Battle of Chōroku
Date: Chōroku 2 (1458) to 8/11 of Chōroku 3 (1459)
Location: Echizen Province
Synopsis: In this era, the Shiba clan served as the military governors of Echizen while the Kai clan served as the deputy military governors. A series of successions in the Shiba family created an opportunity for Kai Jōchi to gain power within Echizen. Jōchi was further bolstered by the backing of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eighth shōgun, who adopted policies for the return of lands to strengthen his own grip on power over the provinces. In the ensuing conflict, Jōchi and his son, Kai Toshimitsu, prevailed, driving Shiba Yoshitoshi and his backers out of the province.
The Battle of Chōroku occurred during the late Muromachi period from around the seventh month of Chōroku 2 (1458) to 8/11 of Chōroku 3 (1459) in Echizen Province. This refers collectively to a cluster of battles that erupted between Shiba Yoshitoshi, the military governor, and Kai Jōchi, the deputy military governor, of the province.
Relationship of the Kai and the Shiba
For generations, the Kai clan served as the steward of the Shiba clan and as the deputy military governors of Echizen and Tōtōmi provinces. At the same time, the Kai were treated as direct retainers of the Ashikaga shōgun family. From the era of Shiba Yoshiatsu in the early fifteenth century, Kai Jōchi served the Shiba clan. After the death of Yoshiatsu, he was succeeded by Shiba Yoshisato (his younger brother of a different mother) who later died in an accident. Yoshisato was succeeded by his infant son, Shiba Yoshitake. Jōchi, together with Shiba Mochitane (from the Ōno-Shiba clan, an illegitimate branch of the Shiba), served as guardians of Yoshitake to support him in affairs of governance.
Mochitane, however, aimed to recover Kaga Province, formerly ruled by his father, Shiba Mitsutane, as the military governor. This caused conflict with Jōchi who exercised the authority of the military governor to manage judicial affairs, to raze crops for purposes of asserting ownership rights to land, to conduct procedures to implement verdicts from the bakufu with respect to real property, and to collect annual rice taxes from shōen, or manors held by powerful families and lands owned by the bakufu in the territory. He expanded his power over the lands of shrines and temples and the shōen, appointing those under his command to serve as local representatives. Jōchi’s growing power led to a deterioration of his relationship with Mochitane. In 1452, Yoshitake died without a child, and, after Mochitane’s son, Shiba Yoshitoshi, became the next head of the main branch of the clan, Yoshitoshi himself also came into conflict with Jōchi.
Demands from the shōgun for the return of lands
Meanwhile, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eighth shōgun of the Muromachi bakufu, desired an autocracy under his rule by adopting a policy requiring the return of landholdings that were not part of authorized fiefs. To this end, he issued communications for the return of lands held by various temples. In the background, this policy aimed to limit the connection between military governors and kokujin, or provincial landowners, with respect to the control of land and associated revenues in the provinces.
In a bid to conquer Ashikaga Toshinari, the Koga kubō in the Kantō, Yoshimasa dispatched Ashikaga Masatomo, the Horigoe kubō, and then planned to deploy the Shiba army to the Kantō. Jōchi was connected to the shōgun family, so he supported the policies for the return of landholdings that were not part of authorized fiefs. Owing to these policies and Jōchi, the kokujin of Echizen who were ousted from their lands and official positions joined with Yoshitoshi to rebel against Jōchi’s support for the autocratic rule of the shōgun. In 1456, Yoshitoshi brought a claim against Jōchi to the bakufu, but the bakufu refused to rule against Jōchi as one of their supporters, and, instead, they ruled against Yoshitoshi. Indignant at the outcome, in 1457, Yoshitoshi absconded to the Tōkō Temple at Higashiyama while the servants of Yoshitoshi and Jōchi rioted. The bakufu and the Kai clan subsequently killed some of the servants of Yoshitoshi.
In the second month of 1458, through the mediation of Yoshimasa, the two sides reconciled and the supporters of Jōchi returned landholdings to the servants of Yoshitoshi. In Echizen, however, the return of lands did not make progress. In the sixth month, orders were given for Yoshitoshi and Jōchi to deploy to the Kantō, but both of them remained vigilant and did not move. At the end of the sixth month, after Jōchi fell ill, around the seventh month, Yoshitoshi sent Horie Toshizane to Echizen and triggered war.
Course of events
Horie Toshizane attacked Tsuruga and drove members of the Kai faction out of the province, seizing control of northern Echizen so that the opening phase of the battle favored the faction supporting the military governor. By 11/15, Yoshimasa ordered Yoshitoshi and Jōchi to deploy to the Kantō and guaranteed the position of Jōchi as the deputy military governor. Yoshimasa then stopped compromising with Yoshitoshi and declared his support for Jōchi. On 11/4, Jōchi’s son, Kai Toshimitsu, along with Asakura Takakage, set-up an encampment in Ōmi Province. Yoshitoshi also stayed in Ōmi. In the twelfth month, Yoshitoshi and Jōchi notified the bakufu that they could not procure military provisions and did not move.
In the second month of 1459, the bakufu aimed to mediate a settlement between the two factions, but the effort failed after objections from Yoshitoshi’s faction. Toshimitsu and Takakage entered Echizen while Yoshimasa ignored Yoshitoshi and reappointed Jōchi as the deputy military governor of the province. He ordered kokujin from Echizen, along with the military governors of Wakasa, Noto, and Ōmi to support Jōchi’s faction, backing the deputy military governor.
Amidst an unfavorable war situation, Yoshitoshi ignored the orders from the bakufu to deploy to the Kantō. On 5/13, he attacked Kanagasaki Castle (which was aligned with Jōchi) but was defeated. This angered Yoshimasa so Yoshitoshi fled to the safety of Ōuchi Norihiro in Suō Province. On 5/25, forces from Etchū, Noto, and Kaga invaded Echizen while Kai Toshimitsu suppressed Fuchū. Those in Yoshitoshi’s faction retreated from Echizen. Yoshitoshi’s son, Matsuōmaru, inherited the headship of the Shiba clan.
On 7/23, Horie Toshizane set-up a base in the Sakai District to continue the resistance, but, on 8/11, was killed in action during a showdown at the Wada manor in the Asuwa District. Owing to the actions of Asakura Takakage, Jōchi’s faction prevailed.
Asakura Iekage was the sixth head of the Asakura clan. After his death in 1451, Iekage was succeeded by his son, Asakura Takakage, who became the seventh head of the clan. Takakage was supported by his grandfather, Asakura Norikage. Initially, his administration was not on a secure footing. Although Takakage stood in the position as the head of the main branch of the Echizen-Asakura, some members of the family did not obey his rule. In this battle, he eliminated those opposed to him including Asakura Masakage (his uncle), Asakura Kagehisa, and Asakura Yoshikage. Immediately after the battle, Jōchi died so Takakage realized an elevated status in Echizen. The Battle of Chōroku served as a catalyst for the rise to prominence of the Asakura clan.
After the demise of Jōchi in Kyōto, the role of deputy military governor in the Kai clan was inherited by Toshimitsu’s son, Senkikumaru, while Toshimitsu was on deployment. In 1463, Toshimitsu replaced Senkikumaru in the role, but then it reverted to Senkikumaru the following year. As a result, the position as the head of the chief retainers gradually receded in status.
Even after failing in the Kantō expedition, the bakufu continued to intervene in the affairs of the Shiba clan.