Ashikaga Takauji’s Rise and Reign as Shogun

Throughout the history of Japan, there have been many shoguns or rulers that accomplished all kinds of things for the people of Japan. Each shogunate from the time of era of the Asuka and Heian period until the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate has had leaders that really were worth putting in the history books because of their unique character and stories. It is hard to discern which of them was the best shogun of all time but there is no doubt that one of the most interesting shoguns to ever serve Japan was Ashikaga Takauji of the Ashikaga clan.

By Urashimataro ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ashikaga Takauji’s Biography and Family as well as they’re Significance to the Takauji’s Achievements

The biography and family ties of Ashikaga Takauji helped a lot with all the things he was able to achieve and attain during his time but acknowledging this fact shouldn’t take any glory away from him earning his titles through his skill in war and his mind as a tactician. In a way, his family ties just put him in an ideal spot to do a lot of things and what he did with that advantage was completely on him.

By Masayuki (Yuki) Kawagishi [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

His clan was of Seiwa Genji stock which meant that he came from the same branch of clans like the Minamoto clan who were very powerful. His father was Ashikaga Sadauji and his mother was Uesugi Kiyoko. If you didn’t know, the Uesugi clan was also another powerful clan in Japan during those times and being that his mom was part of the Uesugi clan, he also had to option of using his connections with the Uesugi clan if he wished to do so.

He had 3 siblings. One half-brother named Ashikaga Takayoshi and 2 other brothers named Ashikaga Maagoro and Ashikaga Tadayoshi. During his time of existence, Japan was very open about having concubines because they served the purpose of creating as many male children as possible for the lineage of a certain clan. Takauji had two concubines who were Kako no Tsubone and Echizen no Tsubone.

Regardless of this fact, if the head of a clan had a wife, the firstborn would usually be from that union and not from a concubine. In the case of Takauji, his first two sons were from Kako no Tsubone and Echizen no Tsubone and their name were Ashikaga Takewakamaru and Ashikaga Tadafuyu. They would be the only sons Takauji would have outside his marriage. With his wife, Akashi Tosho, he had Ashikaga Yoshiakira, Ashikaga Motouji, Tazuo, Yoriko, and Seiomaru. Ashikaga Tadafuyu would, later on, be adopted by his brother Ashikaga Tadayoshi.

The Facts and Timeline of Ashikaga Takauji’s Rule

By Nihon no Eiyu Hyaku-nin ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The first thing you’ll find out about Takauji when you research him is that he was the first shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. He didn’t write his clan’s house code filed with rules and articles but he did enough to reach one of the highest honors given to a man during that period of time. Before he rose to the power of shogun, Takauji served as a general for the Kamakura shogunate. He was tasked to put an end to the Genko War happening in Kyoto in the year of 1333 and this experience would lead him to see the Kamakura shogunate in a different light. Because of his change of perspective on the Kamakura shogunate, Takauji decided to support the banished Emperor Go-Daigo and Kusunoki Masahige.

With the help of Takauji, the banished emperor and Masahige were able to seize Kyoto for themselves. It might not have been apparent but this actually showcased how effective and great of a leader Takauji was. His army was made up of warriors that served the Kamakura shogunate but upon finding out that he switched sides, the majority of them followed Takauji and not the orders of the Kamakura shogunate.

Their group would soon be joined by Nitta Yoshisada as they planned to take control of Kamakura. They fought hard and in the end, they were able to bring down the Kamakura shogunate. This victory for Takauji and company forced Hojo Takatoki to commit suicide along with his clansmen. In a way, it was the signified the end of not only the Kamakura shogunate but also for the Hojo clan’s influence and power.

This victory gave Go-Daigo back his throne and with his power and influence regained, he started the Kenmu Restoration which was his attempt to reestablish the primacy of the Imperial court in Kyoto. Unfortunately, this system didn’t work out well for the samurai clans and they began to be discontented with what their new government was trying to do. Takauji, coming from the side of the samurais and warriors, heard the people’s plea and raised this issue up with Go-Daigo. Takauji begged for the emperor to do something about it before things escalated to a rebellion but Go-Daigo paid no mind to it and his warnings.

Word got around about this and Hojo Tokiyuki, the son of Takatoki, thought of using the situation to take back Kamakura and reestablish their lost shogunate. This started the Nakasendai rebellion. Once Takauji heard of this, he immediately put down the rebellion and took Kamakura for himself. After the victory, Takauji claimed the title of Seii Taishogun and he began to give back to his followers in the form of land. He did this without the permission of the court so, naturally, the Imperial court saw him as an enemy despite his attempt to make it clear that he was an ally of the court.

He would soon be attacked by Nitta Yoshisada on the orders of Emperor Go-Daigo but Yoshisada proved to be no match for Takauji in the battlefield. Takauji defeated Yoshisada in the battles that happened in Mishima and Sanoyama and their victories ultimately made it possible for Takuji and his brother, Tadayoshi, to march towards Kyoto. Running on the high of his victories, they were able to take control of Kyoto for a couple of days in the year of 1336 but the arrival of the forces of Prince Takanaga, Prince Norinaga, Kitabatake Akiie, and Yuki Munehiro changed the tides of the battles completely. Soon enough, Takauji and his brother were forced out of Kyoto and into Kyushu.

They might have lost the battles in Kyoto but their fighting spirit was as high as ever. Because of this, Takauji and his brother were able to make alliances with the native clans of Kyushu. It was then that they fought and defeated the Kikuchi clan at Hakata Bay in the battle that would be referred to as the Battle of Tatarahama in the year of 1336. This victory earned Takauji another title which was the “virtual master of Kyushu”.

At this point in time, the Ashikaga brothers and their forces were once again strong enough to fight the best of the clans and in the Battle of Minatogawa, that same year, Takauji was able to defeat Yoshisada once again and kill Masahige as well. The death of these two left the forces of Kyoto very weak and so Takauji took the opportunity and seized Kyoto for good. Takauji was a great warrior that had little interest in politics which is why he appointed Emperor Komyo, who came from the illegitimate Northern Court, to be the emperor as instructed by Takauji. This started the Northern and Southern Court period wherein for about 60 years, Japan would see two emperors in a constant war with each other. If you wish to learn more about this period of time, you should look into the 40 volume Muromachi period epic called the Taiheiki.

Giving a Definition to Ashikaga Takauji’s Reign

By 日本語: 不明English: Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ashikaga Takauji’s rise to the top was a bloody one but he was no lover of war. He was merely a man that stood up for what he believed in. the events that happened after he was appointed shogun in the year of 1338 proves that. You see, there was a rift that started between Tadayoshi and Takauji sometime during the year of 1351.

This rift pushed Tadayoshi to join the southern court and with Takauji’s brother’s aid, the southern army was able to reclaim Kyoto. Once this happened, a truce was called and Takauji was able to return to Kyoto. It was here that the brothers would reconcile and mend the rift between them. This kept the peace alive for a bit but upon Tadayoshi’s death, Takauji’s new enemies appeared and captured Kamakura. Afterwards, there would be a series of power shifts but in the end, the control over Kyoto still remained with the Ashikaga clan.

These events, along with all the events mentioned earlier about his life, showed that he wasn’t crazy over bloodshed because if he was, he would’ve gone to the extent of controlling everything he could, given his power and influence during those times. Instead, he simply reclaimed what he taught was right to reclaim and he gave his men the necessities they needed to live comfortably. He was certainly a man for the warriors and he will forever be remembered as much because of all the deeds he did during his life. The Ashikaga clan might be seen as one of the weakest shogunates that have ever existed when compared to the other shogunates that would rule or have ruled Japan but because of the deeds of Ashikaga Takauji, there are still people who see the Ashikaga clan and their reign as the most thoughtful of all the shogunates.