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There is a famous poem that Japanese children are taught to recite:
(1) 鳴かぬなら、殺してしまえほととぎす, (なかぬなら、ころしてしまえほととぎす)
(2) 鳴かぬなら、鳴かして見せようほととぎす (なかぬなら、なかしてみせようほととぎす)
(3) 鳴かぬなら、鳴くまで待とうほととぎす (なかぬなら、なくまでまとうほととぎす)
The first line means, “If the cuckoo does not sing, kill it”. This line refers to the だいみょう (大名) Oda Nobunaga (織田 信長). Nobunaga is considered one of the three great daimyōs. He was known for his ruthlessness and military ambitions. Nobunaga changed the way war was fought in Japan. He supported the use of Western weapons like firearms at a time when swords were used in battle. He also set up らくいちらくざ (楽市楽座) regulations, which were basically free market principles used in trade and commerce. He was also responsible for creating civil service promotions based on merit and ability, rather than on rank and status.
The second line refers to Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉) and means, “If the cuckcoo doesn’t sing, coax it”. Hideyoshi was a great negotiator. He was able to persuade many members of the さいとうし or the Saitō clan to pledge their allegiance to Nobunaga, his former master. Hideyoshi’s legacy left a social rigid class in Japan. Ironically, Hideyoshi himself was a lowly servant under Nobunaga, who rose to become a samurai. Moreover, he confiscated the swords of many farmers, thereby preventing them from becoming samurais. Unlike Nobunaga, Hideyoshi’s strenghth was not on the battlefield. He failed two attempts to conquer Korea, dashing the hopes of invading China as well.
The third line refers to Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康) and means, “If the cuckcoo doesn’t sing, wait for it”. Ieyasu was known for his patience and caution. Ieyasu waited until Hideyoshi’s death to take power. He secretly made plans with Hideyoshi’s enemies and overthrew Hideyoshi’s five year old son and regent out of power. In 1603, Ieyasu became the first shōgun of Japan. Perhaps it was Ieyasu’s childhood experience as a hostage and being kidnapped at age six, that influenced his cautious personality. Although he was treated well for a hostage, his life was in the hands of an enemy clan until age fifteen.