The Ashikaga shogunate

May 23 2012

Background in May 21 post.

An attempt to re-establish a civilian government […] was made immediately after the downfall, in A.D. 1333, of the military regency which had been ruling Japan from Kamakura since A.D. 1184. [Footnote: See Sansom, G. B.: Japan, A Short Cultural History (London 1932, Cresset Press), p. 319: Murdoch, J.: A History of Japan, vol. i (London 1910, Kegan Paul), p. 539. The civilian Imperial Government at Kyoto had made one previous attempt, as early as A.D. 1221 [the Jōkyū War], to overthrow the Kamakura Bakufu (ibid., p. 442).] This rally, however, was abortive. Within five years the restored civilian régime had been superseded by a new military regency which was not the less true to type because it made the conciliatory gesture of establishing its official headquarters at Kyoto – the ancient Imperial Capital – instead of simply entrenching itself in the north-eastern stronghold from which Japan had been ruled for 150 years by Minamoto Yoritomo and his successors. This swift reversion to Militarism was the first symptom of a fresh rout. In the days of the Shoguns of the Ashikaga Dynasty who succeeded one another at Kyoto from A.D. 1338 until the last of the line was hustled off the stage by Hideyoshi in A.D. 1597, Japan suffered worse tribulations than she had known in the days of the previous line of Shoguns who had succeeded one another at Kamakura from 1184 to 1333.

The immediate sequel to the establishment of the Ashikaga Shogunate was the unprecedented scandal of a schism of the Imperial House itself into two rival courts. This enormity, which was a sin against religious ritual as well as a breach of political etiquette, had to be atoned for by fifty-five years of civil war (gerebatur A.D. 1337-92); and, even when the Ashikaga Shogunate – acting in the name of the court which was its puppet – eventually succeeded in suppressing the rival court which had refused to acknowledge its title, the tale of calamities did not cease. In the fifteenth century of the Christian Era a feudal anarchy which the Shoguns were impotent to reduce to order goaded an intolerably oppressed peasantry into a chronic state of revolt and stimulated the monasteries to militarize themselves – in flat defiance of all precepts of both the Greater and the Lesser Vehicle – as the only alternative to becoming the lay militarists’ victims. In the War of Onin (gerebatur A.D. 1467-77) the Imperial City of Kyoto was devastated by street-fighting between contending provincial forces who made the capital their arena. In the sixteenth century the Shoguns were overtaken by the ignominious fate which their predecessors had inflicted on the Emperors. The Shogun’s de jure powers were now exercised de facto by a Kwanryo [technically the governor of the eight provinces of the Kanto region]; and this travesty of government by the deputy of a deputy was perhaps the one thing worse than no government at all. [Footnote: The century between the opening of the War of Onin in A.D. 1467 and Nobunaga’s assumption of dictatorial powers de facto in A.D. 1568 seems to have been the worst phase of the whole of the Japanese “Time of Troubles” (Sansom, op. cit., pp. 394. 5 and 419-40).] [In the same way, the shikken regents had ruled on behalf of the Kamakura shoguns.] This was the state of misery to which Japan had been reduced by the second paroxysm of her “Time of Troubles” [the first was under the Kamakura shoguns] before her convulsed and writhing frame was forced into a strait-waistcoat by the successive exertions of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi and Ieyasu (militabant A.D. 1549-1615).

The ensuing Pax Tokugawica – the Universal State which ended a Time of Troubles which had begun, in Toynbee’s view, with the military revolutions of the twelfth century – was cut short by the second collision of Japan with the West.

Kamakura is northeast of Kyoto, but should it be described as a “north-eastern stronghold”?

Other footnotes in this passage give further references to Sansom and Murdoch.

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

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