Ashikaga Yoshimochi: The 4th Shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate

There was once a time when families and clans in Japan forged alliances and went into battles against one another. They were in search of prestige and power as they tried to grow their respective clan and lineage. Becoming victorious and pledging allegiances to the clan with the highest power was essential in order to survive in a country that was full of battles and duels. One of the primary clans that were influential and powerful during the Muromachi period would be none other than the Ashikaga clan.

How the Ashikaga Shogunate Began

By Geneast [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

More commonly known as the Ashikaga bakufu, the Ashikaga shogunate ruled Japan from the year 1336 to the year 1573. Also known as the Muromachi shogunate, the Ashikaga shogunate reigned and lasted for more than 200 years. This dynasty can be traced back to one of the numerous Japanese daimyos or lords that governed in Japan.

The Ashikaga shogunate only ended upon the deposal of Ashikaga Yoshiaki by Oda Nobunaga. During the reign of the Ashikaga shogunate, the heads of the government were composed of shoguns. Furthermore, each of these shoguns was also a member of the Ashikaga family.

The period in which the Ashikaga clan governed Japan was known as the Muromachi period. This name was derived from the Muromachi district, which can be found in Kyoto. Muromachi first became the residence of the Ashikaga clan during the reign of the third shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.

His residence was built in Muromachi in the year 1379. One of its many special features was the abundance of flowers that can be found surrounding the residence. Due to this beauty of scenery, this residence of Yoshimitsu became known as the Flower Palace. In Japanese, the residence was called "Hana no Gosho".

Prior to the Ashikaga shogunate, the country was under the Kamakura period, which lasted from the year 1185 to the year 1333. The Hojo clan was the governing family that ruled in Japan. Enjoying absolute power, the Hojo clan monopolized its power and influence over other families.

After defeating the attempted invasions of the Mongols, Hojo vassals were disappointed on the lack of rewards in terms of lands that they would have received. This was despite their efforts in defending the country under the Hojo clan. They began to resent the Hojo clan for not properly giving credit to where it was due.

Finally, the Emperor Go-Daigo could not take it anymore and planned to revolt against the Hojo clan. He ordered the opposition of local governing vassals against the rule of the Hojo clan in the year 1333. They wanted the restoration of Imperial rule in the Kenmu Restoration. 

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Having heard of this rebellion, the governing Hojo clan, also known as the Kamakura shogunate, wanted to counter this revolt. Wanting to keep their immense power all to themselves, the Kamakura shogunate gave orders to Ashikaga Takauji to suppress this impending uprising. Unexpectedly, Ashikaga Takauji did not follow the orders of the Kamakura shogunate. Instead, he turned against them.

The reason why he did this remains unclear to this day. However, there were speculations surrounding this decision. Being the de facto leader of the Minamoto clan, Ashikaga Takauji may have felt that it would not be useful to him to fight for a powerful shogunate while his clan remains powerless. In addition, the Hojo clan came from the Taira clan, which were once defeated by the Minamoto clan. Hence, he thought of the possibility of defeating the Hojo clan and restoring power back to his family.

As a result, Ashikaga Takauji fought the Kamakura shogunate on behalf of the Imperial court. His opposition turned out to be a success as the Kamakura regime was overthrown in the year 1336. Following this victory, Ashikaga built his own military government in Kyoto. Establishing himself as the shogun, Ashikaga Takauji had his own plans on how to run the country.

However, these ideas were in conflict with those of Emperor Go-Daigo. With these two heads bumping against each other on how to govern the country, Ashikaga devised a plan. He made the second son of Emperor Go-Fushimi, Prince Yutahito, become Emperor Komyo to counter the power of Emperor Go-Daigo.

This caused Go-Daigo to flee. Because of these opposing forces, Japan was divided into two imperial courts, namely, the northern imperial court and the southern imperial court. The northern imperial court was in favor of Emperor Komyo while the southern imperial court was in favor of Emperor Go-Daigo. These two courts maintained their opposition against each other for a span of 56 years. It only ended in the year 1392 when the southern imperial court finally surrendered during the rule of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.

The Structure of Governance of This Shogunate

There were three Japanese military governments that existed in the history of Japan. These three were the Kamakura shogunate, the Ashikaga shogunate, and the Tokugawa shogunate. Out of these three, the weakest one was the Ashikaga shogunate. This was probably because of how little personal territory Ashikaga Takauji had when he established his government. Hence, there was little to support him during his reign.

Because of this predicament, the Ashikaga shogunate heavily depended on the prestige, as well as the personal authority, of the shoguns. Instead of using the centralized master-vassal system that was utilized during the Kamakura period, the Ashikaga shogunate made use of a highly de-centralized local lord or daimyo system. Furthermore, due to the lack of direct territories, the military power of the shoguns was also highly reliant on the loyalty of the daimyos.

Despite these many issues in the Ashikaga shogunate, they also enjoyed benefits that they did not have back in the Kamakura period. For one, military rule no longer saw the Imperial court as a credible threat. This was because the court had become weak and subservient following the failure to accomplish the Kenmu Restoration. In addition, Ashikaga also reinforced this idea by maintaining close proximity to the Emperor at Kyoto.

Unlike during the Kamakura period, the authority and power of the local daimyos grew during the Ashikaga shogunate. Aside from holding military and policing responsibilities, the shugos were also appointed to hold other powers of the local Imperial governors. These included justice, taxation, and economy. The government holdings of every province also became part of the personal holdings of either the daimyos or their vassals.

The Imperial court truly lost much of its power as it struggled to still hold on to its political clout as well as its economic base. However, these were lost to the Ashikaga shoguns. This situation became apparent especially during the reign of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the 3rd shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate as well as the father of Ashikaga Yoshimochi.

The Life of Ashikaga Yoshimochi

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

Much had been said about the Ashikaga clan and its governance in Japan. Among the many shoguns that governed Japan during the Muromachi period was Ashikaga Yoshimochi. Born on the 12th of March in the year 1386, Yoshimochi was the 4th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. He ruled Japan from the year 1394 to the year 1423. He was also the son of the great Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who was the 3rd shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.

The beloved mother of Yoshimochi was Fujiwara no Yoshiko, who lived from the year 1358 to the year 1399. Yoshimochi was married to his wife Hino Eiko, who lived from the year 1390 to the year 1431. With Eiko, Yoshimochi had children including a son named Ashikaga Yoshikazu as well as a daughter who was adopted by Oodaiji family. Yoshimochi also had two concubines, namely, Tokudaiji Toshiko and Kohyoe-dono.

Yoshimochi succeeded his father Yoshimitsu’s throne in the year 1394. Despite still being at a young age, Yoshimochi was already entrusted with the responsibilities of becoming the next Seii Taishogun. However, Yoshimitsu still continued to hold on to his power and maintained authority over Yoshimochi’s reign until his passing in the year 1408. After which, Yoshimochi was able to exercise his full power and potential as shogun.

A diplomatic mission was delivered to Japan in the year 1398, which also happened to be the 6th year of the rule of King Taejong of Joseon. A formal diplomatic letter was presented to the envoy Park Tong-chi and his retinue by Yoshimochi upon their arrival in Kyoto. Yoshimochi also gave them present to sent to the Joseon court as a sign of respect as well as friendship.

There were also other significant events that helped shape the reign of Yoshimochi. A year just after Yoshimochi starts to actually rule on his own as a shogun, Ashikaga Mochiuji became Kanto kubo in the year 1409. Just two years after this, Yoshimochi cut the ties that his father established with China in the year 1411.

Emperor Go-Komatsu then abdicated in the year 1413. At the same time, Emperor Shoko succeeds the throne as per the repudiation of the agreement. Conflict and hostility between the shogunate and the supporters of the southern imperial court were also renewed during this time.

Dissension between Ashikaga Mochiuji and Uesugi Zenshu ensued in the year 1415. Ashikaga Mochiuji was the Kanto Kubo in Kamakura while Uesugi Zenshu was the Kanto Kanrei. A year after, Uesugi began his rebellion but it was quashed by Mochiuji in the year 1417. Another problem arose when the Koreans attacked Tsushima in the year 1419, which was known as the Oei Invasion.

Serious famine occurred in the year 1920, which led to the loss of numerous lives. Support of the southern imperial court also made a resurgence in the year 1422. Finally, Yoshimochi handed down his authority to his son Ashikaga Yoshikazu in the year 1423. Despite his son being young at the time, Yoshimochi felt that it was the right time to cede his authority, similar to what his father did. Finally, Ashikaga Yoshimochi passed away on the 3rd of February in the year 1428.

The Passing of Ashikaga Yoshimochi

By Geneast [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

The death of Ashikaga Yoshimochi came as a surprise to many people. He just suddenly fell ill, with few people knowing the cause of such illness. At the age of 43, Ashikaga Yoshimochi passed away peacefully. His funeral was held at Tojiin five days after he passed away. Tojiin was a Rinzai Zen temple that was established by Ashikaga Takauji in the 14th century. The temple was located in the northwestern portion of Kyoto.

A courtier by the name of Madenokoji Tokifusa wrote down details of the funeral of Yoshimochi. Even though Tokifusa was not a member of the Ashikaga clan, he served as nanto tenso, which meant that he had close communications with Yoshimochi as well as the Ashikaga family. He also served as a bridge between the court and the bakufu.

Right after Yoshimochi passed away, preparations for his funeral went underway. Following tradition, the body was surrounded by priests who chanted sutras and offered incense to the body. Mourning calls were also made to the residence by relative and officials who have just found out about the saddening news. Specific details about the funeral such as the length and the several roles to be filled were also discussed.

On the day of his passing, a special palanquin called ajirogoshi was used to hold the body of the late shogun. The palanquin was carried to Tojiin, along with a procession composed of family members, feudal lords, and high-ranking priests. The palanquin used to contain the body of Yoshimochi was composed of thin slats of bamboo lacquered in black. The body of Yoshimochi was then transferred to the west chancel of the Buddha Hall of the temple once they have arrived at Tojiin.

The loyal retainers of Yoshimochi also expressed their grief over the loss of their great leader by renouncing the world as an expression. A lot of people were saddened by the loss of Ashikaga Yoshimochi. Eventually, his younger brother Ashikaga Yoshinori succeeded Yoshimochi as the next shogun in the Ashikaga shogunate.