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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

During the first two months of 1462


Even after full allowance has been made for exaggeration, natural in the presence of such extravagance, there remains enough to convict Yoshimasa of something like a mania for luxury. He built for himself a residence so splendid that it went by the name of the Palace of Flowers (Hana no Gosho) and of materials so costly that the outlay totalled six hundred thousand strings of cash;* and he built for his mother, Shigeko, a mansion concerning which it is recorded that two of the sliding doors for the interior cost twenty thousand strings.** Yet at times this same Yoshimasa was reduced to such straits for money that we read of him borrowing five hundred "strings" on the security of his armour, to pay for a parturition chamber.

*L4,500,000--$22,000,000.

**L150,000--$7,300,000.

The Palace of Flowers came into existence in 1459, just on the eve of a period of natural calamities which culminated in famine and pestilence. In 1462, these conditions were at their worst. From various, provinces people flocked to the capital seeking food, and deaths from starvation became frequent in the city. A Buddhist priest, Gwana, constructed grass huts to which the famished sufferers were carried on bamboo stretchers to be fed with soft, boiled millet. It is recorded that, during the first two months of 1462, the number of persons thus relieved totalled eighty-two thousand. Another Buddhist priest erected a monument to the dead found in the bed of the river below the bridge, Gojo. They aggregated twelve hundred. Scores of corpses received no burial, and the atmosphere of the city was pervaded with a shocking effluvium.

But even the presence of these horrors does not seem to have sobered the Muromachi profligate. The costly edifices were pushed on and the people's resources continued to be squandered. Even the Emperor, Go-Hanazono, was sufficiently shocked to compose a couplet indirectly censuring Yoshimasa, and a momentary sense of shame visited the sybarite. But only momentary. We find him presently constructing in the mansion of his favourite retainer, Ise Sadachika, a bath-house which was the wonder of the time, a bath-house where the bathers were expected to come robed in the most magnificent costumes. One of the edifices that formed part of his palace after his retirement from active life, in 1474, was a "Silver Pavilion" intended to rival the "Golden Pavilion" of his ancestor, Yoshimitsu. During the last sixteen years of his life--he died in 1490--he patronized art with a degree of liberality that atones for much of his previous profligacy. In the halls of the Jisho-ji monastery, constructed on a grand scale as his retreat in old age, he collected chefs d'oeuvre of China and Japan, so that the district Higashi-yama where the building stood became to all ages a synonym for choice specimens, and there, too, he instituted the tea ceremonial whose votaries were thenceforth recognized as the nation's arbitri elegantiarum. Landscape gardens also occupied his attention. Wherever, in province or in capital, in shrine, in temple, in private house, or in official residence, any quaintly shaped rock or picturesque tree was found, it was immediately requisitioned for the park of Higashi-yama-dono, as men then called Yoshimasa, and under the direction of a trio of great artists, So-ami, Gei-ami, and No-ami, there grew up a plaisance of unprecedented beauty, concerning which a poet of the time wrote that "every breeze coming thence wafted the perfume of tea." The pastimes of "listening to incense," of floral arrangement, of the dramatic mime, and of the parlour farce were all practised with a zest which provoked the astonishment even of contemporary annalists.


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