Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Tag: Ashikaga

Episode 275 – The House of Cards, Part 3

This week we turn away from politics to discuss religion, art, and the economy during the age of the Ashikaga. Why is this era such a moment of societal flourishing despite the constant warfare and instability of Ashikaga rule?

Sources

Collcutt, Martin. Five Mountains: The Rinzai Zen Monastic Institution in Medieval Japan. 

Adolphson, Michael S. The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha: Monastic Warriors and Sohei in Japan.

Sansom, George B. A History of Japan, 1334-1615.

Parker, Joseph D. Zen Buddhist Landscape Arts of Early Muromachi Japan.

Lu, David J. Japan: A Documentary History, vol. 1. 

Grossberg, Kenneth A. Japan’s Renaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu.

Images

A Noh performance. Note the mask, the musical performers behind the actor, and the fan in the actor’s hand — all hallmarks of Noh.

The gardens of Tenryuji.

A Noh stage; this should help you get a sense of the unusual layout of Noh performances.

Autumn landscape by Sesshu Toyo, c. 15th century.

Images of warrior monks were popularized during the Edo period, with depictions of historical figures like Musashibo Benkei (shown here with his friend Minamoto no Yoshitsune) becoming extremely common. In practice, few monks were actual warriors — instead, monastic armies consisted mostly of lay people hired to defend monasteries.

A mon (a type of coin) from the Muromachi period. The expansion of coinage helped grow the economy of the Muromachi era substantially.

Plum Tree Screen door by Kano Sanraku, c. 18th c. The Kano school emerged in the Muromachi period, and dominated the painting scene in Japan for the next several centuries.

 

Episode 274 – The House of Cards, Part 2

This week: war in the Ashikaga age. Plus; the reign of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu is generally considered the zenith of Ashikaga prestige, but why was his power built on such shaky foundations? Once the Ashikaga had seized control of Japan, how did they go about actually governing it?

Sources

Sansom, George B. A History of Japan, 1334-1615. 

Conlan, Thomas. State of War: The Violent Order of Fourteenth Century Japan

Conlan, Thomas. The Culture of Force and Farce: Fourteenth Century Japanese Warfare.

Grossberg, Kenneth. Japan’s Renaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu.

Mass, Jeffrey. The Bakufu in Japanese History.

Images

Nasu no Yoichi from the Heike Monogatari. Attempts to live up to feats of heroes like Yoichi were the driving force behind Muromachi period battles.

A scene from the Taiheiki; note that each warrior is individually labeled. This print is from the Edo era, but the Taiheiki text it is lifted from mimics the Heike Monogatari in prizing individual accomplishment as the hallmark of the samurai.

Kinkakuji, the “retirement home” of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Built as a Buddhist temple in the style popular on the Chinese mainland.

Ashikaga Yoshinori; chosen by lot to be shogun, he was probably the last person of real competence to hold the post.

Episode 273 – The House of Cards, Part 1

This week we start a multipart series on the Muromachi period and the reign of the Ashikaga family. How did they come to power? Why is their government generally described as so weak? And how, despite that weak government, did they win a 60 year war for control of Japan?

Sources

Conlan, Thomas. State of War: The Violent Order of Fourteenth Century Japan

Conlan, Thomas. The Culture of Force and Farce: Fourteenth Century Japanese Warfare.

Sansom, George B. A History of Japan, 1333-1615.

Grossberg, Kenneth. Japan’s Renaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu.

Mass, Jeffrey. The Bakufu in Japanese History.

Images

Ashikaga Takauji dressed in the style of his class for battle.

This map gives you an idea of the relative proximity of the two courts. Despite this, Yoshino’s mountainous location made it hard for the Ashikaga to take militarily.

The Yoshino palace. Even this photo gives you an idea of the difficulty of the terrain.

The Hana no Gosho, or palace of flowers on Muromachi Ave in Kyoto. This was the center of Ashikaga power, and the place from which we get the name “Muromachi Period.”

Kusunoki Masatsura (son of Masashige) defeating the armies of Ashikaga Takauji. Woodcut from the Edo period by Kuniyoshi.

The death of Kusunoki Masatsura at the Battle of Shijo Nawate. After decades of war, fewer and fewer samurai were willing to keep fighting for the south, and eventually Masatsura’s own brother would become a leading advocate for peace.

Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third Ashikaga shogun and the one to end the war. Note the shaved head and Buddhist prayer beads; we’ll have more to say about his religion later.

Go Kameyama, the final emperor of the Southern Court. Today, the Imperial Household Agency and the Japanese government recognize the southern line as legitimate even though the current emperors are descendants of the northern branch.

Episode 43 – The Great Traitor

This week, we’ll be doing our second shogunal biography. We’re going to discuss the life and legacy of the man who destroyed the Hojo family, established the Ashikaga bakufu, and who was until very recently reviled as the worst traitor in Japanese history: Ashikaga Takauji.

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Sansom, George. A History of Japan, Volume 2: 1334-1615.

Totman, Conrad. A History of Japan.

Images (Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation)

Ashikaga Takauji in full battle gear.

Ashikaga Takauji in full battle gear.

The statue of Nitta Yoshisada erected by the Meiji government.

The statue of Nitta Yoshisada erected by the Meiji government.

Kusunoki Masahige, Go-Daigo's loyal servant to the end. His valorous death earned him a statue in the Imperial Palace, but Ashikaga Takauji earned nothing but scorn in the Meiji Period.

Kusunoki Masahige, Go-Daigo’s loyal servant to the end. His valorous death earned him a statue in the Imperial Palace, but Ashikaga Takauji earned nothing but scorn in the Meiji Period.

The twin capitols of Nanbokucho Japan: Kyoto (home to the Ashikaga-backed Northern Court) and Yoshino (home to Go-Daigo's Southern Court)

The twin capitols of Nanbokucho Japan: Kyoto (home to the Ashikaga-backed Northern Court) and Yoshino (home to Go-Daigo’s Southern Court)

Kumazawa Hiromichi (center) claimed to be the true emperor of Japan after World War II owing to his line of descent from the Southern Court (the current Imperial line comes from the Northern Court).

Kumazawa Hiromichi (center) claimed to be the true emperor of Japan after World War II owing to his line of descent from the Southern Court (the current Imperial line comes from the Northern Court).

The box art for NHK's 1991 Taiheiki, featuring Ashikaga Takauji on the front cover. The drama portrays Takauji in a more sympathetic light. Courtesy of the Nippon Hosokai.

The box art for NHK’s 1991 Taiheiki, featuring Ashikaga Takauji on the front cover. The drama portrays Takauji in a more sympathetic light. Courtesy of the Nippon Hosokai.

Episode 7 – Descent into Chaos

This week we will be covering the fall of the Ashikaga bakufu and the beginnings of the Sengoku, or W11arring States Period. As a special bonus (not really) you get to hear me desperately try to produce coherent words while suffering from a nasty head cold.

Hopefully my mutterings are at least reasonably intelligible. Enjoy the show!

Direct link here

Sources

Totman, A History of Japan.

Images (Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation)

This is a picture of Rennyo, the Jodo Shinshu monk whose teachings formed the basis of Ikko Ikki doctrine. Rennyo was careful to distance himself from the more violent aspects of Ikko thought; as a result, his teachings remained legal even after the Ikko were suppressed.

This is a picture of Rennyo, the Jodo Shinshu monk whose teachings formed the basis of Ikko Ikki doctrine. Rennyo was careful to distance himself from the more violent aspects of Ikko thought; as a result, his teachings remained legal even after the Ikko were suppressed.

This is the modern restoration of Kinkakuji. The original was burned down in 1950 -- the current version is an exact replica (presumably with more fireproofing).

This is the modern restoration of Kinkakuji. The original was burned down in 1950 — the current version is an exact replica (presumably with more fireproofing).

These are called Tanegashima matchlocks, after the island of Tanegashima where the Portuguese landed in 1542. This particular batch dates to the Edo Period -- after the Sengoku ended, new weapon designs were not imported until the 1800s.

These are called Tanegashima matchlocks, after the island of Tanegashima where the Portuguese landed in 1542. This particular batch dates to the Edo Period — after the Sengoku ended, new weapon designs were not imported until the 1800s.

These hand cannons are based on European designs, and operate as a sort of semi-mobile artillery. Unlike a musket they must be fired from the hip, making them extremely difficult to aim. They compensated with a shotgun-like spread effect, making them devastating at close quarters.

These hand cannons are based on European designs, and operate as a sort of semi-mobile artillery. Unlike a musket they must be fired from the hip, making them extremely difficult to aim. They compensated with a shotgun-like spread effect, making them devastating at close quarters.

This is Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the last effective shogun of the Muromachi bakufu. After the outbreak of the Onin War, Yoshimasa retreated into an escapist world of high culture based out of Higashiyama, a suburb of Kyoto removed from the fighting. The historical image of him engaging in revelry while Kyoto burned just a mile away remains one of the defining symbols of the decline of the Ashikaga.

This is Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the last effective shogun of the Muromachi bakufu. After the outbreak of the Onin War, Yoshimasa retreated into an escapist world of high culture based out of Higashiyama, a suburb of Kyoto removed from the fighting. The historical image of him engaging in revelry while Kyoto burned just a mile away remains one of the defining symbols of the decline of the Ashikaga.

Episode 6 – A New Order

This week’s episode is on the structure of the Kamakura bakufu, its war against the Mongol Yuan dynasty of China, and its eventual destruction and replacement. We’re also going to discuss some cultural innovations of the period, in the form of new Buddhist sects (Zen and Pure Land Buddhism) and the creation of Noh theater.

It’s a bit eclectic, but I think the topics are interesting, and I hope you all agree!

Give it a listen here.

Sources

Totman, A History of Japan.

Images (Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation)

This is Hojo Tokimune, the shikken who defied Kublai Khan's demand for submission and eventually defeated him.

This is Hojo Tokimune, the shikken who defied Kublai Khan’s demand for submission and eventually defeated him.

This is a portrait of Kublai Khan dating from his lifetime.

This is a portrait of Kublai Khan dating from his lifetime.

This is the original 1266 letter from Kublai Khan to Hojo Tokimune, whom he addresses as "the King of Japan." He demands Tokimune's submission in the letter, a demand which Tokimune ignored.

This is the original 1266 letter from Kublai Khan to Hojo Tokimune, whom he addresses as “the King of Japan.” He demands Tokimune’s submission in the letter, a demand which Tokimune ignored.

This image dates from the second Mongol invasion. On the left are a group of Mongol warriors; on the right is a charging samurai identified as Suenaga.

This image dates from the second Mongol invasion. On the left are a group of Mongol warriors; on the right is a charging samurai identified as Suenaga.

This is a period image of Go-Daigo, the Emperor who led the overthrow of the Kamakura bakufu. Three years later he would be defeated by his own lieutenant, Ashikaga Takauji.

This is a period image of Go-Daigo, the Emperor who led the overthrow of the Kamakura bakufu. Three years later he would be defeated by his own lieutenant, Ashikaga Takauji.

This is Ashikaga Takauji, the Hojo retainer turned Imperial supporter turned shogun, who betrayed his way to the top of the heap in the 1330s.

This is Ashikaga Takauji, the Hojo retainer turned Imperial supporter turned shogun, who betrayed his way to the top of the heap in the 1330s.

This is an image of a Noh actor; behind him is a group of stage musicians.

This is an image of a Noh actor; behind him is a group of stage musicians.

This shot show the 8-man chorus on the right side of the stage.

This shot show the 8-man chorus on the right side of the stage.

This is a "kojo," or old man mask, used in Noh performances.

This is a “kojo,” or old man mask, used in Noh performances.

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