Ashikaga Yoshimasa (足利義政)

Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA was the 8th Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") of the Muromachi Shogunate (reigned between 1449 - 1473).

His father was the 6th Shogun, Yoshinori ASHIKAGA. His mother was Yoshinori's concubine, Shigeko HINO, who was a daughter of Shigemitsu HINO. Imamairi no Tsubone was his wet nurse as well as his concubine. His official wife was Tomiko HINO. Yoshimi ASHIKAGA was his younger brother by the same mother, and Yoshikatsu ASHIKAGA was his older brother by the same mother. Masatomo ASHIKAGA was his younger brother by a different mother. He was a grandson of Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, the 3rd Shogun who built the most prosperous era during the Muromachi Shogunate.

Because he suffered from peasant uprisings and financial distress he grew weary of political administration. He left his administrative duties of the Shogunate to Tomiko and other influential Shugo-daimyo members, such as Katsumoto HOSOKAWA and Sozen YAMANA, and he became a man of culture who pondered his unhappy way of life.

Installation as a Shogun

He was born on January 2, 1436, as a son of the 6th Shogun, Yoshinori ASHIKAGA. In 1441, after his father, Yoshinori, was killed by Mitsusuke AKAMATSU in the Kakitsu War, his older brother by the same mother, Yoshikatsu ASHIKAGA, was installed as the Shogun. However, because the 7th Shogun, Yoshikatsu ASHIKAGA, died young in 1443, Yoshimasa was chosen as the Shogun at the age of 8 under the guardianship of kanrei Mochikuni HATAKEYAMA. When he had a coming of age ceremony in 1449 he officially assumed his position as the 8th Shogun.

Transition to Political Administration by His Aides

At the beginning, Yoshimasa tried to revive the political agenda of his grandfather, Yoshimitsu, and his father, Yoshinori, and he actively intervened in the large-scale infighting (the Kyotoku War) between Kamakura-kubo (later Koga-kubo) Shigeuji ASHIKAGA and Kanto-kanrei Uesugi clan by ordering Horigoe-kubo Masatomo ASHIKAGA, his younger brother by a different mother, to subjugate Shigeuji. However, he virtually had no political power as a Shogun because his wet nurse, Imamairi no Tsubone, Suketo KARASUMA and Mochiie ARIMA, collectively known as the three devils, as well as Sadachika ISE, the steward of Shogun's family, and aides like the family of his official wife, Tomiko HINO, began their political interventions.

Several events took place to validate that fact. At the time, internal disputes often took place among the Shugo-daimyo regarding the successor to the head of the family. Yoshimasa, at first, actively intervened into these family heir disputes, but he met opposition from kanrei Katsumoto HOSOKAWA regarding the internal dispute of the Togashi clan, the shugo of the Province of Kaga, and Yoshimasa could not influence the issue of family heir the way he wanted. Also, in 1451, he intervened in the internal dispute in the Oda clan who was the Shugodai of the Province of Owari, but again, he met opposition from the Owari Shugo Shiba clan and he was not able to exercise his influence the way he wanted. Therefore, since politics did not go according to Yoshimasa's plans he gradually lost interest in politics.

From the Issue of the Heir to the Onin war

There was a son between Yoshimasa and his official wife, Tomiko HINO, but he died young in 1459. Tomiko, then accused Imamairi no Tsubone for killing her son by putting a curse on him, and she banished her to Okinoshima Island on Lake Biwa. Because of this, from this point on, the power of Tomiko and Shogun's aides, including Sadachika ISE, strengthened.

Furthermore, famine and disasters occurred one after another. In particular, the Kansho Famine in 1461 left a tremendous disaster in Kyoto, and according to one account the flow of Kamo-gawa River stopped because of the corpses of the people who died from starvation. Because of these internal and external situations Yoshimasa completely lost his motivation in politics, and he gradually immersed himself in construction projects, such as building mansions, sarugaku and holding drinking parties. In particular, even during the Kansho Famine he paid no attention to political matters, focusing instead on the reconstruction of Hana no Gosho; he is infamous for ignoring even Emperor Go-Hanazono's admonishment regarding this matter. In 1464, he began to think about retiring.

However, because he and Tomiko were not blessed with an heir, he brought his younger brother, Gijin, back to the secular life, named him Yoshimi ASHIKAGA, and as his adopted son, he assigned him to be the next Shogun.

However, after Tomiko gave birth to a child (later Yoshihisa ASHIKAGA) in 1465 she expressed her desire for Yoshihisa to be the heir to the Shogun, so she asked Mochitoyo (Sozen) YAMANA for his support, because he had the true political clout. On the other hand, Yoshimi allied with kanrei Katsumoto HOSOKAWA. Consequently, the issue of ASHIKAGA shogun family's heir arose, but Yoshimasa was not willing to relinquish his position as the Shogun to either party, and he continued to show an irresolute behavior by immersing himself in his cultural interests. In addition, the issues on the heirs in the Shiba clan and Hatakeyama clan that had arisen before was related to this issue, and the Onin war finally erupted in 1467. Even the descendants of Yoshino (Imperial) Court (Go-nancho) entered the war, and it escalated into an out-of-control war that involved the entire nation.

However, Yoshimasa did not even bother to deal with the war and he spent all of his time holding drinking and renga poetry parties, and furthermore, he moved to Ogawa mansion from Hana no Gosho (Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City) and he started to live separately from Tomiko, with whom he was no longer getting along because of the issue of Shogun's heir. In 1473, when the West Army's Mochitoyo (Sozen) YAMANA and the East Army's Katsumoto HOSOKAWA both died Yoshimasa took this opportunity to hand over his position as the Shogun to his son, Yoshihisa ASHIKAGA, in December, and he officially retired.

Later Years

The discord between Yoshimasa and Tomiko remained unchanged, and when Hana no Gosho burned down due to a war in the city of Kyoto in 1475, Tomiko and Yoshihisa moved to Ogawa mansion while Yoshimasa relocated to Higashiyama as if he was running away from them. Onin war ended in 1477, however, he and Yoshihisa had differences in their opinions and his relationship with Tomiko worsened even more. In reality, back then, there was Higashiyama-dono (Yoshimasa) as opposed to Muromachi-dono (Yoshihisa), and the policymaking government seemed to have been split into two bodies. Perhaps, because of this reason, Yoshimasa went into hiding after the Onin war and he became even more active in his cultural activities after that.

In 1482, he built Higashiyama sanso villa (Higashiyama-dono), and he built Jisho-ji Temple based on the Rokuon-ji Temple that was built by his grandfather, Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA. Yoshimasa and Yoshihisa's rivalry intensified, as evidenced by the armed encounter between Yoshihisa's aides and those close to Yoshimasa in May, 1485. Because of this reason, in June, Yoshimasa shaved his head and became an ordained monk, and he decided to leave from his effective duties in the government.

His last days

He decided unwillingly to return to his administrative duties in 1489 when his son, Yoshihisa, died in the battle during the subjugation of Rokkaku, but his official wife, Tomiko HINO, opposed to his return. Furthermore, Yoshimasa was stricken with paralysis, which made it difficult for him to assume administrative duties, so he made peace with his brother, Yoshimi, who had defected to the Province of Mino, and adopted Yoshimi's eldest son, Yoshiki (Yoshitane) ASHIKAGA, and assigned him as the 10th Shogun and entrusted him with the governmental affairs after his passing.

On January 7th, 1490, he passed away without seeing the completion of Ginkaku. He was 55 years old.

Posthumous name : Jishoin Kizan Dokei

His grave is located in Shokoku-ji Temple in Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City, among others.

Personal Profile

On the cultural side, he has left distinguished works. He employed landscape artist, Zenami, painter of KANO party, Masanobu KANO, and noh artist, Onami, among others, and he constructed Higashiyama-dono villa on the grounds of Higashiyama (it later became Jisho-ji Temple, and Ginkaku and Togu-do Hall still remain to this day). In contrast to the lavish Kitayama culture represented by Kinkaku from the 3rd Shogun Yoshimitsu's era, the culture of this period is called "Higashiyama culture" that emphasizes wabi-sabi (simplicity and quietude) as represented by Ginkaku.

Politically, he was unable to suppress the immense influential powers of the Hino family and his aides, who had been powerful since the time of his grandfather, and therefore, it can be said that he aided the decline of the Shogunate's power.

After Yoshinori's death, in 1451, he restored the tally trade (between Japan and the Ming dynasty) that had been discontinued, and it continued until mid-16th century. He contributed to the cultural development and financial exchange through trade.

Ironically, the revival of tally trade and the rebuilding plan of financial circumstances by the Shogunate's officials, who were his aides, and Shugo daimyo who robbed the administrative power from Yoshimasa, were successful and therefore the Shogunate's financial situation was very stable during the first half of Yoshimasa's rule, just as it had been during Yoshimitsu's era. However, instead of using his accomplishments to restore the Shogunate's power or aid his people, Yoshimasa spent it on his hobbies such as architecture and landscaping, creating the cause of the financial difficulties experienced after the Onin war.

Chronology of Government Posts and Ranks

Lunar calendar used for the dates.

October 15, 1446: Given the rank of Jugoinojo (Junior Fifth Rank, Upper Grade).

February 7, 1447: Promoted to Shogoinoge (Senior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade) and assumed the position of Jiju.

December 26, 1448: Transferred to the position of Sama-no-kami.

April 16, 1449: A coming-of-age ceremony. He was named Yoshinari. April 29: Named Seii Taishogun by the Emperor. August 27: Promoted to Jushiinoge (Junior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade), assumed the position of Sangi-u. Also assumed the position of Ukone-no-chujo.

January, 5, 1450: Promoted to Jusanmi (Junior Third Rank). March 29, transferred to the position to Gon-dainagon. June 27: Promoted to Junii (Junior Second Rank). Gon-dainagon rank remained unchanged.

March 26, 1453: Promoted to Juichii (Junior First Rank). June 13: He changed his name to Yoshimasa.

August 27, 1455: Also assumed the position of Ukone-no-daisho.

January 5, 1456: Also assumed the position of Umeryo-gogen.

July 25, 1458: Transferred to the position of Nai-daijin. Dual appointment as Ukone-no-daisho remained unchanged.

August 27, 1460: Transferred to the position of Sadaijin (Minister of the Left). Dual appointment as Ukone-no-daisho remained unchanged.

August 9, 1461: Resigned from Ukone-no-daisho.

November 28, 1464: Named Jun-sangu by the Emperor.

September 2, 1467: Resigned from Sadaijin.

December 19, 1473: Resigned from Seii Taishogun.

August 15, 1485: Became an ordained monk.

January 7, 1490: Passed away. February 17: Awarded the rank of Daijo-daijin.

Those Who Received Henki (Honorary Names)

Masaie KONOE
Masamoto KUJO
Masafusa ICHIJO
Shigeuji ASHIKAGA
Masauji ASHIKAGA
Masahiro OUCHI
Masachika TOGASHI
Shigeyori TOKI
Masafusa TOKI
Masanaga HATAKEYAMA
Masamoto HOSOKAWA
Masatoyo YAMANA
Shigemune DATE

Works in Which He Appears

"Yokai" (specter) by Ryotaro SHIBA, Kodansha/Kodansha Bunko, 1969. "Gin no Yakata" (silver mansion) by Michiko NAGAI, Bungei Shunju, 1980. "Muromachi Boys Club" by Futaro YAMADA, Bungei Shunju/Bunshun Bunko, 1995. "Higashiyama-dono Oniwa" (Higashiyama-dono garden) by Ken ASAMATSU, Igyo Collection, volume 29, "Kuroi Yuenchi" (black amusement park), Kobunsha, 2002. "Hana no Ran," NHK period drama, April to December, 1994, Yoshimasa played by Takuto NISHITANI, Ebizo ICHIKAWA (11th) and Danjuro ICHIKAWA (12th).