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All the officers wrote down their guesses with
one exception, that of Mori Rammaru. Asked for the reason of his
abstention, Mori replied that he happened to know the exact number of
threads, having counted them on a previous occasion when admiring the
sword. Nubunaga at once placed the weapon in his hands, thus
recognizing his honesty. Again, after the construction of the famous
castle at Azuchi, to which reference will be made hereafter,
Nobunaga, desiring to have a record compiled in commemoration of the
event, asked a celebrated priest, Sakugen, to undertake the
composition and penning of the document. Sakugen declared the task to
be beyond his literary ability, and recommended that it should be
entrusted to his rival, Nankwa. Nobunaga had no recourse but to adopt
this counsel, and Nankwa performed the task admirably, as the
document, which is still in existence, shows. In recognition of this
success, Nobunaga gave the compiler one hundred pieces of silver, but
at the same time bestowed two hundred on Sakugen for his magnanimity
in recommending a rival.

Nobunaga unquestionably had the gift of endearing himself to his
retainers, though there are records which show that he was subject to
outbursts of fierce anger. Even his most trusted generals were not
exempt from bitter words or even blows, and we shall presently see
that to this fault in his character was approximately due his tragic
end. Nevertheless, he did not lack the faculty of pity. On the
occasion of a dispute between two of his vassals about the boundaries
of a manor, the defeated litigant bribed one of Nobunaga's principal
staff-officers to appeal for reversal of the judgment. This officer
adduced reasons of a sufficiently specious character, but Nobunaga
detected their fallacy, and appeared about to take some precipitate
action when he happened to observe the wrinkles which time had
written on the suppliant's face. He recovered his sang-froid and
contented himself with sending the officer from his presence and
subsequently causing to be handed to him a couplet setting forth the
evils of bribery and corruption. He forgave the guilty man in
consideration of his advanced age, and the incident is said to have
closed with the suicide of the old officer. Frugality was another
trait of Nobunaga's character. But he did not save money for money's
sake. He spent with lavish hand when the occasion called for
munificence; as when he contributed a great sum for the rebuilding of
the Ise shrines. Perhaps nothing constitutes a better clue to his
disposition than the verses he habitually quoted:

Life is short; the world is a mere dream to the idle.
Only the fool fears death, for what is there of life that does
Not die once, sooner or later?
Man has to die once and once only;
He should make his death glorious.

It is recorded that Nobunaga's demeanour in battle truly reflected
the spirit of these verses.

ENGRAVING: TOYOTOMI HIDEYOSHI

HIDEYOSHI

Nobunaga certainly deserved the success he achieved, but that he
achieved it must be attributed in part to accident. That accident was
his association with Hideyoshi.* It has been sometimes said that
circumstances beget the men to deal with them. Fallacious as such a
doctrine is, it almost compels belief when we observe that the second
half of the sixteenth century in Japan produced three of the greatest
men the world has ever seen, and that they joined hands to accomplish
the stupendous task of restoring peace and order to an empire which
had been almost continuously torn by war throughout five consecutive
centuries. These three men were born within an interval of eight
years: Nobunaga, in 1534; Hideyoshi, in 1536, and Ieyasu, in 1542.

*To avoid needless difficulty the name "Hideyoshi" is used solely
throughout this history. But, as a matter of fact, the great
statesman and general was called in his childhood Nakamura Hiyoshi;
his adult name was Tokichi; afterwards he changed this to Hashiba and
ultimately, he was known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

There are many stories about Hideyoshi's early days, but the details
are obscured by a record called the Taikoki, which undoubtedly makes
many excursions into the region of romance. The plain facts appear to
be that Hideyoshi was the son of a humble farmer named Kinoshita
Yaemon, who lived in the Aichi district of Owari province, and who
preferred the life of a foot-soldier (ashigaru) to the pursuit of
agriculture. Yaemon served the Oda family, and died when Hideyoshi
was still a youth. In Owari province, at a homestead called Icho-mura
from the name of the tree (maiden-hair tree) that flourishes there in
abundance, there stands a temple built in the year 1616 on the site
of the house where Hideyoshi was born. This temple is known as
Taiko-zan--"Taiko" having been the title of Hideyoshi in the latter
years of his life--and in the grounds of the temple may be seen the
well from which water was drawn to wash the newly born baby. The
child grew up to be a youth of dimunitive stature, monkey-like face,
extraordinary precocity, and boundless ambition. Everything was
against him--personal appearance, obscurity of lineage, and absence
of scholarship. Yet he never seems to have doubted that a great
future lay before him.

Many curious legends are grouped about his childhood. They are for
the most part clumsily constructed and unconvincing, though probably
we shall be justified in accepting the evidence they bear of a mind
singularly well ordered and resourceful. At the age of sixteen he was
employed by a Buddhist priest to assist in distributing amulets, and
by the agency of this priest he obtained an introduction to
Matsushita Yukitsuna, commandant of the castle of Kuno at Hamamatsu,
in Totomi province. This Matsushita was a vassal of Imagawa
Yoshimoto. He controlled the provinces of Mikawa, Totomi, and Suruga,
which lie along the coast eastward of Owari, and he represented one
of the most powerful families in the country. Hideyoshi served in the
castle of Kuno for a period variously reckoned at from one year to
five. Tradition says that he abused the trust placed in him by his
employer, and absconded with the sum of six ryo wherewith he had been
commissioned to purchase a new kind of armour which had recently come
into vogue in Owari province. But though this alleged theft becomes
in certain annals the basis of a picturesque story as to Hideyoshi
repaying Matsushita a thousandfold in later years, the unadorned
truth seems to be that Hideyoshi was obliged to leave Kuno on account
of the jealousy of his fellow retainers, who slandered him to
Yukitsuna and procured his dismissal.

Returning to Owari, he obtained admission to the ranks of Oda
Nobunaga in the humble capacity of sandal-bearer. He deliberately
chose Nobunaga through faith in the greatness of his destiny, and
again the reader of Japanese history is confronted by ingenious tales
as to Hideyoshi's devices for obtaining admission to Nobunaga's
house. But the most credible explanation is, at the same time, the
simplest, namely, that Hideyoshi's father, having been borne on the
military roll of Nobunaga's father, little difficulty offered in
obtaining a similar favour for Hideyoshi.

Nobunaga was then on the threshold of his brilliant career. In those
days of perpetual war and tumult, the supreme ambition of each great
territorial baron in Japan was to fight his way to the capital, there
to obtain from the sovereign and the Muromachi Bakufu a commission to
subdue the whole country and to administer it as their lieutenant.
Nobunaga seems to have cherished that hope from his early years,
though several much more powerful military magnates would surely
oppose anything like his pre-eminence. Moreover, in addition to
comparative weakness, he was hampered by local inconvenience. The
province of Owari was guarded on the south by sea, but on the east it
was menaced directly by the Imagawa family and indirectly by the
celebrated Takeda Shingen, while on the north it was threatened by
the Saito and on the west by the Asai, the Sasaki, and the
Kitabatake. Any one of these puissant feudatories would have been
more than a match for the Owari chieftain, and that Imagawa Yoshimoto
harboured designs against Owari was well known to Nobunaga, for in
those days spying, slander, forgery, and deceit of every kind had the
approval of the Chinese writers on military ethics whose books were
regarded as classics by the Japanese. Hideyoshi himself figures at
this very time as the instigator and director of a series of acts of
extreme treachery, by which the death of one of the principal Imagawa
vassals was compassed; and the same Hideyoshi was the means of
discovering a plot by Imagawa emissaries to delay the repair of the
castle of Kiyosu, Nobunaga's headquarters, where a heavy fall of rain
had caused a landslide. Nobunaga did not venture to assume the
offensive against the Imagawa chief. He chose as a matter of
necessity to stand on the defensive, and when it became certain that
Imagawa Yoshimoto had taken the field, a general impression prevailed
that the destruction of the Oda family was unavoidable.

BATTLE OF OKEHAZAMA

In the month of June, 1560, Imagawa Yoshimoto crossed the border into
Owari at the head of a force stated by the annals to have been
forty-six thousand strong. Just two years had elapsed since
Hideyoshi's admission to the service of the Owari baron in the office
of sandal-bearer. Nevertheless, some generally credible records do
not hesitate to represent Hideyoshi as taking a prominent part in the
great battle against the Imagawa, and as openly advising Nobunaga
with regard to the strategy best adapted to the situation. It is
incredible that a private soldier, and a mere youth of twenty-two at
that, should have risen in such a short time to occupy a place of
equality with the great generals of Nobunaga's army. But that
Hideyoshi contributed more or less to the result of the fight may be
confidently asserted.

The battle itself, though the forces engaged were not large, must be
counted one of the great combats of the world, for had not Nobunaga
emerged victorious the whole course of Japanese history might have
been changed.



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