The Controversial Rule of Ashikaga Yoshizumi

Japan has had many rulers. In the present times, it’s much simpler because there is only one ruler and that is the prime minister of Japan. Looking into the Japanese history books though, you will learn that the eras like the Muromachi and Sengoku period were much more complicated because they had emperors, shoguns, daimyos, and many more forms of leaders and rulers during those times. Having multiple rulers has its pros and cons but there was a period of time in Japan wherein this system proved to be quite a messy one due to the events that happened during the reign of Ashikaga Yoshizumi.

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Ashikaga Yoshizumi’s Family Tree and How He Got to His Position

Before anything else, you should have a little background on who Ashikaga Yoshizumi was. He was born in the year of 1481 and it was him that would eventually be the 11th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. In his youth, he was also known to be called names like Seiko, Yoshito, and Yoshitaka. It would only be a couple of years into this reign as shogun that he would decide to change his name to Yoshizumi, much like what the other shoguns before him did as well.

By 日本語: 伝土佐光信English: Attributed to Tosa Mitsunobu ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

His actual father was Ashikaga Masamoto but somewhere along the line, he was adopted by Ashikaga Yoshimasa and his wife, Hino Tomiko. Yoshimasa was the 8th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate and this meant great things for Yoshizumi because of how the shogun was chosen during those times. You see, if you are a shogun with no heir, it would usually be your brother that would take your place as the new shogun upon your death. It was because of this that adopting male children was very frequent during those times because the shoguns wanted to keep their ranks and titles within their own lineage in their clan.

When Yoshizumi was adopted, he wasn’t necessarily expected to become the next shogun of the Ashikaga clan. Yoshimasa actually adopted his younger brother, Ashikaga Yoshimi, to ensure that he would be next in line to the throne but a year after that happened, Yoshimasa’s wife, Hino, gave birth to a baby boy who turned out to be Ashikaga Yoshihisa. This obviously created an internal power struggle within the clan because Yoshimi wanted to take control after Yoshimasa but the arrival of Yoshihisa shattered his plans and dreams to do so.

This conflict escalated tremendously and would eventually lead to the Onin War which started in the year of 1467. This war marked the beginning of the Sengoku period which was a time in Japan wherein the power of clans would shift constantly due to all the wars and campaigns that broke out during that time. In the end, it would be Yoshihisa to take the throne and receive the position of Seii Taishogun in the year of 1473.

Because of the early wars that Yoshihisa was involved in, he didn’t have much time to make an heir to his position and an untimely death in April of 1489 would give all that shogun’s power to Yoshihisa’s cousin, Ashikaga Yoshitane. His cousin’s reign would not last long though because would eventually be forced out of power by Hatakeyama Yoshitoyo 4 years later. Since Yoshitane was also heirless, this would be the time when Yoshizumi would be installed by Hosokawa Masamoto as the Seii Taishogun.

The Dramatic Rise and Fall of Yoshizumi

By 日本語: 松尾文友 ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

During his reign, he would marry Hino Akiko and have a son with her named Ashikaga Yoshiharu. He also had another son named Ashikaga Yoshitsuna but there is a bit of confusion with him because it is unclear whether he was Yoshizumi’s son with the daughter of either Shiba Yoshihiro or the daughter of Rokkaku Takayori, who were both his concubines.

There wasn’t much that he could do during his reign because, in those times, the shoguns of the Ashikaga shogunate had something in common. This was the fact that they were forced into being a puppet ruler by the Kanrei or Shogunal Deputy in their respective times of control. This was also actually the reason why Yoshitane was booted out of power because, aside from the attacks made by Yoshitoyo, Yoshitane also had been resisting Hosokawa Katsumoto’s attempts to control him as a puppet ruler. This characteristic of Yoshitane was one that made him worth looking up to in Japanese history because he stood his ground like a man and took the consequences of his decisions head-on.

This act of bravery would come back tenfold to Yoshitane because it was the act that inspired his men, like Ouchi Yoshioki to aid him back to strength. Sadly, this comeback would happen at the expense of Ashikaga Yoshizumi. Ouchi Yoshioki did so by gathering an army that was strong enough to march into the capital. During this march to the capital, they would win against several other samurai families and, along the way, they would be fortunate enough to kill Hosokawa Masamoto. This death was huge because Hosokawa Masamoto’s puppet shogun was Ashikaga Yoshizumi and without Masamoto, Ashikaga Yoshizumi was practically without power.

Hosokawa Takakuni capitalized on this opportunity and connived with Ashikaga Yoshitane to get rid of Ashikaga Yoshizumi. As a result, Takakuni and Yoshitane were able to take control over the shogunate. In the following years, their power would rise but somewhere along the line, particularly in the year of 1521, Yoshitane realized that he was once again being used as a puppet shogun so he decided to leave and escape to the Awa Province. This would be the time when Takakuni would install Ashikaga Yoshiharu as the new shogun.

The Exposed  Flaws in with this Particular Government System

By 日本語: 伝狩野元信(大休宗休賛)English: Attributed to Kanō Motonobu (Inscription by Daikyū Sōkyū) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Considering the all the information shared earlier, you could easily see that the leadership system of their time was tremendously flawed. Even just that section of Japanese history was enough to highlight great flaws in the old government system of Japan.  A system that has multiple leaders or heads thrives on the fact that each leader should be control of a specific and particular branch of authority. Much like how governments in present times have the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches which handle different aspects of a country or an economy, the leaders of Japan’s old system were to run it the same way.

If the people installed in Japan’s old system of ruling were truthful and honest with their duties, there is a large possibility that the economy will prosper. Unfortunately, greed is everyone’s problem at some point in their lives and with powers like the nominal power of the shogun at stake, these people who used to be in high positions were easily controlled by temptation and greed. Since this was the case, assassination attempts became more frequent to those who are next in line to such powers because someone was always trying to get ahead or gain an advantage by being pushed up the list of potential heirs.

That alone is a big flaw in the system already but with cunning people like Takakuni, who manipulated the people instead of killing them to gain the power, greater flaws in the system were exposed. You might have been taught of an emperor or shogun who did something hideous during his time which made you hate or demonize him for it but what you didn’t know was that someone was pulling the strings from behind the scenes. This made their politics even dirtier because the masterminds would always get away with it if they went about it the sleazier way.

Fortunately, those times are over now but it never hurts to remind yourself that such things did happen in the past and can happen again if you aren’t vigilant enough. That is why learning about these instances or events in history as well as the people involved in them through articles on history and history books can be very beneficial for the younger generations nowadays because it opens their eyes to the harsh realities that can sometimes be hard to take in due to their innate innocence.  Education is always a useful thing to have and with all that has been said, may your eyes have been opened to these facts and realities to make you understand of the world wider, in a sense.