of select slaves and scholars to make his alphabet possible. The process for creating the letters requires him to draw from many academic pursuits such as autopsy and the study of existing alphabets. His inspiration for the language comes from his failed attempt to help people during the plague. In this way, his devotion to education ties in very deeply with his devotion to his people. The drive to complete the alphabet comes from Sejong’s desire to help his people which is rooted in his loving and nurturing nature. It is his personality that allows him to persevere with the letters even when everything is working against him.


Hideyoshi and Sejong are clearly and distinctly characterized throughout their respective works. As their personalities become clear, it is easy to see how they are able to face their individual conflicts and succeed. The traits that set them apart from their predecessor allow them to accomplish what they set out to do.

Works Cited

Berry, Mary Elizabeth. Hideyoshi. Harvard University Asia Center, 1989. Print.

Discover Japan. “Shogun The Supreme Samurai.” YouTube, 28 Sept. 2013. Web. 01 May 2014.

Kim, Young-Hun, and Sang-Yeon Park. Tree With Deep Roots. Seoul Broadcasting System. South Korea, 5 Oct. 2011. Television.

Kim-Renaud, Young-Key. The Korean Alphabet: Its History and Structure. University of Hawaii Press, 1997. Print.

SBSroot1. “뿌리깊은나무- 이방원,이도,무휼 대립장면.” YouTube, 11 Nov. 2011. Web. 01 May 2014. <;.

“Statues of Historical Japanese Personae.” Yahoo!, 20 Mar. 20120. Web. 01 May 2014.

Suh, Dae-Sook, and Chae-Jin Lee, eds. Political Leadership in Korea. Vol. 27. University of Washington Press, 1976.

Teach, Andy. “Statue of King Sejong The Great.” Yahoo!, 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 01 May 2014.

“Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 5.” Drama Beans, 27 Oct. 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.

Wilhemina, Nina. “Nagashino Battle : The Real Thing.” N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <;.

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

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