Ashikaga Takauji (足利尊氏)

Takauji ASHIKAGA (1305-58) was a general from the late Kamakura period to the Northern and Southern Courts period. He was the 1st Seii Taishogun of the Muromachi Shogunate.

Takauji was a descendant of the Genji clan. He was the 1st son of Sadauji ASHIKAGA, who was a descendant in the direct line of the Ashikaga clan, which was the powerful family in Kawachi Genji. In his early years, he was given the name Takauji by the regent Takatoki HOJO. In 1333, when the Emperor Go-Daigo had raised an army at Mt. Senjosan in Hoki Province, Takauji, the powerful vassal of the Kamakura shogunate, was sent to Kyoto leading the main armies of the shogunate to put down the rebellion, but he switched sides and gathered an army against the shogunate at Shinomura Hachimangu in Tamba Province to capture Rokuhara Tandai. His achievements were evaluated by Emperor Go-Daigo, and he was awarded the letter (尊), which came from the emperor's real name Takaharu (尊治), so he changed the letter in his name from "高氏" to "尊氏".

While the despotic Kenmu restoration by Emperor Go-Daigo had been losing support, Takauji traveled to the east to suppress the Nakasendai Rebellion, and stayed in Kamakura to try to build his own government. Because of this, the relationship between Takauji and the imperial court came to an impasse, and he returned to Kyoto, driving the Emperor Go-Daigo out to Mt. Hiei. However, the Emperor's army made a counterattack and Takauji fled to Kyushu temporarily. He reentered Kyoto and established a new samurai government called the Muromachi Shogunate, being appointed Seii Taishogun by Grand Emperor (Retired Emperor) Kogon and Emperor Komyo. At the same time, Emperor Go-Daigo moved to Yoshino and set up the Southern Court there.

After he established the Muromachi Shogunate, he and his brother Tadayoshi ASHIKAGA divided power between them, but in later years discord between them increased until the Kanno Disturbance. The disturbance subsided with the death of Tadayoshi, but even after that Takauji had to keep fighting against his enemies, such as the Southern Court forces, to maintain his government. After Emperor Go-Daigo died, Takauji built Tenryu-ji Temple to pray for the dead.

Because of his rebellion against the emperor, people had branded him as a traitor since the Meiji era, but after World War II they began to look at him more positively, which illustrates how much the historical point of view affects the way we look at the people in history.


From Birth to the Fall of the Kamakura Shogunate

Takauji was born in 1305. There are 3 presumptions about his birthplace: Ayabe (Uesugisho in Ayabe City, Kyoto), Kamakura and Ashikagano sho (Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture). "Nan-Taiheiki" says that when Takauji was given his first bath, two turtledoves flew in; one perched on his shoulder, and the other on the dipper. His childhood name was Matataro. On October 10th, 1319, his coming-of-age ceremony (Genpuku) was held at age 15, and he was appointed Jibutaifu of the Fifth Rank, Junior Grade, and given the name Takauji by the regent Takatoki HOJO. Takauji's father Sadauji and his official wife Shakado, daughter of Akitoki HOJO, had the first son Takayoshi ASHIKAGA, but he died early and Takauji succeeded to his father. According to "Nan-Taiheiki", Ietoki ASHIKAGA, Takauji's grandfather, killed himself with his sword, praying that the Ashikaga clan may rule over the whole country in 3 generations.

In 1331, Emperor Go-Daigo plotted the overthrow of the shogunate again and raised an army at Kasagi (Genko Incident). The Kamakura shogunate ordered Takauji, who had been a powerful vassal, to help the shogunate, and he joined the battles at Kasagi where the emperor was based and at Shimoakasaka Castle in which Masashige KUSUNOKI was based. The incident had taken place just after his father's death, so Takauji at first had refused his help to the shogunate, but the Kamakura shogunate took his wife and children as hostages to make Takauji follow its order. According to "Koten-Taiheiki," because of this Takauji began to harbor hostility toward the shogunate. As a result of the attack against the emperor made by the shogunate, the emperor and his followers such as Toshimoto HINO and Enkan were captured, and the following year Emperor Go-Daigo was exiled to Oki Islands (Genko Rebellion). The shogunate installed Emperor Kogon of the Jimyo-in line as emperor, instead of Emperor Go-Daigo of the Daikaku-ji line.

In the following year, Emperor Go-Daigo escaped from Oki Islands, and raised an army at Mt. Senjosan. Takauji was ordered to reenter Kyoto with Takaie NAGOE to put down the rebellion in the west. Takaie was killed by Norimura AKAMATSU, which made Takauji decide to side with the emperor. On April 29th of the same year, he raised an army against the shogunate at Shinomura Hachimangu (present Kameoka City, Kyoto) in Tamba Province. Takauji gathered forces from various provinces, and entered Kyoto followed by vassals such as Doyo SASAKI from Omi Province, and then succeeded in destroying Rokuhara Tandai on May 7th, 1333. At about the same time, Yoshisada NITTA, vassal of Kozuke Province, also gathered an army, and destroyed the shogunate, taking Takauji's heir Senjuo (later called Yoshiakira ASHIKAGA), who had escaped from Kamakura, with him. In this fighting, Takewakamaru, the son of Takauji's concubine, was killed.

After the Kamakura shogunate was crumbled, Takauji ordered Kazuuji HOSOKAWA, Yoriharu HOSOKAWA and Morouji HOSOKAWA to make Yoshisada NITTA return to Kyoto, and let the Ashikaga clan rule Kamakura.

From Kenmu Restoration to the Turbulence of the Northern and Southern Courts Period

After the fall of the Kamakura shogunate, Emperor Go-Daigo considered Takauji's work to be commendable, and gave him the ranks of Chinjufu Shogun and Sahyoe no Kami with the courtly title of Fourth Rank, Junior Grade, along with 30 plots of land. In addition to that, he was given the letter (尊), which came from the emperor's given name, and changed the letter of his name Takauji (高氏) into Takauji (尊氏). Under the Kenmu administration, Takauji left politics and let KO no Moronao, the regent of the Ashikaga clan, and KO no Moroyasu engage in politics, while he made his brother Tadayoshi the regent of the Kamakura Shogunfu. There are two interpretations of Takauji's behavior; one is that it was Emperor Go-Daigo who made Takauji leave politics, and the other is that it was Takauji who tried to keep away from the government. There is also a different presumption that Takauji intended to establish the new government in Kamakura. This condition was called "Takauji's absence in the new government".

While Emperor Go-Daigo appointed Akiie KITABATAKE as Chinjufu Shogun and made him take Prince Noriyoshi (later called Emperor GO-Murakami) to Oshu in order to pacify the place, Takauji made Tadayoshi lead young Prince Narinaga (Nariyoshi) down to Kamakura. Emperor Go-Daigo's son Prince Morinaga, who also coveted the title of Seii Taishogun, gradually came to rival Takauji, and plotted to assassinate him, but Takauji's security was so tight that he failed to do it. In 1334, Takauji captured and confined Prince Morinaga, who was in conflict with the emperor too, to Tadayoshi's place in Kamakura, conspiring with the emperor's mistress Yasuko (Kadoko) ANO, who wanted to make her son Prince Tsunenaga (Tsuneyoshi) a crown prince.

In 1335, Nakasendai Rebellion was raised in Shinano Province by the survivors of the HOJO clan, taking Tokiyuki HOJO, bereaved son of Takatoki HOJO, with them, and Tokiyuki's army occupied Kamakura temporarily. In the rebellion, Tadayoshi killed Prince Morinaga without permission. Takauji requested that Emperor Go-Daigo appoint him Seii Taishogun only to be rejected, so he marched to Kamakura without emperor's permission on August 2nd of the same year, which made Emperor Go-Daigo reluctantly appoint him as Seito Taishogun. Tadayoshi's army, joined by Takauji, defeated Tokiyuki HOJO at the Battle of Sagamigawa and regained Kamakura on the 19th of the same month. Takauji was given the courtly title of the Second Rank.

With Tadayoshi's approval, Takauji established a base in Kamakura and began to allot lands to his followers, ignoring the emperor's command to return to Kyoto, and he tried to establish his own samurai government. In November, Takauji suggested to the emperor that Yoshisada NITTA was an enemy of the imperial court and should be killed, but on the contrary the emperor ordered Yoshisada to kill Takauji, making Yoshisada take Prince Takanaga (Takayoshi) to Kamakura along Tokaido. Besides that, Akiie KITABATAKE began to go down to Kyoto from Oshu, so Takauji declared his retirement to get a reprieve. However, once the Ashikaga side, including Tadayoshi and KO no Moronao, began to lose at various provinces such as Mikawa, Takauji decided to revolt against the Kenmu government. In December of the same year, Takauji defeated Nitta's army at the Battle of Hakone Take no Shita, and advanced his army up to Kyoto. During that time, Takauji secretly made contact with Emperor Kogon of the Jimyo-in line to justify his entering Kyoto. In the following month, Takauji reached Kyoto, while Emperor GO-Daigo fled to Mt. Hiei. Shortly thereafter, Takauji was attacked in Kyoto by the armies of Akiie KITABATAKE, Masashige KUSUNOKI and Yoshisada NITTA from Oshu, and he gave up Kyoto, accepting Enshin AKAMATSU's advice to leave for Kyushu.

On his way down to Kyushu, Yoshinao (Yorihisa) SHONI came to meet him at Akamagaseki, Nagato Province (present Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture), and he was supported by Ujinori MUNAKATA, the chief priest of Munakata Taisha Shrine in Munakata, Chikuzen Province. In the beginning of March, after visiting Munakata Taisha, Takauji defeated Taketoshi KIKUCHI (Emperor Go-Daigo's side) at the Battle of Tatarahama (present Fukuoka City), and on his way up to Kyoto, he got Emperor Kogon's order and immediately gathered western warriors. He smashed the armies of Yoshisada NITTA and Masashige KUSUNOKI at the Battle of Minatogawa on April 25th of the same year, and seized Kyoto again in June.

Takauji attempted a reconciliation with Emperor Go-Daigo, who had been at Mt. Hiei, to save face for the emperor. Emperor Go-Daigo, accepting Takauji's offer, transferred the Imperial Regalia of Japan to Emperor Komyo, a younger brother of Grand Emperor Kogon, and right after that, on November 7th, Takauji declared the opening of a new samurai government, setting the Kenmu Shikimoku in order to show the basic policy of his government to his people. Emperor Go-Daigo escaped from Kyoto to Yoshino (present Yoshino-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara Prefecture) taking the Imperial Regalia of Japan with him in December, and announced that the transferred regalia were fake, so he established Yoshino Imperial Court (=Southern Court).

Kanno Disturbance to The Later Years

In 1338, Takauji was appointed Seii Taishogun (reigned 1338-58) by Emperor Komyo, which meant that an actual samurai government later called Muromachi Shogunate was established. In the following year, when Emperor Go-Daigo passed away in Yoshino, Takauji began to found Tenryu-ji temple to pray for the soul of the dead emperor. In order to raise the funds to build the temple, a trading vessel called Tenryu-ji-bune was set sail for Yuan Dynasty.

Under the new government, Takauji gave Tadayoshi a post as administrative leader and he himself became the leader of the house vassals. Shin'ichi Sato called such conditions diarchy by Takauji, who held a military power in the lord-and-vassal relationship, and Tadayoshi, who controlled the judicial functions of the regime, in his essay 'Muromachi Bakufu' in "Iawanami Koza Nihon Rekishi vol.7" (Iawanami Publishing, 1963) and explained that the potentiality of the shogun's dual power which had continued since Kamakura Shogunate, came to appear. The dual power gradually led to a conflict between anti-Tadayoshi group represented by KO no Moronao, and the Tadayoshi group in the government. This conflict finally raised an internal split called the Kanno Disturbance. At first Takauji took a neutral stance on it, but he came to side with Moronao's group. In 1349, Moronao demanded Tadayoshi's retirement from politics, surrounding Takauji's castle in which Tadayoshi had sheltered. Tadayoshi became a priest and lost his power, but it is said that Moronao and Takauji made an arrangement to exclude Tadayoshi.

While Takauji called back his heir Yoshiakira from Kamakura to put him in charge of political affairs instead of Tadayoshi, he sent his second son Motouji ASHIKAGA to Kamakura in return and set the Kamakurafu to rule the eastern provinces, appointing Motouji Kamakura kubo. After Tadayoshi's retreat, Takauji's illegitimate son - also Tadayoshi's adopted son - Tadafuyu ASHIKAGA was enlarging his power as a member of the Tadayoshi faction in Kyushu, so Takauji made an expedition to Chugoku District to kill Tadafuyu in 1350. Then Tadayoshi escaped from Kyoto and sided with the Southern Court, followed by a few of the devoted military commanders such as Tadatsune MOMONOI and Kunikiyo HATAKEYAMA. When Tadayoshi's army grew stronger, Yoshiakira became powerless and fled from Kyoto. Takauji was also defeated by Tadayoshi's army at Uchidehama in Settsu Province (present Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture). Takauji sought reconciliation with Tadayoshi on condition that the KO brothers would become priests, and they came to an agreement in 1351. The KO brothers were assassinated by Yoshinori UESUGI while they were under escort.

Tadayoshi became Yoshiakira's assistant and got involved in political affairs again. Takauji and Yoshiakira marched to Harima Province on the ostensible purpose to put down the revolt plotted by Doyo SASAKI and Sokuyu (Norisuke) AKAMATSU, but in reality they attempted a reconciliation with the Southern Court, conspiring to kill Tadayoshi and Tadafuyu. Sensing this conspiracy, Tadayoshi fled to the northern area and reached Kamakura. In October of the same year, Takauji and the Southern Court reconciled, an event that was called Shohei-itto. At the same time, Takauji chased Tadayoshi along the Tokaido, and defeated him at the battles of Mt. Satsutamayama in Suruga Province (present-day Shimizu Ward, Shimizu City, Shizuoka Prefecture) and Hayakawajiri in Sagami Province (present-day Odawara City, Kanagawa Prefecture). Takauji captured Tadayoshi and confined him in Kamakura. Tadayoshi died suddenly in February, 1352. "Taiheiki" says that Tadayoshi might have been poisoned by Takauji.

Soon after Tadayoshi's death, being attacked by the Southern Court forces represented by Prince Muneyoshi, Yoshioki NITTA, Yoshimune NITTA and Tokiyuki HOJO, Takauji retreated to Musashi Province, but soon returned to Kyoto to defeat the Southern forces. After that Tadafuyu ASHIKAGA intruded in Kyoto, but eventually he left for Kyushu. In 1354, Kyoto was retaken by the Southern Court temporarily, but taken back by Takauji the following year. He plotted to kill Tadafuyu, but died of a tumor on his back at the palace of Made'nokoji in Nijo, Kyoto, on April 30th, 1358. His age at death: 54.


According to "Baishoron," Takauji regretted having turned against Emperor Go-Daigo, and he for a while he was talking about becoming a priest. In the heat of battle he also talked about killing himself, so Shin'ichi SATO took these descriptions into consideration, and presumed that Takauji might have been a manic depressive. Takauji's close friend Soseki MUSO described Takauji as a man of virtue in his writing. Takauji was willing to allot lands to his military commanders, which is considered one of the reasons why he was always supported by them when he was in difficult situations.

Evaluations of Later Generations

It was the Mitogaku originated by Mitsukuni TOKUGAWA that started to consider Takauji as a traitor in the Edo period. Mitogaku was strongly influenced by Shushigaku Meibunron, and emphasized the validity of the Imperial line. Because of this, Takauji, who exiled the authentic emperor (Go-Daigo), was described in a negative way as a traitor. Mitogaku's view of Takauji was inherited by the later generations, and in the late Tokugawa period when Sonno-Joi (Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarian) culminated, the heads of wooden statues of Takauji, Yoshiakira and Yoshimitsu (ASHIKAGA) in Toji-in were pilloried.

After the Meiji period, the Meiji government sought to establish a nation-state which set the emperor in the center of the nation. This produced a nationalistic view of history, which justified Taisei Hokan and Osei Fukko, and so the Taika Reforms, Kenmu no Chuko (=Kenmu restoration) and Meiji Restoration were ranked as the most important reforms. Until mid Meiji period, source-based study of modern history did not emphasize the validity of Emperor Go-Daigo (the Southern Court), but at around 1907 40 when the Nanbokucho Seijunron arose, the validity of Emperor Go-Daigo came to be stressed, creating a negative evaluation of Takauji. According to an authorized textbook written before WWII, Takauji was "a traitor who released an arrow against the Emperor", and Kumakichi NAKAJIMA, a member of the Makoto SAITO Cabinet, was forced to retire because he had praised Takauji in his writing.

After WWII, the nationalistic view of history became obsolete, and the source-based study of history made progress on reevaluating Takauji. Sato's interpretation of Takauji as a ruler in the lord-and-vassal relationship was one example, which afforded an opportunity to develop a study of the samurai government. In today's historical study, nobody interprets Takauji as a traitor any more, and the process of Takauji's becoming a traitor sometimes can be a theme of historical study. "Shihon Taiheiki" written by Eiji YOSHIKAWA in the late 1950s had Takauji as a main character, and was accepted by many readers, which suggested that not only the political but also the cultural view of Takauji had shifted very much compared with that before WWII.

A Portrait of Takauji

"Kibamusha zo" (a portrait of warrior on the horse back), preserved in the Kyoto National Museum, was generally known as a portrait of Takauji, but is now considered to be a portrait of KO no Moronao, the regent of the Ashikaga clan, or that of KO no Moroakira, son of Moronao. It's because there's a decorative signature of the 2nd shogun Yoshiakira on the upper part of the body, and the family crest of the two rings described on the warrior's harness was not the Ashikaga family's, but the KO family's.

Portrait of Taira no Shigemori, one of the Jingo-ji san zo, painted by FUJIWARA no Takanobu in Kamakura period, had been considered a portrait of Shigemori TAIRA, but Michio YONEKURA and Hideo KURODA claimed that it is a portrait of Takauji, and now this interpretation is widely accepted. Their opinion is based on the comparison of the portrait with the wooden statue of Takauji preserved in Toji-in, and the popular shape of the hatpin, called Kogai, used in the early Muromachi period. There's another portrait of Takauji preserved in Jodo-ji Temple in Onomichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture.

In addition to that, there are some ukiyoe pictures of Takauji: "Taiheiki Kassenzu," by Yoshitora UTAGAWA; and "Ashikaga Takauji Hyogo Kassenzu," by Chikanobu HASHIMOTO. Both paintings deal with Takauji sheltering in the Jodo-ji Temple in Hyogo Prefecture. Also some bronze statues of Takauji were made recently; one is placed on the approach to the Bunna-ji Temple in Ashikaga City, and the other is in Ankokuji Town, Ayabe City, Kyoto Prefecture.


Father: Sadauji ASHIKAGA
Mother: Kiyoko UESUGI
Younger Brother: Tadayoshi ASHIKAGA
Child: Yoshiakira ASHIKAGA
Child: a daughter
Child: Seio
Child: Motouji ASHIKAGA
Child: Yoriko (Raishi), empress of Emperor Suko
Child: Ryosei
Child: a daughter
Concubine: a daughter of Motouji KAKO (Buddhist name: Unkoin Kakuhen, a member of the Ashikaga clan) (according to "Sonpi Bunmyaku" and "Keizu San'yo")
Child: Takewakamaru ASHIKAGA
Concubine: (Echizen no tsubone?)
Child: Tadafuyu ASHIKAGA
Child: Eichu Hoshun

Historical Materials



Taiheiki written by Seiichi MORIMURA
Shihon Taiheiki written by Eiji YOSHIKAWA
Shin Taiheiki written by Sohachi YAMAOKA
Ashikaga Takauji written by Fuyuji DOMON
Ashikaga Takauji written by Genzo MURAKAMI
Kaze no Gunzo written by Sonoko SUGIMOTO

TV dramas

Taiheiki (NHK Taiga drama) (Cast: Toshiyuki AMAGASA/ Hiroyuki SANADA, 1991)
Hojo Tokimune (NHK Taiga drama) (Cast: Yosuke MITSUHASHI, 2001)

[Original Japanese]