The Ashikaga Clan (足利氏)

The Ashikaga clan was a Japanese samurai family. It was a branch of the Genji clan. The family was descended from the Kawachi-Genji branch of the Seiwa-Genji clan and, as members of the shogun family, served as vassals to the Kamakura Shogunate. During the Muromachi period, the main line of the family ruled Japan as the Ashikaga Shogunate. The family is sometimes referred to as the Genji-Ashikaga clan to differentiate it from the unrelated Ashikaga branch of the Fujiwara clan, which was established by descendants of FUJIWARA no Hidesato.


During the Heian period, MINAMOTO no Yoshikuni (a bureaucrat with the title of Shikibu no Tayu), who was the third son of MINAMOTO no Yoshiie (also known as Hachimantaro Yoshiie) and head of the Kawachi-Genji clan, owned the Ashikaga fief in the Province of Shimotsuke (present-day Ashikaga city, Tochigi prefecture) and the descendents of his second son, Yoshiyasu, took the name Ashikaga.
This was also the origins of the Nitta clan

Heian and Kamakura Periods

MINAMOTO no Yoshiyasu (Yoshiyasu ASHIKAGA), the second son of Yoshikuni, was a member of cloistered Emperor Toba's imperial guard (Hokumen no Bushi) and was involved in the Hogen Rebellion together with TAIRA no Kiyomori and MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo. His wife was FUJIWARA no Suenori's daughter, who was in fact a daughter of Suenori's eldest son, FUJIWARA no Noritada, and a niece of the mother of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo. His son, Yoshikane ASHIKAGA, joined MINAMOTO no Yoritomo's army in 1180 and fought in the Genpei War and the Battle of Oshu, rising to the rank of an important senior vassal of the Kamakura Shogunate and the membership of the first circle of the Shogunate family.

In the Kamakura Period, the Ashikaga clan developed ties with the Hojo clan when Yoshikane married a younger sister of Yoritomo's wife, Masako HOJO. The Ashikaga clan served as Shugo (Governors) of Kazusa and Mikawa Provinces, possibly from the time of Yoshiuji ASHIKAGA, the third head of the family. The Ashikaga clan also gave rise to many branch clans, including the Houses of Hosokawa, Shiba, Shibukawa, Isshiki, Hatakeyama, Kira, and Imagawa, spreading all over the country.

After the downfall of the Minamoto clan, the Ashikaga clan maintained a good, although subordinate, relationship with the Hojo clan, continuing to intermarry and being granted use of Chinese characters from the names of Hojo people. The fourth family head Yasuuji ASHIKAGA retired and entered the priesthood without any permission from the Shogunate (one theory, unsupported by evidence, says he did so because of a charge of rebellion), and the sixth family head Ietoki ASHIKAGA, born to the fifth head Yoriuji ASHIKAGA and a daughter of Shigefusa UESUGI, is said to have committed suicide because of his involvement in the Shimotsuki Disturbance.

Takayoshi Ashikaga, the eldest son of the seventh family head Sadauji ASHIKAGA by his wife, Lady Shakado, who was a daughter of Akitoki KANAZAWA of the Hojo family, died young so Takauji ASHIKAGA, Sadauji's son by Kiyoko UESUGI, the daughter of Yorishige UESUGI, who was the son of Shigefusa UESUGI, became the 8th head of the Ashikaga family. Kiyoko also gave birth to Yoshinao ASHIKAGA, who, together with Takauji, became known as the Two Shoguns. In 1333, Takauji joined, and contributed greatly to, the army raised by Emperor Godaigo to overthrow the Kamakura Shogunate.

Period of the Northern and Southern Court

After becoming disillusioned with Kenmu Restoration that returned power to Emperor Godaigo, Takauji set up the Muromachi Shogunate in Kyoto with Emperor Komyo as his nominal master and was appointed the Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians"). The Muromachi Shogunate, however, was always kept on the verge of collapse because of the disturbances caused by the antagonism between the Northern and Southern Imperial Courts until Takauji's grandson and third Shogun, Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, reunited the two courts.

Muromachi Shogunate

Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA intentionally provoked important Shugo Daimyo (Lords) into rebelling against the shogunate (the Meitoku and Oei Rebellions) and by defeating them, reduced their power. He was then granted the title 'King of Japan' by the Ming Dynasty of China, establishing his authority as almost equal to that of the Emperor, thereby stabilizing his military government and leading to the heyday of the shogunate.

However, following the death of Yoshimitsu, the Shogunate's power gradually weakened, leading to the rise to power of the Shugo Daimyo (Japanese territorial lord as provincial constable). The sixth shogun, Yoshinori ASHIKAGA, attempted to reinforce shogunal authority by following his father's policies but his excessively harsh actions caused objection among his vassals. When he was assassinated in the Kakitsu Incident, the dwindling of the Shogun's power and the decline of shogunate authority became apparent.

The rule of the 8th Shogun, Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA, saw the outbreak of the Onin War, partly as a result of disputes over succession, and consequently the Muromachi Shogunate was left in control of only Kyoto.

The tenth Shogun, Yoshitane ASHIKAGA, was forced to resign by Kanrei (shogunal deputy) Masamoto HOSOKAWA, and following shoguns became mere nominal figureheads with no practical authority and unable to maintain the title of Shogun without the support of powerful daimyos.

Shoguns succeeding Yoshitane died young, but there was a slight restoration of power during the days of the thirteenth Shogun Yoshiteru ASHIKAGA. Yoshiteru, however, was assassinated by Hisahide MATSUNAGA and others in June 1565, and the title of Shogun became purely nominal. No shogun was appointed in the three years after Yoshiteru's assassination and, as such, the Muromachi Shogunate temporarily disappeared.

In 1568, the younger brother of Yoshiteru, Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA, entered Kyoto with Nobunaga ODA, who made him the fifteenth Shogun. Although they later fell out and, in 1573, Yoshiaki was expelled from Kyoto, marking the end of the Muromachi Shogunate.

Kanto Kubo (Quasi-Shogunate)

Motouji ASHIKAGA, was sent by his father, Takauji, to control the Kanto area and because he was based in Kamakura, came to be called the Kamakura Kubo (quasi-shogun). But after his death, his descendants repeatedly clashed with the Muromachi Shogunate in Kyoto until actual conflict finally broke out between the fourth Kubo Mochiuji ASHIKAGA and the sixth shogun Yoshinori ASHIKAGA (Eikyo Incident). Mochiuji was defeated in this battle and forced to commit suicide on Yoshinori's orders, and the Kamakura Kubo was abolished.

After the death of Yoshinori, the youngest son of Mochiuji, Shigeuji ASHIKAGA, whose life was spared by Yoshinori, was permitted to revive the position by Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA and became the 5th Kamakura Kubo. Shigeuji, however, came into conflict with the Uesugi clan, who served as Kanto-Kanrei (Governor General of Kanto), and he fled Kamakura, relocating to Koga in the Province of Shimousa and assuming the title, Koga Kubo. Infighting triggered by the death of Shigeuji caused the authority of the Koga Kubo to eventually deteriorate, and with the death of the 5th Kubo, Yoshiuji ASHIKAGA in 1583, the Koga Kubo came to an end.

The Horigoe Kubo House, started by Masatomo ASHIKAGA, the younger brother of Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA, was destroyed by Soun HOJO during the rule of the second Kubo, Chachamaru ASHIKAGA. The Oyumi Kubo House, established by Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA, the second son of the 2nd Koga Kubo, Masauji ASHIKAGA, was also destroyed by Ujitsuna HOJO in 1538. Thus, the Ashikaga clan in Kanto were totally erased from the political scene by the Sengoku period (period of warring states).

Kunitomo ASHIKAGA, the grandson of Yoshiaki, was allowed by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, who united and ruled Japan after the collapse of the Muromachi Shogunate, to restore the Ashikaga clan, was granted a fief in Kitsuregawa in the Province of Shimotsuke and assumed the name of the Kitsuregawa clan. His descendants served the Tokugawa Shogunate as daimyo of the top rank, although their stipend was only 5,000 koku, and returned to the original name of Ashikaga after the Meiji Restoration.

The last family head of the Kitsuregawa line, Atsuuji ASHIKAGA, died in 1983 and since then, descendants of the Hirashima Kubo line of the Ashikaga clan have continued the family rituals. In the Province of Echizen, descendants of Yoshitsugu ASHIKAGA maintained the blood line under the name of Kuratani Gosho (Kuratani Palace).

Fujiwara Ashikaga clan

Prior to the Ashikaga branch of the Genji clan, a branch of the Fujiwara clan had settled in Ashikaga and assumed the name Ashikaga but in 1181, Tadatsuna ASHIKAGA of the Fujiwara Ashikaga clan was defeated by Yoritomo following an attack by Tadatsuna in cooperation with Yoritomo's uncle, MINAMOTO no Yoshihiro (also known as Senjo Saburo SHIDA, or Teacher Saburo SHIDA, and Yoshihiro SHIDA).

[Original Japanese]