Toku-un was not only Hideyoshi’s private quack; he was also his dedicated procurer of virgins. With high hopes Hideyoshi had sent him into the Kirish’tan domain of Arima, where the girls were known for their beauty, but Toku-un came back empty-handed and insulted to boot: the Kirish’tan of Arima would not give up their daughters for the ruler’s debauching. This was one prelude to the explosion—indeed perhaps the very powder in the keg—that would rock all Christendom throughout Japan. But certainly there must have been more to it than that.
Historian James Murdoch, writing at the hatching of the Twentieth Century, painted Hideyoshi as a recklessly-fearless commander; Luis Frois, a contemporary of Hideyoshi’s who knew him well—and personally—painted him as something of a paranoid. I will lean on the primary source (rather than the latter one) for my own closer look at the man who first put the sledgehammer to Christ in all Japan’s domains.
A prelude to Hideyoshi’s explosion at Hakata: earlier that month, at Yatsushiro on the west coast of the island, the conqueror had fêted Father Coelho and his entourage on their coming to pay their respects, and he declared on their leaving, “I am the Padre’s disciple.” The lilt of those lighthearted words may have been a smokescreen meant merely to hide Hideyoshi’s intentions: his imminent crackdown on the Church once his conquest was done. I wonder, though, if those words weren’t in fact intended to hide his suppressed resentment at having been asked in public by the Padre to pardon a mass of prisoners of conquest whom the ruler had peremptorily sentenced to death. Hideyoshi acceded to the Padre’s request at once, said request having been made in front of all the ruler’s assembled commanders at his annexed headquarters—a Buddhist temple—after he had given the Padre’s delegation a welcome worthy of emissaries of, well … God.
To top this off, after meeting furious resistance from the Satsuma samurai at the battle of Sendaigawa, the shaken Hideyoshi unveiled his fear to his Christian general Takayama Ukon: he ordered Ukon to prepare a private escape route for his own person in case of dire extremity. An extremity that never came about, given that Hideyoshi soon managed to panic the lord of Satsuma by launching a surprise seaborne assault on his capital: 60,000 troops appearing out of nowhere to spearhead into Satsuma’s rear guard from behind. (Their commander, the lord of Satsuma’s brother, saved his own skin by escaping on horseback, he and fifty mounted swordsmen cutting an escape route through the invading horde at a gallop.) This coup led to the lord of Satsuma’s surrender in short order, completing Hideyoshi’s conquest of Kyushu and putting him on top of the world.
Now back to where our story began: in the wake of his 1587 conquest of all Kyushu, Hideyoshi was refreshing himself in Hakata, a cornucopia of debauchery, where he was visited by the Jesuit Vice-Provincial, Father Gaspar Coelho. The Padre had come to pay his respects, having perhaps been deluded by that tactical jest of Hideyoshi’s—I am the Padre’s disciple —and, unwisely, he had sailed into Hakata’s harbor in his prize Portuguese fusta, a nimble sailing-ship very well laid out with fine Portuguese cannon to defend herself against pirates on the high seas.
The Padre’s fusta soon became the most popular tourist destination in Hakata: a steady stream of well-placed locals came requesting tours of the vessel, and news of this marvel lost no time in reaching Hideyoshi’s ears. He came and insisted on being shown every last nook and cranny of the marvelous fusta, and left in apparent good humor—at least as far as the Padre could tell—taking with him a gift of Portuguese port wine. He had been given countless delicacies too, but, afraid of poisoning, had his underlings pass them on to the locals milling about the docks.
Soon he would be lounging in his camp with Toku-un and his other intimates, drinking himself silly with the Padre’s gift of wine. One can only imagine the witch’s brew of lies, fears and resentments simmering in the conqueror’s heart that would presently erupt into volcanic explosion. Just as the twenty-four megaton eruption of Mount Saint Helen’s in 1980 flattened the forest for miles around, Hideyoshi’s 1587 blow-up would level the hopes and the peace of all Christians in Japan.
(to be continued)