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Literature / Taiko

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The story of the man who made the bird want to sing.
What if the bird will not sing?
Nobunaga answers, "Kill it!"
Hideyoshi answers, "Make it want to sing."
Ieyasu answers, "Wait."
— A common verse that simplifies these three men's philosophies

Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan (新書太閤記, Shinsho Taikoki) was serialized historical novel by Eiji Yoshikawa (Musashi). Chapters were serialized first in 1939 to 1945 before being compiled into a total of eleven volumes, starting in 1950 to 1951. An abridged English translation by William Scott Wilson was originally published in 1992, combining the whole story into one book.

Sixteenth century Japan was an era of strife. The Ashikaga Shogunate's control on the realm was crumbling, battles between lords were an almost daily occurrence, and the future of the land was a huge question mark. During this turmoil, three young men would rise up and take matters into their own hands: Oda Nobunaga, a hot tempered lord with an eye for battle tactics; Toyotomi Hideyoshi, an affable man with a keen insight into the human heart; and Tokugawa Ieyasu, a stoic hostage whose patience is second only to his intellect.


Taiko tells the story of Hideyoshi and his rise from sandal bearer to Nobunaga's right hand man. Mixing fact with fiction, Yoshikawa follows Hideyoshi from his childhood as a farmer's son up to his successful unification of Japan.

This novel provides examples of:

  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • Dying Speech: Hanbei, realizing that he'll soon die, spends his last minutes giving Hideyoshi a Dare to Be Badass speech.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Short Title: Long, Elaborate Subtitle: The English translation's title is Taiko with a much longer subtitle that gives a general idea that the book is about war and is set in feudal Japan.
  • 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.