Ashikaga Yoshikazu: The Shogun Who Reigned for Two Years

There were several samurai clans that coexisted during different periods in the history of Japan. There were also several shogunates that ruled in Japan for several years that helped in developing the country to what it is today. Under these shogunates, several battles were fought and numerous alliances were built. With so many shogunates that took a pass in ruling in Japan, one of the most well-known shogunates is the Ashikaga shogunate. Governed by the Ashikaga clan, this shogunate ruled for more than 200 years. 

The Ashikaga Clan Where Yoshikazu Belongs To

By Ash Crow [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY 2.5 (], from Wikimedia Commons

More commonly known as Ashikaga-shi in Japanese, the Ashikaga clan was a powerful and influential samurai clan in Japan. The family helped in the established of the Muromachi shogunate. Furthermore, the Ashikaga clan also became the ruler of Japan somewhere between the year 1336 to the year 1573.

The origins of the Ashikaga clan can be traced back to a branch of the Minamoto clan. The lineage originally came from the town of Ashikaga situated in the province of Shimotsuke. This province is now known as Tochigi prefecture.

The Ashikaga clan was initially divided into two branches that rivaled against each other for around a century. The first branch was the Kanto Ashikaga while the second branch was the Kyoto Ashikaga. The Kanto Ashikaga was the ruler from Kamakura while the Kyoto Ashikaga was the ruler of the country of Japan. The two branches fought in the year 1439 where the Kanto Ashikaga lost, which concluded the rivalry between them.

Aside from this two rival branches, the Ashikaga clan also consisted of several branch clans. These branch clans included the Hosokawa clan, the Kira clan, the Hachisuka clan, the Imagawa clan, the Shiba clan, and the Hatakeyama clan, which only emerged after the year 1205.

During the early parts of the Kamakura period, the members of the head family of the Minamoto clan have all died. This was seen as an opportunity by the Ashikaga clan as its members made themselves look like the head of the Minamoto clan. This was done to attain the prestige that the Minamoto name brought to them.

For those who are familiar with the history of feudal Japan and its clans, they would be aware that there was, in fact, another clan that bore the name Ashikaga. However, this other clan was not related to the prestigious more well-known Ashikaga family by blood. Instead, the origins of this less well-known Ashikaga clan can be traced back to the Fujiwara clan.

An Overview of Ashikaga Yoshikazu’s Life 

By ラッチキング (自分で描いた足利義量の肖像画) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Ashikaga clan had several members that became famous throughout the ruling period of the family. One of these members was Ashikaga Yoshikazu. Born on the 27th of August in the year 1407, Yoshikazu was the son of Ashikaga Yoshimochi, who was the 4th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.

Yoshikazu went on to become the 5th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. He ruled from the year 1423 to the year 1425 during the Muromachi period. Yoshikazu was probably the shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate that was most famous for having only ruled for a span of two years.

Ashikaga Yoshimochi, the 4th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate, felt that he did not have to die first before his son Yoshikazu could take his place. Hence, he decided to retire on the 9th of March in the year 1423. Yoshimochi appointed Yoshikazu as the next shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.

At the time, Yoshimochi was still at the ripe age of 38 and was still fully capable of ruling their land. Nonetheless, having believed that Yoshikazu was capable enough to lead their people, the transfer ceremony took place just 11 days after the announcement of Yoshimochi to cede his power to his son. Yoshikazu accepted this position at the young age of 16 as Seii Taishogun. Yoshikazu had a Buddhist name of Chojo’in.

During the reign of Yoshikazu, there were significant events that took place. The first part was during his appointment as the next shogun after his father, which occurred in the year 1423. A year later, Go-Kameyama passed away in the year 1424. Death again followed a year later when Yoshikazu eventually passed away on the 17th of March in the year 1425 at a young age of 18.

Having no other heir, Ashikaga Yoshimochi was forced to take the responsibilities of shogun and resume his office as before. Yoshikazu passed away within just two years after his appointment as the 5th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. Three years after Yoshimochi resumed office, he also passed away. Shoko also dies, which led to Go-Hanazono succeeding the throne in the second repudiation of the agreement.

There were speculations about the cause of the death of Yoshikazu. Claims surfaced stating that his death was caused by his chronic alcoholism as well as unhealthy lifestyle. It was said that Yoshikazu did not exactly choose to be addicted to alcohol. However, when he contracted smallpox as a kid, the cure handed to him was alcohol. It was said that this became the root of his addiction or abuse of alcohol, which eventually led to his demise.

There was also another rumor that circulated about the death of Yoshikazu. Spiritual followers believed that Yoshikazu’s early illness and eventual death served as the punishment from heaven for the sins of his father Yoshimochi. This was because Yoshimochi killed numerous priests during his lifetime as a means of being able to control shrines and temples.

Yoshimochi also saw some of his family members as threats to his position as the shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. In order to appease this fear and to solidify his position in office, Yoshimochi ended their lives. That way, no one else would be able to pine for his throne. It was said that Yoshikazu’s death served as divine intervention from the heavens above.

With a heavy heart, Yoshimochi resumed the responsibilities of a shogun after his son Yoshikazu passed away. Because he no longer had any heirs to pass on the throne, his brother succeeded him as the next shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. Ashikaga Yoshinori became the 6th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate in the year 1429, which was four years after the death of Yoshikazu. The rule of Yoshikazu was encompassed within a nengo, which was Oei.     

Yoshikazu’s Father, Ashikaga Yoshimochi

By 日本語: 伝土佐行秀English: Attributed to Tosa Yukihide (see other versions) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The biggest influence in the life of Ashikaga Yoshikazu was none other than his father, Ashikaga Yoshimochi. Born in the year 1385, Yoshimochi was the 4th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. He ruled from the year 1394 to the year 1423 before he passed on his throne to Yoshikazu. However, upon the death of Yoshikazu, Yoshimochi again resumed office and ruled from the year 1425 to the year 1428 until he passed away.

Yoshimochi was the son of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who was the grandfather of Yoshikazu. A great shogun, Yoshimitsu eventually retired in the year 1394, which enable Yoshimochi to succeed his father to the throne of the Ashikaga shogunate. During that time, Yoshimitsu still wanted to be named daijo tenno, which stood for Retired Emperor. Furthermore, he also wanted one of his other sons to be named Emperor.

Yoshimochi did not allow this to happen and put a stop on all of these honors. After Yoshikazu’s grandfather passed away in the year 1408, Yoshimochi made further changes that established his reign as the 4th shogun. One of these changes was to cut their formal ties to the Ming Dynasty China. It was a huge deal as these relations were established by Yoshimitsu during his ruling as shogun.

Undeterred, the Yongle Emperor attempted to bring back these relations. He requested for its restoration via sending mission two times, one in the year 1417 and another in the year 1419. However, both of these requests were also rebuffed by Yoshikazu’s father. After some time, Yoshikazu succeeded the throne. However, within just two years, Yoshikazu died. Upon his demise, his father resumed office until Yoshimochi eventually died just three years after the death of Yoshikazu.

Ashikaga Yoshinori: The Man Who Succeeded Yoshikazu 

By 不詳 / Unknown [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

After the passing of Yoshikazu and Yoshimochi, the man who succeeded the throne was Yoshikazu’s uncle. This was because Yoshikazu was the only son of Yoshimochi. After Yoshikazu passed away, he was also not able to leave an heir to his throne. Born on the 12th of July in the year 1394, Ashikaga Yoshinori became the 6th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.

Ruling from the year 1429 to the year 1441, he was one of the sons of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who was the 3rd shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. The childhood name of Ashikaga Yoshinori was Harutora. He ruled during the Muromachi period. Yoshinori ruled their land until his death on the 12th of July in the year 1441.

Initially, Yoshinori did not have any plans on becoming the next shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. However, Yoshimochi did not have any other sons aside from Yoshikazu. Furthermore, Yoshimochi also did not name any successor to succeed his throne before he passed away in the year 1428.

Since the age of ten, Ashikaga Yoshinori was also a Buddhist monk. However, on the day of Yoshimochi’s passing, Yoshinori unexpectedly became Seii Taishogun. There were numerous Ashikaga candidates that could have succeeded the throne. The names of the candidates were gathered together for the selected authority to draw lots from.

Amongst the several candidates on the lot, it was the name of Yoshinori that was selected. The person tasked to select the name of the next shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate was Hatakeyama Mitsuie, who served as the shogunal deputy or Kanrei. The name was drawn in the sanctuary of Iwashimizu Hachiman Shrine located in Kyoto.

Many believe that Yoshinori’s name being drawn was an auspicious sign from the heavens. Furthermore, this selection was also believed to be influenced by the Hachiman Shrine itself. Whether this is true or not, the final result remained: Ashikaga Yoshinori was the next shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.

There were many events that shaped the rule of Yoshinori while he was shogun. Upon his appointment as shogun in the year 1429, the first significant event that occurred was a year after. In the year 1430, the army of the Southern Court finally surrendered. Just two years after that, Akamatsu Mitsusuke flees in the year 1432. At the same time, Yoshinori also received rescript from China.

Rebellion ensued in the year 1433 when Otomo, as well as Hieizan monks, revolted. A year after that, Tosen bugyo was founded and established in the year 1434. Its purpose was to regulate foreign relations. A fire occurred in the year 1436 that destroyed the Yasaka Pagoda at Hokanji located in Kyoto. Another rebellion took place in the year 1438 with the Eikyo Rebellion headed by Kanto kubo Ashikaga Mochiuji.

This rebellion did not end in success and Mochiuji ended up committing suicide in the year 1439. It was also during this time that dissatisfaction with the reign of Yoshinori cultivated and grew. Being a former monk, Yoshikazu’s uncle made it a point to reconstruct the Yasaka Pagoda at Hokanji in Kyoto in the year 1440.

A year after, suzerainty over the Ryukyu Islands was granted to Shimazu by Yoshinori. However, Yoshinori was later on murdered by Akamatsu during the Kakitsu Incident. As revenge, Yamana killed Akamatsu.

Yoshinori was able to properly fulfill his responsibilities as shogun even if Yoshikazu was not able to see it through. The power of the Ashikaga shogunate was strengthened after Yoshinori was able to emerge victorious against Ashikaga Mochiuji in the Eikyo Rebellion, which occurred in the year 1438. In addition, people were also able to witness the increase in contacts with China.

During this time, the influence of Zen Buddhism also prospered across the land. As a result, Zen Buddhism had a major impact to not just the history but also the culture of Japan. Even if Ashikaga Yoshikazu was not able to fully accomplish his duties as shogun, having ruled for only two years, he was not let down by his uncle who eventually succeeded the throne.