Ashikaga Yoshiaki (足利義昭)

Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA was the 15th Seii Taishogun of the Muromachi Shogunate, and its last Shogun (Reigned from 1568 to 1588).

A Brief History

His father was Yoshiharu ASHIKAGA, the 12th Shogun of Muromachi Shogunate. His mother was a daughter of Hisamichi KONOE (Keijuin). Yoshiteru ASHIKAGA, the 13th Shogun, was his elder brother from the same mother.

Although he was a priest when Yoshiteru was assassinated by Hisahide MATSUNAGA and others, he escaped from Kyoto, helped by Shogunate men such as Yusai HOSOKAWA. After that, he returned to Kyoto under protection of Nobunaga ODA of Mino Province. Later he was opposed to Nobunaga and built made siege with Shingen TAKEDA and Yoshikage ASAKURA. He was able to get Nobunaga into a corner once, but later he was exiled from Kyoto by Nobunaga; this was the de facto end of Muromachi Shogunate.

After that, he spent the rest of his life under patronage of Terumoto MORI, Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI and so on.

The Road to Shogun

He was born as the second son of Yoshiharu ASHIKAGA, the 12th Shogun, on November 13, 1537. Because he had an elder brother, who was heir to the Shogun, he became an adopted son of his maternal grandfather, Naomichi KONOE, in childhood and became a Buddhist priest named Kakukei at Kofuku-ji Ichijoin. Later he was promoted to Gon no Shozozu of Kofuku-ji Temple.

In the Eiroku Incident of 1565 his elder brother Yoshiteru, the 13th Shogun, was assassinated by Hisahide MATSUNAGA, Miyoshi Sanninshu and others, and his younger brother Shuko ASHIKAGA, a head of Rokuon'in was also killed. At this time Yoshiaki was also arrested by Hisahide MATSUNAGA and confined at Kofuku-ji Temple (it is said that Hisahide did not kill Kakukei because he was afraid of having Kofuku-ji Temple for an enemy; Kakukei was Shogun's brother and promised to be Betto (director) of Kofuku-ji Temple in future).

But Yoshiaki was able to escape from Kyoto, helped by Yusai HOSOKAWA, Koremasa WADA and others, on February 17, 1566, and returned to secular life. A Book about Yoshiaki records that he was called Buke Gosho as another name. When he escaped from Kyoto he was attacked by a robber and was called 'a poor Kubo (a court noble)' as well. On April 21 he got the official governmental position of Junior 5th Rank, Samano kami. There is some doubt about when he attaining governmental position, but it is obvious that he got it at least before February 1568; according to 'Tokitsugu kyoki' written by Tokitsugu YAMASHINA, Tokitsugu was confused when a messenger from Yoshiaki asked him to mediate recommendation of promotion to Juyon'i-ge on the same day Yoshihide ASHIKAGA, who was Yoshiaki's rival, was ordered to become Shogun.

After an escape from Kyoto, Yoshiaki relied on Yoshitaka ROKKAKU and Yoshiharu ROKKAKU of Omi Province, but Yoshiharu's secret contact with Miyoshi-Sanninshu made him flee to Yoshizumi TAKEDA of Wakasa Province on August. But the Wakasa TAKEDA clan did not have enough power to go up to Kyoto because of troubles over inheritance, conflicts between elder statesmen and so on, so Yoshiaki fled to Yoshikage ASAKURA of Echizen Province in September and asked him to help restore the Shogunate. But Yoshikage ASAKURA had already patronized 'Kuratani gosho' Tsugutomo ASHIKAGA, a relative of the ASHIKAGA Shogunate, and was not eager to go up to Kyoto with Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA, who had just returned to secular life; so Yoshiaki could not return to Kyoto.

Besides, on April 15, 1568, during his exile with the ASAKURA clan, Yoshiaki had a coming-of-age ceremony and formally changed his name's Chinese character Aki from 秋 to 昭, because he thought the letter 秋 was ominous. The person who performed the ceremony was Yoshikage ASAKURA (there is no record which shows Yoshiaki had a coming-of -age ceremony officially until this time; it could be said that it was too late in this era).

Later, through Mitsuhide AKECHI, who was an elder statesman of ASAKURA, as an intermediary Yoshiaki relied on Nobunaga ODA and moved to Mino Province. He went up to Kyoto, helped by Nobunaga ODA on September, 1568. On October 18 he became the 15th Shogun by an order from the Imperial Court. At the same time he was promoted to Junior 4th Rank and got governmental positions of Sangi and Sakonoe Gonchujo. In addition he tried to revive the Muromachi Shogunate by giving hen'i (an official name) to Nobuyoshi HOSOKAWA and Akitaka HATAKEYAMA, who were Kanrei (Shogunate statesmen).

Conflict with Nobunaga ODA

Yoshiaki seemed to thank Nobunaga at first; he addressed him as 'my father ODA Danjo no Chu (Nobunaga)' in his thank-you letter to Nobunaga on October 24. Although he had kept a good relationship with Nobunaga by trying to give him positions of vice Shogun and Kanrei, relations between them became worse because Nobunaga began to limit the power of Shogun. Nobunaga made a rule 'Denchu on'okite', which had nine articles, on January 1569, and an additional seven articles on January 1570, and forced Yoshiaki to accept them.

Yoshiaki, who was upset about these, tried to get rid of Nobunaga and made siege against him by an order for Kennyo, Shingen ASAKURA, Yoshikage ASAKURA and others to subjugate him. Nagamasa AZAI, Hisahide MATASUNAGA, Miyoshi sanninshu, Yoshitsugu MIYOSHI and others joined this siege. Although Nobunaga was put into a corner once, the siege against Nobunaga was ended by the death by disease of Shingen TAKEDA in April, 1573.

In April Yoshiaki made an alliance with Hisahide MATSUNAGA and mustered an army at Makishima Castle in Yamashiro Province,
At this time they made peace influenced by an order of Emperor Ogimachi, but Yoshiaki mustered an army again in July. Nobunaga set fire to Kyoto, arrested Yoshiaki and banished him to Kawachi Province. It is generally considered that the Muromachi Shogunate was finished by this event (but Yoshiaki kept power against the daimyo (Japanese feudal lords), other than supporters of Nobunaga, because Yoshiaki was not dismissed by the Imperial Court. In addition he got an income by appointment of Kyoto's Five Mountains priests because the power to appoint was regarded as belonging to Ashikaga Shogunate, who had established Kyoto's Five Mountains. In 'Kugyo bu'nin' (a human affairs record of the Imperial Court) Yoshiaki had been Seii Taishogun until February 9, 1588, when he went up to the Imperial Palace following Kanpaku Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, and resigned it formally after swearing loyalty to Hideyoshi.

Going down to Bingo province

When Yoshiaki was exiled from Kyoto by Nobunaga, he was not killed because of the intervention of Kennyo of Honganji-Temple; Yoshiaki fled to Yoshitsugu MIYOSHI (a leader of the MIYOSHI clan), who was a feudal lord of Kawachi and his sister's husband. But in 1573, Yoshitsugu was ruined by Nobunaga.

In 1576, Yoshiaki built a government in exile (Shogunate) at Tomo no Ura in Bingo Province (Mori clan domain at that time), which was a lucky place for the ASHIKAGA family because Takauji ASHIKAGA successfully recovered, and continued to give orders to various feudal lords to suppress Nobunaga,

In 1578, Kenshin UESUGI, a Kanrei of the Kanto area, died and in 1580 Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple surrendered to Nobunaga.

After Nobunaga was assassinated by his vassal in the Incident at Honno-ji in 1582, during a stay at Tomo in Bingo, Yoshiaki tried to go up to Kyoto again with Terumoto MORI's help and besought Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI and Katsuie SHIBATA as well. But his relationship with MORI worsened because Takakage KOBAYAKAWA, who was close to TOYOTOMI, opposed helping Yoshiaki and Yoshiaki's support for Katsuie was against MORI's approach to Hideyoshi.

In 1583, Terumoto MORI was overcome by Hideyoshi HASHIBA, and in 1586 Hideyoshi HASHIBA became Kanpaku Daijo Daijin.

After that, in 1588, Yoshiaki resigned from the position of Seii Taishogun, received the title of Jusangu from the Imperial Court and became a priest named Shozan.

He was given a fief of 10,000 koku and became the master of Makishima Castle in Yamashiro Province.

In Bunroku & Keicho no eki (Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea) Yoshiaki joined with his army as far as Nagoya of Hizen Province.

Yoshiaki passed away in 1597 in Osaka
He died at 61.


There is an anecdote which now seems fictional; Hideyoshi, who succeeded in ruling over the whole country, hoped to be Yoshiaki's adopted son instead of making Yoshiaki a feudal lord in order to build a new Shogunate, but Yoshiaki rejected this proposal because of his pride as an ASHIKAGA noble.

In literature where Nobunaga ODE and his men are the leading characters, Yoshiaki is often described as a stupid noble. But contrary to others who held the position, Yoshiaki seems to have been an unusually talented Shogun, considering that died a natural death in an age of wars, when it was difficult to survive and that he was able to wage a major siege against Nobunaga. The last person in charge of an administration tends to be undervalued in all ages and countries, and it is a pity that he could not help serving as a foil for the talented Nobunaga and Hideyoshi.

Many Shugos (feudal lords) such as Akikuni ISSHIKI, Akikiyo HATAKEYAMA, Akitaka HATAKEYAMA, Akikata HOSOKAWA, Akimoto HOSOKAWA and Akimitsu MAKISHIMA were given hen'i from Yoshiaki.

It is said that Yoshiaki was called 'a poor noble' because he wandered with Shogunate statesmen after his elder brother Yoshiteru died and wandered in various provinces after being exiled by Nobunaga.

When Yoshiaki became the Shogun he proposed that the Imperial Court change the name of the era to 'Genki'. But Nobunaga was opposed to him because he was connected to a revival of the Shogun's power and because Emperor Ogimachi still reigned. But on April 23, when Nobunaga left for the battle against ASAKURA, Yoshiaki put his ideas into practice.


Yoshiaki's heir Yoshihiro became a priest after being a hostage of Nobunaga, and succeeded Daijoin monseki. There is no descendant who's family name was ASHIKAGA.

Government Posts

In 1566, Yoshiwaki was appointed as Jugoi-ge and Samanokami. There are doubts about the time of the appointment.

On October 18, 1568, he was promoted to Juyon'i-ge and Sangi as an additional post. He held concurrently the post of Sakonoe Chujo. He was appointed as Seii Taishogun.

On June 22, 1569, he was promoted to Junito 3rd Rank and Dai'nagon.

In 1574 he was exiled from Kyoto and built a government in exile (Shogunate) at Tomo no Ura in Bingo Province.

On January 13, he resigned Seii Taishogun and became a priest, Jusangu.

On August 28, 159, he passed away. His posthumous Buddhist name was Reiyoin Shozan Donkyu.


Takahiro OKUNO 'Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA' (Biographies from Yoshikawa Kobunkan Press, reprinted in 1966) ISBN 4642051821

Tadachika KUWATA 'Wondering Shogun Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA' (Kodan-sha Press, 1985) ISBN 4642051821

Literature on Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA

Seicho MATSUMOTO 'Inbo Shogun' (In 'Sado ru'ninko' of Shincho Bunko)

Yoshifuru OKAMOTO 'Goshoguruma: The Last Shogun Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA' (Bungei Syunju Press, 1933) ISBN 4163140700

Tsutomu MIZUKAMI 'Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA Nagarekuboki' (Gakuyo Shobo Jinbutsu Bunko, 1988) ISBN 4313750339


"G.I Samurai the Movie" (1979, the leading actor was Mizuho SUZUKI)

TV Dramas

"Taikoki" (NHK Taiga Drama) 1965, NHK Taiga Drama (the leading actor was Kakitsu ICHIMIRA - now Yoshigoro ICHIMURA)

"Heaven and Earth" NHK Taiga Drama (1969, NHK Taiga Drama - the leading actor was Shun OIDE)

"Kunitori Monogatari" NHK Taiga Drama (1973, NHK Taiga Drama - the leading actor was Juzo ITAMI)

"Golden Days" (1978, NHK Taiga Drama - the leading actor was Noboru MATSUHASHI)

"Onna Taikoki" (1981, NHK Taiga Drama - the leading actor was Takahashi TSUMURA)

"Ieyasu TOKUGAWA" NHK Taiga Drama (1983, NHK Taiga Drama - the leading actor was Daisuke SHINOHARA)

"Taikoki" TBS drama (1987, TBS Grand Historical Play Special - the leading actor was Renji ISHIBASHI)

"Shingen Takeda" NHK Taiga Drama (1988, NHK Taiga Drama - the leading actor was the 9th Danzo ICHIKAWA)

"Nobunaga ODA" (1991, TBS Grand Historical Play Special - the leading actor was Goro OHASHI)

"Nobunaga KING OF ZIPANGU" (1992, NHK Taiga Drama - the leading actor was Kinnosuke HANAYAGI)

"Nobunaga ODA" TV drama 1994 (1994, TV Tokyo Special 12 Hour Miniseries (which later became Spring Historical Play) - the leading actor was Masaki KYOMOTO)

"Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI: Seize the World" (1995, TV Tokyo Special 12 Hour Miniseries (which later became Spring Historical Play) - the leading actor was Renji ISHIBASHI)

"Hideyoshi" NHK Taiga Drama (1966, NHK Taiga Drama - the leading actor was Koji TAMAKI)

"Toshiie and Matsu; Kaga One Million-koku Story" (2002, NHK Taiga Drama - the leading actor was Moro MOROOKA)

"Kuni Tori Monogatari" (2005, TV Tokyo New Year Historical Play - the leading actor was Kazuyuki AIJIMA)

"Komyogatsuji" (Crossroads of the achievement) NHK Taiga Drama (2006, NHK Taiga Drama - the leading actor was Koki MITANI)

"Taikoki - Hideyoshi: The Man Who Took the World" (2006, TV Asahi Tuesday Historical Play - the leading actor was Masaki KYOMOTO)'

"Mitsuhide AKECHI: A Man Not Loved by the Gods" (2007, Fuji TV - the leading actor was Shosuke TANIHARA)

[Original Japanese]