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  • Deconstructing the Taikō:The Problem of Hideyoshi as Postwar Business Model
  • Susan W. Furukawa

Throughout the course of the twentieth-century, images of the sixteenth-century samurai leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–98) have been mobilized in discourses on Japanese national identity. In the early postwar period, authors used counterfactual histories about Hideyoshi that placed him in parallel universes to grapple with issues of Japan’s violent not-so-distant past, while seeking to help define what it meant to be Japanese after a failed war. In the early 1950s, novels placed Hideyoshi in modern-day conference rooms, a parallel figure living a parallel life meant to encourage early postwar salary-men to work hard for the sake of national recovery. Early postwar tales of Hideyoshi reframed him as a model for strong leadership and determined economic growth, but by the 1970s counterfactual portrayals of Hideyoshi began to highlight possible fissures in this interpretation. In the end, Hideyoshi’s ever-shifting legacy, as portrayed in late twentieth-century works of historical fiction that seek to relocate him in time and space, reflects a contested and fractured Japanese past, present, and future. Although there seem to be limitless examples of Hideyoshi being rewritten for the sake of the nation, this essay introduces two vivid counterhistories of him that demonstrate the conflicting ways he has been portrayed in the postwar era. The first is [End Page 81] Kasahara Ryōzō’s Sarariiman shusse Taikōki (A Taikōki of a salaryman rising up in the world) series, and the second is Tsutsui Yasutaka’s novella “Yamazaki” (Figure 1). Kasahara remakes Hideyoshi by having him fight his battles in the boardrooms of the 1950s instead of on historical battlefields. Tsutsui, on the other hand, interpolates modern technologies into historical events, inviting his readers to think more critically about the use of historical figures in discourses on Japanese society and technological advancement in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. By making Hideyoshi into a pop culture icon to be idolized—or criticized—in the postwar period, both of these works uproot him from his traditional historical context and create scenarios that force readers to confront the social implications of reading the “samurai salaryman” as a modern-day hero.

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Figure 1.

Illustration by Yamafuji Shōji, originally published in Tsutsui Yasutaka, “Yamazaki,” Bessatsu Shōsetsu Shinchō (April 1972): 65.


Hideyoshi’s meteoric rise to power and equally dramatic fall from grace have made him one of Japan’s most written-about historical figures. Despite the often contradictory accounts of his life and career—he helped unify the realm at the end of the sixteenth century but also instigated two ill-advised invasions of Korea—Hideyoshi has remained a popular hero. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Hideyoshi has been depicted in literature, film, and manga as a man whose ability to be loyal, hard-working, inspiring, ingenious, and a master strategist should be emulated by political and business leaders. Varying accounts of Hideyoshi’s life are often the basis for television dramas and historical novels, which “rewrite” the history surrounding his rise and fall in an attempt to participate in and/or redefine the Japanese national discourse. Nowhere is this more evident than in the multiple “new” rewritings of Oze Hoan’s 1625 biography Taikōki (The records of Toyotomi Hideyoshi). The first popular literature version of Taikōki was serialized in Hōchi newspaper [End Page 82] from 1925 to 1934 by Yada Sōun, one of a group of young writers committed to bringing popular fiction to the masses. Sōun created a Taikōki that defined the experiences of a generation. His text, which he also reformulated into pre- and postwar illustrated books for young boys, became the basis for many later works of fiction and manga about Hideyoshi, including Yoshikawa Eiji’s Shinsho Taikōki, serialized during World War II.1 Up to and particularly during World War II, historians and writers of historical fiction emphasized Hideyoshi’s successes on the battlefield and his focus on expansion in Asia. Immediately following the Occupation and into the late 1960s, however, as...


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