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Ashikaga Takauji
足利 尊氏
1st Ashikaga shogun

In office
Preceded by Kenmu restoration
Succeeded by Shogun:
Ashikaga Yoshiakira
Personal details
Born (1305-08-18)August 18, 1305
Uesugi-shō, Ayabe, Kyoto, or
Kamakura, Kanagawa,or
Ashikaga, Tochigi, Japan
Died June 7, 1358(1358-06-07) (aged 52)
Masuya-chō, Kamigyō-ku, Kyoto, Japan
Relations Father:
Ashikaga Sadauji
Uesugi Kiyoko
Children Ashikaga Yoshiakira
Ashikaga Motouji
Ashikaga Takewakamaru
Ashikaga Tadafuyu
Eichū Hōshun

Ashikaga Takauji (足利 尊氏?, 1305 – June 7, 1358)[1] was the founder and first shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.[2] His rule began in 1338, beginning the Muromachi period of Japan, and ended with his death in 1358.[3] He was a descendant of the samurai of the (Minamoto) Seiwa Genji line (meaning they were descendants of Emperor Seiwa) who had settled in the Ashikaga area of Shimotsuke Province, in present day Tochigi Prefecture.

According to famous Zen master and intellectual Musō Soseki, who enjoyed his favor and collaborated with him, Takauji had three qualities. First, he kept his cool in battle and was not afraid of death.[4] Second, he was merciful and tolerant.[4] Third, he was very generous with those below him.[4]


Takauji was a general of the Kamakura shogunate sent to Kyoto in 1333 to put down the Genkō War which had started in 1331. After becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Kamakura shogunate over time, Takauji joined the banished Emperor Go-Daigo and Kusunoki Masashige, and seized Kyoto. Soon after, Nitta Yoshisada attacked Kamakura, destroying the shogunate. Emperor Go-Daigo thus became the de facto ruler of Japan, reestablishing the primacy of the Imperial court in Kyoto and starting the so-called Kemmu restoration.

However, shortly thereafter, the samurai clans became increasingly disillusioned with the reestablished imperial court, which sought to return to the social and political systems of the Heian period. Sensing their discontent, Takauji pleaded with the emperor to do something before rebellion would break out, however his warnings were ignored.

Hōjō Tokiyuki, son of the 14th Hōjō regent Hōjō Takatoki, took the opportunity to start the Nakasendai rebellion (Nakasendai no Ran) to try to reestablish the shogunate in Kamakura in 1335. Takauji put down the rebellion and took Kamakura for himself. Taking up the cause of his fellow samurai, he claimed the title of Seii Taishogun and allotted land to his followers without permission from the court. Takauji announced his allegiance to the imperial court, but Go-Daigo sent Nitta Yoshisada to reclaim Kamakura.

Tomb of Ashikaga Takauji at Tōji-in in Kyōto

Takauji defeated Yoshisada in battle and afterwards marched all the way to Kyoto. He captured it only to be driven out and to Kyūshū by the regrouped forces of Yoshisada with Masashige. Takauji allied himself with the clans native to Kyūshū and again marched to Kyoto. At the decisive Battle of Minatogawa in 1336, Takauji defeated Yoshisada again and killed Masashige, allowing him to seize Kyoto for good. Emperor Kōmyō of the illegitimate Northern Court (see below) was installed as emperor by Takauji in opposition to the exiled Southern Court, beginning the turbulent Northern and Southern Court period (Nanboku-chō), which saw two Emperors fight each other and which would last for almost 60 more years.

Besides other honors, Emperor Go-Daigo had given Takauji the title of Chinjufu-shogun, or Commander-in-chief of the Defense of the North, and the courtly title of the Fourth Rank, Junior Grade.[3][5]

Timeline of Shogunate[]

Significant events which shaped the period during which Takauji was shogun are:

  • 1338 — Takauji appointed shogun.[6]
  • 1349 — Go-Murakami flees to A'no; Ashikaga Tadayoshi and Kō no Moronao quarrel; Ashikaga Motouji, son of Takauji, appointed Kamakura Kanrei[6]
  • 1350 — Tadayoshi, excluded from administration, turns priest;[6] Tadayoshi's adopted son, Ashikaga Tadafuyu is wrongly repudiated as a rebel.[7]
  • 1351–1358 — Struggle for Kyoto.
  • 1351 — Tadayoshi joins Southern Court, southern army takes Kyoto; truce, Takauji returns to Kyoto; Tadayoshi and Takauji reconciled; Kō no Moronao and Kō no Moroyasu are exiled.[6]
  • 1352 — Tadayoshi dies, Southern army recaptures Kyoto; Nitta Yoshimune captures Kamakura; Ashikaga forces recapture Kamakura and Kyoto; Tadafuyu joins Southern Court; Yamana Tokiuji joins Tadafuyu.[6]
  • 1353 — Kyoto retaken by Southern forces under Yamana Tokiuji; retaken by Ashikaga forces.[6]
  • 1354 — Takauji flees with Go-Kōgon; Kitabatake Chikafusa dies.[6]
  • 1355 — Kyoto taken by Southern army; Kyoto retaken by Ashikaga forces.[6]
  • 1358 — Takauji dies.[8]

Takauji's son Ashikaga Yoshiakira succeeded him as shogun after his death. His grandson Ashikaga Yoshimitsu united the Northern and Southern courts in 1392.

Eras of Takauji's bakufu[]

Because of the anomalous situation, which he had himself created and which saw two Emperors reign simultaneously, one in Yoshino and one in Kyoto, the years in which Takauji was shogun as reckoned by the Gregorian calendar are identified in Japanese historical records by two different series of Japanese era names (nengō), that following the datation used by the legitimate Southern Court and that formulated by the pretender Northern Court.[9]

  • Eras as reckoned by the legitimate Southern Court (declared legitimate by a Meiji era decree because in possession at the time of the Japanese Imperial Regalia):
    • Engen (1336–1340)
    • Kōkoku (1340–1346)
    • Shōhei (1346–1370)
  • Eras as reckoned by the pretender Northern Court (declared illegitimate by a Meiji era decree because not in possession at the time of the Japanese Imperial Regalia):
    • Ryakuō (1338–1342)
    • Kōei (1342–1345)
    • Jōwa (1345–1350)
    • Kan'ō or Kannō (1350–1352)
    • Bunna (1352–1356)
    • Enbun (1356–1361)

Literary references[]

The story of Ashikaga Takauji, Emperor Go-Daigo, Nitta Yoshisada, and Kusunoki Masashige from the Genko rebellion to the establishment of the Northern and Southern Courts is detailed in the 40 volume Muromachi period epic Taiheiki.

See also[]


  1. His name had originally been written with the characters 高氏,but he later received from Emperor Go-Daigo the right to use those 尊氏, under which he would become famous. According to Sansom (1977:87), in contemporary chronicles he is rarely called with his name, but referred to as Ō-gosho (大御所 Great shogun?) or Dainagon (Great Concillor).
  2. "Ashikaga Takauji" in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 15th edn., 1992, Vol. 1, p. 625.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Ashikaga Takauji". Encyclopedia of Japan. Tokyo: Shogakukan. 2012. OCLC 56431036. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Matsuo (1997:105)
  5. Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du japon, p. 290., p. 290, at Google Books
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 Ackroyd, Joyce. (1982) Lessons from History: the Tokushi Yoron, p. 329.
  7. Historiographical Institute: "Ashikaga Tadafuyu's Call to Arms," Dai Nihon shi-ryō, VI, xiv, 43.
  8. Titsingh, p. 304., p. 304, at Google Books
  9. Titsingh, pp. 290-304., p. 290, at Google Books


Preceded by
Muromachi Shogun
Succeeded by
Ashikaga Yoshiakira

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