As early as the Heian Period of Japan, a system known as the shogunate was set in place to govern the country. These group of officials, which were also collectively referred to as the bakufu, was headed by the shogun. Although the appointment of shoguns was formally done by the emperor, these officials were actually the ones who had authority and power over the political and foreign affairs of Japan.
During the Muromachi Period, the social hierarchy, culture, and lifestyle of Japan were dictated by the decisions of the Ashikaga shogunate.
Overview of the Ashikaga Shogunate
The Ashikaga shogunate, or also known as the Ashikaga bakufu and the Muromachi shogunate, ruled from the year 1338 to the year 1573. Each shogun of the Ashikaga bakufu was a member of the Ashikaga family.
Prior to the establishment of the Ashikaga shogunate, struggles between the Hojo clan and the Imperial Court arose due to various issues regarding power and land ownership. The Kamakura shogunate, the then ruling government system, ordered Ashikaga Takauji to help stop the uprising of the Imperial Court’s forces but eventually found themselves on the losing end, due to Ashikaga’s turn against them.
It is believed that Ashikaga chose to fight alongside the Imperial Court because he served as the supreme leader of the Minamoto Clan, which the Hojo Clan of the Kamakura shogunate previously lost to in a different power struggle.
The Kamakura shogunate was successfully overthrown by the year 1336 and Ashikaga Takauji eventually set up his own government in the city of Kyoto.
Ashikaga Shoguns Who Preceded Ashikaga Yoshiaki
Ashikaga Takauji served as the founder and very first shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. He was born on the 18th day of August during the year 1305 and reigned from 1338 to 1358.
He came from the Seiwa Genji line, descendants of Japan’s Emperor Seiwa, and was born to Ashikaga Sadauji and Uesugi Kiyoko. Ashikaga Maagoro and Ashikaga Tadayoshi were Ashikaga Takauji’s natural siblings, while Ashikaga Takayoshi was his half-sibling.
Some of the events that transpired during Ashikaga Takauji’s reign include Ashikaga Tadayoshi and Ko no Moronao’s disagreement, Ashikaga Tadayoshi’s decision to become a priest, The struggle for Kyoto from 1351 to 1358, Ko no Moronao and Ko no Moroyasu’s exile, and Ashikaga Tadayoshi’s death in 1352.
According to Muso Soseki, a renowned Zen master, three main qualities best described Ashikaga Takauji – calm, merciful, and generous.
After the death of Ashikaga Takauji in 1358, his son, Ashikaga Yoshiakira, took over as shogun and was in office until the year 1367. He was born on the 4th day of July during the year 1330 and was called Senjuo throughout his childhood.
Some significant events during his reign as shogun include several defections in the shogunate, the attack on Kyoto by Hosokawa Kiyouji and Kusunoki Masanori, Prince Kaneyoshi’s acquirement of control over Kyushu, and Ashikaga Yoshiakira’s eventual passing after falling ill during the year 1367.
A few months after the death of Ashikaga Yoshiakira, his son, Ashikaga Toshimitsu, continued the legacy of his family.
He was born on the 25th day of September during the year 1358, meaning that he was only ten years old when he was appointed shogun. By the age of twenty, he was recognized as the Gon Dainagon, or the acting grand counselor, of the imperial court.
Ashikaga Yoshimitsu was in office for about 26 years. As such, several events significant to Japan’s history occurred during his reign, including the defection of Kusunoki Masanori to Ashikaga, the construction of the Muromachi Palace in Kamigyo District, and the Meitoku War.
During the year 1394, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu appointed Ashikaga Yoshimochi, his son who was only eight years old at the time, as the fourth shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. Regardless of the official confirmation, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu continued to maintain authority over the government until his death in 1408.
It was only then that Ashikaga Yoshimochi was able to come into his own as the reigning shogun and governed the country until the year 1423. Some of the events that occurred during his time in office include the breaking off of relations with China, the rebellion of Uesugi Zenshu, the Oei Invasion, a grave famine, and the resurgence of supporters of the Southern Court.
Similar to his father, Ashikaga Yoshimochi ceded his authority over to his son, Ashikaga Yoshikazu even before showing any signs of retirement.
Ashikaga Yoshikazu was born on the 27th day of August during the year 1407, making him only 16 years old when he was appointed as the fifth shogun by his father in 1423. Unfortunately, Ashikaga Yoshikazu passed away within two years of his official confirmation as shogun, as a result of drunken dissipation.
Ashikaga Yoshimochi resumed his role as shogun after the death of Ashikaga Yoshikazu.
Given that Ashikaga Yoshimochi did not choose any other successor to take over before his death in 1428, the kanrei (shogunal deputy) at the time selected the next shogun by drawing lots at the Iwashimizu Hachiman Shrine of Kyoto.
Out of a handful of other candidates from the Ashikaga clan, Ashikaga Yoshinori’s name was drawn. Ashikaga Yoshinori was born on the 12th day of July during the year 1394 to Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and his wife, Fujiwara no Yoshiko. He served as the sixth shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate until the year 1441, when he was murdered by Akamatsu Mitsusuke.
Throughout his reign, he was able to strengthen the shogunate’s power over Japan by rising victorious out of the 1438 Eikyo Rebellion against Ashikaga Mochiuji. Other significant evens from his time include the establishment of the Tosen bugyo to take care of foreign affairs, the destruction and reconstruction of the Yasaka Pagoda of Kyoto’s Hokanji Temple, the suicide of Ashikaga Mochiuji, and the Kakitsu Incident.
Ashikaga Yoshikatsu was Ashikaga Yoshinori’s sixth son and served as the seventh shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. He was born on the 19th day of March during the year 1434, making him only 8 years old when he was appointed as shogun in 1442.
Unfortunately, he passed away at the age of 10 due to a fatal accident that occurred while he was riding a horse.
Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the brother of Ashikaga Yoshikatsu, was given the title as shogun after the tragic accident. At the time, he was only eight years old and went by the name Yoshinari. He changed his name to Yoshimasa several years after he was appointed as the eighth shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.
During his reign from 1449 to 1473, several decisions were made which eventually led to the outbreak of the Onin War in 1467. These included the dissension of the succession of Hatakeyama, Kamakura’s dissension between the Uesugi Kanrei and Kubo lines, the establishment of the Horikoshi Kubo, the restoration of the imperial regalia at the Northern Court, Ashikaga Yoshimasa’s adoption of Ashikaga Yoshimi, and the dissension of the succession of Shiba.
In the midst of the various hostilities brought about by the Onin War, Ashikaga Yoshimasa appointed Ashikaga Yoshihisa as the next shogun before retiring during the year 1473. Nonetheless, Ashikaga Yoshimasa continued to maintain his authority over the shogunate until the year 1479.
When Ashikaga Yoshimasa decided to adopt Ashikaga Yoshimi, his intention was to make him his heir. A year later, Ashikaga Yoshihisa was born, which resulted in a struggle for succession between the brothers; another factor that contributed to the Onin War, which officially ended in 1477.
It was only during the year 1479 that Ashikaga Yoshihisa’s official shogunal administration began. Unfortunately, within ten years of the beginning of his reign, he died during a campaign known as Rokkaku Tobatsu, which was aimed against Sasaki Takayori.
Ashikaga Yoshimasa resumed his role as shogun after the death of Ashikaga Yoshihisa.
After Ashikaga Yoshimasa passed away in 1490, Ashikaga Yoshihisa’s cousin, Ashikaga Yoshitane, was appointed as the tenth shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.
Ashikaga Yoshitane was the son of Ashikaga Yoshimi and initially went by the names Yoshiki, Yoshimura, and Yoshitada before changing his name to Yoshitane during the year 1501, when he was put in a temporary exile. His first rule of the Ashikaga shogunate lasted until 1493 when he was forced to abdicate from his position by Hatakeyama Yoshitoyo so Emperor Go-Kashiwabara could accede.
He was officially replaced by Ashikaga Yoshizumi but was eventually restored to his position thanks to the support of Ouchi Yoshioki. Ashikaga Yoshitane’s second time in office started in 1508 and ended in 1521.
Ashikaga Yoshizumi, the son of Ashikaga Masatomo and the grandson of Ashikaga Yoshinori, was appointed as the shogun after the Ashikaga Yoshitane abdicated his position. He was given this position by the order of Hosokawa Masamoto.
Ashikaga Yoshizumi was born on the 15th day of January during the year 1481, making him only 13 years old when he was given the title. He was in office until 1508, when Ashikaga Yoshitane was restored as the shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.
Throughout his second time in office, Ashikaga Yoshitane continued to have struggled with Hosokawa Takakuni and the Hosokawa Clan over power. Eventually, Ashikaga Yoshitane had to withdraw to the island of Awaji before passing away on the island of Shikoku.
Ashikaga Yoshiharu, the eleventh son of Ashikaga Yoshizumi, was appointed as the twelfth shogun through the support of Hosokawa Takakuni. He ruled the government until 1546 and is among the most significant shoguns of Japan from the perspective of Western countries because his time in office was the period when Western Europe first came into contact with the country.
Some important events that transpired during his rule include the Ikko Rebellion, Go-Nara’s enthronement, the dissension of the Koga Kubo line, and Ashikaga Yoshiharu’s exile to Omi in 1546.
Ashikaga Yoshiharu’s son, Ashikaga Yoshiteru, was appointed as the thirteenth shogun during his exile. He was born on the 31st day of March during the year 1536, making him eleven years old when he started his reign.
He was in office until the year 1565 but served as a puppet shogun like his father. Some significant events that occurred during his rule include the death of Ashikaga Yoshiharu while in exile, the rebellion of Sue Harukata against Ouchi Yoshitaka, Imagawa Yoshimoto’s death caused by Oda Nobunaga, and the invasion of Kyoto by Matsunaga Hisahide.
Ashikaga Yoshihide, the cousin of Ashikaga Yoshiteru, was appointed as the fourteenth shogun after the former committed suicide in 1565. His reign, which started in the year 1568, was cut short after he fell ill and passed away from a contagious disease.
At the time, Oda Nobunaga’s armies were making their march into Kyoto and were able to gain control of the country capital. Oda Nobunaga then appointed Ashikaga Yoshiaki as the fifteenth shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.
Ashikaga Yoshiaki – The Last Ashikaga Shogun
Ashikaga Yoshiaki served as the fifteenth and last shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. He was born on the 5th day of December during the year 1537 and ruled the country from 1568 to 1573.
During his time in office, Oda Nobunaga’s invasion of Kyoto had already made the shogunate lose its power over the country, making Ashikaga Yoshiaki only a puppet shogun. As such, a lot of historians consider 1573, the year when Oda Nobunaga drove Ashikaga Yoshiaki out of Kyoto, to be the end of the Ashikaga shogunate.
To others, since Ashikaga Yoshiaki did not officially resign from his position, the Ashikaga shogunate continued to exist for several more years. Nonetheless, Oda Nobunaga’s efforts to unify Japan became the center of discussion during this period, amidst various civil wars and power struggles.
Events that Transpired During Ashikaga Yoshiaki’s Reign
Some important events that transpired during the reign of Ashikaga Yoshiaki include the construction of the Nijo Residence, the defeat of Oda Nobunaga against the Ikko monks, the destruction of the Enryakuji Temple by Oda Nobunaga, and Takeda Shingen’s death.
Ashikaga Yoshiaki in Japanese Pop Culture – Oda Nobuna no Yabo
In some ways, Ashikaga Yoshiaki is among the most important shoguns that headed that Ashikaga shogunate despite his role as a puppet shogun, most probably due to him being the last to head the bakufu.
He is still frequently discussed in modern times, so much so that he has even been made the inspiration of some Japanese pop culture mediums such as the light novel series, Oda Nobuna no Yabo.
Oda Nobuna no Yabi, which translates to mean “the ambition of Oda Nobuna” is written by Mikage Kasuga and uses Japan’s history to create a comedic, altered version of the events that transpired during Oda Nobunaga’s unification of Japan.
In this series, Oda Nobunaga is illustrated as a girl and is named Oda Nobuna. Some of the characters included in the novel’s plot are based on the Saito Clan, Hojo Clan, Takeda Clan, and the Ashikaga Clan.