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Kitanomandokoro : a lady samurai behind the shadow of Toyotomi Hideyoshi Kitagawa, Tomoko

Abstract

"Your skill is the best, and our wish is always the same - Taiko" (1593) This is a quote from a private correspondence between Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his first wife, Kitanomandokoro. She had been married to him for thirty-seven years, and was respected not only by Hideyoshi and other vassals who were close to him, but also by Daimyo who lived in remote places. In studies on Hideyoshi and his time, however, this fact has never come into the spotlight; Kitanomandokoro has always simply been referred to as "a wife of Hideyoshi," and very little is known about her. Who is this lady whom Taiko praised as the best and most trustworthy? This study presents the first biographical record of Kitanomandokoro. By reading primary sources from her time, even without believing that Kitanomandokoro was a powerful figure, one would be persuaded that the "lady samurai" behind the male samurai cannot be underestimated in terms of their consolidated and meaningful positions. The private correspondences of Hideyoshi to Kitanomandokoro further act as records demonstrating Kitanomandokoro's importance in the castle in absence of Hideyoshi. These letters have generally been taken as love letters and thus have never been analyzed as a significant historical record of women's importance during Hideyoshi's reign. Conditions away from Osaka as well as future military plans were discussed in these private correspondences in great detail. This confirms Hideyoshi's reliance on his first wife and so gives a new insight into the study of both Hideyoshi and his time: The image of Hideyoshi as a solo military dictator undergoes a significant transformation when we consider the contribution of his first wife more carefully! This important lady, who observed the unification of Japan from the time of Oda Nobunaga to the reign of Tokugawa Iemitsu, had connections to a number of Daimyo and their wives, and used her power and alliances to pull strings behind the scenes that affected the politics of the nation.

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