Tenshu, the Last of the Toyotomi
By Carmen Sterba

Honorable Mention - 2009 Samurai Fiction Contest

Genre: Historical Fiction



On the first three days of January 1615, there was a ceasefire at Osaka Castle. Naa woke up hoping that her family would celebrate New Year's like other years, but it was not to be. Though they did meet briefly to toast each other and eat the elaborate New Year's dishes, soon Hideyori, her father, had to be off to meet with his generals. Naa asked Senhime if they could play Kaiawase, the shell matching game, and was thrilled when her step-mother said yes. The shells, decorated with waka poems, were laid out and they played together while Naa's brother, Kunimatsu looked on. Afterwards, they played One Hundred Poets. Kuni joined in and the result was that Naa won.

The ceasefire for Oshogatsu did not erase the memory and horror of the bombardment of the Ieyasu's Dutch and English cannons that had been heard daily for the last months. Her grandmother, Yodogimi was filled with fear because the other side outnumbered us. She kept repeating how Ieyasu had promised her husband Hideyoshi, before he died, to safeguard the life of his only son, Hideyori. "Why, why had it come to this?" Yodogimi repeated in anguish. Nothing made sense, why would Ieyasu, who was Senhime's granddaughter, attack their castle?


Senhime sent the servants to bring paper and their boxes of ink wells and brushes so they could paint their first calligraphy of the year. Kuni wrote the Chinese character for "Strength" and Naa painted "Hope." Naa put aside her brush and remembered how Senhime had warned  her months ago of a possible attack. As her step-mother had arranged the branch that represents heaven in her flower arrangement, she had paused slightly and said without turning to look at Naa, "I don't want you to worry, but there are rumors that their is a plot against the Toyotomi clan." "Naa," she added, "we must be vigilant, so I will ask the servants not to take you further than the main garden from now on."

"Oh, but I love my walks in the morning and evening," Naa had answered, " I can't live without them!"

"Yes, you can. Please believe me, Naa. This is not a time to be selfish. When we are sure of safety for our castle, you will go out walking again."

Naa had pouted, then looked up and frowned, "Well, I hope it will be safer for cherry blossom viewing in the spring."

"I do, too, Naa, but it might be a long winter."

After the three day ceasefire, the war started up again. After 17 days of bombardment, it was Yodogimi who initiated a peace negotiation and 

the "winter campaign" was over when the Toyotomi surrendered and Ieyasu, his son, Shogun Hidetakahis warriors and foot soldiers withdrew to Edo.

In spring, when the mountain cherries were nearly in full bloom, the family went with a heavy escort of retainers to view the sights in Kyoto. They saw much destruction from the battles during the winter. Dwellers from all around the capital were out cherry blossom viewing. Naa thought there must be nothing to fear anymore. However, new rumors began. Naa overheard discussions about  preparations to defend the castle. Great numbers of ronin, masterless samurai were coming to help rebuild the castle moat.  She asked her brother what was going to happen. He bragged that because she was merely a girl, he couldn't tell her, but Naa imagined that her brother did not know anymore than she did.

Summer of 1615

Naahime knew the moment spring changed into summer. It was when she saw the first mosquito. When she slapped at it, her servants got out the mosquito netting from the castle storehouse. They also brought out several newly made cotton kimono for her to choose, and took her vast collection of silk kimono to air outside before putting them away. Her maids wondered how soon she would outgrow her silk ones.

The Toyotomi Clan knew now that Tokugawa Ieyasu was gathering  soldiers again, so Naa and Kuni were told that they had to stay inside the castle. There was tension in Yodogimi's face who had never quite recovered from the first siege,  but Naa's father and Senhime did not show their emotions. Even in the huge castle, it became claustrophobic to stay inside day after day, but she had her maids to play with and her grandmother to follow around. Senhime still guided her in her poetry writing of waka. Her usually light-hearted waka began to be influenced by the dark shadows approaching Osaka.

at noon today

the loudness of cicada

never ceases, 

my maids jump at loud noises

fearing the worst to come

In August, without scant warning, the sound of the Tokugawa's Dutch cannon is followed by the sound of troops outside the castle moat. Senhime and Yodogimi scramble to tell the servants to go to their places, as has been planned, for an emergency. Naa writes in her diary:

My brother and I are alone with the servants day and night since all the retainers are needed to fight. Father has been hand-picking the positions for his best warriors. Numerous Christian coverts are among them having arrived here from here the southern islands. We are ready, but I hear chatter that the Tokugawa force is bigger than last time.

Day after day, the sound of the cannon and rifles continue. The servants constantly say we are way out-numbered this time. We hear rumors that Musashi is among the ronin. There is much chatter about that. My father keeps his hope up, but my grandmother is becoming hysterical. 

Senhime is not afraid. She believes that her grandfather Ieyasu and her father the Shogun will not harm us because of her. My grandmother says if we lose, the Toyotomi will commit seppuku. Senhime tries to calm her again, tell my brother and I not to worry. She promises to take us the storehouse, to be safe.

After the dawning of a new day, June 4th, the humidity is rising and the servants bring in fans for us to use. The quietness of the insects is eerie. Suddenly, the bombardment begins again and the heat intensifies.  By late afternoon, we all start to cough as smoke rolls in. "Fire, Fire," I hear retainers shouting downstairs. Grandmother, Kuni and I to the keep where there is no smoke or fire. Senhime is brought there soon after and she has wrapped belongings with her. We wait in the dark for what seems like hours.

There is commotion outside and a retainer opens the door. I see my father enter the keep and he nods gravely . He says the battle is over and that Senhime and I must leave the castle for the Tokugawa retainers have come to take us to Ieyasu. Senhime gasps. Once she collects herself, she urges me to go with her and she promises my safety. Father nods again and says not to worry. Alarmed, I look at Yodogimi and Kuni. She says it was decided that I would go with Senhime because she is the daughter of the Shogun and Ieyasu and we will be safe with them. Is this goodbye? Will I see my father, brother and grandmother again? I follow Senhime, trusting that we will be able to talk to Ieyasu and persuade him to safeguard our family and supporters. Some of our maids are allowed to go with us.

Outside the gate of the castle which is still fiercely burning, we cross the moat and walk down to the battlefield towards a group of foot soldiers holding Tokugawa banners. The man who is seated inside the tent must be Ieyasu and next to him the Shogun. Senhime goes towards them and the rest of us stand back where we cannot hear. A Tokugawa retainer comes to us and says that Senhime has asked that I be sent to Kamakura to safety and her wish has been granted. Tomorrow, I will be carried by a sedan chair along the Tokaido Road from Osaka to Kamakura where I will find sanctuary at a convent.

Early the next morning preparations have been made, Senhime comes to me and tells me that my father, grandmother and brother have died in the fire. I am filed with terror and don't know what to do or say. All I can think of is that I want to die if they are dead, but she says, "As the last of the Toyotomi, I can only be safe if I become a nun at Tokei-ji in Kamakura." I learn from her that a Tokugawa retainer carrying a message by horseback left last night for Kamakura to announce my arrival. 

I am shivering in spite of the heat. My mouth is quivering, but Senhime is resolute. She did this for me and I have only her to obey now. I do not know what it will be like in Kamakura. I hear it is a wilderness compared to Osaka and Kyoto. And, I know that the Tokaido Road has bandits. I know so little, but I do know this: I must live that my family lives through me.

Senhime has saved some of my personal items among those she bundled up for herself before she entered the castle keep. She gives me a mirror that my father gave me, a container for communion wafers that a foreign priest gave me and my diary. Her maid hands me a plain cotton kimono and jacket for me to wear on the ride. 

There are two Tokugawa retainers who will carry me in the sedan and it will take less than a week. I am told that though we will stop at inns at night, no matter who talks to me. I must never say that I am Toyotomi Naahime. Only when I arrive at the gate of Tokei-ji and meet Abbess, Keisan, can I say who I am. Therefore, because of the mercy of Ieyasu, I will be safe where I am going. I wonder if this is true and I cling to Senhime and ask if my maid will go with me and she replies that it is not possible, but she will find her a place at Himeji Castle. We say goodbye with tears and I bow to Senhime and sit down in the sedan so the men can raise it over their shoulders. We take off for the seaside road to Kamakura. 

As we begin our trip, I raise the curtain to look at what remains of the castle and see that there are many heads on stakes. I hope on high that my father and brother are not among those displayed for all to see. It is too much to bear. I'm numb. As the retainers speed along the road, every time I close my eyes, I see the fire again, hear the cries and smell the smoke. I can't really comprehend that my father, brother and grandma are no longer living. I want to cry or scream, but I am even afraid to do that. The only thing I can do is trust my retainers to take me safely to the convent that Senhime has chosen for me.

The seaside breezes move the curtains on my sedan chair and I can see brief images of beaches and trees. Only when we stop for lunch or to rest at an inn, I can stretch and walk about. My body jerks from the constant bouncing of the sedan chair. It is good to lay down on a futon at night, but I can not sleep. The burning images and screams come and go. 

at the inn

we hide our identities

another night

as we venture further 

from the castle, my home

As retainers continue along the seaside road, Naa is not only overwhelmed by the horror she has experienced and the shock of the death of her family members, but fears for her future. At different station posts along the way and at the entrance to the inns at night, she hears snatches of chatter from other travelers. They are talking about the burning of Osaka Castle and rumors that Hideyori escaped. Though she was told that he died, she now holds on to the hope that he is alive and hidden somewhere.

There is even some talk of Musashi, saying that he is on the move again. At first, along the road, the common people surmise that Musashi had fought on the side of the Toyotomi, as but Naa's sedan advances to Kamakura towards Edo, people say there is no doubt that Musashi fought for the Tokugawa. Naa realizes she's now in Tokugawa country and that she may never see Osaka and Kyoto again. 

Naa thinks of her family and her maids. One of her maids is a Christian convert and she told her a story about Hosokawa Gracia who had died in the fire at the Hosokawa Mansion near Osaka Castle fifteen years earlier in 1600. She loved to hear the tale of the valor of Hosokawa Gracia. First, she was in danger because her father Akechi Mitsunari killed Oda Nobunaga and then, in turn, my grandfather, Hideyoshi killed him. Later on, she had been brave enough to convert to Christianity even though she knew that the foreign priests would be expelled from her country and all Christians would be persecuted. Yet she persevered and befriended a famous Christian, Takayama Ukon before he was exiled to the Philippines. Finally, Gracia was abducted as a hostage by Ishida Mitsunari when her husband, Tadaoki was absent. A fire took her life like Naa's own family. Gracia was known for her valor, and the Toyotomi, Naa surmised, would be known for their valor. The supporters of the Toyotomi would always remember the treachery of the Tokugawa.

Along the road, Naa saw the shadows of pines and when her curtain opened in the wind, she could see the seascape, hear the seabirds

and feel the road dust on her face. The night before, the retainers told her that they should reach Kamakura the next day. She would be relieved to walk again and let herself wonder about her destination. Finally, one of her retainers yelled out, "Kamakura," but she didn't peek. As they slowed down, the retainer announced, "Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu." Naa sat up straight, peeked out, and said out loud, "This is where Minamoto Yoshitsune's lover, Shizuka danced for Yoritomo and where Minamoto Sanetomo was assassinated by his nephew." 

After turning around the corner and going a bit further, one retainer shouted, "Arriving at Tokeiji!" The retainers placed the sedan on the ground and helped her out. One stayed with her while the other went up the stairs of the gate and shouted that they had arrived from a far. Naa looked at the wooden sign that stated that the temple was established in 1285. There was a stirring while the gate was opened by two diminutive nuns clothed in purple. The retainers bowed deeply and Naa received her possessions wrapped in a big cloth. She walked slowly, not like a child, but stately, up the stairs and bowed to the nuns. 

"Senhime gives you her regards and thanks you for allowing me, an orphan to come here. I am Naahime of the Toyotomi Clan." 

The nuns bowed low and held the bow, then one took her belongings and the other offered her hand and said, "Welcome, most precious princess. I am Abbess Keisan Hosei. We are honored to have you stay with us."  As Naa entered the gate, she gave a bow to the retainers and some other nuns gave the retainers food, apologized that they could not let them stay at the convent, and told them to go over to 

Engaku-ji Temple across the way to stay the night.

As Naa went inside the gate, her face lit up. "What a beautiful garden," Naa said in a hushed voice. 

"Little princess, this is a magically beautiful place. At dusk the sun just hugs on to this pine grove. In fact, we call it Pine Grove Palace. Now the cicada are out in force in the day and the crickets sing all night. There are frogs, ducks and all kinds of birds that visit us here. Tomorrow, I will tell you the story of our founder, Abbess Kakusan Hotai, a samurai woman from the Adachi clan. She grew up here in Kamakura and after her husband the Regent Hojo Tokimune died, she founded this temple in the hopes that it would be a sanctuary for women in danger. She would have been proud to have you here."

"Will I be allowed to walk in the garden anytime I please?"

"Anytime except meal time, prayer time and bedtime."

"Is it true I will also become an abbess? WIll I be safe here?"

"We are very sorry for your loss, princess. Though Ieyasu became your enemy, on the grounds of Tokei-ji, all women who enter here are safe by the order of the Tokugawa Shogun." explained Abbess Kaisan as she bowed deeply again. Naa believed the abbess and realized that Senhime was right. Soon she was given a modest dinner and settled into her room for night.

The next day, Naahime had her hair shorn and she was given the name of Tenshu Hotai. It was her first day as an abbess-in-training. She was only seven years old, but she was now determined to help other women, whether they were royalty or townsfolk, Buddhist or Christian or young or old. 

fire no longer

haunts my dreams 

in this pine grove

prayers and laughter 

lift my spirit higher

(text and poems by Carmen Sterba)