A History of Japan: From Mythology to Nationhood/The Muromachi Period/The Nanboku-chō Period

The Nanboku-chō period (南北朝時代 Nanbokuchō jidai) spanned from 1336 to 1392. It was a period that occurred during the Muromachi Period.

During this period, there existed a Northern Imperial Court, established by Ashikaga Takauji in Kyoto, and a Southern Imperial Court, established by Emperor Go-Daigo in Yoshino. Ideologically, the two courts fought for fifty years, with the South giving up to the North in 1392. However, in reality the Northern line was under the power of the Ashikaga shoguns and had little real independence.

Since the 19th century the Emperors of the Southern Imperial Court have been considered the legitimate Emperors of Japan. Other contributing factors were the Southern Court's control of the Japanese imperial regalia, and Kitabatake Chikafusa's work Jinnō Shōtōki, which legitimized the South's imperial court despite their defeat.

The consequences of events in this period continue to be influential in modern Japan's conventional view of the Tennō Seika (Emperor system). Under the influence of State Shinto, an Imperial decree dated March 3, 1911 established that the legitimate reigning monarchs of this period were the Southern Court. After World War II, a series of pretenders, starting with Kumazawa Hiromichi, claimed descent from the Southern Court and challenged the legitimacy of the modern imperial line which is descended from the Northern Court.

The destruction of the Kamakura shogunate of 1333 and the failure of the Kemmu Restoration in 1336 opened up a legitimacy crisis for the new shogunate. Furthermore, institutional changes in the estate system (the shōen) that formed the bedrock of the income of nobles and warriors alike decisively altered the status of the various social groups. What emerged out of the exigencies of the Nanboku-chō (Southern and Northern Court) War was the Muromachi regime, which broadened the economic base of the warriors while undercutting the noble proprietors, a trend that had started already with the Kamakura bakufu.

The fall of the Kamakura bakufu


The main conflicts that contributed to the outbreak of the civil war were, in ascending order of importance, the growing conflict between the Hōjō family and other warrior groups in the wake of the Mongol invasions of Japan of 1274 and 1281 and the failure of the Kemmu Restoration, which triggered the struggle between the supporters of the imperial loyalists and supporters of the Ashikaga clan.

Disaffection towards the Hōjō-led Kamakura regime appeared among the warriors towards the end of the thirteenth century. This resentment was caused by the growing influence of the Hōjō over other warrior families within the regime. The Mongol invasions were the main cause behind this centralization of power that took place during the regency of Hōjō Tokimune (AD 1268-1284). During the crisis, three things occurred: Hōjō family appointments to the council of state increased; the Hōjō private family council became the most important decision making body; and direct vassals of the Hōjō were increasingly promoted to shugo posts. They essentially narrowed down their constituents by including only Hōjō family members and direct vassals, at the expense of a broader base of support. When a coalition against the Hōjō emerged in 1331, it took only two years to topple the regime.

Wealth in agrarian societies is tied to land, and medieval Japan was no different. In fact, land was the main reason for much of the discontent among the warrior class. Since the rise of the warriors under the Minamoto, it was expected that victory in battle would be rewarded by land grants given to those who served on the victorious side. However, unlike any war that had been fought until then, the Mongol invasions presented a problem since this war, which was seen by most Japanese as a patriotic duty, did not take place against another warrior family, but against a foreign enemy. After the foreign enemy’s defeat there were no lands to hand out to the victors. This was especially a problem for those warriors who had fought valiantly and petitioned the Hōjō regents for land. Even in the beginning of the fourteenth century this discontent put a tremendous pressure on any regime that emerged. They had to immediately satisfy this group in order to succeed.

The Nanboku-chō War was an ideological struggle between loyalists who wanted the Emperor back in power, and those who believed in creating another warrior regime modeled after Kamakura. It was as if the two previous periods in Japanese history, the Heian and the Kamakura, were clashing on the ideological level. Noble warriors like Kitabatake Chikafusa were pragmatic about the need for warriors to participate in the Restoration on the instrumental level, but on the ideological level a severe divergence between Chikafusa and Takauji polarized the leaders for many years to come. Hammered together during war time, the emergence of the Muromachi regime followed on the heels of the Restoration's failure.

Vassalage ties and the rise of the Muromachi bakufu


Serious fighting between the two sides raged on for nearly thirty years before supporters of the new warrior regime gained the upper hand. Ashikaga Takauji relied on three main policies to accomplish the task of assembling power:

1. The half tax (hanzei) policy of dividing estate lands
2. Vassalage ties to samurai housemen (gokenin);
3. The use of shugo lords as bakufu governors and vassals in the provinces (covered below in a separate section).

Both the vassalage ties with the samurai and control over shugo lords were established after the regime had solidified in the 1350s. These two hierarchies were the most important connections in determining the shogun's power. The bureaucratic organs are the most difficult to assess, because the early bureaucracy was altered after the Kannō disturbance (see the section below), and much of these eventually concerned just Kyoto and Yamashiro province.

The estate (shōen) from Kamakura to Muromachi


The half tax policy was straight forward: it was a drastic policy of recognizing the legality of samurai incursions on estate lands, but at the same time guaranteed the survival of the estate system.

To examine how the estate system changed we must first look at the Kamakura period. The vassalage ties between the samurai stewards (jito) and the Kamakura regime (AD 1185-1333) were intermediary, because they placed the samurai steward (Jitō) in a position where he was answerable at the same time to both Kamakura and Kyoto. By being chosen as a samurai he was placed in a direct vassalage relationship to the shogun as a member of his house in a fictive kinship tie. As a steward, the samurai became a shogunal houseman (gokenin) and trusted vassal, and given the management of an estate that legally belonged to a noble in Kyoto (Varley 1967:22-5). This is where the intermediary nature of Kamakura vassalage ties lies. As a vassal of the warrior regime in Kamakura he was answerable to the shogun in the form of military service and dues, but as a manager of an estate owned by a noble, he had to pay rent to the latter. We will first examine the nature of the samurai steward as Kamakura vassals, and then examine the vassalage ties that emerged under Ashikaga Takauji.

The stability of the Kamakura system of rule rested upon the regime's guarantee of stewardship rights (jito shiki) to the dominant warriors, and of rent and land ownership rights to the noble proprietor. Through the vassalage ties to samurai stewards, the new warrior regime was grafted onto the older estate system, and in the process bridged the conflicting tendencies that were latent between the upstart warriors and the nobles.

The samurai stewards who had direct vassalage ties to the shogun or the Hōjō regents were also known as housemen (gokenin). The tradition of the Kamakura houseman was a prestigious one, and set the precedent for what followed in the Muromachi period. Yoritomo and the Hōjō Regents were only concerned about controlling their own housemen, consciously limiting themselves to hearing the land dispute cases of their own vassals and rewarding stewardship rights to their followers, letting other disputes from other groups be taken care of by the civil administration. This precedent was followed by the Ashikaga shoguns as they endeavored to protect the interests of their house vassals against the incursions of the shugo lords throughout the Muromachi period.

Not only were shugo given more power as lords of the provinces, but the half tax policy (hanzei) that Takauji used to divide estate lands multiplied the number of fiefs owned outright by samurai warriors. However, Takauji could have gone further if he had followed the advice of his trusted generals, the Kō brothers, who wanted to do away with estates altogether. What emerged was a redrawing of the estate system where warrior interests predominated, but noble interests were still preserved. In helping to preserve the estate system, the half tax measure was a policy that still managed to connect the rights of the noble with those of the warrior.

The half tax policy began as an emergency tax designated for military rations (hyororyosho) collected during war time: half the income from particular temple, shrine and estate lands in the provinces of Mino, Ōmi and Owari would be taken to support armies of the Muromachi regime. Increasingly, this was reinterpreted and changed by Takauji as the permanent acquisition of half the land for the purpose of enforcing vassals . This was a radical departure from previous practice. As was indicated above, during the Kamakura period, most of the lands, particularly in the central and western provinces of Honshū, were owned by the nobles, but managed as stewardships (jito shiki) by Kamakura house vassals, uniting both the interests of the nobles and the interests of the warriors together in the estate institution. With the advent of the half tax measure, Takauji was removing one half of the estate lands from noble control and giving it in fief to his warriors.

Rise of local samurai (kokujin)


When the Nanboku-chō conflict broke out, vassalage ties became more serious. The loyalty of vassals became a big issue. During the relatively peaceful Kamakura period, military skills were not placed at a premium, but after the outbreak of civil war this criterion became the most important one (Mass 1989:113-4,117). A new intermediary consideration emerged in the vassalage ties of the post 1336 environment: the need for loyalty and a tighter tie between lord and vassal. The tighter ties between the shogun and his vassals emerged as a result of the need for military action against rivals. Vassalage ties were either established by the Ashikaga or there was a risk of losing a potential warrior to another warrior hierarchy controlled, at best, by emerging shugo lords loyal to the Ashikaga, and at worst by rival imperialist generals. So, in a true sense, vassalage ties during the civil war period were used to bridge potential conflict through the recruitment of warriors.

At the same time that vassalage ties tightened between samurai and shogun, the legitimacy of these ties were sorely tested. This apparent paradox is logically explained by the existence of many claims to samurai loyalty that were presented: towards rival imperialist generals, shugo lords, and even towards local samurai alliances.

A few examples will illustrate the emergence of vassalage ties between the shogun Ashikaga Takauji and his new housemen. The Kobayakawa family became loyal vassals when they were entrusted with defending Ashikaga interests in the province of Aki province after Takauji had retreated to Kyūshū in 1336 (Arnesen 1985:108). Another Aki samurai family, the Mori clan, became vassals of Takauji in 1336, and served under Kō Moroyasu until the outbreak of the Kannō Incident. In the 1350s, the Mori sided with the enemies of Takauji, Tadayoshi and his adopted son Tadafuyu, and not until the 1360s were they back again as vassals of the shogun (Arnesen 1985:114-5). Vassalage ties to the Kawashima clan and other warrior families near Kyoto were established by Takauji in the summer of 1336 in the latter's drive to retake the capital. The Kawashima case is of considerable interest because of a document pertaining to the terms of vassalage bearing Takauji's signature: they would exchange military service for stewardship rights (jito shiki) over half of Kawashima Estate, leaving the other half in possession of the noble proprietor in the form of rent.

The Kannō Incident and the resurgence of the Southern Court in the 1350’s


The events


Takauji was nominally shogun but, having proved not to be up to the task of ruling the country, for more than ten years Tadayoshi governed in his stead. The relationship between the two brothers was however destined to be destroyed by an extremely serious episode called the Kannō Incident, an event which takes its name from the Kannō era (1350–1351) during which it took place and which had very serious consequences for the entire country. Trouble between the two started when Takauji made Kō no Moronao his shitsuji, or deputy. Tadayoshi didn't like Moronao and, every other effort to get rid of him having failed, tried to have him assassinated. His plot was discovered, so Tadayoshi in 1349 was forced by Moronao to leave the government, shave his head and become a Buddhist monk under the name Keishin. In 1350 he rebelled and joined his brother's enemies, the supporters of the Southern court, whose Emperor Go-Murakami appointed him general of all his troops. In 1351 he defeated Takauji, occupied Kyoto, and entered Kamakura. During the same year he captured and executed the Kō brothers at Mikage (Settsu province). The following year his fortunes turned and he was defeated by Takauji at Sattayama. A reconciliation between the brothers proved to be brief. Tadayoshi fled to Kamakura, but Takauji pursued him there with an army. In March 1352, shortly after an ostensible second reconciliation, Tadayoshi died suddenly, according to the Taiheiki by poisoning.

Their background


The extremely divisive Kannō Incident that divided the Muromachi regime put a temporary hold on integration. Since this incident took place as the result of bureaucratic infighting, it will be necessary to first take a look at the bureaucratic organs, then examine where the conflict emerged.

The bureaucratic organs of the early regime were under the separate jurisdiction of the Ashikaga brothers Takauji and Tadayoshi, creating a bifurcated administration. Takauji was the leader of the house vassals, and thus controlled the Board of Retainers (Samurai Dokoro) and the Office of Rewards (Onshō-kata), while Tadayoshi was the bureaucratic leader controlling the Board of Inquiry control over the judicial functions of the regime (Sato 1977:48; Grossberg 1981:21-24).

The Board of Retainers was used as a disciplinary organ towards house vassals: brigandage and other crimes were prosecuted (Grossberg 1981:88,107). The Office of Rewards was used to hear the claims of and to enfeoff deserving vassals. The Office of Rewards was used to enroll new warriors who were potential adversaries of the regime. The major judicial organ, the Board of Coadjutors, decided on all land dispute cases and quarrels involving inheritance (Grossberg 1981:88). All judicial functions are par excellence used to resolve conflicts and disputes legally, within an institutional framework. Bureaucrats (bugyōnin) for the new regime were recruited from the ranks of those who served the Hōjō regime before its fall (Grossberg 1981:90). They were valuable because they knew how to read and write, a task beyond the reach of most warriors.

In the 1350s, the Kannō Incident and its aftermath divided and nearly destroyed the early regime (Sansom 1961:78-95). On the surface the incident looks like a factional struggle pitting Ashikaga Tadayoshi, Takauji's brother, against the Kō brothers, Moronao and Moroyasu backed by Takauji (Wintersteen 1974:215; Arnesen 1979:53-54). The conflict can be pinpointed to differences in opinion regarding the estate system, and behind these differing opinions, the different bureaucracies that were controlled by Takauji and Tadayoshi. On the whole Takauji was the innovator while Tadayoshi played the conservative, wanting to preserve the policies of the past. In his capacity as a military leader of vassal bands, Takauji did two things that conflicted with Tadayoshi: he appointed vassals to shugo posts as a reward for battlefield heroics, and he divided the shōen estates giving half of it to his vassals in fief or as stewardships. Tadayoshi strenuously contested these policies through the drafting of the Kemmu Formulary that opposed the appointment of shugo as a reward for battlefield service. He also opposed any sort of outright division of estate lands in his capacity as the leader of the Board of Coadjutors (Grossberg 1981:23-4). There was a clear division between the policies of Takauji and his brother Tadayoshi.

Conflict broke out as a result of having two heads of state whose policies contradicted each other. The events which followed the incident testify to the extent to which the regime began to lose its support. Deep divisions between members of the Ashikaga family strengthened the opposition. Both of the pillars of the Muromachi regime, Tadayoshi and Takauji, enacted token submissions to the Southern Court to push their own agendas: Tadayoshi in his desire to destroy the Kō brothers, and Takauji in his desire to defeat Tadayoshi. Ironically, even though the Southern Court was the enemy, it was used as the justification by regime members to attack each other.



One of the main effects of the incident was to reinvigorate the war effort of the Southern Court. To a large extent this renewed offensive was made possible by turncoats from the Muromachi regime. The imperialist offensive of 1352 directed against Takauji in Kamakura was made possible by the vast numbers of former adherents of Tadayoshi who became supporters of the imperialist leader Nitta Yoshimune. The imperialist offensive against Kyoto in 1353 was made possible through the defection of the shugo lord Yamana Tokiuji. Tadayoshi's adopted son Ashikaga Tadafuyu was the outstanding example of defection: he became the leader of the western armies of the Southern Court during the imperialist offensives against Kyoto in 1353 and 1354.

The Rise of the shugo lords


To understand the vicissitudes of this age we must now turn to the example of the shogun-shugo lord relationship. The competing loyalties that characterized the Nanboku-chō era were played out on many levels. At once we see the defection of local samurai families like the Mori—not uncommon during the terribly divisive Kannō Incident; and at a higher level, shugo lords continued to act in a dangerously independent manner until the latter half of the fourteenth century.

The Ashikaga shogun Takauji appointed branch family members as shugo lords in the different provinces of western and central Japan. The shugo acted as governors, and served the function of mediating between the regime center and periphery. As local governors, and lords in their own right, they represented the authority of the regime in the provinces. They came to hold much greater authority than the samurai houseman by virtue of having a province-wide appointment, not limited to single estates. Here we will look at their ties to the Ashikaga shogun during the early Muromachi period.

The success of shugo appointments lie not in the direction of kinship ties, but with how well they were tied to the regime through other factors. Warrior families since the Kamakura period were characterized by the use of headship rights (soryo) where leadership over branch families was accorded to the leader of the main family. However, headship rights were extremely unstable because branch families often asserted their own independence, particularly as new generations emerged to dilute the ties of kinship (Mass 1989:119).

The exigencies of the day called for the successful use of military skills by those who were appointed to shugo posts. As in vassalage ties between the Ashikaga shoguns and the local samurai, the tie between the shoguns and the shugo lords was intermediary in a similar sense: in the world of competing loyalties, the Ashikaga shoguns by appointing warriors to shugo posts endeavored to tie these men closer to themselves. The successful generals, who were at the same time branch family heads who had cast in their lot with Takauji's rebellion, were the ones often rewarded with the post (Grossberg 1981:23). The cost of not tying them to the regime was to lose their support, and to encourage their independence from the regime.

Ashikaga branch families appointed to shugo posts included the Hosokawa, Yamana, Imagawa, Hatakeyama, Niki, Kira, Shiba, Ishido, and the Isshiki families (Papinot 1972:27). In particular provinces, the Ashikaga failed to displace the original shugo families: the Sasaki, Togashi, Takeda and the Ogasawara in the central provinces, and the Shimazu, Otomo and Shoni in Kyūshū (Arnesen 1979:60). In the central and western provinces roughly half were new appointees. During the Kannō Incident, Ashikaga headship (soryo) ties to the new appointees did not prevent these shugo from outright rebellion towards the regime at all. In fact, the coercive institutions of the regime were woefully lacking in this time period vis-a-vis the shugo lords.

What prevented the shugo lords from simply doing whatever they pleased was the tenuous link of appointment, particularly new appointees who had emerged with Takauji—they had a vested interest in maintaining their links to the regime, insofar as they had not yet built up their power in the provinces. Those provincial families who had accumulated power throughout the Kamakura period, like the Ouchi of Suo and Nagato provinces and the Shimazu of Satsuma province, were lords in their own right, and were, thus, less dependent on the regime and on their shugo titles.

After 1372, shugo lords were given the responsibility to collect taxes (tansen) for the Muromachi regime. These taxes hit every category of landowner from the nobles to the samurai. As middlemen, the shugo profited by inflating the amount of taxes required from each individual landowner (Grossberg 1981:75). By this date, they had become unassailable as governors and hence were given the added responsibility of overseeing a new regime centered tax.

Shugo usurpation of civil functions and shugo uke


What comes into focus is the gradual but steady usurpation of the office of civil governor by the shugo lord, and his use of this position to effect feudal ties. The shugo was able to make his provincial power effective, not through his traditional administrative capacity like the earlier governors, but through the intermediary ties of vassalage with the samurai who had taken over the estate lands during the Nanboku-chō War, and with the samurai residing on public lands (kokugaryo). The shugo lords were both governors, having certain legitimate duties given to them by the Muromachi regime, and feudal lords attempting to enfoeff vassals.

The Nanboku-chō War was merciless to the nobles whose lands were taken outright by previous samurai stewards and converted into private holdings (chigyo) illegally. This revolutionary development was the harbinger for the total liquidation of the estate system that took place later. The shugo lords also participated in this wholescale land grab by accumulating former estates under their control by enfeoffing samurai on them (Nagahara 1982:12). Ironically, this lawless situation created by samurai encroachments on land, at the height of the war, caused security problems for all landed interests from petty samurai to the kokujin, and provided further impetus among local samurai to seek intermediary ties to the shugo lords in the form of vassalage. By tying themselves to the shugo, they were able to ally themselves to the one person in the province who could provide some form of local security.

Vassalage ties between the shugo lord and kokujin often took place on the estates in a three way intermediary tie called the shugo contract (shugo-uke): a noble proprietor would give the responsibility of managing his estate to the shugo in exchange for a guaranteed year end (nengu) income delivered to the proprietor residing in the capital. The shugo lord then enfoeffed vassal samurai (hikan) on those estates as managers (Miyagawa 1977:92; Nagahara 1982:14). Supposedly, shugo contracts tied the interests of the shugo lord, the samurai kokujin and the noble together, but were not based on equality of interests. They were truly instruments of shugo encroachment on the estates. There is no doubt as to the intermediary nature of the contract, because it connected the interests of three groups of people, but it was most favorable to the shugo lord who used this instrument to expand his ties of vassalage with the local samurai (kokujin), and at the same time to expand his land base at the expense of the nobles. Shugo contracts (shugo-uke) emerged in the 1340s and gradually became widespread (Wintersteen 1974:211). By looking at how this contract operated, it is apparent to what extent the estate system (shōen) was taken over by the warriors, and had become a skeleton of its previous life. Shugo lords gave the management of the estate to samurai in exchange for military service, but the noble stripped of all powers on the estate, was reduced to waiting for his portion of year end (nengu) income in Kyoto where he lived. The noble hired tax overseers (nengu daikan) to guarantee his own portion of the income, but had to pay an exorbitant amount to hire him. Noble income already reduced by the kokujin and the shugo lord, was further reduced once the tax overseer took his half. This reduction in noble income was the result of gradual non-payment on the part of both shugo and samurai; as a last measure, the nobles hired moneylenders (doso) and bureaucrats (bugyōnin) as a way to put pressure on the warriors. But even this remedy produced spotty results since the hired hands had to negotiate with the warriors (Nagahara 1982:16).

Shugo and public lands (kokugaryo)


A largely missing picture until recently, was the fate of public lands (kokugaryo) during the Muromachi period, and the role of the shugo lords in their encroachment on them. Public lands (kokugaryo) during the Heian period were distinguished from private lands of the estates (shōen), because the latter were immune from state taxation. Before the rise of private estates, the only kind of lands were public lands maintained under the old civil administration. With the rise of private estates called shōen, during the Heian period, public lands by no means disappeared: in details, the public lands differed very little from private estates. Both were owned by absentee proprietors. They differed only in terms of administration: private estates were directly managed by noble officials, whereas, public lands were managed by the civil governors (kokuga or kokushi) on behalf of the former (Arnesen 1979:94). By the Kamakura period, public lands were owned by different landowners as private holdings (chigyo). These landowners included noble houses, religious establishments and warriors. Whole areas of the Kantō and the northeast were held by warriors not in the capacity as estate managers, but as private holdings (Nagahara 1982:15): Kantō provinces were granted to the Kamakura regime as private lands (chigyokoku). The Ashikaga regime inherited these lands, and decided, fatefully, to place shugo lords over them (Arnesen 1979:94).

One of the main functions of the civil governor's office (kokushi) was the oversight of criminal justice in the provinces, and the maintenance of the private holdings within the public lands (kokugaryo), but his function began to change with the advent of the Kamakura regime (Hall 1966:202-03). With the appointment of shugo constables by Kamakura, all criminal jurisdiction within the provinces passed into his hands. But the civil governor (kokushi) remained as the key officer in the civil administration (ritsuryo), who made sure that rent from private holdings reached the absentee nobles and religious establishments (jisha honjo) in Kyoto and in Yamashiro province. His oversight did not include the private holdings of warriors, most usually concentrated in the Kantō and further north.

With the outbreak of the Nanboku-chō War, the civil administration (ritsuryo) began to break down rapidly, and shugo lords, who had a minor role in provincial governance during the Kamakura period, emerged to usurp the civil governor's functions. This did not happen immediately in every province, but occurred without interruption until the shugo lords had become true governors over public lands (kokugaryo). As they took over the oversight of private holdings within public lands, they established ties to many kinds of landowners: nobles, samurai of various kinds (kokujin, jizamurai), and to religious establishments. They enfoeffed their own followers on these lands, and reconfirmed the lands of existing samurai in exchange for military service, and established shugo contracts with the nobles with predictable results (Nagahara 1982:15). Along with vassalage ties to local samurai (kokujin) on the estates, vassalage ties on public lands became a key resource that augmented the power of the shugo lords.

Furthermore, in 1346, ten years after the emergence of the Muromachi regime, the shogun decentralized authority by giving the shugo the right to judge cases of crop stealing on the estates, and to make temporary assignments of land to deserving vassals taken from the imperialist forces (Arnesen 1979:65). This was significant, insofar as traditional areas of Kamakura jurisdiction were "given up" by the Muromachi regime. Previously, all cases of crop stealing or land assignments were strictly under Kamakura administration. Also, about this time, the imperialist forces were suffering their worst defeats, opening up enemy land for confiscation and reassignment. By giving these new jurisdictions to the shugo lords, it further augmented their position as governors over their assigned provinces.

Legitimation and limits to power


In this dual capacity, the shugo lords had to compete with other landed samurai in the provinces for land they administered as governors, but did not personally own. Like the noble proprietors, a single shugo lord owned lands in widely dispersed areas in several provinces. His power was not built upon personal ownership of land like the territorial lords (daimyo) of the sixteenth century, but upon the loyalties of the local samurai through ties of vassalage (Miyagawa 1977:91-93). There was much greater coercive potential exercised by the territorial lords of the sixteenth century, because their ties of vassalage were based on their ownership of the lands around them: as owners they could dispense with the land as they saw fit, getting rid of recalcitrant vassals without much ado. In the fourteenth century, the shugo lords could not claim province wide ownership of territory: first, the concept of personal provincial ownership was as yet undeveloped; second, they never amassed large amounts of personal property, relying rather on using the traditional framework of estate lands and public lands to enfoeff their vassals. This is the central enigma of the fourteenth century: the fragmentation and dissolution of the estate system, and the disappearance of the civil administration coincided with the proliferation of private lands, but the external framework of the estate system (shōen) and the public lands system (kokugaryo), though devoid of content, still remained (Kierstead 1985:311-14). Given the fragmentation, it was the intermediary ties of shugo vassalage, and the shugo role as provincial governor, that helped to integrate the disparate forces to some degree.

It becomes a wonder how the estate system survived at all given the depredations it suffered at the hands of the warriors. There were two reasons why it survived in the attenuated form described above: one, was the existence of the Muromachi regime that consistently upheld the estate system in the face of warrior incursions (Nagahara 1982:16). As described in section two, Ashikaga Takauji tried to make sure that the limits set on the warriors by the half tax measure was not exceeded, but he failed to circumvent arrangements like the shugo contract that really denuded the noble of his estate and its income. The half tax measure itself did not protect the noble from the outright takeover of the estate at the hands of the samurai, even if the latter were required to hand over a portion to fulfill the half tax law. In the end, it was the Muromachi administration that made sure that the samurai paid their portion of income to the nobles.

The other reason behind the survival of the estate system was connected to the legitimacy of the noble class. The rise of the warriors was not popular among the farmers living on the estates. The more gentle hand of the nobles was also the hand the people came to respect. To prevent outright disobedience and rebellion among the populace was one reason why both shugo lords and kokujin came to respect the outward form of the estate structure. To make their rulership legitimate in the eyes of the farmers, the warriors worked within the framework of the estate structure, even though this structure had been totally altered (Nagahara 1982:16-7). A case can be made that the estate system, outside of Yamashiro province, had become eroded to such an extent that the nobles had little if any influence left in the provinces.

Consolidation of Ashikaga power: 1360-1370


In 1358 after the death of Takauji, the shogunate passed into the hands of his son Yoshiakira. Under his leadership, and that of the kanrei Hosokawa Yoriyuki's, the regime succeeded in integrating the shugo lords in the 1360s and '70's: shugo branch families of the Ashikaga were employed within the government bureaucracy. I will cover the following points: 1) the emergence of the kanrei council system, and the Board of Retainers as intermediary instruments that tied shugo lords more firmly to the regime; 2) the emergence of a coercive instrument in the form of shogunal hegemony that was used to discipline errant shugo lords, and the final defeat of Southern Court forces; 3) the use of the court ranking system as an intermediary instrument that tied the regime to the imperial court, and in connection to this the hanzei half-tax decree of 1368 and its effect; and 4) the limitations to Muromachi authority in the Kyūshū and Kantō regions.

It was left to the shogun Yoshiakira to heal the wounds of the Kannō Incident by reorganizing the regime. In 1362 he established the most important intermediary institution that connected the shugo lords to the regime: the kanrei council system. This system was made up of two components, the kanrei office and the senior vassal council (jushin kaigi) over which the kanrei presided. The kanrei council system involved the most powerful shugo families as participants in directly governing central and western Japan. Along with the shogun, the kanrei council emerged to form the heart of the Muromachi regime to such an extent that historians have come to characterize this regime as the bakufu-shugo system (Tanuma 1976:12; Harrington 1985:67).

The kanrei council and the reorganization of institutions


The kanrei council system was intermediary, because it tied together the military side of the regime with the bureaucratic. The very conflict that emerged with the Kannō Incident had to do with the separation and clash between the military vassal institutions controlled by Takauji and the bureaucratic-judicial institutions controlled by Tadayoshi. With the emergence of the kanrei council system, the shugo lords who represented the military side of the administration were tied firmly to the bureaucracy, as important players in the creation of policy.

The kanrei office itself is a good example of mediation by tying together the interests of the shugo lords with those of the shogun. The job of the kanrei was to act as a spokesman between the Senior Vassal Council (jushin kaigi) and the shogun, mediating between the two (Kawai 1977:70). The kanrei also had the responsibility of looking over the bureaucratic elements of the regime on a daily basis, consulting and transmitting shogunal orders to the council and to the bureaucracy. The kanrei was consistently selected from a hereditary group of three shugo families related to Takauji within four generations (Papinot 1972:27): the Hosokawa, the Hatakeyama and the Shiba. The three families took turns in filling the post. They were the highest ranking shugo families in the regime, and the post of kanrei helped to tie their interests in support of it.

The other component of the kanrei council system was the Senior Vassal Council (jushin kaigi). The kanrei presided over the meetings of the council, relayed the decisions reached by the council to the shogun, and transmitted orders from the shogun to the council. In this system, regime policy was formulated in consultations between the council and the shogun, though final decisions were made by the latter (Kawai 1977:70-71; Sato 1977:48). In the beginning, the council was composed of the heads of the three shugo families from whom the kanrei was regularly selected along with four other heads of powerful shugo families: the Yamana, the Isshiki, the Akamatsu and the Kyogoku (Varley 1967:27-9). The latter two families were unrelated to the Ashikaga family. This trend of including unrelated shugo families into the council continued with the recruitment of the Ouchi, the Sasaki and the Toki families in the next few decades. This trend indicates that powerful shugo families, irrespective of kinship, were tied to the regime through the intermediary nature of the Senior Vassal Council: conflict and potential conflict of interests between shugo lords and the shogun was institutionalized by letting the shugo lords voice their opinions in discussions within the council. The Board of Retainers (samuraidokoro) was also headed by a Senior Vassal Council member selected in the fourteenth century from among the Imagawa (who became a council member a little later), the Hosokawa, the Hatakeyama, the Shiba, and the Toki. The Board of Retainers had the responsibility over police functions and the execution of criminal justice in the capital of Kyoto (Grossberg 1981:88,107). The office holder automatically became the shugo over Yamashiro province, the wealthiest and most densely populated in Japan, and had the responsibility of protecting the regime headquarters and the city of Kyoto (Varley 1967:57). By the beginning of the fifteenth century, the head of the Board of Retainers was chosen from among four shugo families: the Yamana, the Akamatsu, the Kyogoku, and the Isshiki. The Board of Retainers did what the kanrei council system did: it connected the interests of the shugo lords to that of the regime, and thereby mediated potential conflicts between them. It was intermediary insofar as the sources of potential conflict to the regime, the shugo lords, became participants in an institution of the regime.

Shugo participation in the Senior Vassal Council and in the Board of Retainers were two of the more prominent examples of their participation within the remodeled regime. The importance of this participation cannot be overestimated: it was through the use of these intermediary instruments whereby the Ashikaga shoguns were able to centralize the state under their direction. As we shall see time and again, kinship in the form of headship ties (soryo), looms large as a recruiting mechanism at all levels of Muromachi society: here too, the shugo lords of the highest standing were mostly branch families of the Ashikaga. However, these kinship ties did little in the way of mediating between the semi-independent shugo lords and the regime. It was rather the effective participation of the shugo lords in governing through the kanrei council system which bound their interests more firmly than before to the regime.

Ashikaga and the use of shugo coalitions


In 1362, the two most powerful shugo houses in the country, the Ouchi and the Yamana, submitted themselves to the Ashikaga regime on condition that the shogun would not interfere with the internal affairs of their respective provinces (Grossberg 1981:25). Subsequently, the Yamana, who were related to the Ashikaga, and the Ouchi, who were not related, began to play an increasingly important role in government affairs. However, within a few decades, both shugo houses became powerful enough to incur the wrath of the shogun.

In 1366, the first kanrei office holder's father, Shiba Takatsune who held real power over his thirteen year old son, and who engineered the placement of Shiba family members in key government offices was declared a traitor, because of his growing power and arrogance (he felt demeaned by accepting the kanrei post, so he had his son appointed instead). In the first show of force against an important shugo family, Yoshiakira ordered the Yamana, Sasaki, Yoshimi and the Toki shugo lords to attack the Shiba in the province of Echizen. The Shiba were defeated, and their territory in Echizen was redistributed (Grossberg 1981:92). In 1367, following the ouster of the Shiba family, Hosokawa Yoriyuki was named as the successor to the post of kanrei: after the shogun Yoshiakira's death, Yoriyuki managed during the minority of the young shogun Yoshimitsu to place the regime on a firmer foundation. The use of shugo lords to attack one of their own colleagues in the 1366, points to the growing authority of the shogun vis-a-vis the shugo lords, and the emergence of an effective instrument of coercion that would grow with age. Up till now, we have seen the virtual non-existence of true disciplinary mechanisms that the shogun could use against his shugo lords. In conjunction with the new intermediary instruments that emerged between the shogun and the shugo lords, the new coercive instrument of pitting one shugo lord against another, through shogun-shugo coalitions, strengthened the shogun's hand.

In 1362, the last Southern Court offensive against Kyoto forced the Ashikaga to withdraw from the capital, but like many previous attempts, the imperialists had to eventually retreat in the face of a large counterattack without having accomplished anything (Sansom 1961:108). The exuberance that existed during the 1350s among the imperialist armies had faded. Resistance after this date became sporadic and completely defensive. Finally, in 1369, a year after the death of Emperor Go-Murakami, the stalwart imperialist general Kusunoki Masanori submitted himself to the regime. His capitulation ended the imperialist threat to the central provinces (Sansom 1961:108).

Seeking legitimation from the court


In 1370 Imagawa Sadayo (Ryoshun) was appointed by the kanrei Yoriyuki and the Senior Vassal Council to bring down the last bastion of Southern Court resistance in Kyūshū. After a grueling twelve year campaign, imperialist resistance collapsed with the defeat of the Kikuchi family in 1381; and with the death of Shimazu Ujihisa in 1385, the last Kyūshū provincial domain declared its allegiance to the regime (Sansom 1961:112). With the fall of Kyūshū the whole of western Japan came under the rule and influence of the Ashikaga regime. However, campaigns alone were inadequate to legitimize Ashikaga rule over the nobles. After 1367, during the minority of the shogun Yoshimitsu, the kanrei Hosokawa Yoriyuki became active in trying to legitimize the regime in the eyes of the nobles. He did this through a series of extremely conservative measures, gaining prestige among the nobles in Kyoto. He used an ancient court ranking system by having the young shogun participate in it (Grossberg 1981:26). He also associated the regime with the court much more closely than had any other past warrior leader. By doing this, he tied the regime closer to the imperial court, thereby erasing the stigma of the ideology that fueled the Nanboku-chō conflict: Ashikaga Takauji was seen as a traitor fighting against the restoration of imperial power.

The court society survived such a long time because of its popularity among the different classes in Japanese society. On the estate level, farmers felt much closer to the nobles than towards the warriors. The waning power of the nobles notwithstanding, their influence went far beyond their actual power, because they possessed a legitimacy of tradition and the charisma of culture that the warriors did not possess. It is no wonder that Yoriyuki had the young shogun participate in court ceremonies: this participation was intermediary, involving the highest military leader in a court ranking system that dated back several centuries, and had as its premise the primacy of the imperial line over everyone, including the warriors, who had to receive titles from the emperor. By participating in this court ranking ritual, the Ashikaga regime was sending a strong message to the entire society: that the legitimacy conferred by the court was still valid and still important (Grossberg 1981:20). This participation bridged the tensions between the warrior regime and the court, and had the unintended effect of disseminating court culture among the warrior class, creating a fusion of taste that has forever marked this period of Japanese culture as one of brilliant innovation. In a way this participation was an anachronism that seemed removed from the real world where power was directly exercised by warriors. However, the question of legitimacy is not necessarily tied to the direct exercise of power. Legitimacy is tied to ideology, and the ideological basis for aristocratic noble rule had a better basis than the rule of warriors. Force alone cannot make legitimacy, and the cultural milieu that surrounded the court was still much more persuasive, much more elegant than the samurai sword. The warriors themselves were attracted to the culture of the nobles, and enthusiastically emulated the latter's tastes until they were able to produce a synthesis that went beyond what had existed earlier such as the rise of rock gardens influenced by Zen among other art forms that has had a lasting impact to this day. And for these reasons alone, the connection effected between the shogun and the imperial court during the last few decades of the fourteenth century, had the effect of broadening the legitimacy of the shogun's power.

The kanrei Yoriyuki promulgated the last half-tax decree (hanzei) in 1368. This decree was a comprehensive and decisive intermediary instrument that was used to tie noble interests to the regime: it outlawed the halving of lands owned by the imperial family, those lands under the control of major temples, and those that were owned by the imperial regents (the Fujiwara). Exceptions also included noble lands that were given full title by the previous shogun (perhaps Yoshiakira ?), and estates managed by the samurai stewards (jito) (Wintersteen 1974:219-20). This decree was applicable to all estates nationwide, and its real importance was the strong language used to deter further samurai incursions onto the estates, and to defend the interests of the nobles in the face of the samurai incursions that had already taken place. Unlike the earlier half-tax decrees, this one was conservative, and its aim was to protect noble lands from division rather than to justify it.

With the 1368 half-tax decree, the regime had come a long ways from the 1352 decree, but the realities of samurai incursions that had already taken place could not be reversed. Here, what was ideologically stated openly departed from what was actually taking place in the provinces. As we saw above, the incursions of the samurai and the shugo lords on the estates were severe despite the 1368 decree. And with the fifteenth century, this trend of land grabbing became ever more pronounced. I must conclude that the 1368 decree was, on the whole, ineffective in stopping the warriors from taking control over the estates and their income, given the evidence of continued warrior takeovers. In a sense, the 1368 decree was an ideological document that attempted to legitimize the Ashikaga regime in the eyes of the nobles, following from the closer connections that were established between the shogun and the imperial court. Furthermore, the Ashikaga shoguns were not able, even if they had the desire, to stop the continued incursions of warriors on the income of the estates. However ineffective, the 1368 decree recognized noble interests were defended ideologically by a warrior regime, and in the process tied together the interests of both.

Finally, the direct rule of the Muromachi regime that emerged in the 1360s was limited geographically to the western and central provinces in contrast to the previous Kamakura regime based in the Kantō. Outside shugo lords (tozama) unrelated to the Ashikaga like the Takeda, Chiba, Yuki, Satake, Oyama, Utsunomiya, Shoni, Otomo, Aso, and the Shimazu families, all of whom were concentrated in or near the Kantō and Kyūshū regions did not participate in the kanrei council system, and were semi-independent of the regime (Varley 1967:29; Hall 1966:199). They were tacitly recognized and given shugo titles by the Ashikaga, because of their predominant positions in areas that were not easily controlled from Kyoto (Harrington 1985:67).



After the Kyūshū campaign that began in 1370, the Kyūshū deputy (tandai) became the representative of the Muromachi regime on that island. Imagawa Sadayo (Ryoshun) effectively prosecuted the campaign against the Southern Court forces, and continued to press his attack against the forces of Shimazu Ujihisa, garnering support from local Kyūshū kokujin in the process (Harrington 1985:85-6). Deputies like Sadayo were Muromachi representatives in the areas they controlled, even when they arrogated the full powers of vassalage to local samurai . For example in 1377, a contract was signed between Sadayo and a samurai alliance (ikki) consisting of sixty-one local samurai. The contract stipulated that all disputes between alliance members would be taken to the Kyūshū deputy, while disputes between alliance members and the deputy himself would be taken to the Muromachi regime in Kyoto (Harrington 1985:87). The Kyūshū deputy was an intermediary figure who united the interests of the regime and the interests of the local area under his jurisdiction together. It was a precarious position because of the temptation to independence it presented. But for whatever reason, the Muromachi regime did not extend their direct control over the whole nation, and so came to rely on appointees like the Kyūshū deputy to act as their representatives to influence the shugo lords and samurai of the region through coercive and intermediary instruments.

The Kantō


In the late fourteenth century, the Kantō region was dominated by powerful warrior families. Of these, the Uesugi were the most powerful. They were able to take advantage of the fighting that erupted between families in the region to advance their own interests. In 1368, the Utsunomiya family revolted against the Kamakura headquarters of the Muromachi regime, because they had lost their shugo posts to the Uesugi. The Uesugi family was able to extend their influence by amassing shugo posts under their jurisdiction, and by enfeoffing vassals in the Kantō region at the expense of other families (Harrington 1985:82-3). One could advance a theory that the Kantō region had become semi-independent from Kyoto, and that the Kamakura headquarters of the Muromachi regime existed because of Uesugi support. The Uesugi family was legally recognized by the Muromachi regime by their appointment to the Kantō kanrei post because of their unassailable position.

The Kamakura headquarters of the Muromachi regime acted in much the same way as the Kyūshū deputy (tandai): it became the regional intermediary office through which regime orders were transmitted to the outlying Kantō region. In practice as seen above, the Kantō was dominated by powerful families like the Uesugi. Increasingly, the Kamakura headquarters became independent from the Muromachi regime, and for all essential purposes took care of regional disputes, regional taxation, and developed ties with shugo lords in the Kantō with minimal reference to the Muromachi government in Kyoto—even though the right to confirm fiefs and the right to ratify shugo appointments technically remained in the hands of Kyoto (Harrington 1985:83-5).

Centralization of Ashikaga power and the end of the Nanboku-chō War: 1379-1399


One area of resistance after another fell to the Muromachi regime during the crucial decade of the 1360s: tellingly, powerful shugo lords like the Ouchi and the Yamana submitted themselves as semi-independent lords; Southern Court resistance became more futile as time passed. Militarily the regime was able to call upon the services of the shugo lords to attack one of their own colleagues in 1366, pointing to the increasing subordination of the shugo to shogunal control. Hand in hand with the creation of the kanrei council system and the increasing participation of the powerful shugo families in the bakufu bureaucracy, ties to the imperial court broadened the legitimate base of the regime. These key developments were used not only to increase shogunal control, but to bind the interests of the shugo lords and nobles more closely to the regime.[18] However, geographically, the Muromachi regime was limited in scope, delegating its jurisdiction of the Kantō and Kyūshū areas to regional representatives, holding more or less direct control over the central and western provinces of Honshū.

For fifty years after Yoshimitsu's assumption of authority in 1379, the Muromachi regime entered its most powerful phase as the unrivaled government of the country. The connection between the shogun and the shugo lords tightened as shogunal control increased. The main instruments and their effects that enabled the shogun to exercise control over the shugo lords, and to broaden the base of the legitimacy of the regime involved: 1) a continuation of close ties between the Muromachi regime and the imperial court; 2) the compulsory residential policy aimed at the shugo lords; 3) further development of the shogunal army (gobanshu); 4) the rise of shogunal hegemony using the coalition of several shugo lords; and 5) the use of commercial and agrarian revenue and taxes by the regime. All of these changes exemplify the continuing trend of centripetal forces that augmented the power of the regime. The Ashikaga and the Imperial Court

Under Yoshimitsu (active 1379-1408) who took the reins of power after the dismissal of Yoriyuki as kanrei, the effects of this particular connection encouraged one of the most brilliant periods in Japanese history, renowned for the maturation of architectural and cultural forms that have since characterized Japanese culture. His close association with the imperial court and its culture, and his patronage of the new arts helped to disseminate this culture to the military aristocracy, particularly through the shugo lords (Grossberg 1981:31-32; Kawai 1977:72). This connection between the shogun and the imperial court brought added prestige to both institutions, and gave the shogun an aura of civil legitimacy and culture that the previous Kamakura regime had lacked.

By participating in court institutions, the shogun also adopted much of the refined pastimes of court culture. Cultural pursuits came as a result of a prior institutional connection. Culture has more in common with ideological justifications: as we saw in the previous section, much of court culture enjoyed a legitimacy denied to the warriors.

Monopoly of force: compulsory residence


Moving to the shogun-shugo relationship, in the 1380s the kanrei council system was strengthened by Yoshimitsu when he persuaded the western and central shugo lords to take up residence in Kyoto. He even went to visit Ouchi Yoshihiro in 1389, and persuaded him to live in Kyoto during one of his so-called pilgrimage circuits. These circuits were used to display his power through the provinces in which he traveled (Grossberg 1981:29-30). This compulsory residential policy that Yoshimitsu instituted was the main coercive policy that aided the kanrei council system, and enabled the shogun to tighten his grip around the shugo lords. Permission to leave the capital city was rarely granted to the shugo lord: it was only granted after discussion in the Senior Vassal Council. Even when permission was granted in the case of provincial rebellion or Southern Court guerilla activity, suitable hostages were left behind in Kyoto. If the shugo lord left without permission, it was seen as tantamount to treason (Kawai 1977:68-9; Tanuma 1976:13).

The Kantō and Kyūshū shugo were exempt from this order of compulsory residence in Kyoto. However, the Kamakura headquarters of the Muromachi regime instituted a similar policy in regards to the Kantō shugo lords, and made them establish mansions in Kamakura just as the western and central shugo lords made mansions in Kyoto (Kawai 1977:68). Mansion building in Kyoto became fashionable, and eventually included shugo lords like the Shimazu of Kyūshū, who decided to live in Kyoto even though he was not required to do so. The shugo lords really had little choice in the matter. They either resided in Kyoto or were branded as traitors of the regime. Along with institutions like the kanrei council system, the compulsory residential policy had incalculable effects both from a national standpoint, and from a provincial standpoint. For starters, the power of the shugo lords was severely restricted by this policy: their freedom of movement was circumvented. Second, as time passed into the second quarter of the fifteenth century, real power in the provinces moved away from the shugo lords and came to rest upon the deputy shugo (shugo-dai), and upon other independent samurai (kokujin) who resided in the provinces. Therefore, from the standpoint of shugo lords the compulsory residential policy proved to be a long term disaster (Kawai 1977:73). The hiring of deputy shugo was necessitated by the compulsory residential policy if the shugo lords were to maintain their power in the provinces. In the short term, hiring branch family members and samurai kokujin as deputy shugo, and using them as their own representatives in the provinces worked well; but in the long term, power passed from the hands of the shugo lords into the hands of those they hired.

The Shogunal Army


Yoshimitsu did not hesitate to use military force to reduce the shugo lords to obedience on the pretext that they had become too powerful. He assembled a new shogunal army (gobanshu) made up of five divisions totalling some three thousand warriors dependent on him (Grossberg 1981:106-7). This force was a formidable array, particularly when they were augmented by contributions from other shugo lords. The importance of the shogunal army goes beyond quantity, but strikes more at what this force represented: a separate force connecting the shogun directly with his own vassals made up of kokujin samurai. The shogunal army served as a check on shugo forces. As we saw in section two, the first Ashikaga shogun, Takauji, had created ties with samurai stewards by enfeoffing them on estate lands. Throughout the early Muromachi period, this separate vassal hierarchy under the command of the shogun was an important check on shugo power. We will see how this earlier army differed from the shogunal army of Yoshimitsu.

The shogunal army had two components: the shogunal bodyguard (shin'eigun) consisted of Ashikaga branch family members, shugo relatives and shugo branch family members, other sons and brothers of regime officials, and most importantly, powerful kokujin. Numbering (at most) three hundred and fifty men, this group was a cohesive and loyal body, ready to defend the shogun's person at any cost (Arnesen 1985:102). Surrounding this small band was a number of direct vassals of the shogun tracing its origins back to 1336, when the shogun Takauji enfeoffed many samurai as house vassals who were probably used as a reserve army (Gay 1986:95-6); a larger number of indirect vassals connected to the members of the shogunal bodyguard probably made up the bulk of the shogunal army under Yoshimitsu. This last point is well illustrated by Arnesen, who calculated that the number of direct vassals in the shogunal bodyguard was sixty to seventy percent the number of direct vassals enrolled under the Late Hōjō clan of the sixteenth century (1985:126). And if the Late Hōjō were able to field fifty thousand troops in the Odawara campaign, the shogunal bodyguard of three hundred and fifty could easily have mobilized their own vassals to come up with the three thousand troops that Grossberg claims took part in the Meitoku Rising of 1391 (1981:107). The creation of the shogunal bodyguard, and the central position of this group over other shogunal vassals is what differentiates the shogunal army of Yoshimitsu from the shogunal vassals of Takauji. A tighter organization and esprit de corps emerged with the new shogunal army.

Use of shugo coalitions to defeat powerful shugo


However, the shogunal army alone was not adequate to meet and defeat kanrei class shugo lords on the field of battle, but were perfectly suited to the kind of warfare Yoshimitsu practiced: pitting one shugo lord against a family member, and against other shugo lords. The new shogunal hegemony, that emerged under the previous shogun, Yoshiakira, came to dominate the politics of Yoshimitsu. Shogunal prestige informally dictated that no single shugo lord should exceed a certain level of power without incurring the wrath of the shogun. It was in the interest of the shugo lords themselves, that none of their own colleagues should become too powerful and dominant over the rest (Varley 1967:63-64).

In pursuit of this policy in 1389 Yoshimitsu ordered Toki Yasuyuki, the shugo lord of the provinces of Mino, Ise and Owari to give up the latter province to a relative. Yasuyuki refused, and Yoshimitsu ordered the cousin of Yasuyuki, Yorimasu, to attack him. After three years Yasuyuki was defeated, and gave up the province of Mino to Toki Yorimasu in 1391 (Papinot 1972:659). To Yoshimitsu it did not matter whether the province that was given up was Mino or Owari as long as Toki Yasuyuki was shorn of some of his power in the central provinces.

Before the Meitoku Rising (ran) in 1391, the Yamana family possessed eleven provinces in western and central Japan which made them the most powerful shugo family in the country. Yoshimitsu looked for an excuse to attack them; and when Yamana Mitsuyuki (who was shugo over the provinces of Izumo, Tamba, Hoki, and Oki) took possession of some estates belonging to the imperial family in Izumo, Yoshimitsu recalled the ex-kanrei Hosokawa Yoriyuki to plan a campaign against Mitsuyuki (Papinot 1972:744). The Yamana shugo lords Mitsuyuki and Ujikiyo attacked Kyoto, but were severely defeated by the shogunal army in concert with the forces of Ouchi Yoshihiro (Grossberg 1981:30,107; Arnesen 1979:82). The other shugo contingents that made up the shogun's forces numbered no more than three hundred horsemen each (Grossberg 1981:107). After the campaign, the Yamana were assigned only two provinces, Tajima and Hoki, and the leaders of the rebellion were killed, Ujikiyo in battle and Mitsuyuki through assassination in 1395 (Papinot 1972:744). This pitting of one shugo lord against another reached a head in 1399. Ironically, this time the target was Ouchi Yoshihiro, who had served the regime well in the campaign against the Yamana. Yoshihiro was ordered to attack the Shoni in 1397 which he did, losing his brother in the process. He later learned of the Byzantine duplicity of Yoshimitsu: Shoni was also ordered to attack the Ouchi. Angered by this duplicity, and fearing for his life when the shogun summoned him to Kyoto, he opted to disobey (Grossberg 1981:32). Not surprisingly, he was declared an enemy by the regime. At the battle of Sakai, Yoshimitsu along with the forces of five shugo lords, the Hosokawa, Akamatsu, Kyogoku, Shiba, and the Hatakeyama, overwhelmed Yoshihiro's defensive works by setting fire to the city (Grossberg 1981:33; Sansom 1961:149). The allied force led by Yoshimitsu numbered 30,000 warriors against Ouchi's 5,000: Yoshihiro was simply overwhelmed in battle where he committed suicide (Arnesen 1979:82,86). As each of these previous examples illustrate, shogunal hegemony became very effective. It was used to divide the shugo lords by making them attack and destroy fellow colleagues. Shogunal hegemony would not have succeeded without the cooperation of the shugo lords in uniting their forces with the shogunal army. However, without finances to support the shogunal army and other expenses of the regime, this coercive policy would have been unthinkable.



Kyoto in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was a brilliant center for economic activity. With the compulsory residential policy that emerged under the shogun Yoshimitsu, shugo lords with their vassals and servants added to the distinguished population of the city that included nobles, the imperial court and the Muromachi government. This translated into a vast market for a variety of goods and services that spurred the economic growth of the city. This growth was important to both the shogun and shugo lords who lived in the capital: they tapped the wealth of the moneylenders (sakaya-doso) on a consistent basis. The shogun even employed them as tax collectors in the city (Kawai 1977:71; Grossberg 1981:37,78-80). What made the Muromachi regime so different from the previous Kamakura regime was the basis for its income. Much of its revenue came from commercial taxes in addition to its landed base.

The Board of Administration (mandokoro) was used as a clearing house for matters concerning the revenue of the Muromachi regime. It was the chief bureaucratic organ that connected the regime to various commercial groups in the city for purposes of taxation. In 1393, the regime legalized its right to tax the moneylenders directly (Grossberg 1981:78,95-6). Commercial taxes assessed in Kyoto became the foundation for the new urban based Muromachi regime, and decisively changed the nature of the regime from one solely based on landed estates to a regime partly based on commerce.

Traditional agrarian based revenue came from three major sources: from shogunal estates, from shogunal vassals, and from taxes assessed against the shugo lords. The landed base of the Ashikaga shoguns was paltry compared to their successors, the Tokugawa; however, there were approximately two-hundred shogunal estates (goryosho) scattered between Kyoto and the Kantō region, and revenue extracted from these estates were significant (Grossberg 1981:70-3). Moreover, the connection between the shogunal estates and the shogunal army was decisive: some of the men who served in the army were also managers over the shogun's personal estates (Grossberg 1981:112). Furthermore, many local samurai paid land taxes directly to the regime (kyosai) as one of the privileges they enjoyed as house vassals (gokenin), being immunized from shugo tax collectors in the process (Grossberg 1981;109-10). In addition, shugo lords were taxed directly (shugo shussen) according to how many provinces they administered. This was assessed by the regime whenever there were buildings to be built or fixed, and when the shogun needed cash for various projects (Kawai 1977:71; Grossberg 1981:74). The sources of revenue for the Muromachi regime were varied to a much greater extent than it was under the Kamakura regime due to the emerging market economy in Kyoto and Yamashiro province. It came in novel form as commercial revenue extracted from the moneylenders (sakaya doso): a tax was assessed once the power structure of the Muromachi bureaucracy had effectively taken the city of Kyoto.

Southern Court Emperors

  • Emperor Go-Daigo「後醍醐天皇」(1288–1339, r. 1318-1339)
  • Emperor Go-Murakami「後村上天皇」(1328–1368, r. 1339-1368))
  • Emperor Chokei「長慶天皇」((1343–1394, r. 1368-1383)
  • Emperor Go-Kameyama「後亀山天皇」(1347-1424, r. 1383-1392)

Northern Court emperors

  • Northern Ashikaga Pretender 1: Emperor Kōgon「光厳天皇」(1313–1364, r. 1331–1333)
  • Northern Ashikaga Pretender 2: Emperor Kōmyō「光明天皇」(1322–1380, r. 1336–1348)
  • Northern Ashikaga Pretender 3: Emperor Sukō「崇光天皇」(1334–1398, r. 1348–1351)
  • Interregnum, November 26, 1351 until September 25, 1352
  • Northern Ashikaga Pretender 4: Emperor Go-Kōgon「後光厳天皇」(1338–1374, r. 1352–1371)
  • Northern Ashikaga Pretender 5: Emperor Go-En'yū「後円融天皇」(1359–1393, r. 1371–1382)

Japanese History

Prehistory through the Jomon Period – The Yayoi Period – The Kofun or Yamato Period – The Asuka Period – The Nara Period – The Spread of Buddhism in Japan – The Early Heian Period – The Middle Heian Period – The Late Heian Period – The Kamakura Period – The Kemmu Restoration – The Nanboku-chō Period – The Muromachi Period (Ashikaga) – The Warring States Period – The Azuchi–Momoyama Period – The Edo Period – The Meiji Restoration – The Meiji Period – The Taisho Period – The Rise of Militarism – World War II – The American Occupation of Japan – Post-War Japan – Japan Today
Further Reading