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History of Kamakura (3) - Ashikaga Era



Yoshisada Nitta
With the collapse of the Kamakura Shogunate, Emperor Godaigo came back to Kyoto and assumed control over the entire country. Nonetheless, he was unable to gratify the unsatisfactory warlords because his reward-granting was insufficient and partial. Their discontent grew even higher. Ambitious Takauji Ashikaga never overlooked this chance. He turned traitor this time again and rose in revolt against the Emperor. Yoshisada Nitta had by then become a military commander of the Imperial Court and had to confront Ashikaga troops. Kyoto changed into a savage battle ground. After advance and retreat, Ashikaga troops finally defeated Nitta as well as the loyalist forces. Now the military and political ruler, Takauji appointed a new emperor in Kyoto. In counter-action, Emperor Godaigo set up an independent Imperial Court in Yoshino, Nara Prefecture, where he had escaped. Thus the Court was divided into two factions, one in Kyoto (North) and the other in Yoshino (South). With the supremacy in hand, Takauji at first wanted to establish his government in Kamakura following the Hojo administration. However, he had to change his mind in the end and settled in Kyoto as he needed to monitor and control the movement of the South Court that remained unrest. Consequently, Takauji established the Ashikaga Shogunate in Kyoto in 1336. His government office was situated at Muromachi Street. Hence the name of Muromachi Period under the Ashikaga dynasty which lasted for the 14 generations, 230 years up until 1573.

Under the leadership of Takauji Ashikaga in Kyoto, a branch government was established in Kamakura to control and oversee eastern Japan. The office was located east of the present-day Jomyoji, though there is now nothing suggestive of the old days. Takauji appointed his fourth son Motouji {moh-toh-woo-gee} Ashikaga (1340-1367) as the governor-general of Kamakura, and thereafter the governorship called Kubo {koo-boh} was handed to his direct descendants just like the Ashikaga Shogun in Kyoto was succeeded by Yoshiakira {yoh-she-ah-kee-rah} Ashikaga (1330-1367), Takauji's first son, and his direct descendants. Also hereditary was vice-governor's position called Kanrei or an aide to the governor, and as the first vice-governor, Noriaki Uesugi {noh-re-ah-kee woo-eh-soo-ghee} (1306-1368) was appointed by Motouji. Noriaki's ancestor was Shigefusa {she-geh-foo-sah} Uesugi (birth and death dates unknown), a court noble in Kyoto bearing the name of Fujiwara, and had come to Kamakura in 1252 as a retainer for Prince Munetaka {moo-neh-tah-kah}, the Sixth Shogun. Now that the Ashikagas in Kyoto took control of Japan, the governor in Kamakura was given a territory within a radius of about 150 kilometers of Tokyo. Governors and vice-governors were succeeded as follows:

Kubo (Governors) and Kanrei (Vice-governors)
 KuboBorn-DeadKanreiBorn-Dead
1stMotouji Ashikaga1340-1367Noriaki Uesugi1306-1368
2ndUjimitsu Ashikaga1359-1398Noriharu Uesugi?-1379
   Norikata Uesugi1335-1394
3rdMitsukane Ashikaga1378-1409Norisada Uesugi1375-1412
4thMochiuji Ashikaga1398-1439Ujinori Uesugi?-1417
   Norimoto Uesugi1392-1418
5thShigeuji Ashikaga1434-1497  

Kamakura governors were usually young when they assumed the post, and therefore, they were figureheads with the real power resting in the hands of vice governors. Throughout this Ashikaga era, Kamakura was the stage of power struggles between the governors and vice-governors, sometimes involving the Shogun in Kyoto. The first governor Motouji died young at age 27. While Ujimitsu {woo-gee-me-tsu} was the second governor, there was a conspiracy in Kyoto to expel Third Shogun Yoshimitsu {yoh-she-me-tsu} (1358-1408), who built the famous Kinkakuji. Yoshimitsu asked Ujimitsu in Kamakura for his help, but Ujimitsu turned down the request. He even tried to dethrone Yoshimitsu and seize the post of the Shogun himself. The vice-governor Noriharu {no-re-hah-roo} Uesugi unsuccessfully tried to dissuade him from the coup d'etat attempt. As Ujimitsu did not follow his suggestion, Noriharu showed an objection by committing suicide. The storm cloud was gathering between Kyoto and Kamakura. It was Shushin Gido {shoo-shin ghe-doh} (1325-1388), a famous Zen priest, who brought the dispute to an amicable settlement after all. Gido was once the chief priest of Obai-in at Engakuji and served as a chief priest of Zuisenji.

The third governor Mitsukane {me-tsu-kah-neh} was even more ambitious than his predecessor and tried to overthrow the Shogunate in Kyoto in collusion with a military family in western Japan who had been dissatisfied with the way Yoshimitsu treated him. This time again, his aide Norisada {no-re-sah-dah} Uesugi showed a firm objection to his idea, and Mitsukane finally gave up the plot. Later, Norisada was promoted to vice governor.

The fourth Governor Mochiuji {mo-che-woo-gee} ended his life in a more tragic way. Since Mochiuji was inattentive as a governor, vice-governor Ujinori {woo-gee-no-re} Uesugi often suggested that he acted with discretion, which, however, gave rise to a discord between the two, and finally Mochiuji replaced Ujinori with Norimoto {no-re-mo-toh} Uesugi, a rival family of Ujinori. In Kyoto, Yoshitsugu {yo-she-tsu-goo} (1394-1418), brother of the Fourth Shogun Yoshimochi (1386-1428), was conspiring to take over the seat of the Shogun and sounded Ujinori to join the conspiracy. Being unhappy with the governor, Ujinori accepted the offer and his troops made a surprise attack on governor's residence in 1416. Shogun Yoshimochi in Kyoto immediately sent reinforcements to Kamakura. As a result, Ujinori's attempt resulted in a failure and he was forced to take his own life. Mochiuji was thus able to restore the order in Kamakura as a governor. But, he did not go well with new vice-governor Norizane {no-re-zah-neh} Uesugi (1410-1466) either. When Mochiuji's son reached the age of 13 and he was to be renamed (it was a time to celebrate his coming-of-age and give him an adult name), Mochiuji ignored the time-honored practice to receive one Chinese character from the Shogun's name. (This practice had been followed by many family. Look at the first names of Shogun in Muromachi and Kamakura Period. How many names start or end with "Yoshi", "Nori" or "Tomo"!) Instead, he gave the son the name Yoshihisa {yo-she-he-sah} without consultations with the Shogun in Kyoto at all. The vice Governor Norizane was upset and left Kamakura for Gunma Prefecture where he had a huge estate as a lord of manor. Mochiuji interpreted his action as a revolt and sent troops to kill him. However, Shogun Yoshinori supported Norizane and ordered his troops to attack the Mochiuji's residence. Mochiuji and his son Yoshihisa had no choice but to commit harakiri. It was in 1439 and Yoshihisa was only 14 years old. Hokokuji is known as the place where he performed the ritual suicide.

Mochiuji was survived by his youngest son Shigeuji {she-geh-woo-gee} (1434-1497). He later took office as the governor, but was ousted to Koga, 50 kilometers north of Tokyo, after a series of struggles, and was called Koga Kubo thereafter. One of the Uesugis went to Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture where they produced later years a famous ruler called Yozan Uesugi (1751-1822), whom President John F. Kennedy reportedly named as the most admirable Japanese statesman during the Edo Period.

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