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Historical Stories

Mt. Yoshino Burnt to a Crisp? A Fiery Crisis

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Once, there was a person who came to see the cherry blossoms of Mt. Yoshino and instead ran into days of bad weather. This person was said to have remarked that “If it doesn’t stop raining, I’ll light Mt. Yoshino on fire and return home immediately.”

It’s a statement that most people would probably think of as “a bad joke.”

I wish I could say that it was.

Instead, this particular person could have really ignited Mt.Yoshino because it was none other than the Taiko (retired regent) of the country, the warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi.

When it came to Hideyoshi’s cherry blossom viewing party in Mt. Yoshino, it wasn’t an easy

situation. He came with a huge retinue of servants and other warlords. As a result, all of Mt. Yoshino was in a huge fuss even before his party even arrived at Mt. Yoshino.

It is said that Hideyoshi’s party came by two different routes.

The first route was via Nara City and as the day of cherry-blossom viewing approached, a large number of people gathered in Nara in preparation.

According to one report, it was written that “All of Hideyoshi’s companions were studded with gold and silver. They were sparkling as they were dressed in the finest fabrics shining with gold or luxurious fabrics woven with gold thread. All in all there could be about 3,000 people…? “.

The other route was via Sakai in Osaka and Toma-ji Temple in Nara.

According to records, the party that came on this route was also made up of a large number of people, perhaps 5,000 in total.

So, Hideyoshi and his party gathered under Takatori Castle in Osaka and set for Yoshino along these two routes.

At that time, not that many people visited Yoshino to see the cherry blossoms, and the members of Hideyoshi’s entourage, who donned sparkling clothing, excitedly shared rumors of the beauty they were soon to witness. Everyone was looking forward to the start of the cherry blossom viewing party.

As fate would have it, on the evening of the day when Hideyoshi and his party arrived at Mt. Yoshino, it was raining. Feelings of frustration began to appear as the rain continued into the next day as well as the day after that. Finally, Hideyoshi consulted with a priest of Mt. Yoshino, asking, “Does the rain not stop because our hearts are not in alignment with Zao-gongen and the gods of the mountains?”

The priest replied.

“Mt. Yoshino is a place where people do not eat the meat of birds or beasts (in accordance with Buddhist principles). But now, you are eating meat indiscriminately. So I think Zao-gongen and the mountain gods have been angered.”

This was a wise statement by the priest.

Mt. Yoshino is a very sacred location in Japan, and was established as such more than 600 years before Hideyoshi had been born. From ancient times, it is said that even powerful nobles had to purify themselves for three months before entering Mt. Yoshino.

In such a sacred place, it would have been common knowledge that eating meat was foolish, even in those days.

Hideyoshi, being keenly aware that the priest, in his explanation, was actually criticizing his behavior, did not stay silent.

He ordered the cook to stop adding meat to the party’s food and stated “Now, if it doesn’t stop raining, I’ll put Mt.Yoshino to the flame and return home immediately.”

The priest paled and hastily left.

It is said that he immediately spoke with all the priests of Mt.Yoshino and implored them to pray all night. Hideyoshi laughed out loud after seeing this.

…It had become a really messy situation.

The next day, (maybe thanks to the priest’s prayers?) a beautiful blue sky appeared and Mt. Yoshino was wrapped in cherry blossoms.

Hideyoshi was delighted to see this.

Without ever trying to hide the joy, he went deeper and deeper into Mt. Yoshino.

He came to a temple called Anzen-ji and went to its Zao-do Hall, which was located at the innermost part of Mt. Yoshino, and sang out loud, “I saw the flowers blooming in full today!”

From ancient times, the showers of falling cherry blossoms petals at Mt. Yoshino have been likened to snow, and it seemed to have also impressed Hideyoshi as well.  The people of Mt. Yoshino were also glad that their sacred groves of cherry trees had not been burned to the ground.

It had been an intense cherry blossom viewing party indeed.

Yu-kuchi Kikumimi

Yu-kuchi Kikumimi

I was born in an area near the town of Yoshino in 1986. I’m currently a clerical worker in Yoshino who sometimes writes about history. I'm not good at dealing with complicated matters, and I like interesting things. In my articles, I introduce and discuss the old days of the Yoshino area.

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