Gichū served as a monk of the Tendai sect of Māhāyāna Buddhism during the early Sengoku period. Gichū was the son of Ashikaga Yoshimi, himself the son of Ashikaga Yoshinori, the sixth shōgun of the Muromachi bakufu. He was also the younger half-brother of Ashikaga Yoshiki, the tenth shōgun.
Gichū entered the Jissō Temple in Kyōto at a young age. His older brother, Yoshiki, was permitted to reside in Kyōto following Yoshiki’s ouster from his position as the shōgun in the Meiō Political Incident in 1493 that ushered in the Sengoku period. In the spring of 1494, Gichū was adopted by Konoe Masaie and acted as a servant for Ashikaga Yoshizumi, the successor to Yoshiki as the shōgun. In the summer of 1502, owing to a conflict with Hosokawa Masamoto, the deputy shōgun, Yoshizumi suddenly announced his retirement and holed up in the Kinryū Temple located near the Jissō Temple. The following day, while Gichū visited the Kinryū Temple to pay respect to Yoshizumi, he was apprehended by soldiers who were patrolling on behalf of Masamoto, whereupon he was killed at the main hall with the Amitābha statue.
According to an entry in Masaie’s diary, when Masamoto visited Yoshizumi to ascertain his true intentions soon after Yoshizumi moved into the temple, whereupon Yoshizumi set forth five conditions to resume his position as the shōgun, including the execution of Gichū. There are two theories for this demand. First, Yoshizumi was troubled by Yoshiki’s aggressive military advance toward Kyōto with the aim of capturing the role of shōgun. Therefore, he may have feared the possibility of opposition elements inside and outside of the bakufu lending support for Gichū and aligning themselves with Yoshiki. Second, Yoshizumi’s intent to conduct affairs of governance on his own deeply antagonized Masamoto, giving rise to the possibility that Masamoto would back Gichū as the new shōgun, and remove Yoshizumi in a coup d’état in the same manner as he enabled Yoshizumi to replace Yoshiki in the Meiō Political Incident.
Prior to the incident, Yoshizumi himself served as a monk at the Tenryū Temple, and if Gichū became the shōgun, Masamoto and Gichū could achieve legitimacy through reconciliation with Yoshiki who was one of Gichū’s few family members (an older brother). In any event, from the perspective of Yoshizumi, Gichū posed a threat to his position so he determined a need to eliminate him. Although Yoshizumi and Masamoto continued thereafter to oppose one another, the killing of Gichū extinguished the possibility for Masamoto to become the next shōgun and he was viewed as an enemy by supporters of Yoshiki. Consequently, Masamoto could not reach agreement with the supporters of Yoshiki to oust Yoshizumi and advocate for a new candidate as shōgun. With few political options remaining, having Yoshizumi continue in the role of shōgun at least offered a tentative sense of stability.