Toyotomi hideyoshi: THE GREAT DICTATOR


  • samurai on horse art

    Compensation is counterintuitive: The more treasure you give away to those who serve well, the more treasure will return to you. But few people perceive this simple truth. Most try to keep as much as they can for themselves and give little away. That’s why their purses refuse to fatten.
    ― Toyotomi Hideyoshi

    Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉, 1537–1598) was a samurai and daimyo of the late Sengoku period regarded as the second “Great Unifier” of Japan. He belonged to a new brand of military leaders because of his birth as well as his strategy. Many historians regard him as the greatest military commander in the history of Japan, claiming he matched the genius of Napoleon. Coming from a peasant family, Hideyoshi managed to rise from being an ordinary ashigaru foot-soldier to an extraordinarily powerful dictator. Eight years after Nobunaga’s death which Hideyoshi spent fighting, no one in the country dared defy his rule from his stronghold, the castle in Osaka.

    Youth and vision make an unbeatable combination.
    Be a leader, not a superior.
    Leaders can be wrong – but they can not be unclear.
    Strong leaders understand that action cures indecision.
    Pessimism is a losing strategy. Leadership demands both confidence and optimism in abundance.
    ― Toyotomi Hideyoshi

    In domestic policy, Hideyoshi followed Nobunaga’s example in addition to implementing a number of decrees aimed at securing the samurais’ dominant position. The samurai were forbidden to engage with any matters other than military ones and had essentially become a closed class. Only they were permitted to have family names and their right to explicit domination was protected by law. A strict social stratification was established whereby classes were barred from mixing. Tokugawa Ieyasu, Hideyoshi’s colleague and competitor, describes how the classes paying capital tax were treated, “Give the peasants neither life, nor death.” To Hideyoshi, Japan had become an empty shell missing its mighty eagles which were destined to struggle for world domination – the samurai. Hideyoshi dreamed of bending the whole to his mighty will. Therefore, he directed the resources of the newly-formed centralized state towards external expansion, and he was in a great hurry. In 1592, less than two years after gaining control of the country, he initiated a conquest of Korea, a Chinese satellite-state.

    Fight only after creating conditions for victory.
    The seeds of great victory lie in minor triumphs.
    Whether in commerce, administration, or on the battlefield, leaders who win understand the Secret of Victory: Act first to finish first.
    Luck favors the bold. Leaders must fearlessly exploit the Secret of Decisiveness. Act boldly at critical moments.
    ― Toyotomi Hideyoshi

    In less than twenty days, the Japanese expeditionary forces had seized all of the most important strategic points including Seoul, Korea’s capital. They passed through like a hot knife through butter but got stuck there. They were indecisive for they had been separated from the garrisons further back and supply lines tailed for hundreds of kilometers. Things were even worse at sea because the Japanese had no efficient fleets. The Europeans who had promised to lend their ships to Hideyoshi bailed. The seas were commanded by the wellrigged Chinese-Korean fleet that easily sank the Japanese light assault ships  which did not even have decks and were not fit for sailing in rough weather. In defiance to an opponent who was indeed useless on land, Hideyoshi went too far out to sea and the result was an absurd war between a lion and a whale.

    Sheer effort enables those with nothing to surpass those with privilege and position.
    Luck influences everything in life, but nothing beats setting goals and striving body and soul to achieve them.
    Greatness as a leader is measured in part by your willingness to accept daunting challenges. Achieving tough goals requires practicing the secret of commitment: Risk all to win all.
    ― Toyotomi Hideyoshi

    The weak Japanese economy could not cope. History is full of examples of pecuniary burdens crushing militarily invincible armies. Alexander the Great  was forced to return from India, and Napoleon lost the Great Army in the Russian snow. Hideyoshi’s plan was to create strongholds in Korea and arrange outposts to be used for further expeditions, namely, conquering China. He probably could have made his dream come true despite the difficulties, because the only capable Korean commander, Yi Sun-sin, had perished and the Chinese elite forces had been annihilated. China was weak; it was a colossus with feet of clay, ready to crumble with the first blow, which the Manchu proved by easily conquering it. But an unexpected death prevented Hideyoshi from fulfilling his plans. It is well known that he was was a man of iron will, never discouraged by hardships. After all, he was Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

    A small man with olive skin and a piercing glance was riding a wonderful, night-black stallion. A somber haughtiness was frozen onto his wrinkled, hawkish face, giving him a stately look beneath raven hair streaked with silver. His name, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, struck terror into the hearts of his enemies. Furthermore, he was laurel-crowned for many battles and known as a military commander of extraordinary courage and luck. One day, he gave an unexpected order to go to a faraway temple at the foot of a mountain.
    No one knew why Hideyoshi had built this temple in the middle of nowhere or why he sometimes prayed for hours in front of a small mossy stone or stood at the great Minamoto Yoritomo’s statue, as if talking to him.
    The silent, heady forest smelled of damp decaying leaves while a small escort of bodyguards stood on alert. They strained their ears for the slightest rustle of a leaf or hiss of an arrow, ready to protect the great dictator. Everything was calm, enveloped in the purple of fall. Then, the temple came into view.
    Hideyoshi jumped out of his saddle and threw the rains to a servant. His samurai followed him like shadows, protecting him with their bodies. Upon entering the temple Hideyoshi fell into a brown study. He seemed to have forgotten about the knights of the retinue who kept a respectful distance. His black eyes caught flickers of the hallway lamps which were flooding it with dim light.
    “Only You! Only You understand me!” he said to Yoritomo’s weathered statue. “You were the first among us to reach the summit of power. You know how heavy its burden is, You know its real value. Four hundred years after You, I have achieved Your level: power over everything in this world; the force which makes everyone bow.
    The Way of the Samurai is struggle and untethered audacity. We will conquer the world! Everything in the world shall justly belong only to those who shed their blood and give their lives! I know, Yoritomo, You understand me… Fare thee well, Great Ruler!” Hideyoshi said as he turned his back to the statue and quickly walked out.

    The final secret is that there is no secret. Devote yourself to your leader. Work hard. Be grateful. Act boldly. Some may deride such suggestions as commonplace, and they’d be right: They are common. But to see them successfully enacted in this world is rare indeed.
    ― Toyotomi Hideyoshi

    This article contains quotes from the Samurai Series.
    Read more about Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the Samurai Book Series

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