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Q. Who was Toyotomi Hideyoshi?

A sixteenth-century portrait of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
A sixteenth-century portrait of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.


A battle for succession to the title of shogun among Japan's warlords in the Muromachi period (1338-1573) threw the nation into an era of civil strife from the middle of the fifteenth century. Powerful feudal lords battled with one another to gain control of the country.

It was during this war-torn period that Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-98) made a name for himself. Born the son of a farmer, Hideyoshi made a living as a peddler. But gradually seizing opportunities as they came, he rose through the ranks and came to serve under the warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-82), who had nearly succeeded in unifying the nation after toppling the Muromachi government in Kyoto.

Fighting in battle after battle around the country, Hideyoshi emerged as one of Nobunaga's leading generals. After Nobunaga's death, Hideyoshi took charge of his forces, and in 1591, Hideyoshi achieved the goal of national unity.

Hideyoshi is well known for his two reckless attempts to invade Korea during his rule, but he also achieved much on the domestic front. For example, he conducted surveys of farmland to better ascertain how much rice should be collected in taxes and prohibited the possession of weapons by farmers, carrying out raids with the aim of confiscating swords.

It was also during his reign that the opulent and extravagant culture of the Momoyama period fully blossomed and that the tea ceremony became popular among the warrior class.

Photo:Kobe City Museum