Table of Contents
Kanaya Shunichiro, Sengoku Jidai ga Omoshiroi Hodo Wakaru Hon (The era of the warring states: An introduction), Chūkei Shuppan, Tokyo, 2003


Kanaya Shunichiro, Sengoku Jidai ga Omoshiroi Hodo Wakaru Hon (The era of the warring states: An introduction), Chūkei Shuppan, Tokyo, 2003

(This particular volume is meant as an introduction to the warring states age, and thus cannot be thought of as comprehensive).

The Outbreak of The Ōnin War:

The Ōnin War was a conflict that stemmed from rivalry over the successor to the shōgunate between Ashikaga Yoshimi (the younger brother of the eighth shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa) and Ashikaga Yoshihisa (Yoshimasa`s legitimate son), which went on to involve the ministerial households of Shiba and Hatakeyama in a closely intertwined series of relationships. The conflict itself broke out in the first year of Ōnin (1467) and soon warriors throughout the realm were divided between Hosokawa Katsumoto leading the eastern army, and Yamana Mochitoyo (持豊) also known as Sōzen (宗全), who lead the western army. It was a conflict that left Kyoto awash in blood and ashes. Moreover, the conflict continued even after Yoshihisa had succeeded to the shōgunate and was not resolved until 1477 (the ninth year of Bunmei). As a result of the conflict, Japan was to face the largest period of revolt and civil disturbance in its history, the so called age of warring states. Hence how did warriors and leaders devise their strategies and actions from scratch, and how did they go on to make history?

What led to the conflict over the shōgunate?

The eight shōgun of the Ashikaga bakufunate was Ashikaga Yoshimasa. In November of 1464 (the 5th year of Kanshō), Yoshimasa suddenly announced his retirement from the position as the young age of 29. Why did he choose to relinquish the shōgunate so suddenly? The reason lies in a Nō drama that unfolded during the same year. On the 5th of April, the shōgun arranged for a performance of Nō to be made in order to offer blessings for the restoration of Kurama temple (鞍馬寺). This performance was particularly lavish. Yet it was being staged a mere three years after the great famine of Kanshō, which meant that the people were still suffering badly from its after-affects. To stage a Nō drama at such a time and in such a manner to exhaust the treasury merely for the shōgun`s benefit led to increased criticism of the shōgunate.

At the time, Yoshimasa had no legitimate sons, hence a decision was made to pass on the shōgunate to his younger brother Yoshimi. At the time Yoshimi was a priest of the Jōdō sect, yet in order to be named shōgun he was forced to relinquish his life as a priest. However, in the following year of Kanshō 6 (1465), Yoshimasa`s legitimate wife Hino Tomiko (日野富子) gave birth to Yoshihisa. What this meant is that a legitimate son had been born after a heir had already been chosen. Hino Tomiko was determined that her son would be named as the next shōgun, the result of which plunged the shōgunate into conflict.

Ashikaga Yoshimi made his return to civil life on the 20th of the eleventh month. Two days later Yoshihisa was born. One could say that fate does indeed play some cruel tricks.

As Yoshihisa was the son of Yoshimasa, one might think that he should have automatically become heir to the shōgunate, yet things were not so simple. The main reason for this lay behind what was said earlier about the return of Yoshimi to the secular world. Even though a legitimate son had been born, this did not mean that Yoshimi would cease to play any role in government. Yoshimasa had secured the support of the strongest household allied to the Ashikaga, Hosokawa Katsumoto, and had promised to make Yoshimi the next shōgun.(24-25)

However Hino Tomiko would have none of this. Together with her elder brother Hino Katsumitsu and Ise Sadachika (貞親), who was a close advisor to the shōgun, she conspired to form ties with Yamana Mochitoyo (Sōzen), who was equal if not greater than Katsumoto in terms of military strength.(26)

Why did a conflict break out within the Shiba household, one of the heirs to the position of Kanrei?

The Kanrei (管領)was a position that dealt with secretarial tasks for the Bakufu, and was the highest ranked position of responsibility within the bakufunate (outside of the shōgun himself). The position was held by the Hosokawa family, the Shiba family, and the Hatakeyama family, who all alternated the post between themselves (this system was known as the San Kan Ryō 三管領).

Within the Shiba family, Shiba Yoshitoshi succeeded to the head of the household. However, in 1459 (the 3rd year of Chōroku), he disobeyed an order of the shōgun and raised troops by himself. This earned the ire of the shōgun, so much so that in 1461 (Kanshō 2), Shiba Yoshikado managed to snatch the position of household leader away from Yoshitoshi. Yoshitoshi then sided with Ise Sadachika and waited for a chance to get his revenge.

In 1466 (Bunshō 1), as a result of some scheming by Sadachika, Yoshitoshi managed to win back the position of head of the Shiba. However, in September of the same year, Sadachika was found guilty of plotting the assassination of the shōgun`s younger brother, Yoshimi, and thus lost his position. Yoshitoshi, without his main support, was once again expelled from the head of the Shiba household and fled to Echizen (one of the provinces administered by the Shiba family).

Yet in the wings of this drama lay Yamana Mochitoyo, who possessed more power than any other official at the time. Yoshitoshi gained Yamana`s favour as well as the support of his troops, and thus on the 8th day of the 1st month of 1467 (Bunshō 2), Yoshitoshi was named as the successor to Hatakeyama Masanaga for the post of Kanrei.

What was the seed that led to internal conflict within the Hatakeyama household?

The background to the Hatakeyama household, one of the Kanrei, is particularly complicated, especially since it involved a continuing family dispute. The dispute itself was between the legitimate son of Hatakeyama Mochikuni, Yoshihiro, and his adopted son Masanaga. Originally Hatakeyama Mochikuni had no legitimate heir and had thus named Masanaga as his successor. However, soon afterwards Yoshihiro was born, a situation exactly like that of the shōgunate. Mochikuni decided to ignore his adopted son, and in 1450 (Hōtoku 2), named Yoshihiro to be his successor. Obviously this stirred the seeds of controversy within the household.

The reason for this lay in the fact that at the time only 1 legitimate heir could succeed to the position as head of the household. If one did not receive the position from the current head, then one`s claim would vanish.

In 1454 (Teitoku 3), the adopted son Masanaga attempted to hatch a plan to forcibly remove the legitimate son Yoshihiro and take the position of head of the household for himself. However this plan ended in failure, thus leaving Masanaga to flee to the protection of Hosokawa Katsumoto, who was fairly hostile towards Mochikuni.

However 6 years later in September of 1460 (Chōroku 4), Yoshihiro suddenly found himself the object of the shōgunate`s attention and was ordered to surrender his residence and retire from public office. It seems the shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa did not particularly like the way in which Yoshihiro behaved. At any rate, Yoshihiro decided to resist the bakufunate and shut himself off in Dakeyama castle (嶽山城) in Kawachi province.

Hatakeyama Masanaga led an army out against Yoshihiro, and in 1463 (Kanshō 4) forced the capitulation of Dakeyama castle. Yoshihiro then fled to Yoshino, whereas Masanaga, in the following year (1464, Kanshō 5) was named as Kanrei with the backing of Hosokawa Katsumoto. 3 years later, in 1467, Shiba Yoshitoshi was named as the successor to the same position, as was said earlier.(26-29)

What led to the outbreak of the Ōnin War?

The spark that caused the Ōnin War was the family feud amongst the Hatakeyama. At the time, Yamana Mochitoyo was in a position to freely manipulate the shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa. Subsequently Yamana began to believe that he might be able to do away with his rivals in the Hosokawa faction (such as Hatakeyama Masanaga).

On the 2nd of January 1467 (Bunsei 2), Yamana managed to convince the shōgun to forgive Hatakeyama Yoshihiro for his transgressions. On the 8th of the same month, Masanaga was relieved of his position as Kanrei. His successor was Shiba Yoshikado of the Yamana faction. This wasn`t all. Masanaga was ordered to hand over his property to Yoshihiro. Thus the positions of Masanaga and Yoshihiro within the Hatakeyama had been completely reversed.

Masanaga, who could not understand why Yoshihiro should replace him, at around 5 a.m on the morning of the 18th set fire to his residence at Marikōji and gathered his supporters around him within the grounds of Kamigoryō shine. At just after 3 o`clock in the afternoon, Yoshihiro attacked Masanaga at the same shine. The battle raged throughout the night and into the following morning.(29)

Yoshihiro managed to gain the support of Yamana Mochitoyo and Shiba Yoshikado for the fight, whereas Masanaga had no allies. The reason for this was because Yamana Mochitoyo had been busy in the interim, forbidding any other warrior families from aligning themselves with Masanaga. Masanaga, with no allies of his own, fled to Kurama. This was the start of the Ōnin War.(28-29)

© Greg Pampling. This page was modified in December 2011