Ashikaga Yoshimitsu

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  • Born: 1358
  • Died: 1408
  • Other Names: Rokuon-in, Muromachi-dono
  • Japanese: 足利義満 (Ashikaga Yoshimitsu)

Ashikaga Yoshimitsu was the third shogun of the Muromachi shogunate, ruling as shogun from 1367 to 1394. He is known for his patronage of the arts, construction of the Kinkaku-ji, and trade relations with Ming Dynasty China under the title "King of Japan."

Yoshimitsu became shogun in 1367, succeeding Ashikaga Yoshiakira.

Yoshimitsu achieved the top court rank, jû-ichi-i, at the age of 22, in 1380. He was named Naidaijin the following year, and Sadaijin the year after that (1382).

His chief wife was Hino Nariko.

Significantly, Yoshimitsu engineered the defeat of the Southern Court in 1392, marking an end to the Nanbokucho Period.

He was succeeded as shogun by his son Ashikaga Yoshimochi in 1394, and that same year became only the second samurai to ever be named daijô daijin. He took the tonsure the following year, retiring to his palace at Kinkaku-ji (aka Rokuon-in) in 1398 and coming to be known as "Rokuon-in" himself.

Foreign Relations

Yoshimitsu began making efforts to establish formal trade relations with China as early as 1374, but would not be successful until 1401. Missions sent in 1374 and 1380 were rebuffed.

Yoshimitsu sent an embassy to Ming Dynasty China in 1401, headed by priest Soa and Hakata merchant Koetomi. They brought with them a conciliatory memorial to the emperor, and numerous gifts including horses, fans, gold, screens, paper, swords, armor, and inkstone cases. The mission was successful, and returned to Japan the following year. A Ming envoy returned alongside Soa and Koetomi, and presented Yoshimitsu with an official imperial Chinese calendar, and documents officially recognizing (or investing) him as "King of Japan."

Yoshimitsu sent another mission to China the following year (1403), headed by the Zen priest Kenchû Keimi; the Chinese envoy who arrived in Japan the previous year returned to China with them. Kenchû presented documents to the Yongle Emperor congratulating him on his enthronement and indicating continued future tribute payments. This document marks the first time that the phrases "your subject" and "King of Japan" were used in Japanese documents sent to a foreign leader. The Yongle Emperor received the Japanese delegation warmly, and sent a response shortly afterwards, accompanied by a large gold seal, with a turtle-shaped knob, bearing the inscription "Seal of the King of Japan." Tallies (J: kangô) were sent as well.

The Okinawan kingdom of Chûzan sent a mission to Japan that same year, marking the beginning of formal relations between the kingdom and the Ashikaga shogunate.

Patron of the Arts

Yoshimitsu viewed sarugaku for the first time in 1374, and later invited Kan'ami and Zeami into his service, his patronage playing a crucial role in the original development of Noh theatre.

He had his Hana no gosho ("Flowers Palace") built in 1378, and patronized the establishment of the temple Shôkoku-ji in 1382.

Kinkaku-ji, designed as Yoshimitsu's retirement villa, was completed in 1397. He took up residence there the following year, but also began construction on a palace known as the kita no gosho, which became his primary residence in 1407, the year before Yoshimitsu's death.

Preceded by:
Ashikaga Yoshiakira
Muromachi Shogun
Succeeded by:
Ashikaga Yoshimochi


  • Arai Hakuseki, Joyce Ackroyd (trans.), Told Round a Brushwood Fire, University of Tokyo Press (1979), 315n99.