Onin War (応仁の乱)

Onin War, fought from 1467 till 1477, was a civil war that broke out during the Muromachi period when the ruling Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") was Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA, the eighth person to hold this position. Strife between Katsumoto HOSOKAWA, Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) Kanrei (Shogun's deputy of the Muromachi Bakufu), and influential shugo daimyos (military governors-turned-provincial lords) including Mochitoyo YAMANA (later tonsured and renamed Sozen YAMANA) expanded nationwide except in some regions including Kyushu, and thereby triggering the advent of the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States in Japan). It is also called Onin-Bunmei no Ran (wars).

Shoguns Yoshimasa and Yoshimi

In the Muromachi bakufu, a system of Shukuro government (literally, "government by experienced senior officers") as a coalition of influential shugos (military governors) upholding the Shogun (reverentially addressed to as Muromachi-dono) had been established by generations of Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA and Yoshimochi ASHIKAGA, by whose times the turmoil of the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan) (period in which two - north and south) rivaling splits of the Imperial Family were fighting each other and revolts by influential shugo daimyos had been pacified. When Sixth Shogun Yoshinori ASHIKAGA, who had been selected for his office by lottery, but turned out to be a despotic ruler, was lured out and slain by Mitsusuke AKAMATSU (the Kakitsu Incident), the ruling power began to disintegrate. Yoshinori's legitimate son Yoshikatsu ASHIKAGA succeeded his father as the Seventh Shogun at the age of nine, but he died a sudden death in less than a year, and Yoshimasa, Yoshikatsu's immediate younger brother inherited the Shogun at the age of eight, supported by Kanrei Mochikuni HATAKEYAMA and others.

Surrounded by mother Shigeko HINO and beloved concubine Imamari no tsubone and strongly influenced by close aides including Kasai vassal leader Sadachika ISE and Shinzui KIKEI, Yoshimasa grew into a capricious man of culture. As Yoshimasa lacked dynamism to lead shugo daimyos and immersed himself solely in tea ceremony, gardening and sarugaku plays, the actual steering of the Bakufu was in the hands of strongmen including Katsumoto of the deputy family, Sozen of one of Shishoku ke (four families appointed to deputy directorship of the Board of Retainers) and Yoshimasa's legitimate wife Tomiko HINO.

Tired of successive Doikki (peasant uprisings) and political confusion, Yoshimasa had come to dream of retiring from the Shogunate and living in seclusion. He became so heavily obsessed with this dream that he didn't even do anything about the Choroku-Kansei Famine. At the age of 29, Yoshimasa thought of retiring, transferring the position of Shogun to his real younger brother Yoshihiro, Monzeki (chief priest of a temple qualified to accept a member of the imperial family or of the nobility) of Jodoji Temple, by reason of the absence of an inheriting son, born to either Tomiko or the concubine. Hearing about the offer of the position, Yoshihiro, considering the young enough age of Yoshimasa to have an inheriting son, firmly declined the proposal for voluntary transfer of the Shogunate.

On December 24, 1464, Yoshihiro made up his mind to return to secular life as Yoshimasa had even prepared a written oath "Even if a son is born to me, I will make him become a Buddhist priest and not allow him to succeed the headship of the family" and tried to persuade Yoshihiro once again to inherit the office of Shogun; renaming himself Yoshimi ASHIKAGA, the younger brother decided to move to the Imadegawa residence under the guardianship of Katsumoto.

Bunsho Coup

In July 1466, at the recommendation of his aides including Sadachika ISE and Shinzui KIKEI, Yoshimasa suddenly deprived Yoshikado SHIBA of the Shiba Buei family headship and bestowed it on Yoshitoshi SHIBA. Sozen, who was a relative of Yoshikado, supported Yoshikado in alliance with Yoshinao ISSHIKI and Shigeyori TOKI among others and as Sadachika circulated a rumor of planned rebellion in an attempt to expel Yoshimi; in response, Katsumoto who was the guardian of Yoshimi cooperated with Sozen to expel Sadachika to Omi, and Shinzui KIKEI, Yoshitoshi SHIBA and Masanori AKAMATSU among others, involved in the coup, were also expelled from the capital in a temporary deposition. Too add, for the strife over the headship of the Shiba family in the period of Yoshimasa's rule, also see Buei Sodo (Internal Strife of the Shiba Buei Family).

Confrontation between Katsumoto and Sozen

While Sozen, having contributed to the pacification of Kakitsu Incident, was against the reinstatement of the Akamatsu family who had masterminded the incident, he and his son-in-law Katsumoto came to an outright confrontation as Katsumoto appointed Masanori AKAMATSU shugo of Kaga Province in 1458 with a view to weakening Sozen's influence. Though they had worked together on the same side in the Bunsho Coup, the two had also been archrivals as each was deeply involved in a fight for succession of a shugo daimyo position.

When Yoshihisa (later renamed Yoshihiro) ASHIKAGA was born on December 11, 1465 between Yoshimasa and Tomiko, the latter, eager to have her own son Yoshihisa succeed the Shogunate, approached Sozen in secret maneuvers to prevent Yoshimi from assuming that position. Naturally, Sozen opposed Katsumoto, Yoshimi's guardian, and the rivalry for Shogunate succession divided the shugo daimyos in the whole country into two camps, those of Katsumoto and of Sozen, making collision between them inevitable.

Goryo Gassen (Goryo Battle)

About that time, a fight over family heirship between Masanaga HATAKEYAMA of the Katsumoto camp, who was then the Shogun's deputy, and Yoshinari HATAKEYAMA of the Sozen camp intensified, and Yoshimasa's caprice added fuel to their strife. Yoshinari, who had been the authorized heir of the Hatakeyama family in or around 1455, was expelled by Yoshimasa as a result of a plot by Katsumoto, and his cousin Masanaga replaced Yoshinari as the authorized heir of the family.

Afterwards, when Yoshinari relied on Sozen in petitioning for his reinstatement, Yoshimasa, placated by Sozen, on February 6, 1467 invited Yoshinari to Hana no Gosho (or Muromachi-dai) of the Shogun's residence and remitted him without consulting Masanaga or Katsumoto. As if to make a further attack on Masanaga, Yoshimasa canceled his "gracious visit" to the Kanrei's residence, a regular New Year event, and instead attended a banquet Yoshinari held at Sozen's residence three days later. Then Yoshimasa recognized Yoshinari as the authorized heir of the Hatakeyama family, and told him to demand from Masanaga the surrender of the residence at Kasuga Marinokoji.

Offended, Masanaga resigned as Kanrei, and Yoshikado SHIBA of the Yamana camp took over the position. Katsumoto intended to have Yoshimasa issue an order to hunt down and dispose of Yoshinari, but Yoshimasa's wife Tomiko HINO sensed the circumstances and prevented his scheme by intentionally leaking the information to Sozen.

Having steered the political situation in his favor, Sozen mobilized many samurai of allied shugo daimyos, besieged the Imperial Palace and Hana no Gosho, and requested Yoshimasa to expel Masanaga and Katsumoto among others. Though not agreeing to expel Katsumoto, Yoshimasa approved Yoshinari's attack on Masanaga on condition that none of the daimyos should side with either camp. Deprived of heirship and condemned as a rebel by Yoshimasa, Masanaga sought for support by Katsumoto, but Katsumoto refused the request in expectation of a counter-offensive at a later opportunity.

On February 22, 1467, Masanaga set on fire his own undefended residence, led samurai and took up a position at Kami Goryo Shrine (in Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City). Yoshimasa forbade involvement in the personal strife within the Hatakeyama family, but Sozen arranged for keeping Emperor Gotsuchimikado and the Retired Emperor Gohanazono sheltered in Muromachi-dai, and gave support to Yoshinari. Katsumoto obeyed Yoshimasa's order and remained silent.

Goryo Shrine was surrounded by a bamboo grove, with the Hosokawa River flowing to its west and the moat of Shokoku-ji Temple located to its south. Yoshinari launched his offensive from Shakado (Sakyamuni Hall), and the supporting troops of Yoshikado SHIBA, Masatoyo YAMANA and Takakage ASAKURA (the seventh family head) also made attacks. The battle continued until the evening, and Masanaga set the shrine on fire late at night; he is said to have pretended suicide and escaped to take refuge in Katsumoto's residence. Goryo Gassen ended up as an internal strife of the Hatakeyama family and a coup-d'etat by Sozen.

Head-on collision of East and West camps

After Goryo Gassen, Katsumoto HOSOKAWA mobilized troops from nine provinces in Shikoku and, among the daimyos on the Hosokawa side, Masanori AKAMATSU invaded Yamana's territory in Harima and recaptured the position of shugo. In Kyoto, samurai on the Hosokawa side burnt a number of bridges including those at Uji and Yodo, and solidified the defense of the four key gates. In May, the troops of Nobukata TAKEDA and Shigeyuki HOSOKAWA among others invaded the Isshiki family's territory in Wakasa and, in the capital too, the residences of Yoshinao ISSHIKI and generals of the Western camp were attacked, while Yoshitoshi SHIBA invaded Totoumi from Owari. In April, Yoshimi ASHIKAGA attempted arbitration.

In May, Katsumoto successfully called on his allies nationwide, including Masanaga who had taken refuge in Hokuriku, to occupy Hana no Gosho, took into custody the Shogun and others on the pretext of protecting them from warfare, and invited the incumbent and retired emperors to Muromachi-dai. Katsumoto located the headquarters in his own residence at Imadegawa, and in June at his request Yoshimasa conferred him with a gaki (flag with an ivory ornament at the top symbolizing the emperor or the shogun), which gave his troops an appearance of a regular government army. Sozen held a strategic meeting in May, and placed his headquarters at Omiya higashi, Itsutsuji dori. The Hosokawa side and the Yamana side will be respectively called the Eastern and Western camps because of their relative positions. The Eastern camp had 160,000 samurai and the Western, 110,000 or more, according to "Oninki" (The Record of the Onin War), but some suspect these figures may be exaggerated.

Whereas the military leaders having gathered in Kyoto had mostly come from Hokuriku, Shinetsu, Tokai, and Kyushu provinces of Chikuzen, Bungo, and Buzen, the Eastern camp had a geographical advantage because not only members of the Hosokawa family were shugos in the provinces around the capital and in Shikoku but also shugos affiliated with the family were appointed in neighboring areas.
Conversely, the Western camp comprised the Yamana family and local forces were increasingly alarmed by the growing presence of the Hosokawa family and its allies,
Many of the latter's associates including Yoshinao ISSHIKI had taken part in it on account of discord with Nobukata TAKEDA in spite of their being aides to Yoshimasa or out of not-so-relevant circumstances, such as Takayori ROKKAKU and Shigeyori TOKI, leaving uncertainty about their obedience to leadership.

On the other hand, in some regions including Kanto, Tohoku and Southern Kyushu, large-scale conflicts had already begun among influential samurai families within individual territories already out of central control, and these areas were already in a state of war irrespective of the battle in and around the capital region (for further information on Kanto, see the article on Kyotoku Incident).

Transition of the war situation and its stagnation

At first, the Eastern camp was dominant, favored by the circumstances that it called itself the "imperial army" winning the support of Yoshimasa, that it drove the Western camp away from the surroundings of the Imperial Palace and Hana no Gosho to secure the Imperial Family and Yoshimasa and that the territories of the Hosokawa family and its supporters were concentrated in the surrounding areas of the capital; but by June Yamana's 80,000-member troops having conquered Hosokawa's Tanba Province had come up to Kyoto and by August Masahiro OUCHI had entered Kyoto, leading not only the troops of Michiharu KONO's and others' seven provinces in Shikoku, but also suigun (navy) squadrons, resulting in recovered power of the Western camp. In the Battle of Shokoku-ji Temple, many were killed or wounded on both sides, but neither camp achieved a decisive victory.

On September 27, 1467, Yoshimi suddenly ran away from the Eastern camp and took refuge with Noritomo KITABATAKE of Ise Province. Yoshimi's escape is partly attributed to the reinstatement of his archenemy Sadachika ISE, who had been expelled as a consequence of Buei sodo, in the Bakufu, but the main reason seems to be that Yoshimasa and guardian Katsumoto had inclined by then to favor the disinheritance of Yoshimi and the appointment of Yoshihisa as Shogun.

Yoshihisa had grown up without entering priesthood, watched over by Yoshimasa who would not hand over the Shogunate as promised, guardian Katsumoto and Tomiko who would make no active move to place Yoshimi in the position of Shogun. Since the very moment of the birth of Yoshihisa, Yoshimi had virtually lost his place in the Bakufu.

After staying for some time in Ise Province, Yoshimi was persuaded by Katsumoto and Yoshimasa into returning to the Eastern camp, but he ran away again and went to Hiei-zan temple. The truth seems to be that Katsumoto, having changed his posture in favor of Yoshihisa as the next Shogun, virtually expelled Yoshimi from the palace in a sugarcoated way. On December 19, 1467, the Western camp sent an envoy to Hiei-zan to invite Yoshimi as the "new Shogun," who gave this camp a resemblance of legitimate Bakufu, and confronted with the Eastern camp. Further, the Western camp also called on the Gonancho (Second Southern Court) forces to fight together.

The involved forces, vying one another in a complexly twisted pattern, sometimes joined hands and at other times separated from others repeatedly, each in pursuit of its own self-interest. In such a situation, few were ready to sacrifice themselves to contribute to victory, and the war between the Eastern and Western camps had fallen into a stalemate. Meanwhile, ashigaru (common foot soldier) Doken HONEKAWA of the Eastern camp attempted guerrilla tactics such as harassing the rear, but after all his corps, nothing more than rabble comprising of many thieves and vicious criminals, was unable to break through the stalemate.

By 1469, Kanetaka MASUDA, a high-ranking vassal of the Ouchi family and known as a general distinguished in both literary and military arts, severed from his lord in Iwami Province and, joining hands with Chikashige OTOMO and Masasuke SHONI in Kyushu, invaded Ouchi's territory on the Western side under the banner of Noriyuki OUCHI; though this action was subdued, in 1471 Takakage ASAKURA who, in spite of his status as shugodai (deputy shugo), had led the main force of the Western camp, was personally appointed by Yoshimasa to the position of shugo of Echizen and went over to the Eastern side.

The urban area of Kyoto was reduced to a vast stretch of ruins by the protracted war and the rampancy of thieves who also committed arson. The warfare further expanded to involve even the home territories of shugo daimyos who had been in Kyoto, making it impossible for them to concentrate on battles in the capital. This made samurai in both Eastern and Western camps weary of war.

In 1473, Sozen and Katsumoto successively died, respectively on March 18 and May 11, and on December 19 Yoshimasa retired, handing over the Shogunate to Yoshihisa. On April 19, 1474, a rapprochement was reached between Masatoyo YAMANA, Sozen's son, and Masamoto HOSOKAWA, Katsumoto's son.

Minor inertial fights continued between the Eastern camp mainly comprising the forces of Masanaga HATAKEYAMA and Masanori AKAMATSU and the Western camp primarily made up of the troops of Yoshinari HATAKEYAMA and Masahiro OUCHI, but the warfare in Kyoto came to an end when Masahiro OUCHI retreated to Suo Province on December 16, 1477, resulting in virtual disbandment of the Western camp. Nine days later, the Bakufu held a banquet in celebration of Tenka seihitsu (pacification of the whole country) to mark the end of the major civil war that had continued for 11 good years.

However, in spite of the 11-year duration of the war involving an aggregate of hundreds of thousands of soldiers mobilized into the capital, it was a war continued by inertia, tolling the life of none of major military leaders; moreover, the authority of the Bakufu power itself, which shugo daimyos had been vying for, was already lost, eventually nothing for them to win.

Moves of shugo daimyo and influential local lords

The Onin War was mainly fought in Kyoto, but its latter half saw the expansion of fronts involving localities far from the capital. The expansion was mainly a consequence of tactics of Katsumoto to Western camp daimyos (including the Ouchi and Toki families) to harass the rear, and the expansion included substantially the whole country except the provinces of Ou, Kanto, Echigo, and Kai. Shugo daimyos and influential local lords who participated in the Eastern and Western camps will be listed below, but it has to be noted that the same persons sometimes belonged to a different side. The following description refers mainly to affiliations in or around 1470. References: "Kamakura Muromachi Jinmei Jiten" (Biographical Dictionary of Kamakura and Muromachi) and "Sengoku Jinmei Jiten" (Biographical Dictionary of Sengoku Period).

Shugo daimyos

Katsumoto HOSOKAWA and the greater Hosokawa family: Settsu Province, Izumi Province, Tanba Province, Awaji Province, Sanuki Province, Awa Province and Tosa Province
Masanaga HATAKEYAMA: Ecchu Province (and Kawachi Province)
Yoshitoshi SHIBA and Mochitane SHIBA: (Owari Province, Echizen Province and Totoumi Province)
Mochikiyo KYOGOKU: Hida Province, half of Omi Province, Izumo Province and Oki Province
Masanori AKAMATSU: Harima Province, half of Kaga Province, (Bizen Province and Mimasaka Province)
Koretoyo YAMANA: Yamashiro Province and Bingo Province
Nobukata TAKEDA and Kuninobu TAKEDA: Wakasa Province and half of Aki Province
Yoshitada IMAGAWA: Suruga Province
Masachika TOGASHI: Half of Kaga Province
Noritomo KITABATAKE: Half of Ise Province
Chikashige OTOMO: Bungo Province and Chikugo Province
Masasuke SHONI: Hizen Province, Tsushima Province (and Chikuzen Province)
Shigetomo KIKUCHI: Higo Province
Tatsuhisa SHIMAZU: Satsuma Province, Osumi Province and Hyuga Province (though participating in no real battle)

Influential local lords

Ienaga OGASAWARA, Ietoyo KISO, Nobumitsu MATSUDAIRA, Yoshizane KIRA, Junson TSUTSUI, Tsunemoto KIKKAWA, Nobuyori YOSHIMI, Kanetaka MASUDA, Noriyuki OUCHI, Hirohira KOBAYAKAWA, Norimichi KONO, Nagatsugu SAGARA and so on

Shugo daimyos

Mochitoyo YAMANA and greater Yamana family: Tajima Province, Inaba Province, Hoki Province, Mimasaka, Harima, Bizen and Bicchu Province (except Koretoyo YAMANA)
Yoshinari HATAKEYAMA: Kawachi (Kii Province and Yamato Province)
Yoshimune HATAKEYAMA: Noto Province
Yoshikado SHIBA: Echizen, Owari and Totomi
Yoshinao ISSHIKI: Tango Province and half of Ise Province
Kiyomune OGASAWARA: Shinano Province
Shigeyori TOKI: Mino Province
Takayori ROKKAKU: Half of Omi Province
Michiharu KONO: Iyo Province
Masahiro OUCHI: Nagato Province, Suo Province, Buzen Province and Chikuzen Province

Influential local lords

Yoshifuji KIRA, Anegakoji (or Anekoji) family of Hida Province, Kochiyo TOGASHI, Toyomoto MORI, Mototsuna TAKEDA, Takehara-Kobayakawa clan, Tadashige SHIBUKAWA, Suehisa SHIMAZU, Tokiie ISSHIKI and so on

Social changes

The Onin War served to accelerate the downfall of Shoguns and shugo daimyos and to raise the status of true strongmen, as symbolized by the acquisition by Takakage ASAKURA, who had been a deputy shugo, of the rank of shugo daimyo. The trend of gekokujo (an inverted social order when the lowly reigned over the elite) proliferated nationwide, driving Japan to its Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States).

As remaining outdated systems, including the manorial system, began to collapse quickly, social powers having new values came to the fore. Even after the end of the Onin War, Masanaga and Yoshinari continued to fight each other in Yamashiro Province, but the successive battles brought common people together around kokujin (indigenous samurai) and they, backed by Katsumoto's successor Masamoto, rose up in Yamashironokuni Ikki (Yamashiro Province uprising) and succeeded in driving the two warring forces out of the province. In Kaga Province, devotees to Hongan-ji Temple drove Masachika TOGASHI away (Kaga Ikko Ikki or Ikko Sect Uprising in Kaga). It was the moment when new powers having no place in the old regime had emerged on the front stage of history.

Downfall of the old and rise of the new powers

A key feature that characterizes the whole Muromachi period is 'the downfall of the old and the rise of the new powers.'
Since the late Kamakura period, old-established ruling powers including celebrated samurai families and court nobles suffered gradual deprivation of their vested interest by kokujin, merchants, and farmers, who had been gaining power along with the enhancement of productivity, and were in a consistent process of downfall.

Furthermore the Muromachi bakufu, which was a coalition government of shugo daimyos based on a consultative principle, had provided no solid basis for the Shogun's power since its very beginning except under the rule of the Third Shogun Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA and the Sixth Shogun Yoshinori ASHIKAGA, and shugo daimyos were under the strong influences of emerging shugodais and their key vassals.

This circumstance, coupled with the still incomplete establishment of the system of family headship inheritance by the eldest son, often gave rise to rivalry for heirship or other 'oie sodo' (family feuds) in the families of the Shogun and shugo daimyos.

Reconstruction of Kyoto after the Onin War

In the language of Kyotoites, the 'war' in postwar often means this war. Court nobles and common people driven away from Kyoto by the Onin War took refuge in Yamashina Ward, a peripheral area of Kyoto, neighboring cities of Uji, Otsu, Nara, and Sakai, and local estates. In 1479, after the Onin War, the reconstruction of Muromachi-dono (the Shogun's residence) and the Imperial Palace was started, but the absence of shugo daimyos and their vassals (who had played a more or less substantial role as urban consumers) who had previously lived in Kyoto, but later returned to their politically unstable territories, on top of the frequent occurrence of epidemics, fires, burglaries and uprisings in the deteriorated environment of the devastated city, prevented the reconstruction of Kyoto from steady progress. The successive changes of the imperial era name (Chokyo, Entoku, and Meio) attributed to these disasters endorse this observation. Also, the resumption in 1500 of the Gion Festival, which had been acclaimed for the townsmen's initiative behind it, may be considered to have been motivated in part by the social unrest prevailing then, given the history that the Gion Festival had originally been an event of prayer for recovery from epidemics. On the other hand, townsmen's acceptance of the Hokke Sect of Buddhism then could be associated with a rise in religious faith among them, who were worried by the social unrest.

Yet, considering that the sum of jishi sen (miscellaneous taxes imposed on fields and houses under the manorial system) collected from Kyoto residents from around 1498 and the issuance of a Bakufu order for a more strict collection of sakaya yaku (taxes imposed on sake breweries by the Muromachi Bakufu) in 1508, the population of Kyoto presumably began to increase steadily again; the few years before and after the Gion Festival in 1500 are regarded as the phase of the real recovery of the city.