Ashikaga Yoshiharu: The Rightful Heir to the Ashikaga Shogunate role

The Rise of the Ashikaga Shogunate to power

A prominent, wealthy, and influential family, the Ashikaga clan had a history of valor and leadership. Their greatness was put to the test when they were appointed as the leaders of the Shogunate government of Japan for more than two centuries. This is the family that established the Ashikaga Shogunate or also known as the Muromachi period. Their period of reign lasted between the early 1300s to the late 1500s before the 15th Shogun resigned from the role.

By Urashimataro ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The family was a branch of the powerful Minamoto clan where their primary ancestor was Minamoto No Yoshiie. The first time the surname Ashikaga was used was in the 11th century, by the grandson of Minamoto No Yoshiie, Ashikaga Yoshiyasu. However, it is not until two hundred years later that the first Ashikaga shogun will take the seat of power.

The first Ashikaga shogun was Ashikaga Takauji who ruled Japan in 1338. This man was able to take on the post when Takauji successfully put down the Nakasendai rebellion which was a means of re-establishing the shogunate rule back to Kamakura. As he won the battle, he took Kamakura under his rule and eventually claimed the Shogunate title. This goes without saying that the Imperial court did not have any knowledge of his claims and he was eventually pushed out from the title as Emperor Go-Daigo sent Nitta Yoshisada to reclaim Kamakura.

The good thing was that he was able to successfully defeat Yoshisada and together with his comrades marched towards Kyoto. Here, they fought Yoshisada and once again won the battle. He took this chance to seize the capital and installed himself as the ruler. This marked the end of the Kamakura Shogunate. But he was only able to rule the North of the entire empire as the south still belonged to the Emperor.

For the next 56 years, the Ashikaga clan was the ruler of only half the country and a significant divide was created by Takauji’s means of seizing power. It was only in the late 1300s when the southern court, or the Southern Kingdom, gave up their reign to Yoshimitsu.

For centuries to come, the Ashikaga clan will have a total of 15 rulers all of which made Japan the great nation that it is today. Among their most important accomplishment was the establishment of foreign relations with neighboring empires like Korea and China. This has increased their abilities for travel and trade. Most of Japan’s culture was influenced by both empires.

Early Life and Family of Ashikaga Yoshiharu

Ashikaga Yoshiharu is known in history as the 12th Shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate. He is a man of wisdom, respect, and greatness. He was able to rule over Japan between 1521 and 1546, more than two decades of respectable power. On the other hand, just like his ancestors before him, it is without a doubt that his reign was filled with controversy.

The 12th Shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate is the son of the 11th Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshizumi. His biological mother is a lady named Hino Akiko. He has an older brother named Yoshitsuna who is the father of the 14th Shogun of Japan. What is interesting about his lineage is the fact that he and his brother were originally adopted by the 10th Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshitane.

At this time, the childless shogun declared his older adopted son, Yoshitsuna, to be the heir apparent. However, officials at the time did not agree with the Shogun that after his death, Yoshizume (one of Yoshitane’s cousins) were declared as shogun. If that were the case, then it is sure that Yoshiharu would not have any chance of the shogunate leadership.

What happened was that Yoshizume, the 11th Shogun, and heir to Yoshitane was actually their biological father. If age and birthright would be followed, his older brother Yoshitsuna still had a higher chance of becoming the successor. However, upon the death of Yoshizume, his older brother Yoshitsuna fled to a nearby island and officially abdicated from the shogunate leadership. This has won Yoshiharu the role of the 12th Shogunate leadership of Japan.

Yoshiharu, with his wife Lady Keijuin, had two sons namely Ashikaga Yoshiaki and Ashikaga Yoshiteru. Both sons will get a shot at being a leader of the Ashikaga shogunate in the years after Yoshiharu’s death. Compared to other Shoguns of his time, Yoshizumi was quite faithful to his wife and only chose to keep one mistress to produce more children in the event that his older sons will not survive through childhood or infancy.

His daughters were married to equally powerful and influential clans. One was married to Takeda Yoshimura, the other to Miyoshi Yoshitsugu, and one married to Karasume Kosen. His youngest daughter chose to become a nun at the Hyokoji temple.

The Reign of Ashikaga Yoshiharu

Miyoshi Nagamoto Drives out the Shogun

Many people say that the shogunate leadership of Ashikaga Yoshiharu was nothing but a meaningless ruling. Based on historical records, references, and books, historians have noted how badly advisers took hold of the power. They influenced the decisions made by the Shogun, and at times even made the decisions in place of him.

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

There were a number of times when they found ways to drive out the Shogun from the capital for a variety of reasons, putting the man in exile while they rule under his name. This usually happens when the shogun finds ways to reclaim ultimate power.

One of the most significant incidents, when the Shogun Yoshiharu was put into exile, was in 1528. An extreme power struggle with Miyoshi Nagamoto, Hosokawa Takakuni’s retainer, pushed him out of the capital. At the time, the shogun was trying to rally more supporters to possibly flush out these daimyos out of the council and effectively out of the city. However, Miyoshi and Hosokawa, schemers as they are, were already steps ahead of the shogun.

Later on, the Shogun with the help of Hosokawa Harumoto and Miyoshi Nagayoshi made peace with Takakuni and Nagamoto. He was eventually allowed back to the city. While in his position, they tried once again to reclaim the power from Nagamoto but effectively failed. This pushed him out into exile again.

This time, the Shogun decided to finally retire from his role believing that powerlessness just puts a name to his title and not the opportunity to govern. As he is repeatedly placed in exile, he chose to become an ordinary citizen and allow his successors to take the throne.

The Ikko Rebellions

Also known as the Ikko-Ikki, or Ikko uprising, peasant farmers banded together with monks and priests to fight against the daimyo. Often times, these bands also included noblemen who owned smaller lands governed by wealthy warlords.

There were a number of times when the common people caused public upheaval against the people who sat in the Shogunate government. Their reasons were mainly due to the increase in the price of basic commodities like rice, grains, sugar, and the like. They were also uprising because of the increase in taxes which caused severe poverty in many rural areas in Japan. However, the main reason for their uprising was based on religion.

An unorthodox man, known as Rennyo, started teaching about “the True Pure Land” and sought for the salvation of many people. It was easy to band together small communities but difficult to gain the trust and support of powerful men like the daimyos. They originally started out as a peaceful and quiet rebellion in the 1500s, at the time of Yoshiharu’s rule. However, a century later, these bands of men started to gain weaponry and even skills training to fight for what they believe was right. Pretty much a religious uprising, these peoples were considered as radicals or extremists of the time.

This particular event provided more difficulties for the Shogun and further weakened his position as ruler. He has lost the trust of many daimyos and also lost the trust of some monks and priests. Things were not looking too good for the shogunate.

The Power struggle of Yoshitane and Hosokawa Takakuni

At the time, Miyoshi Nagayoshi was the powerful retainer of Hosokawa Harumoto. They were allies against Miyoshi Nagamoto and Hosokawa Takakuni. Originally, they defeated Takakuni and Nagamoto in an earlier rebellion. They were able to take a hold of the power of the shogunate because at the time Yoshiharu sided with them.

However, there came a time when Miyoshi betrayed Harumoto and took the side of another powerful daimyo. Yoshiharu who sided with Harumoto, then 12th Shogun, was left in the middle and took the chance to reclaim ultimate power. The problem was that he sided with the weaker opponent, they were both defeated and effectively put into exile.

Yoshiteru’s Shogunate in Exile

When both Harumoto and Yoshiteru were placed in exile, the Shogun took the opportunity to finally resign from his position. At the time, his eldest son was barely 11 years of age but his resignation catapulted the young boy into a role he would have until his death.

Because the boy was so young, advisers of the former government took it as a chance to gain even more power to govern. This was why Yoshiteru, the son of Yoshiharu, spent the first half-decade of his shogunate in exile.

The Death of Ashikaga Yoshiaharu

It was in 1561 when Ashikaga Yoshiharu resigned from his position as the shogunate leader of the Muromachi period. He was in exile to the Omi province at this time, together with his family. He saw that he was a powerless ruler and struggles for control proved inevitably futile. He grew tired of being pushed out of the capital and continuously fighting powerful daimyos for the power he was entitled to have.

No less than three years after his retirement, Harumoto died from a contagious disease. He sadly died in exile and was never able to return to the capital from his retirement up to his death. It took more than a decade for his son to actually feel the power of being a shogun.  

The Speeding Decline of the Ashikaga Shogunate

There are a number of factors that contributed to the speeding decline of the Ashikaga Shogunate and many of these were the lack of restrictions on power. At the time Takauji claimed the throne and title for himself, it was a fairly informal process. Unlike Shoguns before him who was appointed by the Emperor, he was forced into a position meant for another man. This is why there was no formal system to the Ashikaga governance.

The question was how a group of men were able to overpower the most powerful and influential man in all of Japan. The Shogun is an understood military dictator and it started out as such with Ashikaga Takauji. However, in the latter years of the Ashikaga shogunate, the shogun became merely a puppet used to put a face to an unknown leadership from schemers and powerful lords.

In history books, it was indicated clearly that the Ashikaga Shogunate was the weakest of all shogunate rulings. This may be due to the fact that the Ashikaga did not have vast personal properties unlike the Kamakura and the Tokugawa clan. Both clans had vast lands beyond the capital and continued to gain lands through alliances and marriage. It may be due to this, the lack of enough alliances through marriage, that the Ashikaga clan lost their control and power.

By Urashimataro [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

The descendants of the Ashikaga clan, the last few shoguns of the shogunate leadership, knew this. They knew for themselves that they are nothing but faces for a puppet government held by others who were hungry for power. Try as they might hold on to the leadership, it was futile and retirement was inevitable. This was why Yoshiaki, the 15th shogun of the Ashikaga clan and a puppet of Oda Nobunaga, chose to retire from his post when he got it from his predecessor Yoshihide.

Felice Beato [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons