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The Ashikaga shogunate (足利幕府 Ashikaga bakufu?, 1336–1573), also known as the Muromachi shogunate (室町幕府 Muromachi bakufu?),[1] was a dynasty originating from one of the plethora of Japanese daimyo which governed Japan from 1338 to 1573, the year in which Oda Nobunaga deposed Ashikaga Yoshiaki from office and unified Japan. The heads of government were the shoguns.[2] Each was a member of the Ashikaga clan.[3]

This period is also known as the Muromachi period. It gets its name from the Muromachi district of Kyoto.[1] The third shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu established his residence on Muromachi Street. This residence is nicknamed "Hana no Gosho" (花の御所) or "Flower Palace" (constructed in 1379) because of the abundance of flowers in its landscaping.


During the preceding Kamakura period (1185–1334), the Hōjō clan enjoyed absolute power in the governing of Japan. This monopoly of power, as well as the lack of a reward of lands after the defeat of Mongol invasion, led to simmering resentment among Hōjō vassals. Finally, in 1333, the Emperor Go-Daigo ordered local governing vassals to oppose Hōjō rule, in favor of Imperial restoration, in the Kenmu Restoration.

To counter this revolt, the Kamakura bakufu ordered Ashikaga Takauji to quash the uprising. For reasons that are unclear, possibly because Ashikaga was the de facto leader of the powerless Minamoto clan, while the Hōjō clan were from the Taira clan the Minamoto had previously defeated, Ashikaga turned against the Kamakura bakufu, and fought on behalf of the Imperial court.

After the successful overthrow of the Kamakura bakufu in 1336, Ashikaga Takauji set up his own bakufu in Kyoto.

North and South Court

After Ashikaga Takauji established himself as the Seii Taishogun, a dispute arose with the Emperor Go-Daigo on the subject of how to govern the country. That dispute led Takauji to cause Yutahito, the second son of Emperor Go-Fushimi, to be installed as Emperor Kōmyō. Go-Daigo fled, and the country was divided between a North Court (in favor of Kōmyō and Ashikaga), and a South Court (in favor of Go-Daigo). This period of North and South Courts (Nanboku-chō) continued for 56 years, until 1392, when the South Court gave up during the reign of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.

Government structure

Structure of the bakufu

The Ashikaga Shogunate is the weakest of the three Japanese bakufu governments. Unlike its predecessor, the Kamakura Shogunate, or its successor, the Tokugawa Shogunate, when Ashikaga Takauji established his bakufu he had little personal territories with which to support his rule. The Ashikaga Shogunate was thus heavily reliant on the prestige and personal authority of its shoguns. The centralized master-vassal system used in the Kamakura system was replaced with the highly de-centralized daimyo (local lord) system, and because of the lack of direct territories, the military power of the shoguns depended heavily on the loyalty of the daimyo.

On the other hand, the Imperial Government was no longer a credible threat to military rule. The failure of the Kenmu Restoration have rendered the court weakened and subservient, a situation the Ashikaga Takauji reinforced by establishing within close proximity of the emperor at Kyoto. The authority of the local daimyo greatly expanded from its Kamakura times. In addition to military and policing responsibilities, the bakufu appointed shugos now absorbed the justice, economical and taxation powers of the local Imperial governors, while the government holdings in each province were rapidly absorbed into the personal holdings of the daimyos or their vassals. The loss of both political clout and economic base deprived the Imperial court of much of its power, which were then assumed by the Ashikaga shoguns. This situation reached its peak under the rule of the third Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.

After Yoshimitsu however, the structural weakness of the Ashikaga bakufu were exposed by numerous succession troubles and early deaths. This became dramatically more acute after the Onin War, after which the bakufu itself became reduced to little more than a local political force in Kyoto.

Foreign relations

The Ashikaga shogunate's foreign relations policy choices were played out in evolving contacts with the Joseon Dynasty on the Korean peninsula [4] and with Imperial China.[5]

Fall of the shogunate

As the daimyo increasingly feuded among themselves in the pursuit of power in the Ōnin War, that loyalty grew increasingly strained, until it erupted into open warfare in the late Muromachi period, also known as the Sengoku Period.

When the shogun Yoshiteru was assassinated in 1565, an ambitious daimyo, Oda Nobunaga, seized the opportunity and installed Yoshiteru's brother Ashikaga Yoshiaki as the 15th Ashikaga shogun. However, Yoshiaki was only a puppet shogun.

The Ashikaga shogunate was finally destroyed in 1573 when Nobunaga drove Ashikaga Yoshiaki out of Kyoto. Initially, Yoshiaki fled to Shikoku. Afterwards, Yoshiaki sought and received protection from the Mōri clan in western Japan. Later, Toyotomi Hideyoshi requested that Yoshiaki accept him as an adopted son and the 16th Ashikaga Shogun, but Yoshiaki refused.

The Ashikaga family survived the 16th century, and a branch of it became the daimyo family of the Kitsuregawa domain.[6]

Palace remains

Marker for Site of Muromachi Bakufu, Kyoto

The residence of "Hana no Gosho" (花の御所) or "Flower Palace" was located on the block now bounded by Karasuma Street (to the east), Imadegawa Street (to the south), Muromachi Street (to the west, giving the name), and Kamidachiuri Street (to the north). The location is commemorated by a stone marker at the southwest corner, and the Kanbai-kan (寒梅館?, Winter Plum Hall) of Dōshisha University contains relics and excavations of the area.

List of Ashikaga shoguns

  1. Ashikaga Takauji, ruled 1338–1358[7]
  2. Ashikaga Yoshiakira, r. 1359–1368[8]
  3. Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, r. 1368–1394[9]
  4. Ashikaga Yoshimochi, r. 1395–1423[10]
  5. Ashikaga Yoshikazu, r. 1423–1425[11]
  6. Ashikaga Yoshinori, r. 1429–1441[12]
  7. Ashikaga Yoshikatsu, r. 1442–1443[13]
  8. Ashikaga Yoshimasa, r. 1449–1473[14]
  9. Ashikaga Yoshihisa, r. 1474–1489[15]
  10. Ashikaga Yoshitane, r. 1490–1493, 1508–1521[16]
  11. Ashikaga Yoshizumi, r. 1494–1508[17]
  12. Ashikaga Yoshiharu, r. 1521–1546[18]
  13. Ashikaga Yoshiteru, r. 1546–1565[19]
  14. Ashikaga Yoshihide, r. 1568[20]
  15. Ashikaga Yoshiaki, r. 1568–1573[21]

See also

  • History of Japan
  • Lists of incumbents
  • Kamakura period
  • Muromachi period
  • Nanboku-chō
  • Ashikaga clan
  • Japanese missions to Imperial China


  1. 1.0 1.1 Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Muromachi-jidai" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 669.
  2. Nussbaum, "Shogun" at pp. 878-879.
  3. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga" at pp. 53-54.
  4. Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du japon, p. 320–342, p. 320, at Google Books; Kang, Etsuko H. (1997). Diplomacy and Ideology in Japanese-Korean Relations: from the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century, p. 275.
  5. Ackroyd, Joyce. (1982) Lessons from History: The Tokushi Yoron, p. 329; Titsingh, pp. 322–324.
  6. With the end of the Kitsuregawa line following the death of Ashikaga Atsuuji in 1983, the current de facto head of the family is Ashikaga Yoshihiro, of the Hirashima Kubō line.
  7. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Takauji" at p. 55.
  8. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Yoshiakira" at p. 55.
  9. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Ysohimitsu" at p. 56.
  10. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Yoshimochi" at p. 56.
  11. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Yoshikazu" at p. 56.
  12. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Yoshinori" at p. 56.
  13. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Yoshikatsu" at p. 56.
  14. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Yoshimasa" at p. 56; Ackroyd, p. 298; n.b., Shogun Yoshimasa was succeeded by Shogun Yoshihisa (Yoshimasa's natural son), then by Shogun Yoshitane (Yoshimasa's first adopted son), and then by Shogun Yoshizumi (Yoshimasa's second adopted son)
  15. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Yoshihisa" at p. 56.
  16. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Yoshitane" at p. 57; Ackroyd, p. 385 n104; excerpt, "Some apparent contradictions exist in various versions of the pedigree owing to adoptions and name-changes. Yoshitsuna (sometimes also read Yoshikore) changed his name and was adopted by Yoshitane. Some pedigrees show Yoshitsuna as Yoshizumi's son, and Yoshifuyu as Yoshizumi's son."
  17. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Yoshizumi" at p. 57.
  18. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Yoshiharu" at p. 55.
  19. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Yoshiteru" at p. 57.
  20. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Yoshihide" at p. 56.
  21. Nussbaum, "Ashikaga Yoshiaki" at p. 55.


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