Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利義満)

Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA was the 3rd Seii Taishogun of the Muromachi Shogunate and reigned from 1368 to1394.
Official Rank: Juichii Daijodaijin (Chancellor of the Realm) and Zoshoichii
Title of Nobility: Monarch of Japan
Childhood name: Haruo
His farther was the 2nd Shogun, Yoshiakira ASHIKAGA, and his mother was KI no Yoshiko. His wife was Nariko HINO, a daughter of the Dainagon (Great Councilor) Tokimitsu HINO, and she became his wife thanks to the arrangement and support of a beloved princess of the Emperor Go-Kogon, Senshi Hino. After that, Yasuko Hino (later Kitayamain), her niece, became his wife after the death of Nariko. His concubines were FUJIWARA no Keishi (Yoshiko) - mother of Yoshimochi ASHIKAGA and Yoshinori ASHIKAGA - and Kasuga no Tsubone (a concubine of Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA) - mother of Yoshitsugu ASHIKAGA - among others.

Yoshimitsu was also called "Muromachi-dono" (Lord Muromachi), because he moved the Imperial Palace to Kitakoji Muromachi. Later, "Muromachi-dono" became the designation for the ASHIKAGA Shogun, and his government office-cum-residence was called "Muromachi Bakufu," which has been used ever since as a historical term to indicate Muromachi Shogunate.

From his Infancy to the Establishment of Shogunate Authority.

He was born in 1358. It fell precisely on the 100th day after the death of Takauji ASHIKAGA. When Yoshimitsu was young, there were constant struggles between the Muromachi Shogunate and the Yoshino Imperial Court, and moreover, since the Kanno Disturbance, an internal conflict of the ASHIKAGA family, had occurred, the strife between the Shogunate and the Court intensified. Kiyouji HOSOKAWA and other potential military commanders supported the Southern Imperial Court, and in 1361, when Kiyouji and Masanori KUSUNOKI of the Southern Imperial Court occupied Kyoto, Yoshimitsu was obliged to escape to the Shirahata Castle in Harima Province. The following year, he returned to Kyoto as the alliance of the Shogunate and Northern Court recaptured the capital. On the way back to Kyoto, when he spent a night in Settsu Province, he liked the scenery and said to the vassals, "there is very fine scenery here, let's carry it back to Kyoto. "You should carry it on your shoulders," and the vassals, listening to him, were said to be very surprised at his grandiose thinking. After his farther Yoshiakira died from an illness in 1367, Yoshimitsu became the 3rd Shogun at the age of 11.

In 1368 the Hyojohajime was celebrated, and in 1369 he was installed as Shogun. While the administration of the Shogunate was led by Shugo Daimyos of the Ashikaga clan, including Yoriyuki HOSOKAWA, who were in charge of Kanrei, he studied imperial governance. Yoriyuki implemented Oan no Taiho, a land expropriation law, to consolidate land management, and developed the Five Mountain System in Kyoto and Kamakura to strengthen control over religion. He also dispatched Sadayo (Ryoshun) IMAGAWA and Yoshihiro OUCHI to Kyushu, where the Southern Court dominated, to debilitate its influence and consolidate the power of the Shogunate. In 1374, he welcomed Yoriko HINO as his wife.

In 1370, in order to strengthen control over Kyoto, the Court gave him authority to control the Sanmon Kunin (a clique of influential people of Enryaku-ji Temple and its affiliates, as well as member of the temple)
In 1378, the Shogunate was moved from Sanjo Bomon to Kitanokoji Muromachi. The Shogunate, after the move, was nicknamed "Hana no Gosho" (Flower Palace), and also called the Muromachi Bakufu (Shogunate) after its new location. The administration and taxation authorities, which had been divided between the Court and the Shogunate, were integrated and a unit called Hokoshu or Bugyoshu was organized to handle practical matters, and was a standing army comparable to the Shugo Daimyo's army in military strength. He also undertook the following actions to demonstrate his power: visit to Todai-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Temple in 1385, sight-seeing trip to Mt. Fuji in Suruga Province in 1388, visit to Itsukushima Shrine in Aki Province in 1389.

Strengthening of Power and Integration of the Northern and Southern Courts

In 1379, Yoshimitsu's residence was surrounded by the anti-Yoriyuki Shugo Daimyos such as Yoshiyuki (Yoshimasa) SHIBA and Yoriaki TOKI, who requested that he dismiss Yoriyuki, and consequently Yoriyuki was dismissed (Koryaku Political Change). Yoshimasa succeeded to the post of Kanrei and personnel matters were taken over by the SHIBA clique. The Shogunate issued an order to hunt and kill Yoriyuki, but the following year pardoned him and after that he was included again in the administration with the post of shukuro, and during this period Yoshimitsu was able to establish his power as Shogun; and based on these facts we can assume that he might have intended to make use of the rivalry between the two factions, SHIBA and HOSOKAWA, to get them to contain each other. After the death of Yoriyasu, he subdued the TOKI clan, taking advantage of the internal conflict while the TOKI were fighting on two sides.

In 1391, he intervened in the internal conflict of the YAMASHINAs and provoked Ujikiyo YAMANA, a powerful Shugo Daimyo dominating 11 provinces at that time who was called "Rokubun no ichi dono" (Lord of one-sixth of the whole country) to raise an army to subdue the YAMANAs.

Yoshimitsu was again promoted and took the position of Naidaijin (minister of internal affairs) and Sadaijinn (minister of the left), the higher official rankings that his grandfather and his father were not able to achieve. In 1383 he was the first samurai to become Genjichoja (Head of the Genjis), and served concurrently as Betto (supreme officer) of the Junan-in and the Shogaku-in, and later he was granted a title "Jusango," and reached the height of power of the samurai as well as the aristocrats.

In 1392, Yoshimitsu accelerated negotiations with the Southern Court with a help of Yoshihiro OUCHI as an intermediary, as the national influence of the Southern Court was declining. In the negotiations, he presented several following proposals for reconciliation: the emperor should be selected alternately from the two imperial lineages, Jimyoin-to and Daikakuji-to; all the state-owned territories (of which there was actually very little) should belong to the Daikakuji-to; the Three Sacred Treasures which were in the possession of Emperor Go-Kameyama should be presented to Emperor Go-Komatsu of the Jimyoin-to, so that the Southern Court would be dissolved. In this way, he achieved integration of the Northern and Southern Courts, and put a stop to the 58 year split between the courts.

After Emperor Go-Enyu, who opposed Yoshimitsu and abdicated to Emperor Go-Komatsu, died in 1393, Yoshimitsu established his power, and in 1394, he handed over the post of Shogun to his son, Yoshimochi ASHIKAGA, and retired, but he continued to hold the real power. The same year, he finally rose to the post of Juichii Daijodaijin (Chancellor of the Realm). The following year, he became a priest with a pseudonym, Dogi. It is thought that he became a priest in order to gain the ability to control temples and shrines, the remaining sphere he wanted to conquer after reaching the peak of the aristocratic spheres as Seii Taishogun, Taisei daijin and Junsangu. Following Yoshimitsu's act, many samurai and aristocrats also became priests.

In 1395, Sadayo IMAGAWA, who held independent authority as Kyushu Tandai, was dismissed. In 1399, he provoked a powerful Daimyo in the western region, Yoshihiro OUCHI, and using the excuse that Yoshihiro was taking up arms, he subdued Yoshihiro (War of Oei), and in this way the influential factions that might oppose Yoshimitsu in the western region were eliminated.

Kango Trade and Kitayama Culture

Yoshimitsu, since his younger days, had deeply admired Ming, wishing to establish trade between Japan and Ming. However, the government of Ming recognized Prince Kanenaga sole counterpart for negotiations, therefore, Yoshimitsu's wish was not fulfilled. After the integration of the Northern and Southern Courts, he again intended to negotiate with Ming, under the nominal title of "Seii Shogun of Japan, Yoshimitsu MINAMOTO," but the government of Ming would not accept an envoy dispatched by someone who presented himself as a vassal of the Emperor, because Ming traditionally did not trade with any retainer of a vassal.

Then, Yoshimitsu became a priest, and then sent a merchant called Koitsumi from Hakata City and the priest Soa as missionaries to Ming in 1401, with the aristocratic title of "Junsangu of Japan, Michiyoshi MINAMOTO," instead of using the higher (but samurai) title of "Taisei Shogun." Finally Emperor Jianwen of Ming offered a master-and-man relationship (sakuho) to the Japanese sovereign instead of to Prince Kanenaga, with whom Ming had wanted to have contact until then, and when Ming gave the Datongli calendar to Japan, the two countries' diplomatic relations were formally established. In 1404, he started Japan-Ming trade that took the form of tribute to the Ming emperor. He also was able to suppress Japanese pirates (however, before the Ming's government could dispatch an envoy to convey the emperor's gratitude to the Japanese government, the Seinan War broke out in Ming, Emperor Jianwen abdicated, and Emperor Yongle took the throne).

After the abolition of the embassies to China, in the Japanese aristocratic society, in which an isolation policy was practiced based on a petit Sino centrism, there were accumulated discontent with and criticism of the tribute trade because Japan was treated as vassal to the emperors of Ming; but, as the aristocrats were not able to speak out publicly in the face of the Yoshimitsu's strong influence, they could do nothing but comment on their dissatisfaction in diaries or other documents. Yoshimitsu, who adored Ming culture, pressed the Imperial Court to use the Chinese character 洪 in the name of Japanese eras after the Taizu of Ming, Emperor Hongwu (洪武帝), but this was rejected by for various reasons, including the facts mentioned above. Yoshimitsu felt offended, and after that, he was never allowed to change the name of the era during his reign, and that is why the Oei was the longest era before Meiji.

In 1397, he received Hokusantei in Kitayama, Kyoto, from Kintsune SAIONJI, and constructed a mountain villa called Kitayamatei or Kitayamadono (later Rokuon-ji Temple), placing a reliquary in the center. The culture of this period is called the Kitayama Culture, where the samurai style, aristocratic style and the Tang style (Zen Buddhism style) were merged.

Later Years and After Death

In 1408, he died of a sudden illness in his 51st calendar year (49 years old). Buddhist name: Rokuonin Tenzan Dogi.

After the death of Yoshimitsu, the title "Rokuonin Daijohoo (Cloistered Emperor)" was granted from the Imperial Court, but his son Yoshimochi, who became the fourth Shogun, declined the offer partly because Yoshiyuki (Yoshimasa) SHIBA and others opposed accepting the title (on the other hand, his family temple, Shokoku-ji Temple seems to have accepted the title and therefore, Yoshimitsu's name is registered as "Rokuonin Daijo Tenno" in the temple's death register). It is said that during his life Yoshimitsu did not get along well with his son Yoshimochi, and the policies that Yoshimitsu introduced, such as the Imperial Court policy, control of the aristocracy and Shugo Daimyo, and foreign policy including trade with Ming, were denounced by Yshimochi. The Hokusantei, a heritage left by Yoshimitsu, was also destroyed by Yoshimochi, except for the Kinkaku. In his life, Yoshimitsu was extremely partial to Yoshitsugu ASHIKAGA, his second son, and when Yoshitsugu absconded, Yoshimochi accused him of treason and killed him. Afterwards, the descendants of Yoshitsugu fled to Echizen, and they were called "Kuradanigosho."

Yoshimitsu's son, Yoshinori ASHIKAGA, intended to continue Yoshimitsu's policies when he became the 6th Shogun, but he was assassinated by Mitsusuke AKAMATSU during the Kakitsu War. Yoshimitsu's grandson, Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA who became the 8th Shogun, also tried to follow his grandfather and father's policies, but as he became disgusted with the Onin War and the puppet administration controlled by his vassals, he lost enthusiasm for political management. The Shugo Daimyos, who had served submissively during Yoshimitsu's reign, began to take a defiant attitude toward the government again.

Stories of Usurpation Assassination

Yoshinari TANAKA, Akira IMATANI, and others propose a theory that Yoshimitsu had an intention to usurp the imperial throne; and based on this theory, some novelists including Chogoro KAIONJI and Motohiko IZAWA present their opinion that Yoshimitsu's sudden death might confirm that he was assassinated to interrupt his plot.

Yoshimitsu, from his younger days, was accustomed to using wither of two stylized signatures according to the situation, one for samurai affairs and the other for aristocratic affairs. He also made his second wife, Yasuko, become the Emperor Go-Komatsu's junbo (mother next to the Empress, treated as his mother), then made her a Nyoin (wife of a former Emperor or princess who received the same treatment as Emperors). He also forced the nobles to offer their wives to him. He also usurped various authorities, such as those for rituals and for personnel affairs, from the Imperial Family. In April 1408, one month before his death, he carried out the ceremony of Genpuku (coming-of-age ceremony for boys) for his second son, Yoshitsugu, on a scale comparable to ceremonies for an imperial prince. It is thought that all of this was done by Yoshimitsu with the intention of usurping the throne, and becoming Ming's hosaku is also supposed to have been planned as a part of his plot, in order to make use of external pressure on the imperial court. Those who support the assassination theory suspect that Yoshimitsu was poisoned by the Imperial Court, who wanted to prevent his usurpation (IZAWA deduces in his novel that the assassin was Zeami).

There is another theory in which Yoshimochi's side was worried about the future succession due to Yoshimitsu's excessive partiality to Yoshitsugu.

However, there were no descriptions in any documents of that period, such as nobles' diaries, indicating suspicion that the actions taken by Yoshimitsu had been a part of his plot or that he was assassinated, and therefore, they cannot offer any direct evidence either.

By the way, usurpation here does not mean that Yoshimitsu himself wanted to take to the throne, but he wanted to take authority from the emperors by acquiring power as a sort of retired sovereign, and intended to hold real power even after his retirement. He tried to make his second son, Yoshitsugu, accede to the throne, while he himself, being his father, intended to be a retired sovereign.

IMATANI supposes that Yoshimitsu was strongly influenced by China (Ming), but he did not subscribe to idea that incumbent emperors could be overthrown by decree of heaven, instead making use of "Yamataishi," a popular prophecy of the time. This verse is known as a prophecy, where it is predicted that the imperial reign would count 100 emperors, and according today's study, the Emperor Go-Komatsu is considered to be the 100th emperor. However, because the reigns of the Kobun, Junnin, and Chukyo were not recognized at the time, and the Muromachi Shogunate naturally saw the Northern Court as legitimate, Emperor Go-Komatsu was considered to be the 99th. But, if the temporary unification of Emperor Go-Murakami in the Shohei unification during the Civil war of Kanno is counted, then Emperor Go-Komatsu is the 100th emperor. Thus, it could be interpreted to mean that Japan would be ruined after a monkey or dog had been called a hero. The idea that the imperial reign terminates with the 100th emperor is documented in Gukansho by Jien and other writings, and is supposed to have been widely accepted. Ujimitsu ASHIKAGA, the Kamakura Kubo, was born in the year of the monkey, according to the Chinese zodiac (nowadays, he is considered to have been born in the year of boar), while Yoshimitsu was born in the year of dog; therefore, there was an interpretation that the monkey and the dog represent these two people. On the other hand, IZAWA supposes that the author might have gotten the hint from The Tale of Genji.

Record of Government Posts and Court Ranks

*(): lunar calendar

January 7, 1367 - conferred Jugoi no ge. December 24 - promoted to Shogoi no jo. December 28, 1368 - appointed Samanokami.

May 2, 1398 - held his coming-of-age ceremony, and took the name Yoshimitsu.

January 28, 1369 - declared Seii Taishogun.

January 7, 1374 - promoted to Jushii no ge and given secondary post of Sangi. He also took charge of Sakone no chusho.

December 13, 1375 - promoted to Jusanmi.
Retained the post of Sangi Sakone no Chusho

April 21, 1378 - post changed to Gon Dainagon
September 19 - also took on post of Ukonoe no Daisho

January 2, 1379 - promoted to Junii
Retained the post of Ukonoe no Daisho
February 4 - also took on post of Umeryo Gogen

February 11, 1380 - promoted to Juichii.
Retained the post of Ukonoe no Daisho

August 13, 1381 - post changed to Naidaijin
Retained the post of Ukonoe no Daisho

February 9, 1382 - post changed to Sadaijin
Retained the post of Ukonoe no Daisho
March 4 - also took on the post of Kurodo no Betto
May 11 - got a permission to use an oxcart.
May 25 - also took on the post of Go-Enyuin Betto

February 16, 1383 - also took on the post of Genji Chojain and Junwa Shogakuin Betto.
July 26 - promoted to Jusangu

April 8, 1384 - resigned as Ukonoe no Daisho

June 30, 1388 - resigned as Minister of the Left

February 7 - returned to the post of Minister of the Left

October 22, 1393 - resigned as Minister of the Left

January 8, 1395 - resigned as Seii Taishogun.
January 16 - post changed to Daijodaijin (Chancellor of the Realm)
June 20 - resigned as Daijodaijin (Chancellor of the Realm)
July 7 - became a priest (by the name of Doyu, later changed to Dogi)

August 20, 1404 - Ming designated him as the Sovereign of Japan.

May 31, 1408 - passed away
June 3 - the honorary title "Daijo-Tenno" (Cloistered Emperor) was granted (although the Shogunate declined it)

Outline of Relatives

Father: Yoshiakira ASHIKAGA (the 2nd Shogun)

Mother: KI no Yoshiko (concubine)

Brothers and Sisters



Mitsuakira ASHIKAGA


Female (Hokyojidono.

Wife: Nariko HINO (daughter of Tokimitsu HINO)


Wife: Yasuko HINO (daughter of Sukeyasu HINO)

Concubine: FUJIWARA no Keishi/Yoshiko (daughter of AKI no Hogen)

Yoshimochi ASHIKAGA (the 4th Shogun)

Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA (the 6th Shogun)

Female (Irie-dono Seisen)

Concubine: Kaga no Tsubone (daughter of Chokai hoin)

Sonman (Yuzan Seishi)

Male (Hodo Jakuko)

Concubine: Kasuga no Tsubone (daughter of Yoshihide SETTSU)

Yoshitsugu ASHIKAGA

Concubine: Neifukuin-dono

Female (Daijiin Shokyu)

Concubine: FUJIWARA no Kazuko

Concubine: FJIWARA no Seiko


Concubine: Keiun Anshu (daughter of Fuyumune OINOMIKADO)

Female (Koshoin Sonkyu)

Concubine: Takahashi-dono

Concubine (Ikejiri-dono)


Kozan Eiryu

(the following are children whose mothers are unknown)

Ninna-ji Hoson

Daikaku-ji Gisho

Honkaku-in Manshu

Female (Hokke-ji Sonjun)

Female (wife of Rokkaku Mitsutsuna)

Female (chief priestess of Settsu-in)

Female (chief priestess of Hokyo-ji Temple)

Persons who were granted Yoshimitsu's henki (Persons who were allowed to use the letter mitsu from Yoshimitsu)

Mitsuie KUJO

Mitsumoto NIJO

Mitsukane ASHIKAGA

Mitsusuke AKAMATSU

Mitsunori ISSHIKI

Mitsutane SHIBA

Mitsusada SHONI


Mitsumoto HOSOKAWA

Mitsuyuki HOSOKAWA

Mitsutsuna ROKKAKU

Mitsutaka ROKKAKU


USUI, Nobuyoshi. (1989). Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Yoshikawa kobunkan People series. Yoshikawa Kobunkan. ISBN 4642051503.

IMATANI, Akira. (1990). Muromachi no Oken: Ashikaga Yoshimitsu no Oken Sandatsu. Chuko Shinsho. ISBN 4121009789.

SATO, Shinichi. (1994). Ashikaga Yoshimitsu: Chusei Oken e no Chosen. Heibonsha Library. ISBN 4582760627.

IZAWA, Motohiko. (1998). A Shogun Who Wanted to Be An Emperor: Taiheiki Thereafter - The Mystery of Yoshimitsu Ashikaga. Shogakkan Bunko. ISBN 4094023011.

IZAWA, Motohiko. (2003). Paradoxical Japanese History (7) King's Power in the Middle Ages - The Mystery of Taiheiki and the Southern and Northern Courts. Shogakkan Bunko. ISBN 4094020071.


KITAKATA, Kenzo. (1991). The Flag of Heat Haze. Shinchosha

ABE, Ryutaro. (1995). "Basara Shogun." Muromachikaden. Bungei Shunju/Basara Shogun. Bunshun Bunko.

HIRAIWA, Yumiko. (2000). Throne of Lion - Biography of Yoshimitsu Ashikaga. Chuokoron Shinsha.


SAKAGUCHI, Hisashi. (1993-1996). Akkanbe Ikkyu. Kodansha.

TV Animation

TV Animation Program. (broadcast 1975-1982). Ikkyu-san (Toei Doga), wherein Yoshimitsu appears as Shogun. Voice Actor: Keaton Yamada.
Refer to Ikkyu Sojun

[Original Japanese]