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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Yoshimasa was conspicuously reckless



Even when he reached man's estate, Yoshimasa proved wholly incompetent to deal with these complications. He abandoned himself to dissipation and left everything, great or small, to be managed by his wife, Fujiwara Tomiko, and by his consort, Kasuga no Tsubone. Bribery and corruption were the motive forces of the time. The innocent were punished; the unworthy rewarded. The shogun remained indifferent even when his mandates were neglected or contravened. The building of splendid residences, the laying out of spacious parks, the gratification of luxurious tastes, and the procuring of funds to defray the cost of his vast extravagance--these things occupied his entire attention.

Associated with the Ashikaga shogunate is a financial device known in history as tokusei, a term signifying "virtuous administration." Originally imported from China, the tokusei meant nothing more than a temporary remission of taxes in times of distress. But during the financial straits to which the country was reduced after the Mongol invasion, the Hojo deemed it necessary to afford relief to landowners who had mortgaged their property, and thus, in 1297, a law--tokusei-rei--was enacted, providing that eviction for debt must not be enforced. Under the Ashikaga, the tokusei received a still wider import. It was interpreted as including all debts and pecuniary obligations of any kind. In other words, the promulgation of a tokusei ordinance meant that all debtors, then and there, obtained complete relief. The law was not construed exactly alike everywhere. Thus, in Nara a debtor must discharge one-third of his obligation before claiming exemption, and elsewhere a nominal sum had to be paid for release. Naturally, legislation so opposed to the fundamental principles of integrity led to flagrant abuses. Forced by riotous mobs, or constrained by his own needs, the Muromachi shogun issued tokusei edicts again and again, incurring the hot indignation of the creditor class and disturbing the whole economic basis of society. Yoshimasa was conspicuously reckless; he put the tokusei system into force thirteen times.


It is stated in the records of the Onin era (1467-1469) that Yoshimasa subordinated his duties altogether to his pleasures, and that his thoughts seemed to turn wholly on banquets and fetes. His favourites, especially females, had the control of affairs and were the final arbiters in all important matters. Thus, a domain which had been in the undisputed possession of a family for generations might be alienated in favour of any claimant sufficiently unscrupulous and sufficiently rich to "commend" his title, and a judgment delivered by a court of law in the morning was liable to be reversed in the evening by the fiat of the ladies in the Muromachi "palace." Stability of policy had no existence. In a period of twenty-four years (1444-1468), three sentences each of punishment and pardon were pronounced in the case of the Hatakeyama family, and in twenty years, Yoshikado and Yoshitoshi of the Shiba sept were each punished and pardoned three times. In Kyoto it became a current saying that loyal acts, not evil deeds, were penalized, and the truth of the comment found confirmation in the case of an official, Kumagaya, who was dismissed from his post and deprived of his property for venturing to memorialize the shogun in a critical manner.

These same records of the Onin year-period also make clear that one of the factors chiefly responsible for the disturbance was Yoshimasa's curious lack of sympathy with the burdens of the people. Even one grand ceremony in the course of from five to six years sufficed to empty the citizens' pockets. But in Yoshimasa's time there Were nine of such fetes in five years, and four of them had no warrant whatever except pleasure seeking--as a performance of the Sarugaku mime on an immense scale; a flower-viewing party; an al-fresco entertainment, and a visit to the cherry blossoms. On each of these occasions the court officials and the military men had to pawn their estates and sell their heirlooms in order to supply themselves with sufficiently gorgeous robes, and the sequel was the imposition of house taxes and land taxes so heavy that the provincial farmers often found vagrancy more lucrative than agricultural industry. Pawnshops were mercilessly mulcted. In the days of Yoshimitsu, they were taxed at each of the four seasons; in Yoshinori's time the same imposts were levied once a month, and under Yoshimasa's rule the pawnbrokers had to pay nine times in November, 1466, and eight times in December of the same year.

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