This past spring North Korea test-fired yet another Taepodong missile over Japan. It was the third such launch in just over a decade. The Taepodong is the Thor’s hammer of three-stage ballistic death devices, and the Japanese citizenry is rightly afraid of getting pounded. At the top of the list of freaked-out Nipponese is a man named Hideyoshi Hashiba who’s so spooked he’s fabricated his own tank and a private battery of missiles to defend his great nation.
If the name Hideyoshi Hashiba sounds familiar that’s because a) it was the moniker adopted by 16th-century peasant Hideyoshi Toyotomi on his way to becoming one of the most powerful rulers in the country’s history and b) you are a Japanophile nerd. As the presumptive second coming of this legend, Hideyoshi has accordingly erected himself a proper samurai castle in the Odagawa Domain, a state of his own making. He also runs a fancy lodge, which is a kitschy replica of the Japanese parliament building complete with its own hot spring. But that’s just a side gig to his primary endeavor: building weapons with which to blow the North Koreans to smithereens. What Hideyoshi’s arsenal may lack in actual destructive power is more than made up for in symbolic heft. It’s just that no one’s really sure what, besides insanity, is behind the symbolism. So we asked him.
Vice: When did you first surmise that you and the original Hideyoshi Hashiba were one and the same?
Hideyoshi Hashiba: When I was 22 or 23. It was all very sudden. The chief priest of a temple told me, “You are the reincarnation of Hideyoshi Toyotomi.”
That seems pretty cut-and-dried.
Back then I didn’t really think anything of it. However, when I was 28 I was arrested for a corruption scam related to an election and spent some days in a police cell. During that time, a friend of mine brought me a book about the real Hideyoshi Hashiba called Seishun Taikouki [Tales of the Young Hideyoshi]. As I began reading, I realized that he and I led similar lives. That triggered my fascination, and I started to harbor desires to grow powerful and unify the nation like he did.
Did people flip out when you took his name?
Oh, they thought I was completely mad. But now that I’ve established myself as the resident crazy man, the town and I have an unspoken understanding.
Didn’t you run for mayor and appear publicly in full samurai gear? Why would you do a thing like that?
The late Hideyoshi Hashiba was a civil-war commander, right? I wear armor in adherence to his practices, to show that I am more than ready for battle.
What about your mini-state, the Odagawa Domain? What kind of man builds his own fake county?
When I first bought land in Aoyama prefecture, there weren’t any paved roads. It was a beautiful place, though, and leaving it in that state was such a waste. I decided to make some roads, develop the mountainous areas, and build my own house. I also moved my parents here, but they were extremely lonely.
Did they leave?
I thought about it and realized that if this became a tourist area they’d be surrounded by people all day and wouldn’t be lonely anymore. So I decided that the best thing to do was to dig for a hot spring.
Uh, don’t you live in the mountains?
Everybody told me I was a fool for thinking there’d be any hot springs in such a mountainous area, but I proved them wrong. At 4,300 feet aboveground we managed to dig up 75 tons of hot water and ran a hot-spring bathhouse here for a while. Soon I began to think I needed a bigger attraction to gain visitors, so I renovated my own house into a castle, built a replica of the house of parliament, and made it a hotel.
Was the construction of giant homemade missiles part of the refurbishment?
Somewhere along the way we started talking about the North Korean Taepodong missile issue. I have no faith in the current Japanese government, and as head of the Odagawa Domain I thought it best to start taking matters of national defense into my own hands.
Did you design the missiles yourself?
Yes, we produced the missiles at our factory in the Odagawa Domain. It took about a year and cost around 35 million yen [just over $350,000].
What kind of missiles do you have?
Right now I have 12 Patriot missiles that don’t fly, one nuclear warhead called an Interplanetary Ballistic Missile, and the Super Fighter Hashiba 7. That one actually works if you load it with liquid oxygen and alcohol.
It sounds like you became a scholar of missile manufacturing.
Of course! I read books about what sort of threat these missiles pose. I learned all about weapons. I’m also aware of the different missile systems—from very simple ones to things like moon rockets.
How powerful are your missiles?
I can’t tell you exactly since we’ve never actually fired them before, but I believe in my heart that if a Taepodong missile flew at a northern latitude of 45 degrees and an altitude of 12.5 miles above the Tsugaru Strait, my missiles are capable of shooting it down with just a two-inch margin of error. When I did a mental test fire in my head, they were as destructive as depleted uranium bombs. So that’s what I believe.
Do you ever get an itchy trigger finger?
Not really. Of course, if a Taepodong missile were to fly over my head then I wouldn’t think twice about it. The Odagawa Domain is a military state, but a peaceful one.
What were you doing when North Korea test-launched its latest missile?
I was within the boundaries of the Odagawa Domain. I was prepared for war but also ready to take cover. You see, I’ve been interviewed by Korea’s public broadcaster, KBS, several times, and on some occasions I’ve shown our missiles and tanks and declared that I’m always ready to fight Kim Jong-il.
That’s what we like to hear. Were you contacted before the most recent North Korean launch?
A Korean journalist called me and suggested that there was a 5-percent possibility that the Odagawa Domain would be considered a target for the next North Korean missile. I’m sure that the North Koreans have been watching my interviews on KBS. So in order to keep my customers safe from harm, we decided to close Odagawa Onsen Hotel just in case the Taepodong did fly into the Domain. But the real reason for our temporary closure was a ruptured pipe that froze over the winter and had to be repaired. In any case, my decisions are always directed in terms of my role as a state leader.
You must have been relieved when the missile passed you by.
How shall I put this? Well, I was certainly furious at Kim Jong-il when the missile not only flew over Odagawa Domain but also passed Japan. If I were the defense minister of this country, I would hope that I could at least take some sort of action. Japan might be the second-largest economic power in the world, but when it comes to defense, we don’t even have proper provisions in place. Even North Korea calls our Self-Defense Forces “a herd of dogs.”
Any plans for expanding your weapons facilities?
We have a large cistern within the Odagawa Domain, so I hope to one day build two Aegis ships and keep them anchored there and also build an aircraft carrier. I’ve actually designed the whole thing based on plastic models, but I’ll be building the real thing soon. I’ve already purchased the building blocks. The ships will be around 30 to 35 feet in diameter. While this sounds small, they’ll still be able to carry people and will be either manually controlled or remote controlled. Our tank holds six people, so hopefully the ships will carry around the same number of passengers.
Can your tank shoot proper ammunition?
No. It is armed with cannons and missiles, but if I could actually shoot real ammunition from it, I’d be prosecuted under something much more severe than weapons violation. The important thing here was to make something as realistic as possible, but only as a hobby.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to run for governor of Osaka prefecture and become the owner of Osaka Castle, where Hideyoshi used to live. If by any chance this plan doesn’t work, then the Odagawa clan will invade Osaka by military force. We’ll dock about five battleships in Osaka harbor, unload five or six tanks, and march to Osaka Castle.
Good luck with that one.