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Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (September 25, 1358 – May 31, 1408) held the esteemed position of the third shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate, governing from 1368 to 1394 during the Muromachi period in Japan. Born as the third son of Ashikaga Yoshiakira, he was the eldest son to survive, bearing the childhood name Haruo. Yoshimitsu ascended to the role of shogun, a hereditary title symbolizing leadership of the military estate, at the tender age of ten. By the age of twenty, he was recognized in the imperial court as the Acting Grand Counselor (Gon Dainagon).

In 1379, Yoshimitsu instigated a reorganization of the institutional framework of the Gozan Zen establishment. Two years later, he achieved a groundbreaking milestone as the first individual from the warrior (samurai) class to host a reigning emperor at his private residence. His most remarkable diplomatic feat was in 1392, when he successfully negotiated the conclusion of the Nanboku-cho imperial schism, which had plagued Japanese politics for over fifty years. Subsequently, he was appointed Grand Chancellor of State (Dajo daijin), the highest-ranking position within the imperial court.

In 1395, Yoshimitsu retired from all public offices and took the tonsure, moving to his retirement villa, Kitayama-dono. This villa boasted a pavilion, two-thirds of which was adorned in gold leaf (Kinkaku shariden). At this serene location, he received envoys from the Ming and Joseon courts on several occasions and played a pivotal role in establishing a long-lasting Sino-Japanese trade agreement. As a mark of recognition for his diplomatic endeavors and displays of allegiance, the Chinese sovereign bestowed upon Yoshimitsu the title of "King of Japan" (Nihon kokuo).

In 1407, Yoshimitsu initiated a bold plan to assume the title of "Dajo tenno," a customary term for a retired emperor. Unfortunately, this aspiration remained unfulfilled due to his sudden demise the following year. It is noteworthy that Yoshimitsu never actually occupied the Japanese throne. Towards the end of his career, he endeavored to legitimize his transcendent authority through Buddhist kingship, utilizing rituals, symbols, and monumentalism to position himself as a universal monarch or dharma king, akin to his counterparts in Southeast Asia. He was posthumously honored with the name Rokuon'in.

In 1368, the same year Yoshimitsu was appointed shogun, Emperor Chokei ascended to the southern throne. The following year witnessed the defection of Southern Court samurai Kusunoki Masanori, initially under the employ of the emperor, to the Ashikaga bakufu. However, Kusunoki's loyalty wavered again in 1380, leading him to join royalist forces under Emperor Kameyama. This period also saw commander Imagawa Sadayo dispatched to quell unrest in Kyushu, a region that would eventually be pacified by 1389, with land distribution carried out under Yoshimitsu's direction. Uprisings in Kyushu and Mutsu were effectively quelled in 1397 and 1402, respectively.

In 1392, reconciliation between the Northern and Southern courts was achieved under Emperor Go-Komatsu. Subsequently, Yoshimitsu formally relinquished his shogunal position to his son, Ashikaga Yoshimochi, in 1394, who took on the role of shogun. The organization of the Muromachi administration took shape in 1398. Nevertheless, Yoshimitsu, even in retirement, retained a substantial amount of authority over the shogunate until his passing. He was recognized as Nippon Koku-O (King of Japan) by the Yongle Emperor in 1404.

Yoshimitsu's sudden demise occurred in 1408 at the age of 49. His retirement villa, located near Kyoto, was subsequently transformed into Rokuon-ji, renowned for its iconic three-storied reliquary covered in gold leaf, famously known as the "Kinkaku." In fact, this structure became so renowned that the entire temple is often identified as the Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. A statue of Yoshimitsu can still be found at this location.

One of Yoshimitsu's most significant accomplishments was the resolution of the division between the Northern and Southern Courts in 1392. This achievement was marked by his persuasion of Go-Kameyama of the Southern Court to transfer the Imperial Regalia to Emperor Go-Komatsu of the Northern Court. Yoshimitsu's foremost political legacy was the establishment of Muromachi shogunate authority and the suppression of regional daimyos who posed a challenge to central authority.

During this period, Japan experienced a substantial influence from the Ming Dynasty in China, affecting its economic system, architecture, philosophy, religion, and writing. Diplomatic interactions between Japan and China took place from 1373 to 1406.

In 1378, Yoshimitsu commissioned the construction of the Muromachi palace in Kyoto's elite Kamigyo district, which occupied the site of the former residence of the nobleman Saionji Sanekane. Additionally, he played a pivotal role in the development of Noh theatre as a patron and admirer of Zeami Motokiyo, the actor recognized as Noh's founder. Yoshimitsu encouraged Zeami to elevate the artistic standards of Noh.

The term "Muromachi shogunate" or the "Muromachi period" is commonly used in Japanese historiography to refer to the Ashikaga shogunate and the corresponding time frame. This nomenclature derives from Yoshimitsu's establishment of his residence along Muromachi Road in the northern region of Kyoto in 1378.


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