Japan During The Ashikaga Part I
Preparing to take up the legacy of the Minamoto by settling in the office of shōgun, which was to remain for 235 years to the members of his family, Takauji had first settled in Kamakura, but the state of things, different from that of the era of Yoritomo, soon persuaded him to elect Kyōto as his residence. However, the distance of the capital from the provinces of the east, known by the generic name of Kwantō, in constant agitation, and the consequent difficulty of monitoring them, made him feel the need to have a vigilant and faithful eye in Kamakura. Therefore, the office of governor of Kwantō (Kwant ō – kwanry ō, 1349), gave it to Motouji, his fourth son, to whose descendants it was to remain for almost a century. The last years of his life Takauji spent in constant struggle with his brother Tadayoshi and with his son Tadafuyu and died in 1358, leaving power to his son Yoshiakira. Of his 14 successors (see ashikaga), Yoshimitsu (1368-1394) is the major figure. A man of rare ability, he procured a period, however short, of peace for the country, both by defeating Yamana Ujikiyo, who had dared to march on Kyoto, after his family had taken possession of 11 provinces; both by putting an end to the dynastic schism, by inducing Go Kameyama, of the southern dynasty, to cede the insignia of legitimate power to Go Komatsu, then reigning in that of the north; let it be asked of the pirates who infested the seas and made navigation unsafe; and, finally, by rearranging the administration. In 1394 he abdicated in favor of his son Yoshimochi and, dressed in his religious habit, retired to the superb Kinkakuji palace.(Golden Pavilion), which he had built and then left by testament to the Zen sect. Another notable figure, although of smaller stature, was also the 8th shōgun Yoshimasa (1443-1474). A fine spirit, an esthete, a lover of letters and the arts, he gave these impetus and protection, leading them to renewal. In the Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) he built, he spent the last years of his life, surrounded by poets and artists, but in the midst of endless lavishness, which had a disastrous effect on the budget.
According to BARBLEJEWELRY, it is with Yoshimasa that the power of the Ashikaga turns to sunset. The war ardor that naturally developed in the military caste through the long centuries of struggles could have been contained and limited by the cautious energy of the first shōguns, all men of action; their weaker successors soon lost all prestige. On the other hand, the cadet branch of the Ashikaga, the Kwantō-kwanryō of Kamakura, became more and more daring and sought to seize power. A failed attempt by the kwanryō Mochiuji (1398-1439) led to the passing of the office to the Uesugi family and to numerous complications, from which great rivalries arose. Under Yoshimasa a succession issue as shōgun still divides the Ashikaga, while similar issues in other families lead to coalitions that confront two great warrior figures: Yamana Mochitoyo and Hosokawa Katsumoto. The bloody struggle that followed, known as the “troubles of the Ōnin era”, continued, with uncertain outcome, for 11 years (1467-77) and ceased due to the exhaustion of the contenders. From this moment, for a whole century, disorder spreads and the most frightening misery afflicts the country, prey to complete anarchy and bloody infighting. The emperor counts for nothing, the shōgun is an automaton at the mercy of the great feudal lords who install him in office to be elected kwanryō, and dismiss him to replace one of their proteges. The daimyō profit from the general confusion to enlarge their dominions at the expense of the neighbors.
In this tangle of events one of the greatest figures that Japan has produced sees the light: Ōda Nobunaga (1534-82). His father, Nobuhide, a small daimyō descendant of the Taira and vassal of the Shiba, taking advantage of their ruin, had taken possession of half of the province of Owari (now part of the province of Aichi), their fief, and on his death (1549), Nobunaga, still a child, found himself lord of vast dominions. A series of successful operations, in which his energetic character and attitude to command were brilliantly established, earned him, with a large reputation, the purchase of some other provinces. Emperor Ōgimachi (1558-86) saw in him the man capable of putting an end to the struggles that had been tearing the country apart for years and secretly sent him a messenger (1562). Nobunaga accepted the assignment and, setting out to work, two years later he entered the prov. di Mino (now part of the province of Gifu); then, having secured the help of capable generals, including Tokugawa Ieyasu, he invaded the prov. of Ōmi (today prov. of Shiga) and entered Kyōto placing in office the legitimate heir of the shōgunate, Ashikaga Yoshiaki (1568). Five years later, however, having conspired against his benefactor, he was ousted by this (1573) and with him ended, ingloriously, the Ashikaga shōgunate. Nobunaga, meanwhile, was continuing the work of pacification of the country. In a short time the most powerful families (Asakura, Miyoshi, Asai, Sasaki and others) were tamed and some disappeared from history, while their fiefs passed into the hands of Nobunaga. The warlike bonzes of Mount Hiei, always hostile.