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Bibliographic Data: Berry, Mary Elizabeth. Hideyoshi. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.

Main Argument: "A general who had unified Japan after a century of civil war, a governor who had laid the foundation for almost three hundred years of peacetime rule, and a showman without peer who had brought a new pageantry to power, Hideyoshi was the most remarkable main in premodern Japanese history." (1) It is Berry's understanding and argument, not only that the Tokugawa regime did not substantially transform Hideyoshi's settlement politically, but that the Toyotomi settlement was essentially federal in nature, a federation: the book is concerned with "the conquest and conciliation that made it possible, the motives that inspired an extraordinarily powerful man to share authority with his daimyo, and the particular expressions that his federal settlement took" (7).

Historiographical Engagement: As, in some senses, a biography, Berry draws on all of Hideyoshi's extant papers as well as those of his contemporaries, even considering the first few biographies written after Hideyoshi's death in an attempt to evaluate his legacy, as well as the relevant documents detailing regime policy.

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples "Both a healing minister and a parvenu showman, a temperate lord and an arrogant expansionist, Hideyoshi was a flawed governor as capable of virtue as of vice. His distinction was his ability to transcend himself--his vanity and his taste for unchallenged power--to create a federal model of rule that survived him" (7).

Chapter 2: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter provides an overview of Hideyoshi's early years as well as of the fragmentation of the country in everything but name that characterized the Sengoku (Warring States) period. By the end of the first century of civil war in 1568, daimyo had begun to survey and administer their lands wholly without even rhetorical regard for the vitiated central authority of the shogunate and the imperial court in Kyoto. Indeed, the stage was set for Oda Nobunaga's early success when both shogun and emperor all but begged him to enter the capital and ally himself with their bedraggled causes.

Chapter 3: Argument, Sources, Examples Nobunaga's entrance to Kyoto in 1568 precipitated the collapse of the shogunate and a remarkable twenty-year career of conquest that, in Berry's view, "exposed the consequences" of the mutual daimyo aspiration of national conquest: "ccelerating violence and the certain attrition of rivals. … Nobunaga's battles illustrated what the many localized struggles of earlier years could not: the autonomous domains of the sixteenth century would all be devoured should the daimyo continue to renounce coexistence in pursuit of exclusive and conclusive victory" (42). This existential "terror" that Nobunaga inspired accounts at least partially for the extremity of responses he inspired, as well as of the actions he undertook. Nobunaga's career was determined by a predictable pattern of intense resistance punished by violent reprisals. By the middle of his career, he had gathered to him a clutch of remarkable vassals--two future hegemons of Japan among them--to support his absolute, centrist rule. If Hideyoshi is the most remarkable man in pre-modern Japan, Nobunaga must be the most singular: "perhaps alone among national leaders in Japanese history he appeared to believe that power legitimated itself" (59).

Chapter 4: Argument, Sources, Examples Between Nobunaga's death in 1582 and the conquest of the Hôjô in Kantô and the Tôhoku in 1590 Hideyoshi brought the remaining two-thirds of Japan into his sphere. He did this, not primarily through the military successes for which he is famed, but rather through negotiation and alliance, allowing potential vassals to retain some authority--and their lives--in return for pledging their loyalty to him. In turn, they were rewarded with land, which Hideyoshi made a policy of divvying up and reassigning.

Chapter 5: Argument, Sources, Examples Hideyoshi's policy had two primary thrusts, the first the most sweeping assertions of the power of a single leader since the emergence of the imperial state, and the second elevating the position of daimyo vis-a-vis central power, thereby restricting it. Crucially, Hideyoshi's policy cannot be sussed out from his "red seal" papers: they were neither systematically retained nor systematically used to promulgate policy. Significantly, Hideyoshi's policy obliterated the three constants of the Sengoku period (the armed peasant, the presumption of social mobility, and the fief) in order to secure peace in his new regime, in which "order was increasingly associated with the clarification of roles and their symbols" (146).

Chapter 6: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter was rather incendiary when the book was published, and it still retains a whiff of the controversial: Berry argues that rather than understanding the Toyotomi regime as "feudal" (a characterization that does not entirely square with the understanding of "feudalism" in other parts of the world), it should be understood as federal, "as the union of semi-autonomous domains under an integral authority--Hideyoshi's actions appear neither as arbitrary extensions or abridgements of control nor as studies in political paradox. They emerge, rather, as markers of the boundaries between two fields of power dominated by different poles but drawn into a balanced relationship" (151). The daimyo, in Berry's view, chose the security of alliance over the certainty of destruction, and Hideyoshi "found in their allegiance a strong motive for federation" (165). Hideyoshi and his daimyo had more in common with each other than they did with anyone else, which is the point: "the terms feudalism and absolutism deal badly with a settlement made collectively within an elite to save its members from each other and their lesser adversaries" (167).

Chapter 7: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter focuses on Hideyoshi's pursuit of legitimacy, and the practices of pageantry that he instantiated in order to obtain it. Broadly, Hideyoshi pursued three ends: affirming traditional values, rationalizing Toyotomi power, and (literal) self-promotion. To these ends, Hideyoshi had himself adopted into a noble family, accepted the position of kampaku (chancellor) from the emperor, rebuilt Kyoto and constructed a palace for himself within it, in many of which his signature vice--that of excess, and his excessive desire for adulation--began to manifest itself.

Chapter 8: Argument, Sources, Examples The final full chapter in the book considers the three greatest injuries to Hideyoshi's reputation, both self-inflicted: the invasions of Korea, the elevation of his son as his heir with its accompanying calculated massacres, and the execution of his tea-master Sen no Rikyû. In Berry's view, "Those who find madness in his foreign expedition--and certainly his documents have a crazed intensity--overlook the sustained sense of a limitless destiny which made him both a good general and an unprincipled invader" (216). As for the forced suicide of Hidetsugu, in Berry's view Hideyoshi gambled that a house divided was less preferable than a house headed by a minor; on that count, history proved him wrong.

Conclusion: Argument, Sources, Examples Berry notes that after his death, Hideyoshi's vassals went to war not for individual autonomy but for leadership, having already conceded the idea of central authority. What Hideyoshi had built survived him, to the point that the state handed over to the Meiji revolutionaries in 1868 was substantially similar to the state Hideyoshi left on his deathbed in 1596. Significantly, that Meiji revolution came from the domains, the seats of individual authority that Hideyoshi had been careful both to preserve and to undermine, proving once again his shrewd assessment of his countrymen.

Critical assessment: I think, of all three of Berry's books, this one is my least favorite, but that does not mean it isn't an excellent study, because it is. I actually read Berry's books in reverse publication order, so it's interesting to see her, in this book, advancing positions that she would later substantially revise (as with the Rikyû affair).

All in all, this is a strong, excellent book. The professor from whom I purchased this book for charity averred that it is her best, which I can't agree with (nothing could better The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto, and Hideyoshi does at times communicate the relative youth of its author in the way that a mature work such as Japan in Print simply doesn't), but this one is very good, I only wish there were more books by Berry still to read. I don't know of any better discussion of Nobunaga, and Berry's evaluation of Hideyoshi is, on the whole, balanced and innovative. I do think she falls down on the question of the invasion of Korea, or at least, her own disappointment in Hideyoshi is at least implicit of some of what she writes; the larger complaint that she includes almost none of the Korean experience of the Imjin Wars can be answered both by the unfortunate fact that English historiography on the conflict is severely lacking and that it would be beyond the scope of her project: still, the lack is palpable. She revised and, I think, found a much more convincing explanation for the Rikyû affair in particular in The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto, but the major points of Berry's work here remain, I think, unimpeachable, if sadly still not entirely accepted. Still, I know what I think.

Meta notes: Berry is quick to mention the help of her colleagues, particularly Tom Smith, in making this a stronger book. Certainly it manages to transcend biography in a way that few comparable books do.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-11-17 16:31 (UTC)
thistleingrey: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thistleingrey
Your cut-tag label made me smile.

I so want someone (ideally someones) who can cope with scholarship in both Korean and Japanese to write about the late seventeenth century and the late nineteenth / early twentieth. I know of a few Koreanists publishing primarily in English who read and use Japanese scholarship, but it's not enough; it seems to go even less often the other direction. (I, um, stopped reading Peter Duus's Abacus + Sword shortly after the foreword in which he acknowledged his inability to make use of relevant Korean-language evidence.)

(no subject)

Date: 2011-11-17 18:25 (UTC)
thistleingrey: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thistleingrey
Agreed re: how Duus defines his project--someone has to go first. When I had the book around, I didn't know that that manner of focus was kind of par for the field at the time. Haven't re-sought out the book since then, however.


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Andrea J. Horbinski

August 2017

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