He was an ugly boy. In feature and in temperament. He did whatever he wanted. “Monkey” they called him.
His poor mother and father, exasperated at his lack of discipline, sent him off to a school run by monks. It didn’t take long before they too, ran out of patience and expelled him.
“These bald fools have nothing to teach me,” he said.
Back home, he was apprenticed to one after another of the local artisans. Thirty-seven times he was dismissed before he decided to leave for good.
“I’m meant for more glorious deeds,” he thought.
He became a roadside bandit and filled his pockets with the coins of travelers. But he soon saw the limits to his illicit gains.
“There’s more gold and silver to be found within the law than outside of it,” he reasoned.
He became the servant of a powerful lord, proved his courage and brilliance, and ascended to leadership when the old man died. He controlled a third of the country but meaned to have it all.
“I’m ready for a long siege,” he said to his followers.
Within nine years, all resistance had ceased and the nation was his. Not satisfied, he turned his attention towards his neighbors.
“It’s time for my last triumph,” he said, “I will leave a great name behind me.”
For six years, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the ugly peasant boy who became the great unifier of Japan, sent armadas of warships westward with the goal of conquering China.
When he died on September 18th, 1598, the “Monkey” had finally failed. All of his deployments ended at the bottom of the sea thanks to another man also famous for an animal moniker who never failed, Yi Sun-sin, the great Korean naval commander and inventor of the iron-clad ship he called the “Turtle.”