One thing I have noticed about the Japanese is their personal approach to history. In the West, many people think of history in the abstract and temporal terms of eras, dates, movements, and trends. The Japanese think of history in terms of characters, like a fictional story. Whenever anyone from Japan asks me about my knowledge of Japanese history, the first thing they invariably ask is who my favorite character is- a question I struggle to answer because I never learned or considered history in that way.
Different cities and regions can have their own particular favorite characters. Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the feudal regime that pacified Japan and ruled for more than two hundred fifty years, is a favorite of Nagoya and Tokyo. Nagoya, because that is where he was born, raised, and began his martial career. Tokyo, because Ieyasu founded it and brought it to glory as the new de facto capital of the nation.
Kansai folk, though, could care less about him. Tokugawa Ieyasu more or less began the still-smoldering rivalry between east and west Japan by repeatedly snubbing Kyoto and setting up his own city as rival capital. Folks from Kyoto and Osaka prefer Tokugawa’s predecessor: Toyotomi Hideyoshi. As I might have mentioned in a much older post, Toyotomi was also from what is now Nagoya. He was a peasant who rose through the ranks as a soldier of Oda Nobunaga. When one of Oda’s trusted generals killed him, Toyotomi acquired Oda’s newly unified Japan by being the one to avenge his master. Tokugawa Ieyasu was one of Toyotomi’s trusted generals in turn. Toyotomi ruled over a unified country for a few years, but when he died, Tokugawa decided to seize the country rather than serve Toyotomi’s heir.
Even though Toyotomi Hideyoshi was not born or raised in the area, he has become something of a “native son” of Kansai. He was the last de facto ruler of Japan ever to reign from the west, his capital being in present-day Kyoto. And Osaka Castle was the Toyotomi house’s last stronghold before their destruction in 1615.
The eastern edge of Kyoto is full of Hideyoshi’s posthumous traces. After his death, he was deified, and Toyokuni Shrine was established for his worship.
There was also a massive Buddhist temple as part of the complex, featuring a gigantic bronze statue even larger than the one in Todaiji in Nara. When the Tokugawa seized the shogunate, they struck Hideyoshi from the pantheon, outlawing his worship. The great temple remained a popular destination for travelers, but when it burned down in the 18th century, the Tokugawa neglected to restore it.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi was rehabilitated as a historical figure in the late 19th century, after the fall of the Tokugawa government, and he was re-deified.
Up the steep slope from the shrine was Hideyoshi’s actual mausoleum, on the top of a mountain. In the Tokugawa era, visitation of the tomb was strictly forbidden, and it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the site was rediscovered and restored.
I’m really not sure what it was I experienced there, in that brooding, silent tomb. I’m a little worried about one thing, though. There’s a voluntary donation of 50 yen to visit the mountain: a rusty moneybox with nobody around to tend to it. I only could make 49 yen. I’m a little worried that the spectre of Toyotomi Hideyoshi is after me, searching for the missing one yen.