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Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉, original surname Hashiba 羽柴; 1536 - September 18, 1598), was a Japanese general who united Japan. He succeeded his former liege, Oda Nobunaga. Later, he invaded Korea. He is known for a number of cultural legacies, including the restriction that only members of the samurai class could bear arms.

The period of his rule is called the Momoyama period, after Toyotomi's castle. It lasted from 1582 to his death in 1598, or (according to some scholars) until Tokugawa Ieyasu seized power after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was born at the place now called Nagoya, Owari province, the home of the Oda clan. He was born with no traceable samurai lineage and hence without a surname: his given name was Hiyoshimaru. According to Maeda Toshiie and a European missionary named Luis Frois, he was polydactyl - he had two thumbs on his right hand, and he didn't cut his extra thumb like other Japanese in his period would do. As a youth, he joined the Oda clan as a lowly servant. He was noticed for his resourcefulness and rose high enough to be given a full name, Kinoshita Tokichiro. Despite his peasant lineage, he quickly became one of Oda Nobunaga's most distinguished generals, eventually taking the name Toyotomi Hideyoshi. After Oda Nobunaga's sudden death in 1582 followed by the defeat of his assassin, Akechi Mitsuhide at the Battle of Yamazaki, Toyotomi took control of Oda's territory within a year, and was pronounced to succeeded him as military ruler. Aided by Tokugawa Ieyasu Toyotomi ended the Sengoku period by reunifying Japan around 1590.

Jigsaw globe; the Toyotomi crest, now the symbol of
Jigsaw globe; the Toyotomi crest, now the symbol of Osaka Prefecture

Toyotomi wanted the title of shogun, because it was then considered the title of the practical ruler of Japan. However, the emperor was unable to grant such a title to someone of Hideyoshi's lowly lineage. Toyotomi then wanted the Muromachi shogun, Ashikaga Yoshiaki to accept him as an adopted son, and was refused. Unable to become shogun, in 1585 he took the position of regent (kampaku), as the Fujiwara Regents had. In 1591, he resigned as kampaku to take the title of taiko (retired regent). His adopted son Hidetsugu (actually his nephew) succeeded him as kampaku.

Before gripping control of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi employed a friendly diplomatic stance with the Ming Dynasty and helped the Chinese government combat the Japanese piracy (wakō ) along the coasts of Yellow Sea, South China Sea and Taiwan. Now with his country secured, he began the Battle of Bunroku to annex Korea. On April 1592, his generals invaded Korea. Within a month, the Japanese controlled almost the entire country. However, the Koreans soon rebelled, aided by the Chinese Ming dynasty. Resistance led by Yi Sun-shin forced the Japanese army to retreat from Korea in December, 1592.

Unsatisfied, in 1596 Toyotomi unwisely attempted to invade Korea again in the Battle of Keicho. This time the Japanese encountered a well-prepared joint defence of Korea and China. The result was a stalemate.

In 1598, Toyotomi Hideyoshi died. The Japanese army withdrew and the battle ended. The futile war only served to weaken the clans that were loyal to the Toyotomi name and clan. Following Toyotomi's death, the other members of the council of five regents could not keep the ambitions of Tokugawa Ieyasu in check. Toyotomi's underaged son and designated successor Hideyori lost the claim to his father's position, and Tokugawa Ieyasu was declared Shogun following the Battle of Sekigahara.

Cultural legacy

It is important to note the many ways in which Toyotomi Hideyoshi changed Japanese society. During the Sengoku period, it became common for peasants to become warriors, or even for samurai to farm due to the constant uncertainty of no centralized government and always tentative peace. Upon taking control, Toyotomi decreed that all peasants be disarmed completely. This solidified the social class system for the next 300 years. Furthermore, he ordered all of Japan to be surveyed, including a census. Once this was done and all citizens were registered, he required all Japanese to stay in their respective provinces (or 'han') without official permission to go elsewhere. These steps were taken to ensure a modicum of peace in a period of time where bandits still roamed the countryside and peace was still new. But also by surveying the countryside, Japanese land and resources could be utilized properly. In 1588, Toyotomi effectively abolished slavery by stopping sales of slaves. Contract and indentured labor replaced slavery.(<---Needs to be researched)

In 1590 Toyotomi completed construction of the huge Osaka Castle, the largest and most formidable in all Japan, to guard the western approaches to Kyoto. His contributions were not all military, however. Inspired by the dazzling Kinkaku (golden pavilion) temple in northwestern Kyoto, he constructed a fabulous portable tea room, known as kigame no zashiki ("golden chamber"), covered with gold leaf and lined inside with red gossamer. Using this mobile innovation, he was able to practice the Japanese tea ceremony wherever he went, powerfully projecting his unrivaled power and status upon his arrival.

Politically, he set up a governmental system that balanced out the most powerful Japanese warlords (or daimyo). A council was created to include the most influential lords. At the same time, a regent was designated to be in command. The combined polity functioned in some ways like a president with a parliament.

At the time of his death, Toyotomi had hoped to set up a system stable enough to survive until his son grew old enough to become the next leader. A council of five regents was formed, consisting of the five richest daimyos. Following the death of Maeda Toshiie, however, Tokugawa Ieyasu began to secure alliances, including political marriages (which had been forbidden by Toyotomi). Things eventually came to a head and the pro-Toyotomi forces fought against Tokugawa and his allies in the battle of Sekigahara. Tokugawa won and received the title of Seii-tai Shogun two years later.

Tokugawa, asserting their wisdom, left in place the majority of Toyotomi's decrees to use as a base upon which his fledgling shogunate was built. This ensured that Toyotomi's cultural legacy remained.

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Last updated: 05-14-2005 19:20:42
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04