Last time we left off with Oda Nobunaga attacked by his own general, dying in a blazing temple as his dream of empire burned around him. But where does that leave everyone else? Well, first off, let’s start with Tokugawa Ieyasu. Remember how he was touring the Kansai with Nobunaga before he got called off to be killed by Akechi Mitsuhide? Well, that means he’s now in the middle of Kansai with a handful of retainers, surrounded by Mitsuhide’s troops who would certainty put an end to him if they can. Hundreds of miles from Tokugawa territory, he needs to get back to Mikawa, but how? Well it just so happens that, in his party of retainers is Hattori Hanzō. Now, it would have been really for Hanzō to just give up Tokugawa right there to the nearest soldiers, and probably earn himself a fine place in Mitsuhide’s government. But instead, he says: “Hey Tokugawa, check it, I know this wicked secret path through Koga that all of us ninja use.” Something to that effect, and off they goes. Sneaking through the country at night, barely slipping pass soldiers as they went. And they did it! First, they went to Iga, where Hanzō quietly gather ninja to serve as Tokugawa’s bodyguard. Then, they went to Koga, where despite being rival of the Iga ninja clan, the local ninja guild spirited Tokugawa through the countryside. Because he had once shielded them from Nobunaga when Nobunaga wanted to wipe them all out. And with that, once again, with the help of loyal ninja, Tokugawa escapes certain death. Next, we have Akechi Mitsuhide, the betraying general. In the middle of Kyoto, basically figuring, hey, he held the capital, so he was going to run the country. Operating on that notion, he started killing pretty much everybody who could threaten his new position. He slaughtered every Nobunaga heir he could find, starting with those in the capital. Although, surprisingly, he didn’t actually catch that many before the rest had the good sense to flee. Next, he sent letters asking for support, or demanding submission to many of the nearby daimyō. But one of those letters was intercepted, by good-old Hideyoshi. But Hideyoshi was still in the middle of that siege that he’s been asking Nobunaga for help with. The scene probably went something like this: Hideyoshi is standing in front of a great lake, a lake of his own making. In the center, stands the castle. He’s flooded the area around it, and now the castle stands alone in mist of great sprawling expanse of water. It’s impossible to supply, impossible to reinforce, and impossible to escape. It’s just a matter of time until this castle is his. Then, a messenger gallops up, leaps off his horse, and says: “Nobunaga is dead, Mitsuhide holds the capital.” Calmly, Hideyoshi offers the besieged castle terms. All he wants is the castle itself, some nearby land, and the head of the castle commander. If he gets that, he’ll gladly let all the men in the castle go free. He has no ulterior motive, he’s just being magnanimous in victory. The commander of the castle readily agrees, paddle out on a small boat, and opens his belly with a knife. Hideyoshi immediately turns around and spurs his forces toward Kyoto. Mitsuhide was not expecting Hideyoshi to move so fast. His forces are scattered by Hideyoshi, and he himself is killed by a group of peasant bandits as he tries to escape. It’s been thirteen days since Nobunaga died. Mitsuhide was officially Shogun for three days. With Mitsuhide dead, all the major daimyō have a meeting to sort out who would be Nobunaga’s heir. Unfortunately, the one member of the Nobunaga family that Mitsuhde did manage to catch, was Oda Nobukatsu,
(Correction: Oda Nobutada) Nobunaga’s eldest surviving son and the official heir. In the end, after a great deal of debate, they agreed to go with Oda Nobukatsu’s eldest son,
(Correction: Oda Nobutada’s eldest son) a two-year old boy named Oda Hidenobu. This may seem a bit odd, as Oda Nobunaga had other sons who were of age to rule for themselves. But Hideyoshi is, as always, a smart guy. And I’m pretty sure he realized that he had a much better chance of taking control and ruling everything himself if there was a two-year old at the head of the Oda clan rather than a fully grown adult. After that, the next several years are pretty much a cavalcade of suppressing rebellions, expanding on Oda’s conquests, and yes, beating down some more warrior monks. Tokugawa and Hideyoshi even went after each other at one point, but both of them realized that they’d bleed each other dry if they fought. So in the end, Tokugawa acknowledged Hideyoshi as his lord, and Hideyoshi gave a numbers of special privileges to the Tokugawa clan. Including the exemption from serving in Hideyoshi’s armies for 10 years, which is about to become very important. But before we go over that, it’s time to set all of these battles aside for a minute, and for the first time in this series, talk about civil administration. Because…well, this was really the first time civil administration was possible on a national level since our story started. Hideyoshi wanted to end the Sengoku Jidai. He wanted to create a strong centralized government, prevent civil war, and keep anyone else from threatening his position of power. So, to that end, he enacted three major reforms. First, he completely overhauled the tax structure. Remember that the central government had completely broken down in Japan during all of this fighting. So, effectively, the government hadn’t been collecting taxes for years. Instead, every local lord or monastery stronghold had imposed their own system of taxes on whatever region they happens to control. Hideyoshi needed to change that. Without revenue, without the ability to pay soldiers, build castles and employ administrators, the central government couldn’t exist. But, before he could start imposing his will and charging everybody taxes, he had another big problem to solve. With the years of war and strife, no one knew exactly who had what to tax. So Hideyoshi send out ministers to do a grand survey of Japan. In order to find out what exactly was out there and how much it was worth. They divided each region up by the amount of rice it could produce, and started to tax them accordingly. Completely abolishing many of the old exemptions for temples or specific lords. Now, this is a pretty incredible thing and it tells you just how powerful Hideyoshi is at this point. Sure, he has to threaten everybody with killing them if they mess with his surveyors, But, fundamentally, he could go into every province in Japan and assess it. He could impose new taxes, and he could eliminate the age-old exemptions. This means that, for the first time, We have a real ruler of Japan. But besides taxing, he also has to stop all the fighting. So, secondly, he demands that all peasants give up their swords, and turn them over to his administration. He felt like having a massively armed populous was a destabilizing factor. Leading to peasant revolt, banditry, and insurrection. And he was probably right. So, on top of collecting all the swords, he forbade peasants from ever owning swords or guns in the future. This, again, shows just how powerful Hideyoshi is at this point. To be able to get everybody to turn over their weapons without a fight. Which, he then did the morally upstanding thing with, and had them all melted down and turned into a statue of the Buddha. Finally, Hideyoshi established a permanent caste system in Japan. Peasants were peasants, merchants were merchants, and samurai were samurai… forever. No more switching between classes. Which is a little bit ironic, because you may remember that this Hideyoshi guy who just got himself declared “Regent of Japan” was a peasant himself, and started all of this out as a sandal-bearer. He completely forbid anybody else from taking the path that he himself took to greatness. Additionally, he puts severe restrictions on travel. Peasants no longer had the right to travel freely, or to change their farm if they didn’t like where they were. They were permanently tied to the land on which they lived. And while this may seem damaging in the long run, it certainly made rebellion much more difficult. And it increased the overall productivity, and thus tax revenue of Japan, as peasants were stuck working their land, rather than going off on military adventures. In fact, this system, awful as it might sounds to us today, basically stayed in place until 1871. It wasn’t until the questions of industrialization and modernization began to come up, that social mobility and national productivity trumped the value of a rigid system to enforce peace. So Hideyoshi created a tax system, rounded up all the swords, and locked people into feudal caste. Now all that’s left is to figure out what to do with those few hundred thousand armed men kicking around his country who have no marketable skill other than being trained killing machines. And since we all know, that having a great number of warriors with no war to fight never ends well, Hideyoshi found something for them all to do. Namely: Conquer China. Suffice it to say, they never got further than Korea. It was a disaster, both sides lost hundreds of thousands of people, and the brutality of the war was unimaginable. It’s a story for another Extra History series. But for our tale, it’s important to know that in the end, the Japanese had to withdraw from Korea after uncountable losses. But, remember how Tokugawa got an exemption from having his men serve in Hideyoshi’s armies? That meant that Tokugawa didn’t suffer any losses from the Korean campaign. And in 1598, as the war draws to its close, and Hideyoshi nears the end of his life with only a five-year old son to succeed him, This leaves Tokugawa in an…unique position. Join us next time as we conclude the Sengoku Jidai.