Toyotomi Hidetsugu

Toyotomi Hidetsugu

The gay lord of Ōmihachiman who met a tragic fate

place Area: Omihachiman access_time Published: 2020.12.03

Name in Japanese: 豊臣 秀次
Pronunciation: toyotomi hidetsugu
Dates: 1568 – 1595

Toyotomi Hidetsugu was a daimyō during the Sengoku period of Japan. He was the nephew and retainer of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Hidetsugu was born to Hideyoshi’s elder sister Tomo, with Miyoshi Kazumichi, and he was later adopted by Miyoshi Yoshifusa. At this time, his name was Miyoshi Nobuyoshi. He later renamed himself Hashiba Hidetsugu, after his famous uncle who used the family name Hashiba at that time. The boy spent some time as a hostage of the Azai clan to cement an agreement made by Hideyoshi.

As the child of a samurai family, Hidetsugu became adept with sword and spear at an early age and took part in Hideyoshi’s campaigns. He fought with distinction in the Battle of Shizugatake in 1583, but when he commanded an army in the Battle of Komaki and Nagakute in 1584, he suffered a crushing defeat by Tokugawa Ieyasu and was severely reprimanded by Hideyoshi. Thereafter, he redeemed himself in the conquest of Kishū and Shikoku in 1585. As a reward, he was assigned to govern the productive land around Hachimanyama Castle in Ōmi Province.

As governor, Hidetsugu relaxed the strict commercial regulations, allowing free markets and open guilds. He dug a canal to link the castle moat to Lake Biwa and required boats travelling the lake to stop by at Ōmihachiman. In the five years that Hidetsugu was lord of the castle, he laid the foundations for the prosperity of the town as a commercial centre.

Hidetsugu was a practitioner of danshoku, the term used for homosexuality among samurai. He was known for keeping a number of pretty page boys. But he also had a large number of female concubines who produced his children. Hidetsugu’s held an active correspondence with other court nobles on cultural matters, such as ancient Japanese literature in which he displayed considerable expertise. Jesuit missionary Luís Fróis, who travelled widely in Japan, wrote that Hidetsugu was kind and considerate.

In 1590, Hidetsugu was given Kiyosu Castle in Owari Province, today’s Aichi Prefecture. The following year, Hideyoshi’s only son died in childhood. Without a direct heir, Hideyoshi made Hidetsugu regent to the Emperor. Hidetsugu moved to the regent’s palace, Jurakudai in Kyoto, establishing a dual system of government run largely by Hidetsugu, since Hideyoshi was occupied with his invasion of Korea. It was assumed that Hidetsugu would succeed Hideyoshi after his death.

But in 1593, Hideyoshi’s mistress, Yodo-dono of the Azai clan, gave birth to a new heir, Hideyori. This development set the scene for the purging of adopted heir Hidetsugu. Rumours were spread that Hidetsugu took delight in abuse of his authority to commit unjust killings. The campaign to denigrate Hidetsugu was resisted by many of the Toyotomi vassals, including Ishida Mitsunari. Nevertheless, Hidetsugu was accused of attempting to stage a coup and after retreating to Mt. Koya and becoming a monk, he was ordered to commit suicide at the age of twenty-eight. Three of his pages joined him in cutting themselves open.

His head was taken to the execution grounds in Kyōto and exposed on a mound. Nearby, on September 5, 1595, Hidetsugu’s entire family of thirty-nine people including his wife, concubines, and their children, as well as numerous waiting women were also beheaded in Kyōto on Hideyoshi’s orders. The executions took about five hours. This slaughter disgusted many of Hideyoshi’s supporters, and this disgust, combined with the loss of his only adult heir, resulted in the quick dissolution of Toyotomi authority after Hideyoshi’s death three years later. One of those executed was a fifteen-year-old girl of the Mogami clan who had just arrived in Kyoto to become Hidetsugu’s concubine. Five years later at the Battle of Sekigahara, the Mogami sided against Ishida Mitsunari who represented the legacy of the Toyotomi, despite Mitsunari’s support of Hidetsugu.

Ultimately, Hideyoshi’s mistress Yodo-dono and son Hideyori would commit suicide at the Siege of Ōsaka Castle by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the victor at Sekigahara.

Those were violent and unpredictable times.