TAIKO by Eiji Yoshikawa


Email this review


 A homely, clever boy from the provinces survives a cheerless childhood and, through diligence, high-quality work, and devotion to his employers, eventually unites 16th-century Japan and becomes the country's supreme ruler. Under the emperor, of course. The previous megawork by the late Yoshikawa (d. 1962), and the first to appear in the US, was Musashi (1981). Little Hiyoshi, whose unfortunate looks lead everyone to call him ``monkey,'' is the only son of a poor country samurai and a much put-upon mother. Not what we have come to think of as the model Japanese worker, Hiyoshi is the nail that sticks up and gets hammered, time and again, for his troubles. Farmed out to a series of craftsmen, the boy's uncontrolled tongue loses him job after job until he is reduced to itinerant needle sales. Eventually, he moves out of needles and into the samurai business, signing on with sundry busy warlords. A succession of weakened shoguns has resulted in total decentralization of power in Japan, and there is always somebody doing battle with somebody else. Hiyoshi moves up the assistant warlord career ladder until he at last hooks up with the brilliant Lord Nobunaga and becomes his right-hand man. The young, far from wealthy Nobunaga begins uniting province after province after province after province. Hiyoshi becomes more and more indispensable and is awarded better and better jobs and a succession of new, mildly confusing surnames. Years later, when Nobunaga is at last defeated by an old ally, Hiyoshi, now Hiyoshita, grabs the reins and continues the consolidation process until the samurai are all subjugated and the country is pacified in time for a nice golden age. Episodic, bloody, prim, and quite long. There are no helpful western interpreters, only a couple of references to missionaries and the Portuguese. Determined readers will find--buried under the hundreds of decapitated warriors--the roots of the present Japanese international business success, and the country's attitudes toward women, unions, etiquette, and suicide.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1992
ISBN: 4-77001-570-4
Page count: 926pp
Publisher: Kodansha
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1992