April 09, 2015

The downside of adult adoption


The long-standing practice in Japan of mukoyoshi ("adult adoption") solves the kind of succession problems that bedeviled kings like Henry VIII. But for the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), it caused hefty problems for the adoptees.

Hideyoshi rose to power after the assassination of Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582). Despite a marriage of thirty years and having mistresses ensconced in castles hither and yon, he never produced any offspring. That is, until he took Cha-cha (Lady Yodo) as his mistress (at the time, legal paternity was up to the head of household).

As Oda Nobunaga's niece, Lady Yodo had an impeccable bloodline and so could bear him a son worthy of being appointed shogun, a post denied Hideyoshi because of his commoner roots. Which she did. Twice.

Even at the time, people wondered aloud about this "miracle." Unfortunately for them, Hideyoshi had turned into a cross between batty King Lear and paranoid Richard III. He launched two disastrous invasions of Korea and ordered the death of a highly-revered adviser, Sen no Rikyu (perhaps because Rikyu's renown eclipsed his).

Questions about the paternity of his sons were quickly quashed when Hideyoshi had the rumormongers executed (that's one way to address a potential PR problem).

Hideyoshi's first son died young (superstition attributed his fate to bad karma from Sen no Rikyu's death). The second, Hideyori, was designated his successor. But what to do with his adopted sons, that might also vie for leadership of the clan? Well, charges of treason were trumped up and they were sentenced to death.

Hideyoshi surely hadn't forgotten how easily he had routed Nobunaga's diffident sons and worried that the same thing would happen to his own.

And, well, it did. After his death, the regents appointed by Hideyoshi split into East and West factions. In short order, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the leader of the East faction, annihilated the West at the Battle of Sekigahara and had himself appointed shogun instead.

The travails of the Toyotomi clan in producing an heir additionally motivated Ieyasu to create the Sanke ("three families"). If the main line failed, the male descendents of his three youngest sons were qualified to become shogun. A royal family with understudies.

The selection of the shogun itself was a political process overseen by a council of elders. Ieyasu's genius was in seeing national governance in political terms and not simply as primogeniture and will-to-power. Shoguns often abdicated and most weren't appointed until after they'd reached adulthood, and sometimes much older.

Related posts

The culture of adoption
The three families

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