Translated from: Kiichi Kimura, "Atomu no Hitorigoto (An Atom's Talking to Itself: Collected Essays of a Nuclear Physicist)," pp. 100-102.
few years ago, Professor A, an American nuclear physicist,
accompanied by his wife, visited Kyoto University. On that occasion,
several of us, professors of related fields, invited the couple to
dinner. Mrs. A had historical tastes, and talked much about Japanese
history at the beginning of the dinner, saying that she liked
"Toyotomi Ieyasu" among Japanese heros. On hearing this, we were at a
loss how to be courteous, but it was not long before she found out
her mistake and said, "It is Toyotomi Hideyoshi." All of us felt
relieved and had a good laugh. This incident led us to a friendly
talk that evening.
Since then "Toyotomi Ieyasu" haunted my memory. Recently I read about
Oda Nobunaga in "Kunitori Monogatari (The Story of Conquest)"
published serially in a weekly, and looked at the actors appearing in
the characters of Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu in the serial
television-drama, "The Chronicles of Taikoh (Hideyoshi)," which
reminded me of Mrs. A's "Toyotomi Ieyasu." In those days the family
of Ashikaga shogun lost their power. Powerful clans in the provinces
gained in influence; they did not obey the authority of the imperial
court, and engaged in agressive warfare day and night. The general
public could not follow their occupations, and were reduced to the
greatest misery. Therefore, national reunification to recover the
authority of the central government was required, and rise of a new
leader was desired because of the entire fall of the Ashikagas.
At that time there were powerful local leaders: Oda Nobunaga, Uesugi
Kenshin, Takeda Shingen, Imagawa Yoshimoto and Mohri Motonari, each
waiting for an opportunity to march to Kyoto. Among them, Oda
Nobunaga, who was a clear-headed and quick person, steadily expanded
his territories, and was the first to seize Kyoto. Being hot-tempered
and violent, however, he was betrayed by one of his own generals,
Akechi Mitsuhide, and died a pitiful death at the skirmish of the
Hashiba Hideyoshi, who was attacking Mohri, made peace with the
enemy, turned his army to Mitsuhide, and killed the rebel at the
battle of Yamasaki. Thus he took over Nobunaga's reign unexpectedly.
He established his authority over the whole country, and changed his
name to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He had diligently served moody Nobunaga,
and displayed his genius as a warrier. Who could imagine that
Hideyoshi would rise to such a status? However, his reign over the
country lasted only sixteen years; he could not defeat his disease,
and died at the age of sixty-three. Being concerned for the future of
his eldest son, Hideyori, he asked Ieyasu to look after the son, and
left the world.
While having a latent ability, Tokugawa Ieyasu went through hardships
of being taken as hostage by Oda and Imagawa families in young days.
Thereafter he conducted himself cleverly so as not to incur
Nobunaga's displeasure, and became such a person that Hideyoshi
himself paid much attention.
After Hideyioshi's death, there were conflicts among the vassals, and
Tokunaga's power increased day by day. Trying to recover from this
situation, Ishida Mitsunari and his alliance fought Ieyasu at
Sekigahara to be disastrouly defeated. From that time on, the power
of Toyotomi family declined, and after the winter and summer battles
at Osaka, there came Tokugawa era.
The enterprise of national unification was a long relay race run by
Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu; the last of them reached goal after
about sixty years. This was a great work that might not have been
achieved if any one of the three had been absent or the order of
their appearance had been different. I think the credit of
terminating the era of the Warring States and unifying the country
should go equally to the three. In this connection, to suppose a
person, "Toyotomi Ieyasu," is considered to be more than a funny
In the history of the world, there are not a few examples of great
enterprises that were achieved through a relay by persons of
Nobunaga-, Hideyoshi- and Ieyasu-types.
Translated by T. Tabata, July 1985