The Three Shoguns


“No man is invincible, and therefore no man can fully understand that which would make him invincible”
Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

Flags of Japan

Musashi  lived under the rule of three charismatic Shoguns.  Nobunaga Oda was the first to rise to power in 1573, and would be known for successfully unifying, by ruthless means, almost the whole of Japan.  Betrayed by one of his generals, his death in 1582 allowed a commoner, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, to assume power and continue the work of uniting the country.  Although all traces of insurrection were put down quickly and without mercy, Hideyoshi failed to bring about unification. That destiny was granted to the legendary Tokugawa Ieyasu.  In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated Hideyoshi’s son at the famous battle of Seki ga Hara and became Shogun over a united Japan. The age Tokugawa lasted until 1868, and ushered in great changes in the social history of Japan.

There is a poem known throughout Japan that illustrates the diverse natures of three Shogun’s leadership styles.  The question is asked –

What would you do if the bird does not sing?

Nobunaga said, “Kill it if it does not sing.”

Hideyoshi said, “Make it want to sing.”

Tokugawa said, “Wait until it sings”

I asked a Japanese friend if this poem existed.  He said, yes and then added, “But you must understand that the “wait” is active, not passive.   It is being ready for the precise moment to seize the opportunity.”

“Perceive that which cannot be seen with the eye.”
 Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy