Review: Taiko, Yoshikawa Eiji

Rating: 5 out of 5

I wonder how I’ve only come up against Yoshikawa Eiji now. To be truthful, I used to read far more historical fiction in the past, but having recently recalled ‘Shogun‘, I wanted to see what other books were out there in a similar vein. This one definitely fit the bill, even if the action generally stops twelve years before Hideyoshi’s death. But, the best parts of the book are the earliest years of Oda Nobunaga’s rise and Indeed Akechi Mitsuhide’s revolt.

Thoroughly enjoyable, we start out with a very young and keen boy who would later on come to rule Japan. The early years of hardship and difficulties are what developed Hideyoshi’s character (at that time known by a different name). Yoshikawa’s characterisation of this period is pleasant and he goes to pretty decent explanations about the relations between various lords and clans which helps ground the reader in an array of names. The action focuses in as it progresses, with Akechi Mitsuhide forming a clear side path in two ways: we see the end of Oda Nobunaga and the way that Hideyoshi was able to rise to power after that. It is my understanding that the real reasons Akechi confronted his former master are not known, but here Yoshikawa sets out a believable vision of the relationship between the two men.

Overall, I was impressed by this book and I really enjoyed it. There were some odd translation choices—for example, most translations use the Japanese term “koku” instead of “bales of rice” or whatever the option that was used herein was—but on the whole this is very readable. My quibble would be that the final years of Hideyoshi, the real time when he was the taiko, are essentially not described at all: these are summarised in a concise epilogue, while they could have provided another ten chapters or so easily. I don’t know if this is a matter of the volume of the book, as it seems that the original written by the author was much longer but it was too long to be read effectively, or of something else, but it would have been nice to see the author’s vision of that period too.

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