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Toyotomi Hideyoshi: The Monkey, From Sandal Bearer To The Second Unifier

Updated on May 16, 2012
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was a samurai during the 'Sengoku' or Warring States period of Japan. Most well known figures from this time period were born in to nobility and raised to take their positions in high society. Toyotomi Hideyoshi was unique in that he began as a peasant, but through his own determination, intelligence, and will power would become one of the most important figures in the era of the samurai.

Hideyoshi's Hidden Past

Very little is known for certain about Hideyoshi when he was young. Most likely because of his peasant status he didn't start appearing in historical documents until later in life when he was becoming known. Even in his own autobiography he didn't discuss much of his younger life. One interesting fact about Hideoyoshi is that he went by several different names throughout his life. Toyotomi was added much later as he began to climb up in rank.

Oda Nobunaga
Oda Nobunaga

In The Service Of The Demon King

Hideyoshi began working for Oda Nobunaga as a sandal bearer. Somehow through his service he must have impressed Oda Nobunaga and he was promoted to overseer the the repairs to Kiyosu Castle for Nobunaga. After which he was given several more construction projects and became known as great Negotiator. Hideyoshi was able to convince several members of the Saito Clan to switch sides and join Nobunaga.

When Nobunaga set his sites on Inabayama Castle, Hideyoshi's involvement led to an easy victory and he became one of Nobunaga's primary generals. He continued to excel in warfare and therefore continued to assume higher commands in Nobunaga's army.

It is believed that Nobunaga teased Hideyoshi somewhat, and gave him the nickname 'The Monkey' because of his skinny monkey like build. He was also referred to as the bald rat, but the nickname 'The Monkey' was more prominent and has stuck with him through history.

The Incident at Hinno-ji
The Incident at Hinno-ji
Akechi Mitsuhide
Akechi Mitsuhide

The Incident at Honno-ji

In 1582 Hideyoshi was sent by Nobunaga to attack the Mori Clan. During this time Oda Nobunaga remained at the temple of Honno-ji with his personal guard, and sent the rest of his generals on separate missions. One of Nobunaga's top generals Akechi Mitsuhide circled back however and killed Oda Nobunaga. Fearing a response from Hideyoshi, Mitsuhide attempted to notify the Mori Clan of his actions and secure their help in defeating Hideyoshi. Unfortunately for Mitsuhide, some of Hideyoshi's men intercepted the message before it reached the Mori Clan. Using this secret information to his advantage Hideyoshi quickly made a truce with the Mori Clan and set his sights on the traitor Mitsuhide. Meanwhile Mitsuhide quickly worked to take full control of Oda Nobunaga's forces. It only took Hideyoshi 10 days to march his troops back to confront Mitsuhide in the Battle of Yamazaki.

Mitsuhide was unable to take full control and find enough allies to have the numbers to face Hideyoshi. Instead he attempted to use the terrain to his advantage. It didn't work however and Hideyoshi's army defeated Mitushide's army. It is unclear what happened to Mitsuhide after the battle, but some believe that Hideyoshi took Mitsuhide's head and placed it on the grave of Oda Nobunaga.

The Battle of Yamazaki
The Battle of Yamazaki
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Hideyoshi Takes the Reins

Over time Hideyoshi was able to slowly gain control of all of Oda Nobunaga's forces. The most challenging of which was probably Tokugawa Ieyasu who would later become the third unifier of Japan. Similar to Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi did not seek to have himself made in to a shogun, but took title positions from the imperial court which is where he got the name Toyotomi.

Hideyoshi as a Ruler

Hideyoshi continued conquering more clans and taking control of land. Where Oda Nobunaga welcomed western culture and Christianity, Hideyoshi banned Christianity and had known Christians crucified. Hideyoshi also made it illegal for peasants to own weapons, and had any weapons found melted down to build a statue of Buddha. It is believed that these actions were made to control the population and quell possible uprisings.

Passing the Torch

At the height of Hideyoshi's power he attempted a Japanese assault on China which failed miserably. During this time he passed away from the bubonic plague. Despite those loyal to Hideyoshi attempting to keep it secret for a while, Tokugawa Ieyasu was able to take control. Because of the ground work laid by Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu was able to see their ambitions come to fruition and become the third unifier of Japan.

Tokugawa Ieyasu
Tokugawa Ieyasu


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    • Phillbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Phillip Drayer Duncan 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thank you! That's one of the reasons I like doing hubs about history, it's really easy to find great public domain pictures.

    • buckleupdorothy profile image


      9 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Very interesting - and wow, gorgeous pictures! Voted up and shared.


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