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One of the most famous figures in all of Japanese history, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) rose from peasant status to become the ruler of all Japan. But despite all his victories on the battlefields and triumphs at court, Hideyoshi fell victim to every ruler's greatest fear - as his life drew to a close, he had failed to leave an adult heir behind to succeed him and carry on his line. Instead, there was only his infant son Hideyori and the dubious promises of his generals to serve as regents only until Hideyori was old enough to take charge himself.

With death approaching, Hideyoshi must have felt keenly how ephemeral all his achievements would be if his family's rule of Japan were to begin and end with his own life. In his final poem, he mused on the fleetingness of men and deeds:

Appearing like dew,
vanishing like dew—
such is my life.
Even Naniwa's splendor
is a dream within a dream.

Indeed within two years of Hideyoshi's death, one of his generals, Tokugawa Ieyasu, would depose young Hideyori and seize power in his own name.

English translation by yours truly.

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