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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

That Japanese historians chiefly reproach Yoshimitsu



The chief obstacle to conferring on him the title of chancellor had been that the records contained only one instance of a military man's appointment to that exalted post. That instance was Taira no Kiyomori, whose example should have been deterrent to a Minamoto. Yoshimitsu overcame the difficulty by nominally transferring his military functions to his son Yoshimochi (1423), and constituting himself the patron of literature. It was now that his love of luxury and splendour assumed its full dimensions. He had already beautified his Muromachi mansion by constructing there a park so spacious and so brilliant at all seasons that it went by the name of Hana no Gosho (Palace of Flowers). This he now assigned as a residence for his son and successor, Yoshimochi, transferring his own place of abode to the site occupied by the Saionji family, to whom was given in exchange an extensive manor in Kawachi. Here the Ashikaga chancellor built a palace of such dimensions that sixteen superintendents and twenty assistant superintendents were required to oversee the work. Most conspicuous was the Kinkaku-ji, or golden pavilion shrine, so called because its interior was gilt, the gold foil being thickly superposed on lacquer varnish. On this edifice, on the adjacent palace, and on a park where deer roamed and noble pine trees hung over their own shadows in a picturesque lake, immense sums were expended. Works of art were collected from all

quarters to enhance the charm of a palace concerning which the bonze Sekkei declared that it could not be exchanged for paradise.

Yoshimitsu prayed the Emperor to visit this unprecedentedly beautiful retreat and Go-Komatsu complied. During twenty days a perpetual round of pastimes was devised for the entertainment of the sovereign and the Court nobles--couplet composing, music, football, boating, dancing, and feasting. All this was typical of the life Yoshimitsu led after his resignation of the shogun's office. Pleasure trips engrossed his attention--trips to Ise, to Yamato, to Hyogo, to Wakasa, and so forth. He set the example of luxury, and it found followers on the part of all who aimed at being counted fashionable, with the inevitable result that the producing classes were taxed beyond endurance. It has to be noted, too, that although Yoshimitsu lived in nominal retirement at his Kita-yama palace, he really continued to administer the affairs of the empire.


It is not for arrogance, or yet for extravagance, that Japanese historians chiefly reproach Yoshimitsu. His unpardonable sin in their eyes is that he humiliated his country. From the accession of the Ming dynasty (1368) China made friendly overtures to Japan, especially desiring the latter to check the raids of her corsairs who, as in the days of the Hojo after the repulse of the Mongol armada, so also in the times of the Ashikaga, were a constant menace to the coastwise population of the neighbouring continent. Upon the attitude of the shogun towards these remonstrances and overtures depended the prosecution of commerce with the Middle Kingdom, and the profits accruing from that commerce were too considerable to be neglected by a ruler like Yoshimitsu, whose extravagance required constant accessions of revenue. Moreover, the Muromachi shogun was a disciple and patron of the Zen sect of Buddhism, and the priests of that sect always advocated peaceful intercourse with China, the source of philosophic and literary learning.

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