Kanji: 足利 義輝
Date(s): March 31, 1536-June 17, 1565
Other Known Names: Ashikaga Yoshifuji (or Yoshifishi), “The Sword Shogun” (“Kengo shōgun”)
Ashikaga clan mon
Ashikaga Yoshiteru was the thirteenth shōgun in the Ashikaga Shogunate. Reigning from 1546 to 1565, Ashikaga Yoshiteru has been claimed by historians as the last effective shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. He was well-known for his skill with the sword, trained by the founder of the Kashima Shintō-ryū martial arts school, Tsukahara Bokuden. Due to his skill, he was given the nickname, “The Sword Shōgun”.
Born in 1536, Ashikaga Yoshiteru became shōgun of Japan after his father, Ashikaga Yoshiharu was forced to retire after a power struggle with Hosokawa Harumoto. Yoshiteru was only eleven at the time. He managed to establish a peace treaty with the Hosokawa, but the peace did not last long, for a civil war broke out between the Miyoshi and the Hosokawa, causing Yoshiteru and his father to flee Kyōto. In 1550, Yoshiteru’s father passed away in Ōmi Province.
Two years later, Yoshiteru established peace with Miyoshi Nagayoshi, and was permitted to come back to Kyōto, but this was soon dissolved after another civil war broke out between the Miyoshi and Yoshiteru with the aide of the Hosokawa. While he managed to get support from the Rokkaku clan, he was driven out of the capital yet again in 1558. Miyoshi Nagayoshi did not continue the war after this, not wanting to press forward and be accusing of killing the shōgun. After a truce, Yoshiteru was able to come back to Kyōto while under the thumb of Miyoshi Nagayoshi.
Despite being a rubber stamp, Ashikaga Yoshiteru was able to accomplish much during his time in office. He tried to reestablish the office of the shōgun through diplomacy. He reached out to many key daimyōs such as Takeda Shingen, Uesugi Kenshin, Ōtomo Sōrin, and Mōri Motonari and negotiated peace with them, establishing more authority in the eyes of the leaders in Japan. He even gave some samurai part of his name, such as Mōri Terumoto. Even Oda Nobunaga visited Ashikaga Yoshiteru to pay his respects.
When Miyoshi Nagayoshi died in 1564, Ashikaga Yoshiteru saw an opportunity to break away from being a puppet and reestablish the Ashikaga Shogunate. The only thing that stood in his way was Matsunaga Hisahide and the Miyoshi Triumvirs, who would do whatever means necessary to stop Yoshiteru from doing so, even if it meant putting Ashikaga Yoshihide, Yoshiteru’s cousin, be the new puppet shōgun.
On June 17, 1565, Matunaga Hisahide’s younger brother, Hisamichi and Miyoshi Yoshitsugu laid siege to a collection of buildings that was the shōgun’s residence and would later become Nijō Castle. There was no help, or any daimyo close enough to help, and thus, Yoshiteru and his army were quickly overrun by the Matsunaga/Miyoshi alliance.
According to the records written by Father Luís Fróis, Ashikaga Yoshiteru had a squire who was also his homosexual lover named Odachidono. During this siege to the shōgun’s residence, it is said that Odachidono fought so valiantly that the enemy did not want him slain, but to be captured alive. With Yoshiteru’s death, however, Odachidono cast aside his sword, pulled out his wakizashi and cut his throat and belly before dying by lying down on the miniature sword.
As for Ashikaga Yoshiteru, it is said that he fought hard in the end, but it is not clear if he was killed by the enemy forces, or if he committed seppuku. Nevertheless, his death poem still survives:
五月雨は 露か涙か 不如帰
samidare wa tsuyu ka namida ka hototogisu
waga na o ageyo kumo no ue made
“The May rain falls, and is it my tears or the mist that surround me?
Hototogisu*, take my name and soar above the clouds.”
It would be three years before a shōgun was named, which was given to Ashikaga Yoshihide.
*Hototogisu refers to a bird called the lesser cuckoo. When it is written in kanji, it means “never to return”.