Diego Lafuente’s personal blog

October 1, 2007

太閤 (Taiko)

Martínez Roca S.A. Editions, 1981. ISBN: 84-270-2015-5. Original title in Japanese: 新書太閣記 (Shinsho Taiko ki), translated into Spanish.

There is great popularity surrounding the figure of the samurai. Typically, people love the image of the samurai as a prepared and complex warrior who doesn't hesitate. Well, Yoshikawa Eiji, one of Japan's most successful historical fiction writers with some fictional plots, wrote an excellent saga known as Taiko, which was the name given to Toyotomi Hideyoshi upon retiring as regent of the emperor. It has no relationship with the term 太鼓 (taiko), which means "large" or "drum".

In the mid-sixteenth century, the bloodiest period in Japan's history took place. Among the warlords who fought for supremacy, three great men emerged. Their personalities, as unique as they were divergent, have been remembered through the following verses:

What should you do if the bird does not sing? Nobunaga answers, "Kill it!" Hideyoshi answers, "Make it want to sing." Ieyasu answers, "Wait."

This is the story of the man who made the bird want to sing.

The story focuses on the mid-sixteenth century when the Ashikaga shogunate collapsed. It was a unique era that witnessed a hundred historical battles, the construction of important castles, and the life of one of Japan's three most recognized figures in history: Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The book covers the entire life of this leader, who had humble origins and was one of Oda Nobunaga's main generals.

The book, despite adding fictional elements, is based on Japan's true history and plays with some interesting hypotheses, fictional characters, and other elements that give the book coherence. If you were looking for something definitive to understand the samurais, this is one of those books. Not only is it a great encyclopedia of the samurai class, but it is also a whole saga of stories. All the leaders and some of the most prominent samurais in Japan's history appear. No, Musashi does not appear, although Eiji has written about him in another book.

It was truly a series of five great books that flew by in no time. I am looking forward to getting my hands on other titles by the author since his narrative style is not only fascinating but also very easy to follow.