Ashikaga School (足利学校)

Ashikaga School is a high educational institution of the Medieval period which some say was established in the early Heian period or the Kamakura period. It was the highest de facto educational institution in the Kanto region from the Muromachi period through the Sengoku period (Period of Warring States).

The school was located in Gokagoson, Ashikaga no sho estate, Shimotsuke Province (present-day Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture). By the early Meiji period only its building was left, and the school was finally closed in 1872. After closure, only the Confucian Shrine and a few other buildings were left. In 1990, hojo (an abbot's chamber) and a garden were revived and opened to the public. Ashikaga City Board of Education manages it today as a site for lifelong education.


Several theories and opinions have been long divided over when Ashikaga School was founded. (Refer to the paragraphs below outlining this controversy.)

Although the school had been in decline by the early Muromachi period, Norizane UESUGI, who became the lord of Ashikaga in 1432, himself contributed to its restoration and revived it by inviting Kaigen, a monk of Engaku-ji Temple, Kamakura to the school as its shoshu (principal) and donating his collection of books. His contribution succeeded and attracted students from all over the country from Ou region in the north to Ryukyu in the south. The post of shoshu was handed down from generation to generation no matter which region they came from.

Confucianism was mainly taught but its education was also famous for teaching the art of divination. It also taught the art of warfare and medical science. During the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States), graduates from Ashikaga School, who mastered practical studies such as the art of divination, are said to have often served busho (Japanese military commander). The tuition was free then students became priests on entering school. Students lodged at nearby private houses because the school had no dormitory. They cultivated vegetables in a vegetable garden within school grounds to support themselves. Besides the vegetable garden, they also had a medicinal herb garden.

After a temporary decline caused by a fire around 1530 during Kyoroku era, it was revived by the seventh shoshu, Kyuka under protection of the Gohojo clan, reaching its peak with 3000 registered students. The name of Ashikaga School was known to foreign countries because Francis XAVIER, a Christian missionary, described the then Ashikaga School as "Japan's largest and most noted academy at Bando (old Kanto region) (university of Bando)." According to Francis XAVIER, Ashikaga School Academy was the largest of 11 universities and academies in Japan. A temple building, whose Hondo (main hall) had a statue of Senju Kannon (Thousand Armed Avalokiteshwara), was used for school. The school was said to have had a Confucian Shrine in addition to Hondo.

As a result of the Siege of Odawara by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI in 1590, however, the Gohojo clan and the Ashikaga-Nagao clan were overthrown and the Ashikaga School lost its patrons. In this period, it faced difficulties because it was deprived of some of its lands and had some of its collection of books carried away to Kyoto by Hidetsugu TOYOTOMI., who loved old books. The ninth shoshu, Genkitsu SANYO, who had served as a close attendant of the new lord of Kanto region Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, gained his trust.
He thereby again revived the Ashikaga School with the support of Ieyasu TOKUGAWA

In the Edo period, the school received a territory capable of yielding 100 koku of rice and at the beginning of the year provided the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) with nenzei (yearly predictions) to foretell the year's fortunes. The school was supported by the lords of Ashikaga, who were often switched as a result of personnel transfer, and enjoyed its second prosperity as Gogaku (schools of province) during the early to middle of the Edo period.

Later in the Edo period, however, Neo-Confucianism was introduced from Kyoto to the Kanto region and became the subject advocated by the Tokugawa shogunate, which made obsolete the learning of Ashikaga School that centered on the art of divination. In addition, practical studies such as the art of divination and military science became less popular in the era when peaceful time had been lasting, and thus Ashikaga School began to wane. Its role as the academic center soon came to an end; scholars during the Edo period saw Ashikaga School as a library that stored precious ancient books.

After Meiji Restoration, the Ashikaga Domain attempted to restore Ahikaga School by making it a hanko (a domain school). However, with the implementation of Haihan-chiken (abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures) in 1871, Ashikaga Prefecture (later integrated into Tochigi Prefecture) took over the responsibility of managing the school and abolished it in 1872.

After the abolition, buildings were removed in the eastern half of the its site, where hojo was located, to build an elementary school. The collection of books of Ashikaga School faced a risk of being dispersed because the government of Tochigi Prefecture tried to buy a part of the collection. However, a former statesman of the Ashikaga clan, Soun TAZAKI took an active role in returning the book collection to the locals from the prefecture along with the western half of the former Ashikaga School precinct including the Confucian Shrine.

The local government of Ashikaga-cho established the first public library, Ashikaga School Historical Archives, in the precinct of Ashikaga School in 1903 to preserve the collection of the school and collect commonly available books for making them open to the public.. In 1921, the estate, Confucian Shrine, gates, and other existing buildings of Ashikaga School were designated as a national historic site for preservation.

In the 1980's, the preservation and maintenance project of the historic site started by relocating the elementary school and transferring general books of Ashikaga School Historical Archives to the general library, Tochigi Prefectural Ashikaga Library. In 1990, the building and garden were restored, and presented in mostly their original form from its most prominent era in the middle of the Edo period.


There have been controversy over how the Ashikaga School was founded and how the system had its beginning, because no records were left.

A theory that supports the longest history of the Ashikaga School says it was the provincial schools of Shimotsuke Province according to folk tradition. Hiroki KAWAKAMI who made the claim in the Meiji period said the school was established with kokufu (provincial office) of Tsuga District but was relocated to a place in connection with the Ashikaga family when it became the Shogun family. In contrast to this, some argued that the kokufu was too far from the provincial school of Shimotsuke Province and there is no record describing the relocation. Few advocate the Kawakami theory. A theory advocating that the school originates from a provincial school says it was relocated to the present -day Shohei-cho, Ashikaga City in 1467 according to"Kamakura Ozoshi (Military chronicle written during the Muromachi period in mid 15th century)."

In recent years, Terumasa MAEZAWA announced a new theory advocating that the school originated from a provincial school; when Shimotsukenu no kuni (later Shimotsuke Province) was established, the kokufu was placed near present-day Iseminami-cho, Ashikaga City along with the provincial school, which was the origin of Ashikaga School. MAEZAWA listed the basis of his theory; the defunct place name of the area around Ise-cho and Iseminami-cho, Ashikaga City was "Kono" and "Gakkojisaki;" tiles with a mark of "國" was unearthed; and the old map shows the area belonged to a school. However MAEZAWA did not give any reasons as to why the provincial school of Ashikaga was not abolished and remained when kokufu and the provincial school were relocated to the Tsuga District (toward present-day Tochigi City). In addition, there is no convincing evidence such as literature, which backs the theory that the kokufu may have been located in Ashikaga. It should be noted that the location of the kokufu is only a hypothesis.

A book titled "No no Kokugaku" having a stamp by the Ashikaga School has been cited as the basis for the theory that Ashikaga School originated from a provincial school. Some have suggested that the stamp was a forgery made in later years because such stamps were put only on books written in the Edo period and the stamp itself was lost.
On the other hand, KAWAKAMI and Terumasa MAEZAWA (described later) said they could not get over the idea that the stamp may be genuine because Seisai KONDO described in his "Yubun Koji (writings about bibliography in the Edo period)" in 1817 that the stamp had been unearthed from an area around present-day Ise-cho, Ashikaga City
However some argued back in the Meiji period that the stamp had been faked and that folklore supporting the validity of the stamp had been created.

Another theory regarded as very likely on the basis of Kamakura Ozoshi (Military chronicle written during the Muromachi period) is that ONO no Takamura founded the school around 839 (or 842) in the Heian period
However some suggest this theory is not credible because Takamura did not take a post in relation with Shimotsuke Province and was exiled in the year when the school is claimed to have been built.

Another theory is that Yoshikane ASHIKAGA founded it in the late 12th century. This theory is based on a description in Section 7 of Koya shunju hennen shuroku (The Springs and Falls of Mt.Koya) (1719) that Yoahikane ASHIKAGA had founded a temple (present Banna-ji Temple) and a school in Ashikaga around Bunji era of late 12th century. However, Banna-ji Temple had no record of it although it remains today. In addition, some advocates of both theories which say that the school originated from the provincial school and that ONO no Takamura founded it, regard Yoshikane ASHIKAGA as the person responsible for reviving the school.

An extreme argument goes that the Ashikaga School was founded by Norizane UESUGI, and it did not exist before 1432. This is based on "Dainihonshi", history of great Japan compiled by the Mito Domain. It should be noted that "Dainihonshi," history of great Japan, when read in detail, states that Ashikaga School had existed before Uesugi's time.

Designation as Historical Site

On March 3, 1921, "Ashikaga School (the site of Ashikaga School, including the shrine and the other related buildings) "was designated as a national historical site.


Daimon-dori Street, Shohei-cho, Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture

[Original Japanese]