Toyotomi Hideyoshi

By: Mick Yates
Hideyoshi gained Nobunga's trust with his natural leadership abilities and his knack of reading people. He was an odd figure - short and thin - and his face was likened to a monkey. Yet he enjoyed the social life and made friends very easily.

Eventually becoming Nobunga's leading General, he took over on his mentor's death in 1582. In Kyushu, he issued (rather ambivalent) proclamations against Christians - expelling missionaries but allowing Christian farmers to hold land. And in 1585 he initiated the "Great Sword Hunt", forbidding farmers to have possession of weapons. Finally, in 1591 he succeeded in unifying Japan and consolidating his power.

Hideyoshi also made mistakes - two abbortive and bloody attempts to invade Korea for example. But he also achieved much in Japan itself. Surveys of farmland allowed better understanding of what taxes were due, he was a great builder, and he pacified society. It was also under his rule that the tea ceremony became increasingly popular among the Samurai.

Hideyoshi fell ill and died on 18 September 1598, having first attempted to put in place a council of regents. Still, within two years of his death the council was broken and Tokugawa Ieyasu became supreme, assuming the title of shôgun from the Emperor in 1603. Hideyoshi caused great suffering in Korea, and made many mistakes. Yet his rule laid the ground for the Tokugawa peace, and the foundations of modern Japan. An extraordinary man.