Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa

The Ashikaga were a Japanese family that occupied the office of shogun from 1338 to 1568, known as the Muromachi period because the shogun's palace was in the Muromachi district of Kyoto. The Ashikaga were descended from the Minamoto family which established Japan's first shogunate in 1185. The line's founder, Ashikaga Takauji, rebelled in 1333 against the last Hojo shogun in favour of Emperor Go-Daigo. Following a power struggle under Go-Daigo's new regime he rebelled again, set up a rival emperor from the alternative northern branch of the imperial family at Kyoto in 1336, and had himself appointed shogun. Civil war continued until 1392, when one of Go-Daigo's successors renounced his claim to the throne. The Ashikaga then tried to reunify the country, but were unable ever to fully control the daimyo.

Yoshimasa was born in 1436 to the sixth Ashikaga shogun Yoshinori and Shigeko, the daughter of the minister of the left Hino Shigemitsu. Shigeko's younger male cousin Karasumaru Suketo was appointed the child's guardian, and a talented young woman named Oima was chosen from among one of the families that traditionally supplied retainers to the shogun's household to oversee his upbringing.

Yoshinori was a man of violent temper, quick to punish anyone who opposed his will. He was feared by all and came to be known as "the evil shogun." Yoshinori revered the imperial family and increased the power of the shogunate by strictly enforcing the laws, suppressing powerful ministers, and eliminating governor generals who opposed him, but his severity stirred up strong resentment and he was assassinated by his general Akamatsu Mitsusuke (1381-1441) in 1441. Known as the Kakitsu Revolt after the era name, it was an example of lower-ranking military leaders overthrowing their superiors (gekotsujo) a phenomenon that was increasingly widespread during this period.

His heir Yoshikatsu (1434-43) succeeded to the post of shogun at the age of eight but died two years later, paving the way for the next shogun, Yoshimasa. Only eight years old, Yoshimasa was assisted by the governor general Hatakeyama Mochikuni (1398-1455). Unfortunately, Hatakeyama did not compare favorably in either character or ability with those who had assisted Yoshimitsu in his youth. Eventually the sixteen-year-old Hosokawa Katsumoto (1430-73) was pointed governor general, but he was far too young and inexperienced to successfully deal with the difficult problems facing Yoshimasa.

Higashiyama culture

During Yoshimasa's reign Japan saw the growth of Higashiyama Culture, famous for Japanese tea ceremony (Sado), Japanese flower arranging (Kado or Ikebana), Noh Japanese drama, and Indian ink painting. Higashiyama culture was greatly influenced by Zen Buddhism and saw the rise of Japanese aesthetics like Wabi-sabi and the harmonization of imperial court (Kuge) and samurai (Bushi) culture.

In 1489, the retired Yoshimasa built Jishoji Temple (Also known as Ginkaku-ji Temple and Silver Pavilion) in Kyoto, one of the current most famous tourist attractions in the ancient capital.

Like Yoshimitsu, Yoshimasa associated regularly with Zen monks, but he was more interested in cultural and artistic exchange than the demanding practice of zazen. Yoshimasa's ministers and advisors were largely motivated by self-interest, and increasingly cared only for personal gain. At the same time his mother Shigeko and his father-in-law Ise Sadachika (1417-73) meddled in government affairs and began to wield increasing influence, leading to further disorder.

As the landlords of great estates passed their tax burdens on to the peasantry, farmers were pressed beyond endurance and eventually arose in revolt across the land. Yoshimasa's attempts to deal with this problem were unsuccessful. Restoring the finances of the shogunate and pacifying the social unrest of the time were indeed daunting challenges.

Given these circumstances, Yoshimasa decided to withdraw from government. He had wed the sixteen-year-old Tomiko of the Hino clan in 1455, but she failed to bear a son, so in 1464 Yoshimasa called his younger brother Yoshimi, at that time residing at Jdo-ji under the name Jdoji-dono, back into government and lay life and made him his successor.

The following year, however, Tomiko gave birth to a son. He was named Yoshiki (1465-89), later Yoshihisa. Tomiko wished Yoshihisa to succeed as shogun, and called on Yamana Mochitoyo (also Szen, 1404-1473) to support her cause. Partly because of Yamana's long-standing personal antipathy for Yoshimi's supporter Hosokawa Katsu, a military confrontation resulted. This was the start of the nin War (1467-77), which turned the magnificent capital of Kyoto into a charred battlefield. Many temples, including Shkoku-ji and Jdo-ji, Yoshimi's former residence, were destroyed in the fires accompanying the revolt.

The Ashikaga shoguns became puppets of the contending daimyo in the bitter fighting of the 16th century, the so-called Epoch of Warring States. The Ashikaga shogunate was finally brought down by the warlord Oda Nobunaga, who first installed then (1573) toppled the last Ashikaga shogun, Yoshiaki (reigned 1568-1588). Despite their uneven political record, the Ashikaga shoguns, especially Yoshimitsu and Yoshinori, were great patrons of the arts, responsible for the brilliant Muromachi culture and for such masterpieces as Kyoto's Golden Pavilion.

Preceded by:
Ashikaga Yoshikatsu
Muromachi Shogun:
Ashikaga Yoshimasa

Succeeded by:
Ashikaga Yoshihisa

Ashikaga Shogunate -- Ashikaga Takauji's Descendants
Yoshimochi (4)
Yoshinori (6)
Yoshikazu (5)
Yoshikatsu (7)
Yoshimasa (8)
Yoshihisa (9)
Yoshitane (10)
Yoshizumi (11)
Yoshiharu (12)
Yoshiteru (13)
Yoshihide (14)
Yoshiaki (15)
All Ashikaga shoguns claim descent from Takauji, who is recognized as the founder of this dynasty. The broken lines indicate adoptions within the shogunal clan.
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