Toyotomi Hideyoshi


Kanji: 豊臣 秀吉

Dates: 1536-1598

Other Known Names: Hashiba Hideyoshi


Toyotomi clan mon

Toyotomi Hideyoshi is the second of the Three Unifiers of Japan, and was the first to accomplish the dream of unification. Little is known of him until the 1570, however, what is known is that he was born into a peasant family. His father, Ya’emon, was a peasant farmer and an ashigaru who served under Oda Nobuhide, Nobunaga’s father. During one of the battles that Ya’emon participated in, however, he was shot in the leg, and later forced to leave the army due to his injury. Hideyoshi, would start his career in the military under Matsushita Kahei, who served under Imagawa Yoshimoto, the daimyo of Suraga. Yet, he would return to Owari around 1557 to serve Oda Nobunaga and started out as a sandal-bearer for the Oda leader.

Hideyoshi was present and the Battle of Okehazama in 1560: the battle that made Oda Nobunaga a formable key player in the fight for shōgun. It was after this battle that Hideyoshi began to rise through the Oda ranks. In 1564, Hideyoshi would called forth by Nobunaga to help him take down the Saitō clan at the castle of Inabayama. With his skills in diplomacy and administration, Hideyoshi was able to convince many of the Saitō retainers to join the Oda. There is also the legend that Hideyoshi built a fortress at the base of Inabayama in one night. In the end, the siege of Inabayama, which ended in 1567, was won by the Oda clan and the success of the siege was partly due to Hideyoshi.

By the year 1570, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was now one of Oda Nobunaga’s most important generals. He captured the fortress Kanagasaki and led troops against the Azai-Asakura alliance at the Battle of Anegawa. In 1573, Hideyoshi was given three districts in the northern part of Ōmi Province by Nobunaga. Hideyoshi settled at Imahama on Lake Biwa and began construction of a castle there. The son of a peasant farmer was officially a daimyo.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was present at the year-long siege at Nagashima, and in 1575, he would fight against the famous Takeda clan at the Battle of Nagashino. He was present at the Battle of Tedorigawa in 1577, and takes part in the siege of Ishiyama Honganji by attacking the warrior monks at Negoroji, but was defeated.

In 1577, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was given the difficult task of conquering the region of Chugoku; a large area of southern Honshū that was ruled by the Mōri clan. The first castle captured was Kozuki, which he lost the next year. He laid siege to Miki from 1578 until 1580 and eventually captured the important Mōri stronghold. During this siege, Hideyoshi also captured Itami by filling in the moat that surrounded the castle. The most infamous of the sieges that Hideyoshi made was the Siege of Tottori in 1581. The siege lasted two hundred days, and the commander of Tottori, Kikkawa Tsuneie, committed seppuku to save his nearly cannibalistic men.

On June 21, 1582, Oda Nobunaga was betrayed Akechi Mitsuhide at Honnō-ji in Kyōto. Toyotomi Hideyoshi got word of Mitsuhide’s betrayal during the siege of Takamatsu, which began in April of the same year. He quickly made up terms for surrender with the castle commander, Shimizu Muneharu. Takamatsu was handed over to Hideyoshi and Shimizu Muneharu committed seppuku in a boat on the artificial lake that surrounded the castle for both armies to see. From Bingo to Yamashiro provinces, Hideyoshi led a lightning march over three different provinces to meet Mitsuhide in battle at Yamazaki. Akechi Mitsuhide was defeated only thirteen days after his betrayal at Honnō-ji.

After the ‘Thirteen Day Shōgun’ Mitsuhide was killed, disputes about succession began to arise. Hideyoshi dismissed the Oda heir, Oda Nobutaka, for Oda Hidenobu. This decision put Hideyoshi in opposition with Shibata Katsuie, a loyal retainer of the Oda clan and the second husband to Nobunaga’s sister, Oichi. The dispute between Hideyoshi and Katsuie escalated into a battle in May 1583 at Shizugatake where Hideyoshi defeated Katsuie. This resulted into the Oda clan falling under Toyotomi control. In that same year, Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered for a castle to be built on the site where Ishiyama Honganji once stood. This castle would later be called Ōsaka Castle and would become the center of the Toyotomi power.

Even after Shibata Katsuie was defeated at Shizugatake, succession disputes were still a problem. This time, the challenger was Tokugawa Ieyasu, an Oda retainer who also had ambitions of his own. Oda Nobukatsu came to Ieyasu in hopes forming an alliance against Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi found out about the ordeal, which lead to the Komaki Campaign in 1584. The final battle, Nagakute, ended in a stalemate, which resulted in a peace treaty between the Toyotomi and Tokugawa clans.

In 1585, Toyotomi Hideyoshi tried to become the shōgun of Japan. Due to his peasantry background, he could not take the top title, however he could take the title of kampaku, similar to the role of a prime minister. Though he was only kampaku, Hideyoshi had the military and political power to do everything the shōgun could. Hideyoshi went from a sandal-bearer to the leader of Japan.

Within the same year, Toyotomi Hideyoshi clashed with the Ikko-ikki at Ōta Castle then focused his gaze on island of Shikoku, which was ruled by Chosokabe Motochika. The final battle against Motochika was the Siege of Ichinomiya, which only lasted twenty-six days before his surrender. The whole of Shikoku was now under Toyotomi control. Along with the Mōri clan, Hideyoshi began laying siege to the southern island of Kyūshū in 1586 and was taken over in a year’s time.

The only daimyo that stood in Hideyoshi’s way was Hōjō Ujimasa, a daimyo from a very prominent and powerful clan. Most other daimyo up until this time had either been taken over by the Toyotomi or had surrendered unconditionally to keep their lands. Coming from a prideful clan, Hōjō Ujimasa was not going to surrender, so Hideyoshi laid siege to his castle in Odawara in 1590.  After the fall of Odawara, Hideyoshi had conquered Japan.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was lay the ground work for the future of Japan after he took the title of kampaku. He banned Christian missionaries in Kyūshū, which would be the beginning of Christian persecution which Tokugawa Ieyasu would take over when he became shōgun. In 1588, he put the ‘Sword Hunt’ into action. This ‘Sword Hunt’ banned the peasantry from owning weapons, making sure that weapons only belonged to samurai and daimyo armies. The peasants were told that their weapons would be melted down into an image of the Buddha, however, they were given to daimyo for their armies or saved for future campaigns. The Separation Edict, which was put into place in 1591, changed the make-up of social classes in Japan. This edict made it so that the peasants only worked in the fields, and the samurai only fought in battles. Ashigaru were a thing of the past, meaning that daimyo armies were one hundred percent samurai. This is the reason why the Battle of Sekigahara was the largest battle fought by samurai in the history of Japan. Toyotomi Hideyoshi also destroyed the very system that allowed him to become the kampaku of Japan.

Hideyoshi’s dreams expanded far beyond the borders of Japan. Much like Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi had dreams of conquering China as well. Hideyoshi contacted King Seonjo of Korea, asking him for passage through his country to get to China. King Seonjo rejected Hideyoshi’s request, so Hideyoshi sent an army to Korea in 1592. This would be the first invasion of Korea. The invasion was not a success, however, and the Japanese army returned home a year later. Hideyoshi would send troops to Korea for a second time in 1597 but faced with even greater resolve with the combined forces of both Korea and China. The Japanese had to return to Japan in 1598.

Beginning in 1590, Hideyoshi’s health was on the decline. It had gotten worse by August 1598. Hideyoshi called forth his best generals and administrators together and formed the go-tairo: the samurai and government officials that would rule until his son, Hideyori, came of age. This would be his last act. Toyotomi Hideyoshi passed away in September 1598, after years of battling illness.