Ashikaga Takauji (August 18, 1305 – June 7, 1358) was the inaugural shogun and founder of the Ashikaga shogunate, marking the commencement of Japan's Muromachi period. He was also known as Minamoto no Takauji of the Minamoto clan, tracing his lineage directly from the samurai of the Seiwa Genji line, who were descendants of Emperor Seiwa. They had settled in the Ashikaga region of Shimotsuke Province, which corresponds to modern-day Tochigi Prefecture.

According to the Zen master and scholar Muso Soseki, who enjoyed Takauji's favor and collaborated closely with him, Takauji possessed three notable qualities. First, he demonstrated exceptional composure in battle, harboring no fear of death. Second, he exhibited mercy and tolerance. Third, he displayed great generosity towards those in subordinate positions.

During his early years, he bore the childhood name Matagoro. Takauji initially served as a general for the Kamakura shogunate and was dispatched to Kyoto in 1333 to quell the Genko War that had erupted in 1331. Over time, as Takauji grew disillusioned with the Kamakura shogunate, he aligned himself with the banished Emperor Go-Daigo and Kusunoki Masashige, successfully capturing Kyoto. Subsequently, Nitta Yoshisada joined their cause and besieged Kamakura. When the city fell to Nitta, the shogunal regent Hojo Takatoki and his clan members committed ritual suicide. This marked the end of the Kamakura shogunate and the Hojo clan's dominance, leading to Emperor Go-Daigo's reinstatement and the initiation of the Kenmu Restoration.

However, dissatisfaction among the samurai clans soon arose due to the reestablished imperial court's efforts to revert to the social and political structures of the Heian period. Despite Takauji's warnings, these concerns were disregarded. Taking advantage of the situation, Hojo Tokiyuki, Takatoki's son, instigated the Nakasendai rebellion in an attempt to restore the shogunate in Kamakura in 1335. Takauji suppressed the rebellion and claimed Kamakura for himself. Championing the cause of his fellow samurai, he assumed the title of Sei-i Taishogun and distributed land to his followers without the court's approval. Although he declared his allegiance to the imperial court, Emperor Go-Daigo dispatched Nitta Yoshisada to retake Kamakura.

Takauji vanquished Yoshisada in the battles of Sanoyama and Mishima, paving the way for his advance on Kyoto. He briefly seized Kyoto in February 1336, only to be driven out by forces led by Prince Takanaga, Prince Norinaga, Kitabatake Akiie, and Yūki Munehiro. Following a retreat to the west, Takauji allied himself with the Kyūshū-native clans. After prevailing over the Kikuchi clan in the Battle of Tatarahama in 1336, he gained substantial control over Kyushu. Simultaneously, his brother made progress by land, and both reached the vicinity of present-day Kobe in July.

In the pivotal Battle of Minatogawa in 1336, Takauji once again defeated Yoshisada and slew Masashige, ultimately securing control of Kyoto. Takauji installed Emperor Komyo from the Northern Court (the illegitimate court, as opposed to the exiled Southern Court) as emperor, instigating the turbulent period of Northern and Southern Courts (Nanbokucho), characterized by the conflict between two rival emperors, which persisted for nearly six decades.

In addition to various honors bestowed upon him by Emperor Go-Daigo, Takauji received the title of Chinjufu-shogun, or Commander-in-chief of the Defense of the North, and the courtly title of the Fourth Rank, Junior Grade. His Buddhist name was Tojiinden Niyama Myogi dai koji Chojuji-dono.

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