Akamatsu Mitsusuke

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The Akamatsu were a powerful family in the Muromachi Period and owed their success to the actions of Akamatsu Norimura. At first a supporter of Emperor Go-Daigo in the Kemmu Restoration, Norimura had later switched to the Ashikaga side. In 1336 he was awarded the governorship of Harima; by the time of the 3rd Ashikaga Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the Akamatsu were shugo for Harima, Bizen, and Mimasaka as well as one of the four families that provided members of the Bakufu’s samurai-dokoro (Board of retainers). Mimasaka had been added to the Akamatsu’s holdings at the expense of the Yamana in 1391 and their service in that campaign earned them both rewards from the shôgun and hatred from the Yamana.

In 1408 Shogun Yoshimitsu died and was succeded by Ashikaga Yoshimochi (1385-1428). Some years after he came to power, Yoshimochi decided to replace the head of the Yamana (currently the wily and possibly unbalanced Mitsusuke) with one of his favorites, a certain Akamatsu Mochisada, rumored to be the shogun’s lover. Learning of the plan, Mitsusuke departed Kyôto in 1427 and entrenched himself in Mimasaka. Yoshimochi declared the act treasonous and called for his lieutenants to prepare for battle, to no avail. Yoshimochi’s retainers managed to talk the shôgun out of the business, creating an embarrassing situation Mochisada took responsibility for and committed suicide.

Things quieted after a time, and to help smooth matters over, Mitsusuke became a monk. He spent only a year in a monk’s habit, however; in 1428 Yoshimochi died and Mitsusuke returned to secular life. Yoshimochi was succeded by his brother, Yoshinori (1394-1441).

In a bizarre twist in 1440, the events of 1427 were repeated. Mistusuke again learned that the shogun planned to have him ousted. Yoshinori had a favorite named Akamatsu Sadamura (again, a suspected lover) that he planned to have succeeded Mitsusuke (perhaps after the later was forced into retirement).

Mitsusuke responded to this second threat from the Bakufu to his position in a drastic fashion, perhaps emboldened by the Bakufu’s lack of resolve in 1428. In 1441 the shogun went on a campaign against the wayward Yûki family of northern Hitachi province. When Yoshinori returned, Mitsusuke invited him to his residence in Kyoto for a celebration that would include a victory feast. Yoshinori agreed, and during a presentation of dancing in the garden a number of horses suddenly burst from their stables and caused great confusion among the party. Mitsusuke had arranged this noisy diversion, and in the course of the pandemonium he had Yoshinori struck down. Without much further ado, the Akamatsu mounted their horses and departed for their home provinces.

The assassination of Yoshinori caused considerable shock and uncertainty in Kyoto. After three days a coalition of warriors drawn from the other important shugo families - Yamana, Hosokawa, and Hatakeyama - set out, only to hesitate at the borders of the Akamatsu’s lands. The one leader who did charge on ahead was Yamana Sozen (1404-1474), and this fiery character defeated the Akamatsu and forced Mitsusuke to commit suicide. For his efforts he was awarded most of the Akamatsu’s lands (including, no doubt as he had intended, Mimasaka), thereby greatly enhancing the power of the Yamana and helping set the stage for the later Onin War. Yoshinori’s assassination, though rarely mentioned in the west outside of strictly academic circles, was a notable contributor to the weakening of Ashikaga authority, although it could just as easily be argued that the event was a sign of just how weak the foundations of Ashikaga rule already were.