Toyotomi Ieyasu

Translated from: Kiichi Kimura, "Atomu no Hitorigoto (An Atom's Talking to Itself: Collected Essays of a Nuclear Physicist)," pp. 100-102.

A 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 Honnoji.

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 story.

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

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