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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The province of Owari was guarded on the south by sea


to Owari, he obtained admission to the ranks of Oda Nobunaga in the humble capacity of sandal-bearer. He deliberately chose Nobunaga through faith in the greatness of his destiny, and again the reader of Japanese history is confronted by ingenious tales as to Hideyoshi's devices for obtaining admission to Nobunaga's house. But the most credible explanation is, at the same time, the simplest, namely, that Hideyoshi's father, having been borne on the military roll of Nobunaga's father, little difficulty offered in obtaining a similar favour for Hideyoshi.

Nobunaga was then on the threshold of his brilliant career. In those days of perpetual war and tumult, the supreme ambition of each great territorial baron in Japan was to fight his way to the capital, there to obtain from the sovereign and the Muromachi Bakufu a commission to subdue the whole country and to administer it as their lieutenant. Nobunaga seems to have cherished that hope from his early years, though several much more powerful military magnates would surely oppose anything like his pre-eminence. Moreover, in addition to comparative weakness, he was hampered by local inconvenience. The province of Owari was guarded on the south by sea, but on the east it was menaced directly by the Imagawa family and indirectly by the celebrated Takeda Shingen, while on the north it was threatened by the Saito and on the west by the Asai, the Sasaki, and the Kitabatake. Any one of these puissant feudatories

would have been more than a match for the Owari chieftain, and that Imagawa Yoshimoto harboured designs against Owari was well known to Nobunaga, for in those days spying, slander, forgery, and deceit of every kind had the approval of the Chinese writers on military ethics whose books were regarded as classics by the Japanese. Hideyoshi himself figures at this very time as the instigator and director of a series of acts of extreme treachery, by which the death of one of the principal Imagawa vassals was compassed; and the same Hideyoshi was the means of discovering a plot by Imagawa emissaries to delay the repair of the castle of Kiyosu, Nobunaga's headquarters, where a heavy fall of rain had caused a landslide. Nobunaga did not venture to assume the offensive against the Imagawa chief. He chose as a matter of necessity to stand on the defensive, and when it became certain that Imagawa Yoshimoto had taken the field, a general impression prevailed that the destruction of the Oda family was unavoidable.


In the month of June, 1560, Imagawa Yoshimoto crossed the border into Owari at the head of a force stated by the annals to have been forty-six thousand strong. Just two years had elapsed since Hideyoshi's admission to the service of the Owari baron in the office of sandal-bearer. Nevertheless, some generally credible records do not hesitate to represent Hideyoshi as taking a prominent part in the great battle against the Imagawa, and as openly advising Nobunaga with regard to the strategy best adapted to the situation. It is incredible that a private soldier, and a mere youth of twenty-two at that, should have risen in such a short time to occupy a place of equality with the great generals of Nobunaga's army. But that Hideyoshi contributed more or less to the result of the fight may be confidently asserted.

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