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?


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.


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.

2 thoughts on “Episode 273 – The House of Cards, Part 1”

    1. As a metaphor I guess I don’t hate it; I feel like my largest quibble would be that “junta” seems to imply a singular military class (or at least an officer class) with a shared sense of national interests, where I feel like at least until the late Tokugawa period the idea of a shared national interest would be restricted at most to some nerdy philosopher types and maybe those at the highest echelons of the system.
      Still, if the goal is to convey the idea that it’s a government the primary legitimacy of which rests on the threat of violence rather than, say, some kind of religious or democratic or other legitimacy, I guess it works.

Comments are closed.