The Meitoku War (明徳の乱)

The Meitoku War was a war against the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) that was started by the Yamana clan members, such as Ujikiyo YAMANA and Mitsuyuki YAMANA, in 1391 during the Muromachi period. It is also called the Battle in the Greater Imperial Palace.

One Feudal Lord for One Sixth

The Yamana clan was a member of the Nitta clan. However, during Tokiuji YAMANA's era, the clan sided with Takauji ASHIKAGA, who raised an army against the Kamakura bakufu. Later, the clan allied itself again with the Ashikaga clan and made achievements during the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan). The clan aided Tadayoshi ASHIKAGA and fought in the Kanno Disturbance. After Tadayoshi's death the clan returned to serving the bakufu. However, the clan revolted again, descended to the Southern Court (Japan), and at one point, it occupied the city of Kyoto, demonstrating its might. Later, the clan fought, aiding Tadafuyu ASHIKAGA, and laid down large forces in the Sanin area. The clan submitted to the Muromachi bakufu during the era of the second seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") Yoshiakira ASHIKAGA, with a condition that the clan was guaranteed territory which had been taken away. Tokiuji became a shugo (provincial military governor) of the five provinces of Inaba, Hoki, Tamba, Tango and Mimasaka.

Even after the death of Tokiuji the Yamana clan expanded its territory. Moroyoshi YAMANA, the eldest son who succeeded as the heir, the second son Yoshimasa YAMANA, the third son, Ujifuyu YAMANA, the fourth son, Ujikiyo YAMANA and the fifth son, Tokiyoshi YAMANA, respectively became shugo of Tango and Hoki Provinces, Kii Province, Inaba Province, Tamba, Yamashiro and Izumi Provinces, and Mimasaka, Tajima and Bingo Provinces. In addition, Moroyoshi's son, Mitsuyuki YAMANA, newly gained a position as a shugo of Harima Province.
Of 66 provinces nationwide, the Yamana clan members became shugo of 11 provinces, and the clan was called 'one feudal lord of one sixth.'

Strengthening of the shogun's authority
The Muromachi bakufu's shogun was positioned atop an alliance of shugo daimyo (Japanese territorial lords), and his authority was weak. Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, who became the third shogun in 1369, tried to strengthen the authority of shogun.

In 1379, kanrei (shogunal deputy) Yoriyuki HOSOKAWA, who had the actual power in the bakufu, fell from power due to the Koryaku Coup. Yoshimitsu seized power by using the opposition between the Hosokawa clan and the Shiba clan. He steadily strengthened the shogun's authority by reinforcing the hokoshu (guard force under shogun's direct control), which was under his direct control.

In addition to this, Yoshimitsu tried to weaken the powerful shugo daimyo that were hard to bring under control because they had become too powerful. In 1387, Yoriyasu TOKI, a meritorious vassal who helped to establish the bakufu, and who was a shugo of the three provinces of Mino, Owari and Ise, passed away. Yasuyuki TOKI succeeded, but Yoshimitsu manipulated it so that the Toki clan members would split. He provoked Yasuyuki so that he had to raise an army. Yoshimitsu gave an order to subjugate Yasuyuki in 1389, and in the following year, 1390, his order was executed (Yasuyuki TOKI's Rebellion).

Yoshimitsu's next target was the Yamana clan that ruled 11 provinces.

The internal feud of the Yamana clan
The heir of the Yamana clan, Moroyoshi, passed away in 1376. Because his sons, Yoshiyuki YAMANA, Ujiyuki YAMANA, Yoshiaki YAMANA and Mitsuyuki YAMANA were young, his younger brother, Tokiyoshi, became the interim heir. Ujikiyo YAMANA and his son-in-law, Mitsuyuki, showed disapproval regarding this.

In 1389, Tokiyoshi, the heir, Tokiyoshi, passed away. In 1390, Yoshimitsu complained that Tokiyoshi was disrespectful to the shogun when he was alive. He further complained that Tokihiro YAMANA, who had succeeded him, and the younger brother Ujiyuki YAMANA had also shown noticeably disrespectful behavior. Therefore, Yoshimitsu ordered Ujikiyo and Mitsuyuki to subjugate them.

Tokihiro and Ujiyuki raised their armies and fought. However, Ujikiyo attacked Tokihiro's base of Tajima, and Mitsuyuki attached Ujiyuki's base of Hoki. In the following year, in 1391, Tokihiro and Ujiyuki were defeated and they faced a downfall.

As a reward for their achievements in the war, Ujikiyo was given the position of shugo of Tajima and Yamashiro Provinces, and Mitsuyuki was given the position of shugo of Hoki and Oki Provinces.

Yoshimitsu's provocations
Yoshimitsu broke up the Yamana clan and ousted Tokihiro and Ujiyuki, but Ujikiyo and Mitsuyuki's powers increased. Yoshimitsu then began to execute ingenious provocations against Ujikiyo and Mitsuyuki.

In 1391, Tokihiro and Ujiyuki, who were on the run, returned to Kyoto. They were hiding in the Kiyomizu-dera Temple area, and they begged Yoshimitsu for a pardon. A rumor spread that Yoshimitsu was going to grant this pardon. Ujikiyo became uneasy. He had invited Yoshimitsu to a fall foliage viewing in the city of Uji in November of the same year, but he fell into disgrace with Yoshimitsu when he canceled it at the last minute, using illness as an excuse.

In December of the same year, Mitsuyuki was stripped of his position as shugo of Izumo Province and he was banished from Kyoto. The reasons were that he seized sento ryo Yokota no sho, which was Emperor Goenyu's Imperial property within Mitsuyuki's territory of Izumo Province, and that he did not follow the migyosho (document of shogunate order). Angered, Mitsuyuki went to the city of Sakai in Izumi Province, which was a territory of Ujikiyo, his father-in-law.
He encouraged him to raise an army because the 'shogun's behavior these days indicate that he intends to destroy the Yamana clan.'
Ujikiyo agreed to this, and he decided to attack Kyoto in one sweep. He let Mitsuyuki return to his territory of Tamba so that he could prepare to attack Kyoto through Tambaji (Tamba Road). As Ujikiyo gathered his army in Sakai, he visited Yoshimasa, who was a shugo of Kii, and he encouraged him to raise an army. Yoshimasa hesitated, but he finally agreed. Ujikiyo descended to the Southern Court in order to obtain a legitimate reason, and he was granted the Imperial standard made of a gold brocade.

The news of Ujikiyo and Mitsuyuki's insurrection was passed on to the bakufu on January 21, 1392 through the local governors of Tamba and Kawachi Provinces. The senior vassals of the bakufu were dubious of the news. However, Rakuchu (inside the capital city of Kyoto) was in chaos as Ujikiyo's nephew, Ujiie YAMANA (shugo of Inaba Province) left Kyoto in order to join his clan, and the senior vassals became aware of the Yamana clan's rebellion.

On January 27, 1392, Yoshimitsu held a war council, and there were discussions of reconciliation among the senior vassals. Yoshimitsu had provoked Ujikiyo and Mitsuyuki to raise an army, but he was not confident that he would win. The Yamana clan's forces were very powerful, and during the period of Tokiuji, Kyoto had been captured twice by the Yamana clan armies.
Yoshimitsu avoided the peace treaty, and he decided to fight by saying, 'I leave up to the view of the heavens the destinies of my clan and the Yamana clan.'

Battle in the Greater Imperial Palace

In order to fight against the Yamana army invading into Kyoto, the bakufu army positioned the principal force of 5000 cavalrymen in Uchino, which was the daidairi (place of Imperial residence and government offices) of the former Heian-kyo (ancient capital). Yoshimitsu and 5000 cavalrymen of umamawari (horse guards) (hokoshu) (a military post in Muromachi shogunate) waited at the Isshiki family residence at Horikawa.

The Yamana army had set the date of the decisive battle on January 29, 1392. 3000 cavalrymen of Ujikiyo's army advanced from Sakai, and 2000 cavalrymen of Mitsuyuki advanced from Tamba to Kyoto. Departing from Uchino, Mitsuyuki's army advancing on Tambaji reached Mune no do (a temple or a shrine where Emperor Seiwa is enshrined) in Misato by January 28, 1392, and they lined up themselves. Ujikiyo's arrival was delayed because of an interruption by shugodai (acting military governor) of Kawachi Province, Kuninaga YUSA. Some men from his army began to drop out and surrender to the bakufu.

On the night of January 31, 1392, Ujikiyo's army, arriving late, reached Nakajima in Yodo, and they separated into three squads and marched into Kyoto. Mitsuyuki's army split into two groups and attacked Kyoto. Because the army advanced in the moonless night the squads were uncoordinated, and they ended up entering Kyoto separately.

Early in the morning of February 1, 1392, 700 cavalrymen of Yoshikazu YAMANA and Yoshishige KOBAYASHI attacked Nijo Omiya. They collided with 300 cavalrymen of Yoshihiro OUCHI, and the battle began. The Ouchi forces got off their horses and shot arrows like rain. The battle became chaotic, and Yoshikazu YAMANA and Kozukenosuke KOBAYASHI, who were losing ground, charged ahead, with an intention to die in the battle. Yoshihiro OUCHI prevailed even though he was injured while fighting against Kozukenosuke KOBAYASHI. Yoshikazu YAMANA also died in the battle and the Yamana forces lost at the beginning of the battle. Yoshimitsu awarded a sword to Yoshihiro OUCHI in praise of his heroic deed.

Next, 2000 cavalrymen of Mitsuyuki attacked Uchino. The bakufu army on the defense consisted of 3000 cavalrymen of Hosokawa, Hatakeyama and Kyogoku clans, and the battle became fierce. However, 5000 cavalrymen of Yoshimitsu's umamawari were added and the battle became decisive. Mitsuyuki, who was defeated, fled to Tamba.

2000 cavalrymen of Ujikiyo's forces split into two groups and charged ahead. They collided with the forces of Yoshihiro OUCHI and Yoshinori AKAMATSU. Ujikiyo fought hard and held off Ouchi and Akamatsu's forces. Tokihiro YAMANA, who had been serving the bakufu, entered the battle with 50 cavalrymen. He fought until there were only eight cavalrymen left. Ouchi and Akamatsu, losing ground, requested Yoshimitsu for a support army. The forces of the Isshiki clan and the Shiba clan joined, and the bakufu army reversed the tide. Ujikiyo's forces were prepared to flee, and they had a debacle as Yoshimitsu himself entered the battle on horseback with umamawari. Ujikiyo tried to flee, but he was surrounded by the Isshiki forces and he was killed by Akinori ISSHIKI.

Thus, the Yamana clan was defeated in one day of battle. There were 260 deaths from the bakufu army and there were 879 deaths from the Yamana army.

After the war
In February of 1392, conferring of honors took place. Tamba Province was given to Yorimoto HOSOKAWA, Tango Province was given to Mitsunori ISSHIKI, Mimasaka Province was given to Yoshinori AKAMATSU, Izumi and Kii Provinces were given to Yoshihiro OUCHI, Tajima Province was given to Tokihiro YAMANA, Inaba Province was given to Ujiie YAMANA, Hoki Province was given to Ujiyuki YAMANA, and Oki and Izumo Provinces were given to Takanori KYOGOKU. The Yamana clan that proudly held 11 provinces had their territories reduced to only 3 provinces.

In addition, the umamawari under the shogun's direct command, which Yoshimitsu had been strengthening, was very successful in this battle, and they demonstrated the power of the shogun.

In March of the same year, Yoshimasa YAMANA fell after he was attacked by Yoshihiro OUCHI in Kii Province. In 1395, Mitsuyuki, who had become a priest and managed to escape to Tsukushi in Kyushu, was captured and killed in Kyoto.

After that, Yoshimitsu solidified his power as a shogun by provoking Yoshihiro OUCHI, making him raise an army, and by destroying him in 1399 (the Oei War).

Meitoku ki
Meitoku ki is a war chronicle that follows the style of Taiheiki (The Record of the Great Peace). The author is unknown and there are three volumes in total. It is valuable as a historical resource, but is written from a viewpoint that leans towards the bakufu.

[Original Japanese]