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The Muromachi period (室町時代, Muromachi jidai, also known as the Muromachi era, the Ashikaga era, or the Ashikaga period) is a division of Japanese history running from approximately 1336 to 1573. The period marks the governance of the Muromachi or Ashikaga shogunate (Muromachi bakufu or Ashikaga bakufu), which was officially established in 1338 by the first Muromachi shōgun , Ashikaga Takauji, two years after the brief Kenmu Restoration (1333–1336) of imperial rule was brought to a close. The period ended in 1573 when the 15th and last shogun of this line, Ashikaga Yoshiaki, was driven out of the capital in Kyoto by Oda Nobunaga.
From a cultural perspective, the period can be divided into the Kitayama and Higashiyama cultures (later 15th – early 16th centuries).
The early years from 1336 to 1392 of the Muromachi period are known as the Nanboku-chō or Northern and Southern Court period. This period is marked by the continued resistance of the supporters of Emperor Go-Daigo, the emperor behind the Kenmu Restoration. The Sengoku period or Warring States period, which begins in 1465, largely overlaps with the Muromachi period. The Muromachi period is succeeded by the Azuchi–Momoyama period (1568–1600), the final phase of the Sengoku period.
Emperor Go-Daigo's brief attempt to restore the imperial power in the Kenmu Restoration alienated the samurai class. Ashikaga Takauji obtained the samurai's strong support, and deposed Emperor Go-Daigo. In 1338 Takauji was proclaimed shōgun and established his government in Kyoto. However, Emperor Go-Daigo escaped from his confinement and revived his political power in Nara. The ensuing period of Ashikaga rule (1336–1573) was called Muromachi from the district of Kyoto in which its headquarters – the Hana-no-gosho (花の御所, Flower Palace) – were located by third shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in 1378. What distinguished the Ashikaga shogunate from that of Kamakura was that, whereas Kamakura had existed in equilibrium with the imperial court, Ashikaga took over the remnants of the imperial government. Nevertheless, the Ashikaga shogunate was not as strong as that in Kamakura had been, and was greatly preoccupied with civil war. Not until the rule of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (as shōgun, 1368–94, and chancellor, 1394–1408) did a semblance of order emerge.
Yoshimitsu allowed the constables, who had had limited powers during the Kamakura period, to become strong regional rulers, later called daimyōs . In time, a balance of power evolved between the shōgun and the daimyōs; the three most prominent daimyō families rotated as deputies to the shōgun at Kyoto. Yoshimitsu was finally successful in reunifying the Northern and Southern courts in 1392, but, despite his promise of greater balance between the imperial lines, the Northern Court maintained control over the throne thereafter. The line of shoguns gradually weakened after Yoshimitsu and increasingly lost power to the daimyōs and other regional strongmen. The shōgun's influence on imperial succession waned, and the daimyōs could back their own candidates.
In time, the Ashikaga family had its own succession problems, resulting finally in the Ōnin War (1467–77), which left Kyoto devastated and effectively ended the national authority of the bakufu. The power vacuum that ensued launched a century of anarchy.
The Japanese contact with the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) began when China was renewed during the Muromachi period after the Chinese sought support in suppressing Japanese pirates in coastal areas of China. Japanese pirates of this era and region were referred to as wokou by the Chinese (Japanese wakō). Wanting to improve relations with China and to rid Japan of the wokou threat, Yoshimitsu accepted a relationship with the Chinese that was to last for half a century. In 1401 he restarted the tribute system, describing himself in a letter to the Chinese Emperor as "Your subject, the King of Japan". Japanese wood, sulfur, copper ore, swords, and folding fans were traded for Chinese silk, porcelain, books, and coins, in what the Chinese considered tribute but the Japanese saw as profitable trade.
During the time of the Ashikaga bakufu, a new national culture, called Muromachi culture, emerged from the bakufu headquarters in Kyoto to reach all levels of society, strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism.
Zen played a central role in spreading not only religious teachings and practices but also art and culture, including influences derived from paintings of the Chinese Song (960–1279), Yuan, and Ming dynasties. The proximity of the imperial court to the bakufu resulted in a co-mingling of imperial family members, courtiers, daimyō, samurai, and Zen priests. Art of all kinds—architecture, literature, Noh drama, Kyōgen (comedy), poetry, sarugaku (folk entertainment), the tea ceremony, landscape gardening, and flower arranging—all flourished during Muromachi times.
There was renewed interest in Shinto, which had quietly coexisted with Buddhism during the centuries of the latter's predominance. Shinto, which lacked its own scriptures and had few prayers, had, as a result of syncretic practices begun in the Nara period, widely adopted Shingon Buddhist rituals. Between the eighth and fourteenth centuries, Shintoism was nearly totally absorbed by Buddhism, becoming known as Ryōbu Shinto (Dual Shinto).
The Mongol invasions in the late thirteenth century, however, evoked a national consciousness of the role of the kamikaze in defeating the enemy. Less than fifty years later (1339–43), Kitabatake Chikafusa (1293–1354), the chief commander of the Southern Court forces, wrote the Jinnō Shōtōki . This chronicle emphasized the importance of maintaining the divine descent of the imperial line from Amaterasu to the current emperor, a condition that gave Japan a special national polity (kokutai). Besides reinforcing the concept of the emperor as a deity, the Jinnōshōtōki provided a Shinto view of history, which stressed the divine nature of all Japanese and the country's spiritual supremacy over China and India.
Confucianism began to be recognized as the learning essential to daimyo in the Muromachi period. When Genju Keian, who returned from the Ming dynasty, traveled around Kyushu, he was invited by the Kikuchi clan in Higo Province and the Shimazu clan in Satsuma Province to give a lecture; and later, he established the Satsunan school (school of Neo-Confucianism in Satsuma). In Tosa, Baiken Minamimura, who lectured on Neo-Confucianism, became known as the founder of Nangaku (Neo-Confucianism in Tosa); in Hokuriku region, Nobutaka Kiyohara lectured on Confucianism for various daimyo such as the Hatakeyama clan in Noto Province, the Takeda clan in Wakasa Province, and the Asakura clan in Echizen Province.
Meanwhile, in the eastern part of Japan, Norizane Uesugi reestablished the Ashikaga Gakko (Japan's oldest surviving academic institution) by adding a collection of books, so priests and warriors from all over the country gathered to learn. For the Ashikaga Gakko, the Gohojo clan in Odawara provided protection later; Francis Xavier, a missionary of the Society of Jesus, who propagated Christianity in Japan, described that "the Ashikaga Gakko is the biggest and most famous academy of Bando in Japan (the university of eastern Japan)." Shukyu Banri, a priest and a composer of Chinese-style poems, went down to Mino Province in the Onin War, and then left for Edo at Dokan Ota's invitation; he traveled all over the Kanto region, Echigo Province, and Hida Province. The above-mentioned Sesshu visited the Risshaku-ji Temple in Yamagata City, Dewa Province.
In this period, local lords and local clans considered it indispensable to acquire skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic for the management of their territories. A growing number of land deeds were written by peasants, which means that literacy was widespread even among the commoner class. The Italian Jesuit, Alessandro Valignano ( 1539–1606 ), wrote that:
"The people are white (not dark-skinned) and cultured ; even the common folk and peasants are well brought up and are so remarkably polite that they give the impression that they were trained at court . In this respect they are superior to other Eastern peoples but also to Europeans as well . They are very capable and intelligent , and the children are quick to grasp our lessons and instructions . They learn to read and write our language far more quickly and easily than children in Europe . The lower classes in Japan are not so coarse and ignorant as those in Europe ; on the contrary , they are generally intelligent , well brought up and quick to learn".
"Teikin Orai" (Home Education Text Book), "Joe-shikimoku" (legal code of the Kamakura shogunate), and "Jitsugokyo" (a text for primary education) were widely used in shrines and temples as textbooks for the education of children of the warrior class. It was in the Sengoku Period that the following books were published: "Setsuyoshu" (a Japanese-language dictionary in iroha order) written by Soji MANJUYA, and "Ishotaizen" (The Complete Book of Medicine), a medical book in Ming's language, translated by Asai no Sozui, who was a merchant in Sakai City and a physician.
The new Zen monasteries, with their Chinese background and the martial rulers in Kamakura sought to produce a unique cultural legacy to rival the Fujiwara tradition. Hence, Chinese painter-monks were frequently invited to the monasteries while Japanese monks travelled back and forth. This exchange led to the creation of Muromachi ink painting which often included Chinese themes, Chinese ink-washing techniques, fluid descriptive lines, dry brushes, and almost invisible facial features. Despite the initial creative restrictions, Japanese Zen ink painting soon achieved poetic and indigenous expression as elements were rearranged in a Japanese manner, and brushstrokes became gentle, fluid and more impulsive.
The Ōnin War (1467–77) led to serious political fragmentation and obliteration of domains: a great struggle for land and power ensued among bushi chieftains and lasted until the mid-sixteenth century. Peasants rose against their landlords and samurai against their overlords as central control virtually disappeared. The imperial house was left impoverished, and the bakufu was controlled by contending chieftains in Kyoto. The provincial domains that emerged after the Ōnin War were smaller and easier to control. Many new small daimyō arose from among the samurai who had overthrown their great overlords. Border defenses were improved, and well fortified castle towns were built to protect the newly opened domains, for which land surveys were made, roads built, and mines opened. New house laws provided practical means of administration, stressing duties and rules of behavior. Emphasis was put on success in war, estate management, and finance. Threatening alliances were guarded against through strict marriage rules. Aristocratic society was overwhelmingly military in character. The rest of society was controlled in a system of vassalage. The shōen (feudal manors) were obliterated, and court nobles and absentee landlords were dispossessed. The new daimyō directly controlled the land, keeping the peasantry in permanent serfdom in exchange for protection.
Most wars of the period were short and localized, although they occurred throughout Japan. By 1500 the entire country was engulfed in civil wars. Rather than disrupting the local economies, however, the frequent movement of armies stimulated the growth of transportation and communications, which in turn provided additional revenues from customs and tolls. To avoid such fees, commerce shifted to the central region, which no daimyō had been able to control, and to the Inland Sea. Economic developments and the desire to protect trade achievements brought about the establishment of merchant and artisan guilds.
By the end of the Muromachi period, the first Europeans had arrived. The Portuguese landed in Tanegashima south of Kyūshū in 1543 and within two years were making regular port calls, initiating the century-long Nanban trade period. In 1551, the Navarrese Roman Catholic missionary Francis Xavier was one of the first Westerners who visited Japan.Francis described Japan as follows:
Japan is a very large empire entirely composed of islands. One language is spoken throughout, not very difficult to learn. This country was discovered by the Portuguese eight or nine years ago. The Japanese are very ambitious of honors and distinctions, and think themselves superior to all nations in military glory and valor. They prize and honor all that has to do with war, and all such things, and there is nothing of which they are so proud as of weapons adorned with gold and silver. They always wear swords and daggers both in and out of the house, and when they go to sleep they hang them at the bed's head. In short, they value arms more than any people I have ever seen. They are excellent archers, and usually fight on foot, though there is no lack of horses in the country. They are very polite to each other, but not to foreigners, whom they utterly despise. They spend their means on arms, bodily adornment, and on a number of attendants, and do not in the least care to save money. They are, in short, a very warlike people, and engaged in continual wars among themselves; the most powerful in arms bearing the most extensive sway. They have all one sovereign, although for one hundred and fifty years past the princes have ceased to obey him, and this is the cause of their perpetual feuds.
The Spanish arrived in 1587, followed by the Dutch in 1609. The Japanese began to attempt studies of European civilization in depth, and new opportunities were presented for the economy, along with serious political challenges. European firearms, fabrics, glassware, clocks, tobacco, and other Western innovations were traded for Japanese gold and silver. Significant wealth was accumulated through trade, and lesser daimyō, especially in Kyūshū, greatly increased their power. Provincial wars became more deadly with the introduction of firearms, such as muskets and cannons, and greater use of infantry.
Christianity affected Japan, largely through the efforts of the Jesuits, led first by the Spanish Francis Xavier (1506–1552), who arrived in Kagoshima in southern Kyūshū in 1549. Both daimyō and merchants seeking better trade arrangements as well as peasants were among the converts. By 1560 Kyoto had become another major area of missionary activity in Japan. In 1568 the port of Nagasaki, in northwestern Kyūshū, was established by a Christian daimyō and was turned over to Jesuit administration in 1579. By 1582 there were as many as 150,000 converts (two percent of the population) and 200 churches. But bakufu tolerance for this alien influence diminished as the country became more unified and openness decreased. Proscriptions against Christianity began in 1587 and outright persecutions in 1597. Although foreign trade was still encouraged, it was closely regulated, and by 1640, in the Edo period, the exclusion and suppression of Christianity became national policy.
Shogun, officially Sei-i Taishōgun, was the title of the military dictators of Japan during most of the period spanning from 1185 to 1868. Nominally appointed by the Emperor, shoguns were usually the de facto rulers of the country, though during part of the Kamakura period, shoguns were themselves figureheads. The office of shogun was in practice hereditary, though over the course of the history of Japan several different clans held the position. The title was originally held by military commanders during Heian period in the 8th and 9th centuries. When Minamoto no Yoritomo gained political ascendency over Japan in 1185, the title was revived to regularize his position, making him the first shogun in the usually understood sense.
The Kamakura shogunate was the feudal military government of Japan during the Kamakura period from 1185 to 1333.
The Ashikaga shogunate, also known as the Muromachi shogunate, was the feudal military government of Japan during the Muromachi period from 1336 to 1573.
The Kamakura period is a period of Japanese history that marks the governance by the Kamakura shogunate, officially established in 1192 in Kamakura by the first shōgun, Minamoto no Yoritomo. The period is known for the emergence of the samurai, the warrior caste, and for the establishment of feudalism in Japan.
Ashikaga Yoshiakira was the second shōgun of the Ashikaga shogunate who reigned from 1358 to 1367 during the Muromachi period of Japan. Yoshiakira was the son of the founder and first shōgun of the Muromachi shogunate, Ashikaga Takauji. His mother was Akahashi Tōshi, also known as Hōjō Nariko.
The Kenmu Restoration was a three-year period of Imperial rule in Japanese history between the Kamakura period and the Muromachi period from 1333 to 1336.
Ashikaga Takauji was the founder and first shōgun of the Ashikaga shogunate. His rule began in 1338, beginning the Muromachi period of Japan, and ended with his death in 1358. He was a male-line descendant of the samurai of the (Minamoto) Seiwa Genji line who had settled in the Ashikaga area of Shimotsuke Province, in present-day Tochigi Prefecture.
The Nanboku-chō period, spanning from 1336 to 1392, was a period that occurred during the formative years of the Muromachi (Ashikaga) shogunate of Japanese history.
The Ashikaga clan was a prominent Japanese samurai clan which established the Muromachi shogunate and ruled Japan from roughly 1333 to 1573.
The Ōnin War, also known as the Upheaval of Ōnin and Ōnin-Bunmei war, was a civil war that lasted from 1467 to 1477, during the Muromachi period in Japan. Ōnin refers to the Japanese era during which the war started; the war ended during the Bunmei era. A dispute between a high official, Hosokawa Katsumoto, and a regional lord, Yamana Sōzen, escalated into a nationwide civil war involving the Ashikaga shogunate and a number of daimyō in many regions of Japan.
Kenmu (建武) was a Japanese era name of the Northern Court during the Era of Northern and Southern Courts after Shōkei and before Ryakuō. Although Kemmu is understood by the Southern Court as having begun at the same time, the era was construed to have begun after Genkō and before Engen.
Ashikaga Tadayoshi was a general of the Northern and Southern Courts period (1337–92) of Japanese history and a close associate of his elder brother Takauji, the first Muromachi shōgun. Son of Ashikaga Sadauji and Uesugi Kiyoko, daughter of Uesugi Yorishige, the same mother as Takauji, he was a pivotal figure of the chaotic transition period between the Kamakura and Muromachi shogunates. Tadayoshi is today considered a military and administrative genius and the true architect of many of his elder brother's successes. In contemporary chronicles he is rarely called with his name, but is instead called either gosho (御所) or Daikyū-ji-dono (大休寺殿) from the name of his family temple. His posthumous name was Kozan Egen (古山慧源).
This is the glossary of Japanese history including the major terms, titles and events the casual reader might find useful in understanding articles on the subject.
The Genkō War, also known as the Genkō Incident, was a civil war fought in Japan between the Emperor Go-Daigo and the Kamakura Shogunate from 1331 to 1333. The Genkō War was named after Genkō, the Japanese era corresponding to the period of 1331 to 1334 when the war occurred.
The Five Mountains and Ten Monasteries System system, more commonly called simply Five Mountain System, was a network of state-sponsored Chan (Zen) Buddhist temples created in China during the Southern Song (1127–1279). The term "mountain" in this context means "temple" or "monastery", and was adopted because many monasteries were built on isolated mountains. The system originated in India and was later adopted also in Japan during the late Kamakura period (1185–1333).
Ashikaga Motouji (足利基氏) (1340–1367) was a warrior of the Nanboku-chō period. The fourth son of shōgun Ashikaga Takauji, he was the first of a dynasty of five Kantō kubō, Kamakura-based representatives in the vital Kamakura-fu of Kyoto's Ashikaga regime. Meant to stabilize a volatile situation in the Kantō, a region where many warrior clans wanted the return of the shogunate from Kyoto back to Kamakura, the dynasty he started almost immediately developed the ambition to usurp the shogunate, becoming a serious headache for the central government. Motouji was the only kubō who always remained loyal to the Kyoto government. During the Kannō disturbance, a historical episode with serious repercussions on his life, he tried to reconcile his father with his uncle Ashikaga Tadayoshi and, after his father's demise, he collaborated with his elder brother, shōgun Ashikaga Yoshiakira, to stabilize the shogunate. He died still young during an epidemic.
The Kamakura-fu or Kantō-fu was a regional government installed in Kamakura, in today's Kanagawa Prefecture, by the Ashikaga shogunate which lasted from 1349 to 1455. It was headed by a dynasty of Ashikaga rulers called Kamakura Kubō. They were assisted by deputies called Kantō Kanrei traditionally chosen among the members of the Uesugi clan.
Ashikaga Yoshimitsu was the third shōgun of the Ashikaga shogunate, ruling from 1368 to 1394 during the Muromachi period of Japan. Yoshimitsu was Ashikaga Yoshiakira's third son but the oldest son to survive, his childhood name being Haruō (春王). Yoshimitsu was appointed shōgun, a hereditary title as head of the military estate, in 1368 at the age of ten; at twenty he was admitted to the imperial court as Acting Grand Counselor.
Shirahata Castle is the remains of a Muromachi period Japanese castle structure located in the town of Kamigōri, Akō District, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan. Its ruins have been protected as a National Historic Site as one of the Remains of Akamatsu-shi Castles, combining both Okishio Castle and Kanjōsan Castle, since 1996.
Kanjōsan Castle is the remains of a Muromachi period Japanese castle structure located in the city of Himeji, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan. Its ruins have been protected as a National Historic Site as one of the Remains of Akamatsu-shi Castles, combining both Shirahata Castle and Okishio Castle, since 1996.