Ashikaga Yoshinori (足利義教)

Yoshinori ASHIKAGA (July 20, 1394 - July 21, 1441) was the 6th Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") of the Muromachi shogunate (shogunship from 1428 to 1441). He was the third son of the third shogun, Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA. His mother was FUJIWARA no Yoshiko, a daughter of Hogan AKI, and he was a younger brother of the fourth shogun Yoshimochi ASHIKAGA. He had entered the priesthood, taking the name 'Gien,' but upon returning to secular life to succeed to the headship of his family, he named himself 'Yoshinobu,' althouth as this name sounded similar to 'mourning the past,' he called himself 'Yoshinori,' rejecting the name 'Yoshitoshi' that the Imperial Court granted him. His official rank was the Juichii-sadaijin (minister of the left at the Junior First Rank) and he was posthumously promoted to Daijo-daijin (Grand minister of state).


Shogunal Accession

As he was not in line to inherit the headship of the family, he followed tradition and entered the Buddhist priesthood, taking the name 'Gien,' and residing at Shoren-in Monzeki Temple. He then became the one hundred fifty-third head priest of the Tendai sect, was called 'the most talented person in the history of the Tendai sect,' and was regarded as having a promising future. He planned to live his life as a high priest, but after the 5th shogun, Yoshikazu ASHIKAGA, the son of his older brother, the 4th Shogun, Yoshimochi ASHIKAGA, died suddenly in 1425, and Yoshimochi died in 1428 without deciding his heir, the Kanrei (shogunal deputy), Mitsuie HATAKEYAMA, suggested a plan that the next shogun should be selected from the candidates (Gisho KAJII, Gisho DAIKAKUJI, Eiryu KOZAN, and Gien) by a lottery at Iwahimizu Hachimangu Shrine. Some say that the lottery was fair because it took place in the Middle Ages, when people believed in the gods, while some say it was unfair and set up by Mansai.
As a result, Yoshinori was selected as the 6th shogun, becoming known as the 'lottery shogun.'
Yoshinori, however, did not accept the result for a while and when he finally became Shogun, he made the Shiba, Hatakeyama and Hosokawa families sign a statement that 'they would always consult with the shogun before taking any actions.'

Recovering the Shogunate's Power

Once Yoshinori was made Shogun, his goals became the recovery of the shogunate's power and the restoration of direct rule by the Shogun. It is believed that he asked his father, Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, to provide him with example policies, and to start with, Yoshinori addressed the issue of succession to the throne that arose after the death of Emperor Shoko in 1428. The Shinshokukokin Wakashu (New Compilation of Ancient and Modern Times Continued), an anthology of waka poetry ordered by Emperor Gohanazono, was Yoshinori's idea. He established a policy to restrict the Kanrei's power by appointing Mansai SANPOIN as a political adviser so that ceremonial styles and judicial proceedings that were used during the time of Yoshimitsu would be restored, and also by replacing the 'hyojyoshu' consultative board and 'hikitsuke' judicial board, which accepted individuals of only certain positions or families as participants, with the 'gozensata' advisory council, that he chaired and whose members were chosen by him. He then restarted the tally trade with China that had been suspended since Yoshimochi's time and reviewed financial policy in order to reinforce the government's power. He also encouraged separation of government and religion and took measures to establish a centralized administrative system.

He also increased his control of the military by carrying out reforms such as the development of the Hokoshu (a military post in Muromachi Shogunate), vassals under the shogun's direct control. He then attempted to subjugate Mochiuji ASHIKAGA, the Kamakura Kubo, using the excuses that Ashikaga kept using the era name Shocho even after it had been changed from Shocho to Eikyo, and that Ashikaga appointed at his discretion the head priests for the Five Official Temples of Kamakura. He faced opposition however and abandoned the plan, instead ordering Morimi OUCHI to subjugate the Kyushu area. Morimi was killed in the battle but his nephew, Mochiyo OUCHI, took over the leadership and, with the help of the Yamana family, defeated the Shibukawa Clan and the Shoni and Otomo Clans, with Mochiyo, who was trusted by Yoshinori, being made Commissioner of Kyushu.

Power Struggle Against Hieizan Enryaku-ji Temple

In order to control the power of Hieizan Enryaku-ji Temple, Yoshinori, who had been the head priest of the Tendai sect, appointed his own younger brother, Gisho, to the same position immediately after returning to secular life. He also used many priests such as Mansai as advisers in an attempt to appease and take control of the religious influence. In 1433, Yoshinori accepted 12 conditions issued by Hieizan Enryaku-ji Temple but, outraged when monks nonetheless started rioting, led his army in an attack on the temple, forcing it to surrender and accept a ceasefire; however, the following year, Yoshinori received a report from Mochiuji ASHIKAGA that the temple was placing a curse on him, leading him to again send troops and behead several high priests, and in March 1435, the temple's cornered monks immolated themselves. As a result, the Konpon-chudo Main Hall, built 600 years previously by Saicho, was burned to ashes. He then announced that those who talked about the temple would be punished by decapitation. The Hieizan Enryaku-ji Temple, the largest religious power in Japan, finally gave in to the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). Also, with an attack on Kofuku-ji Temple, Yoshinori tried to drive out Buddhist influence in politics.

Eikyo Rebellion

Mochiuji ASHIKAGA, the Kamakura Kubo, had not entered the priesthood and therefore believed that he would become Shogun after Yoshimochi's death, causing him to hate Yoshinori. The era issue mentioned above was resolved owing to a compromise by Mochiuji but his relationship with the the government remained volatile because of the Hieizan Enryaku-ji Temple curse issue, and also because, in 1438, Mochiuji ignored Yoshinori and named his son himself when he reached adulthood (according to the custom of that time, one of the Chinese characters used in the shogun's name was given). Meanwhile, the Kanto Kanrei, Norizane UESUGI, who had often complained about Mochiuji, felt that his life was in danger as he was clearly disfavored by Mochiuji, and he therefore fled to his domain of Kozuke, where he was defeated by Mochiuji. Yoshinori, seeing this as an opportunity, joined forces with Norizane, ordered daimyos in Kanto to close Mochiuji off from power, officially identified Mochiuji as the Emperor's enemy following the imperial order to subjugate Mochiuji, and in 1439, took control of the Kanto area (Eikyo Rebellion). Badly defeated, Mochiuji took the tonsure and adopted a deferential attitude. Despite Norizane's appeal for mercy, Yoshinori killed Mochiuji's relatives. Afterwards, Yoshinori attempted to expand his power throughout Kanto by having his own son made Kanto Kubo, but withdrew the plan in the face of opposition from the Uesugi Clan.

Restoration of Order in Kanto and Realization of a Centralized Administrative System

Yoshinori had restored order to Kamakura, but in 1440, Anomaru and Shunomaru, the bereaved sons of Mochiuji, were deceived by Ujitomo YUKI into starting an insurrection (Yuki War). Although Yoshinori ordered the retired Norizane to attack them, due to strong opposition by the warlords of Kanto, he changed the plan to starve them out and as a result, the insurrection was suppressed the following year in April, 1441. The Anomaru and Shunomaru brothers were slain while they were escorted to Kyoto. He also defeated the Kitabatake Clan from the former Southern Court, and purged imperial family members or made them enter the priesthood to finally destroy the influence of the Latter South Court. As a result, most of the headaches for the Muromachi shogunate government were eliminated.

Furthermore, Yoshinori implemented measures to increase his dominance over major Shugo (Military Governor) Daimyos by aggressively interfering in their family inheritance issues and by recommending his own trusted assistants, such as Mochiyo OUCHI and Sadamura AKAMATSU, as the heads of these families. Meanwhile, he purged those who opposed him, such as Yoshinuki ISSHIKI of Shishiki (Four major feudal lords who worked for Muromachi bakufu) and Mochiyori TOKI, a Shugo (Military Governor) of the Province of Ise.

Having restored order in Kyushu, suppressed the religious influence, the Southern Court and the Shugo Daimyos and restored order in Kanto, Yoshinori finally succeeded in centralizing power.

Both the political and social conditions associated with the Muromachi shogunate government during Yoshinori's time were unsettled, as seen in events such as the Shocho peasant uprising and the rebellion by forces of the Latter Southern Court, and by reinforcing the shogunate's authority, Yoshinori was meeting the needs of the warrior class and the general public for the presence of a shogun with strong leadership.

'Everyone Fears'
Yoshinori was said to be sometimes relentless.
Records made at that time, such as the "Mansai Junko Diary," "Kanmon Diary," and "Sakkai-Ki" mention that, as well as the assassinations of Isshiki and Toki and the killing and forced self-immolation of monks at Hieizan Enryaku-ji Temple described above, he also supposedly assassinated Gon Chunagon (Provisional Middle Counselor) Yoshisuke HINO, punished dozens of members of the Imperial Family and court aristocracy, and punished gardeners and cooks for trivial reasons, such as 'a branch of the plum tree received as a gift broke' and 'the food did not taste good.'
These episodes were passed down as anecdotes showing that Yoshinori was sadistic and aimed to rule by terror. Prince Fushiminomiya Sadanari in his "Kammon Diary" commented on an incident in which a tea merchant who talked about the Hieizan incident was beheaded on the spot, saying 'Everyone fears, say nothing, say nothing' (from the "Kammon Diary" entry of February 8, 1435).

End of His Life

In February, 1441, Yoshinori transferred responsibility for the Hatakeyama family from Mochikuni HATAKEYAMA to Mochinaga HATAKEYAMA. Having had enough of Yoshinori's dictatorial ways, Mitsusuke AKAMATSU and his son, Noriyasu AKAMATSU, planned to murder him. On July 21, 1441, they invited Yoshinori to their house on the pretext of celebrating victory of the Yuki War. Around that time, many daimyo and kuge (nobles) invited Yoshinori to celebrate the victory. Seeing this as an opportunity to make peace with the Akamatsu Clan, Yoshinori went to the Akamatsu residence with a few guards, but was assassinated during the feast. With the loss of its leader, the government fell into such confusion that it did not send any troops, and Mitsusuke and Noriyasu AKAMATSU were able to return to the Province of Harima but on August 6, 1441, the Akamatsu family was destroyed after being sought out and killed by Mochitsune HOSOKAWA and Sozen YAMANA (the Akamatsu family later on re-built itself after the Kinketsu Incident). His assassination is known as the Kakitsu Incident.
Prince Sadanari in his "Kammon Diary" commented on this incident saying 'Never has a shogun died so wastefully.'

As a result, the authority that Yoshinori had restored became weaker, but it remains a fact that the centralized authoritarian power of the shogun that supported the Higashiyama culture, led by Yoshinori's son, Yoshimasa, was re-built during Yoshinori's time. Also, the Hokoshu that Yoshinori established supported and maintained the authority of the shogun until the Meio Coup after the Onin War.

Posthumous Buddhist name: Fukoinden Zenzan-doe

Grave: Junen-ji Temple (Kyoto City)

Kubizuka, tomb of his severed head: Sozen-ji Temple (Osaka City)

(Reference) Kubizuka: Ankoku-ji Temple, note: Hyogo Prefecture
There is a tombstone called the Hokyo-Into that is said to be Yoshinori ASHIKAGA's kubizuka.

Portrait: In the possession of Myoko-in Temple

Record of office and rank
*Dates are based on the lunar calendar

March 12, 1428: He was given the Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade) and was appointed Sama no kami (Captain of Samaryo, Left Division of Bureau of Horses). He then returned to secular life and named himself Yoshinobu. On April 14, he was promoted to the Jushiinoge (Junior Forth Rank, Lower Grade).

March 9, 1429: He celebrated his coming of age. On March 15th, he was made a Sangi (councillor), was also appointed Sakone no chujo (Middle Captain of the Left Division of Inner Palace Guards), and was named Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") by imperial proclamation. He changed his name to Yoshinori. On March 29, he was promoted to the Jusanmi (Junior Third Rank) and then was reassigned toGon Dainagon (provisional major counselor). On August 4, he was also appointed Ukone no daisho (Major Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards). On December 13, he was promoted to the Junii (Junior Second Rank).

January 6, 1430: He was also given the additional post of Umaryo gogen (Inspector of the Right Division of Bureau of Horses). On October 17, he was promoted to the Juichii (Junior First Rank).

July 25, 1432: He was reassigned to the post of Naidaijin (minister). His position as Ukone no daisho was unchanged. On August 28, he was reassigned to Sadaijin (minister of the left). His position as Ukone no daisho was unchanged. On December 9, he was also made Junna shogaku ryoin betto (the betto, or a senior bureaucrat moved from outside, for Junna shogaku ryoin school).

August 9, 1433: He resigned as Ukone no daisho.

August 28, 1438: He resigned as Sadaijin.

June 24, 1441: He died. On June 29, he was posthumously promoted to Daijo-daijin.

In December, 1431, Yoshinori's concubine came to Kyoto to be with him, but in November, 1437, the relationship dissolved due to adultery.

Individuals Granted Use of One of the Characters from Yoshinori's Real Name

Norihiro OUCHI
Noriyuki OUCHI
Noriori SHONI
Norikiyo YAMANA
Noritoyo YAMANA
Noriyuki YAMANA


"Samayoeru Mikado (Straying Emperors)" by Ryutaro ANDO (Shinchosha, Shincho Paperback, and Kadokawa Bunko, 1994)
"Muromachi no Daiyogen (The Omen of Muromachi)" by Futaro YAMADA (in "Muromachi boys club" published by Bunshun Bunko, Bungeishunju, 1995)
"Arazuka (a Rough Burial Mound)" by Ken ASAMATSU from the Odd Feature Collection Vol. 22 [Phobia] (Kobunsha Publishing, 2002)
Yoshinori is depicted as a lunatic who never feels any fear.
His tyranny is interpreted as an out-of-control pursuit of 'the ultimate fear.'

"Wakasa-den Mimi-simatsu" by Ken ASAMATSU from the Odd Feature Collection Vol. 35 [Dark Telephone] (Kobunsha Publishing, 2006)
He fell in love with Kayano-tsubone, the wife of Yoshitsura ISSHIKI, and he then attempted to assassinate Yoshitsura by ordering his own subordinate, Nobuhide TAKEDA to kill him.

"Mashogun - Muromachi no Kaikakuji, Ashikaga Yoshinori no Shougai (Devil Shogun - The Life of Yoshinori ASHIKAGA, the Reformer of Muromachi)" by Hidefumi OKADA (Futabasha Publishers, 2006); ISBN 4575235431


"Akkanbe Ikkyu (Witty Ikkyu)" by Hisashi SAKAGUCHI (Kodansha Manga Bunko, Kodansha, published from 1993 through 1995)

TV Series

Hana no Ran, (The Flower Rebellion) (NHK historical drama), featuring Katsuya KOBAYASHI

[Original Japanese]