Prince Kanenaga

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  • Death: 1383
  • Japanese: 懐良親王 (Kanenaga shinnou / Kaneyoshi shinnou)

Prince Kanenaga, also known as Kaneyoshi,[1] was a son of Emperor Go-Daigo and the head of the Seiseifu (Office of the Subjugation of the West), the headquarters of the Southern Court's forces in Kyushu.

Appointed seisei shôgun[2], Kanenaga was ostensibly an agent of the Southern Court and of the Ashikaga shogunate; however, he quickly began to claim power for himself, securing the allegiance of the samurai clans of Kyushu, and control of the island by 1365.

Acting as an independent authority, he then began to receive official envoys from Ming Dynasty China. The first such envoy, Yang Zai, arrived at Hakata in 1369. In response to the Chinese request that efforts be made to stem the tide of wakô attacks, Kanenaga had the envoy detained, killed some of the members of the embassy, and refused to agree to any diplomatic ties. The following year, however, Kanenaga reversed his stance. When a new envoy, Zhao Zhi, arrived in 1370, Prince Kanenaga, representing himself as "Yoshikane" (a reversal of his name, Kaneyoshi), sent the envoy back to China with horses and other gifts, and roughly seventy Chinese men who had been captured by wakô and were in this way freed and repatriated. "Yoshikane" then received official investiture as "King of Japan" in the eyes of the Ming Court, and became the sole authority authorized to participate in the tribute trade, or any other formal diplomatic relations, with Ming China. He sent three more successful embassies, in 1371, 1378, and 1379, who offered horses, swords, sulfur, and other typical tribute goods to the Ming emperor and engaged in diplomatic ritual and trading activities like tributary embassies from other kingdoms did. Though later embassies dispatched in his name in 1380, 1381, and 1386 were rebuffed by the Ming court, nominally on account of "insincerity,"[3] historian Amino Yoshihiko describes Kanenaga's engagement in such relations to begin with as an effort (arguably, perhaps, successful to some extent, however briefly) "to establish an independent country in Kyushu."[4]

Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, displeased with this turn of events, rapidly took action to unseat Kanenaga as the recognized authority. He dispatched Imagawa Ryôshun to negotiate with the Ming emissaries, while he himself negotiated with the court aristocracy for permission to assemble and submit the necessary documents to have himself (the shogun, not the emperor) recognized as the King of Japan and the Ming's rightful partner in the tribute trade. Eventually, he simply went over the heads of the Court, so to speak, and submitted a formal letter to the Ming envoys acknowledging the authority and superiority of the Ming Emperor, who in turn recognized Yoshimitsu as the King of Japan, stripping Prince Kanenaga of that position.

Meanwhile, Kanenaga came under attack from shogunate forces led by Imagawa Ryôshun. Ryôshun gained control of much of northern Kyushu by 1372, but Kanenaga continued to resist, effecting a stalemate which lasted until 1374, when he lost his chief general, Kikuchi Takemitsu. Ryôshun then attempted to gain the support of major Kyushu families, but disputes between the Shôni, Ôtomo, and Shimazu clans gave Kanenaga the opportunity he needed to regroup and begin to push Ryôshun back. Ryôshun sent for reinforcements from the capital, but these never arrived, and Kanenaga continued to battle Ryôshun's forces up until his death in 1383.


  • Amino Yoshihiko, Alan Christy (trans.) Rethinking Japanese History, Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan (2012), 269-270.
  1. The kanji (characters) comprising the prince's name can be read as either Kanenaga or Kaneyoshi. He is more commonly known as Kanenaga in the English-language scholarship.
  2. lit. "General of the Subjugation of the West"
  3. Gregory Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (2019), 63.
  4. Amino, 270.