What if the bird will not sing? Oda Nobunaga answers "Kill it if it does not want to sing!" Toyotomi Hideyoshi answers "Make it want to sing." Tokugawa Ieyasu answers "Wait until it sings."Taiko
— A common verse among Japanese schoolchildren.
is one of the two books that Japanese novelist Eiji Yoshikawa is known for outside his home country, the other being Musashi
. Set during the chaotic civil wars of the Sengoku Jidai
tells the story of Toyotomi Hideyoshi
, a dirt-poor peasant who tries to make his way up in life. After several false starts, he becomes a sandal bearer to a young Oda Nobunaga
, known as the "Fool of Owari" for his teenage jackassery.
However, there is a deadly competence in the "Fool of Owari", which Japan will learn when he begins to crush his enemies and increase his holdings. Hideyoshi's fortunes improve with his master's, due in no small part to the almost eerie competence he carries into everything he does. Another rising star is Tokugawa Ieyasu
, the patient lord of a threadbare province, and Oda's long term ally.
Unfortunately, Nobunga's rashness causes him to humiliate a retainer of his, Akechi Mitsuhide
. Mitsuhide chafes under his unpleasable lord, and finally snaps, leading a sneak attack which ends in Nobunga's death. Hideyoshi avenges his fallen lord, leaving him and Ieyasu to fight over who is to become the supreme ruler of Japan.
- Annoying Younger Sibling: Nobuyuki is this to Nobunaga.
- Arranged Marriage: Notable examples incude: Oichi to Nagamasa, Ieyasu to Lady Tsukiyama(Imagawa Yoshimoto's niece), and Katsuyori to Nobunaga's daughter.
- Bad Boss: Nobunaga has shades of this, but not to the point where he won't recognize and reward excellence in his retainers.
- Battle in the Rain: The Battle of Okehazama.
- Based on a True Story: Straddles the line between this and Very Loosely Based on a True Story. Most of Hideyoshi's exploits under Nobunaga and post-Nobunaga are indeed accurate, but very little is known for certain about him before he joined Nobunaga.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The Battles of Okehazama and Nagashino.
- For example not involving the Oda clan, we have The Battle of Mikatagahara.
- Dying Speech: Hanbei, realizing that he'll soon die, spends his last minutes giving Hideyoshi a Dare to Be Badass speech.
- Face Death with Dignity: Many Takeda generals at Nagashino, Ikeda Tsuneoki, Mori Nagayoshi, and many others.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Although he's flawed enough to stay out of Mary Sue territory, Hideyoshi gets this. The novel makes no mention of his increasing madness near the end of his life, and only passingly refers to his botched invasions of Korea.
- I Am Your Opponent: Several times during the battle of Okehazama. It's noted later on in the book that the times are changing, and the practice of announcing "I'm so-and-so, of clan so-and-so" is in decline.
- I Have Many Names: As was a Japanese custom.
- Incurable Cough of Death: Hanbei.
- Jidai Geki
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: Nobunaga's destruction of Mount Hiei.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: And they all keep changing their names.
- Motor Mouth: Hideyoshi.
- Ninja: They show up, but as the more realistic "some guy who works in espionage" types as opposed to black-wearing uber-badasses. The book comments that because ninjas would do whatever they had to in order to stay alive, in order to get the information back, they were looked at as little more than cowardly samurai.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Deconstructed with Nobunga, whose feigned stupidity, while serving his purposes, also causes his clansmen to plot against him.
- Overshadowed by Awesome: Katsuyori may fall into this, being both the son and successor of one of the biggest badass of his time.
- Refuge in Audacity: Ieyasu, vastly outnumbered, opens the gates of his castle and lights a bonfire in front of it. His enemy, Too Clever by Half, thinks that there is an amazing strategy somewhere, and doesn't attack.
- Self-Made Man: Hideyoshi.
- Sibling Rivalry: Nobunaga and Nobuyuki for the control of Owari, which resulted in Nobunaga killing his brother.
- Time Skip: The book skips over decades at a time, with the story beginning in 1536 and ending in 1583.
- Your Cheating Heart: One of Hideyoshi's few flaws.