Hosokawa Masamoto

細川政元

Hosokawa Clan

Hosokawa Masamoto

Yamashiro Province

Lifespan:  Bunshō 1 (1466) to 6/23 of Eishō 4 (1507)

Rank:  Lord of the Hosokawa-Keichō family

Title:  Junior Fourth Rank (Lower), Master of the Western Capital Office

Clan:  Hosokawa (Hosokawa-Keichō family)

Bakufu:  Deputy shōgun in the Muromachi bakufu, Military Governor of Tanba, Settsu, and Tosa provinces 

Lord:  Ashikaga Yoshimasa → Ashikaga Yoshihisa → Ashikaga Yoshitane → Ashikaga Yoshizumi

Father:  Hosokawa Katsumoto

Mother:  Daughter of Yamana Hirotaka (may have been adopted by Yamana Sōzen)

Siblings:  Tōshōin, Masamoto, younger brother-in-laws: Toyohisa, Katsuyuki

Adopted Children:  Sumiyuki, Sumimoto, Takakuni

Hosokawa Masamoto served as a bushō and shugo daimyō of Tanba, Settsu, and Tosa provinces, and as the twelfth head of the Hosokowa-Keichō family – the main branch of the Hosokawa clan. He further served as the kanrei, or deputy shōgun, of the Muromachi bakufu.  Masamoto ousted Ashikaga Yoshiki (later known as Yoshitada and Yoshitane) from his role as the tenth shōgun, replacing him with Ashikaga Yoshitō (later known as Yoshitaka and then Yoshizumi) and himself becoming the de facto ruler.  This gave rise to him being called the “half shōgun.”

Masamoto originated from the Hosokawa-Keichō family, the main branch of the Hosokawa clan and one of three deputy shōgun families (along with the Shiba and the Hatakeyama) affiliated with the Ashikaga family.  Masamoto’s father, Hosokawa Katsumoto, led the eastern army during the extended conflict known as the Ōnin-Bunmei War that devastated much of Kyōto and its environs between 1467 to 1477. His mother was likely the daughter of Yamana Hirotaka, the formal wife of Katsumoto.  Masamoto devoted himself to an austere form of Japanese Buddhism known as shugendō, known for ascetic practices and mountain worship.  As a result, he did not have relations with women and had no children of his own or siblings, so there was no successor to Masamoto in the Hosokawa-Keichō family.  Masamoto then adopted three sons, including Hosokawa Sumiyuki (the youngest son of Kujō Masamoto, who held the elite title of kanpaku, or Chief Advisor to the Emperor), Hosokawa Sumimoto (originating from a Hosokawa family serving as military governors, of Awa Province), and Hosokawa Takakuni (originating from a cadet family of the clan known as the Hosokawa-Yashū).  This situation gave rise to conflict over the issue of succession.  During the the Ōnin-Bunmei Conflict, numerous daimyō families were weakened after fighting over issues of succession.  Within the Hosokawa family, Hosokawa Katsuyuki received some support as the potential successor to Hosokawa Katsumoto, but, in the end, Masamoto became the designated successor based on his status as Katsumoto’s eldest son.  In the era of Masamoto, the Hosokawa-Keichō family was able to strengthen its position in the Muromachi bakufu.  However, owing to the absence of a natural successor, the family experienced the turmoil of a dispute over succession a generation after other daimyō families.

In addition to Masamoto’s role as the driving force behind the ouster and replacement of Ashikaga Yoshiki with Ashikaga Yoshitō, Masamoto served as a leader during the peak years of the Hosokawa-Keichō family.  He controlled the bakufu in his role as kanrei and as head of the Hosokawa-Keichō autocracy, authorized destruction of the Ishiyama-Hongan complex on Mount Hiei, and joined deployments in the Kinai Region, expanding their reach to become the preeminent family in Japan at the time.  Nevertheless, Masamoto could not avoid the consequences of the struggle over who was to become his designated successor, leading, in 1507, to his assassination by retainers.  His slaying brought to an end the state of abeyance existing in the capital and its environs in the wake of Masamoto’s rise to power after the Ōnin-Bunmei Conflict, ushering in a decades long power-struggle between Hosokawa Takakuni and Hosokawa Sumimoto and their respective supporters.

Life and succession issues

In 1466, Masamoto was born as the eldest son of Hosokawa Katsumoto, a powerful figure as deputy shōgun of the Muromachi bakufu.  In 1473, Masamoto succeeded Katsumoto as head of the family at the age of eight following Katsumoto’s death from illness at the height of the Ōnin-Bunmei War.  Furthermore, he was appointed military governor of Tanba, Settsu, and Tosa provinces.  Owing to his young age, Hosokawa Masakuni from the Tenkyū, a cadet family of the Hosokawa clan, served as his guardian.

In 1474, a settlement was reached with Yamana Masatoyo from the western army, leading to the eventual end of the Ōnin-Bunmei War.  In 1478, Masamoto underwent his coming-of-age ceremony at the age of thirteen, receiving one of the characters in his name from Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eighth shōgun.  He was appointed deputy shōgun, but abdicated days later after the ceremony to appoint Ashikaga Yoshihisa, the ninth shōgun, as supreme commander.  At the end of 1479, owing to a dispute among retainers of the Hosokawa, Masamoto was taken captive for three months by members of the family of the Senior Assistant Minister of the Sovereign’s Household and held in Tanba Province.  In 1482, after kokujin, or provincial landowner, in Settsu Province began an uprising, Masamoto allied with Hatakeyama Masanaga, another one of the deputy shōgun, to attack Hatakeyama Yoshihiro.  After suppressing the kokujin in Settsu, Masamoto independently reconciled with Yoshihiro, offering control over seventeen sōen, or manors, in the Matta District of Kawachi Province in exchange for the Higashinari, Nishinari, and Sumiyoshi districts in Settsu, after which he withdrew to Kyōto.

In 1487, Ashikaga Yoshihisa, the ninth shōgun, decided on a campaign to subjugate Rokkaku Takayori.  Masamoto was the only one intended to know this closely-guarded secret, and together Yoshihisa and Masamoto prepared for a deployment.  Masamoto served as the deputy shōgun only for a ceremony held by the bakufu marking the transition from the Bunmei to the Chōkyō era.  In 1489, Ashikaga Yoshihiro (formerly known as Yoshihisa) died of illness in Ōmi Province during the campaign against the Rokkaku clan.  Masamoto then recommended Seikō (later known as Ashikaga Yoshizumi) to serve as the next shōgun. Seikō was Yoshihiro’s cousin and the son of Ashikaga Masatomo, the horigoe-kubō, a senior representative of the shogunate in the Kantō Region.  At the time, Seikō was living as a Zen monk at the Kōgen monastery in the Tenryū Temple.  However, Yoshihiro’s mother, Hino Tomiko, and Hatakeyama Masanaga, provided the support needed for Ashikaga Yoshiki (later known as Yoshitada and then Yoshitane) to become the tenth shōgun.   Yoshiki was the younger cousin of Yoshihiro and son of Ashikaga Yoshimi.  Owing to his dissatisfaction with the appointment, Masamoto again served as the deputy shōgun only on the day of the investiture held in the summer of 1490, and then distanced himself from the bakufu.  With Yoshiki as shōgun, Ashikaga Yoshimi and Hatakeyama Masanaga could exercise a high-level of authority in the bakufu, but Yoshimi died in early 1491, enabling Masanaga to monopolize power in the bakufu.

In 1491, Masamoto adopted Sōmeimaru, the youngest son of Kujō Masamoto (the kanpaku or Chief Advisor of the Emperor) later known as Hosokawa Sumiyuki.  Masamoto adopted Sōmeimaru because he had no wife owing to his religious practices, and therefore had no natural children or younger brothers to serve as potential successors.  In addition, Sōmeimaru was the younger cousin of Seikō’s mother, enabling Masamoto to strengthen his familial ties with Masatomo (Seikō’s father), who held a senior position.

Soon thereafter, Masamoto traveled to eastern provinces, visiting Uesugi Fusasada, the military governor of Echigo Province.  Next, Masamoto planned to visit Mutsu Province, but canceled after receiving orders from Ashikaga Yoshiki to deploy for a campaign against Rokkaku Takayori, whereupon he returned to the capital.  This sojourn was for the purpose of aligning with Ashikaga Masatomo, the horigoe-kubō, and to enlist support from Fusasada.  Masamoto further intended to meet Masatomo, but Masatomo died, so Masamoto returned to Kyōto.

Masamoto’s efforts to suppress uprising by local clans of influence in Tanba, including the Iden, the Ogino, the Ōtsuki, and the Shūchi, were not going well, so he opposed the prospect of deploying for a campaign against the Rokkaku, and admonished Yoshiki not to proceed, but was ignored.  It is from this time that Masamoto is believed to have planned a change in the leadership of the bakufu.

Usurping the bakufu through the Meiō Political Incident

In 1493, Yoshiki deployed with Hatakeyama Masanaga to Kawachi Province with the aim of subjugating Hatakeyama Yoshitoyo.  Masamoto objected to this action and refused to deploy.  In the spring, Masamoto joined with Hino Tomoko and Ise Sadamune (a former mandokoro shitsuji, or senior official in charge of adjudicating financial and territorial affairs of the bakufu) to meticulously plan and execute a coup d’état.  By this action, Seikō (the candidate formerly backed by Masamoto prior to Yoshiki’s ascension) became the eleventh shōgun, replacing Yoshiki.  Known as the Meiō Political Incident (Meiō no seihen), this important event is regarded in one perspective as the opening act of the Sengoku period.  Jinson, a priest from the Kōfuku Temple in Nara, noted that Yoshiki’s own actions fueled the overthrow.  While promising to delegate governing responsibilities to Masamoto, instead he ignored Masamoto’s input in regard to the launch of two major military campaigns to Ōmi and Kawachi, and sought to remove Masamoto for opposing his policies.

As a result of the coup, Akamatsu Masanori betrayed Hatakeyama Masanaga in favor of Masamoto.  Isolated and without support, Masanaga took his own life.  The Hatakeyama witnessed a dramatic fall in influence from its former role as one of the three deputy shōgun families.  Meanwhile, Yoshiki was apprehended, stripped of his title, and confined to the Ryūan Temple in Kyōto.  In 1494, Seikō returned to secular life and adopted the name of Ashikaga Yoshitaka (later known as Yoshizumi).  Masamoto assumed the role of deputy shōgun, but, in practice, became the de facto ruler while Yoshitaka served as his puppet.  This marked the establishment of the Hosokawa-Keichō autocracy, and the first instance whereby the deputy shōgun and retainers of the bakufu ousted and replaced the shōgun.  These events caused a decisive loss in the authority of the shōgun in the Muromachi bakufu.  Moreover, the role of the deputy shōgun had also become nominal, with Masamoto again serving for just one day to mark the occasion of Yoshitaka’s coming-of-age ceremony.  The Meiō Political Incident, together with the inability to restore the power of the shōgun as an outcome of the Ōnin-Bunmei Conflict, led to the inexorable decline of the Muromachi bakufu as a system of governance.

Nevertheless, the bakufu did continue to exercise a certain level of authority.  Ise Sadamune and Hino Tomiko served as guardians of Yoshizumi, the shōgun, and frequently kept a check on Masamoto’s actions.  The sudden death of Uehara Motohide, a deputy military governor from Tanba Province and retainer of the Keichō family who served as a leader of the coup under orders from Masamoto, gave license to the majority of the retainers of the Keichō who did not actively support the coup.  Masamoto may have had to cultivate a cooperative relationship between the bakufu and the Keichō family to ensure the retainers acceptance of the bakufu and to prevent the emergence of a faction aimed at restoring Yoshiki.

Battles with an array of forces

Following the coup, Yoshitane (formerly Yoshiki) fled to Etchū Province and established a government in exile under the title of the Etchū kubō.  In 1499, he led forces from the northern region to attack Ōmi, and allied with the Enryaku Temple on Mount Hiei.  After scouting the movements of members of the Enryaku Temple, Masamoto quickly took action in the summer of 1499, ordering Akazawa Tomotsune and Hōkabe Munekazu to launch an early morning attack against the temple, leading to a major conflagration.  Many of the primary buildings on the mountain, including the main hall, the auditorium, chambers, sutra halls, scripture houses, the bell tower, and other structures were completely burned down.  Riding on his momentum, Tomotsune continued several months later by attacking and defeating Hatakeyama Hisanobu, the son of Masanaga, who led a revolt in Kawachi Province.  Hisanobu fled to Yamato Province with Tomotsune in pursuit, with Tomotsune killing certain collaborators including Tsutsui Junken and Tōchi Tōharu.  The invading forces torched the Kikō, Hokke, Saidai, Kakuan, and other temples while occupying northern Yamato.  Based on this series of victories under Tomotsune, the Hosokawa significantly expanded the territory under their control.  Meanwhile, Masamoto proceeded to appoint kokujin from surrounding districts as hikan, or local officials of the bakufu, to strengthen governance in areas brought under control of the clan.

Masamoto devoted himself to the ascetic practices of shugendō (an austere form of Japanese Buddhism) and mountain worship, avoiding women and remaining single throughout his life.  He despised and refused to wear eboshi, an elongated hat commonly worn by men from military families on ceremonial occasions.  He became obsessed with suspect religious practices such as attempting to acquire magical powers to fly from Tengu, a mythical creature, and engaged in odd behavior including unexpected sojourns to wander about various provinces.  Masamoto did not engage in these practices as a simple pursuit, but used itinerant monks like spies to gather information and observe developments in each area.  He discounted formal ceremonies and proceedings of the Court and the bakufu as lacking in religious prestige, refusing to acknowledge the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Gokashiwabara.  Masamoto delegated affairs of governance to his retainers, while unexpected absences led to confusion in the conduct of bakufu affairs.  Ashikaga Yoshizumi, the shōgun, personally appealed to Masamoto on matters of concern.  Eventually, affairs of governance were managed through consultations among senior retainers of the Keichō family until, in 1501, Masamoto enacted covenants to impose limits on the retainers and their consultations.

There were many political differences between Masamoto and Yoshizumi.  Then, in 1502, Yoshizumi suddenly confined himself to the Kinryū Temple.  When Masamoto went to persuade Yoshizumi to leave, Yoshizumi requested five conditions be met to return to the official residence, including that Gichū, a monk at the Jissō monastery in Kyōto and younger brother of Ashikaga Yoshiki, the former shōgun, be executed.  Several days later, when Gichū went to visit Yoshizumi, Masamoto apprehended and killed him.  This action went a long way toward securing Yoshizumi’s position by eliminating the possibility that Masamoto would strip Yoshizumi of his title, and then banish and replace him with Gichū as a new shōgun.  The killing caused Masamoto to lose a candidate for the next shōgun and henceforth to be viewed as the enemy by those retainers who formerly supported Yoshiki.  Masamoto could not settle differences with the Yoshiki faction by removing Yoshizumi and standing up a new shōgun, significantly limiting his options on the political front.

Masamoto’s moody behavior and absence of a natural successor posed a direct challenge to the issue of succession in the Hosokawa-Keichō family.  In 1502, Masamoto adopted Sōmeimaru (later Sumiyuki) from the Kujō family, one of five of the highest-ranking families of nobility that were lineal descendants of the Fujiwara clan, on the condition of family succession, whereby Masamoto formally designated Sōmeimaru to be his successor and appointed him as the military governor of Tanba Province.  Then, in 1503, Masamoto adopted Rokurō (later Sumimoto) from the branch of the Hosokawa family serving as military governors of Awa Province based on a similar promise of succession, whereupon he excluded Sōmeimaru (who became known as Sumiyuki after his coming-of-age ceremony) as his designated successor.  This sharpened differences between the factions who supported Sumiyuki and Sumimoto respectively.  Moreover, Masamoto had also adopted Takakuni from the Yashū branch of the Hosokawa, which later contributed to more confusion.  The date of Takakuni’s adoption is uncertain, and there is a theory that he was not adopted, but instead asserted that he was in the context of the confrontation with  Sumimoto after the death of Masamoto.

In the autumn of 1504, Masamoto suppressed a rebellion by a retainer named Yakushi Motokazu, the deputy military governor of Settsu.  In 1506, he subjugated Hatakeyama Yoshihide (the son of Hatakeyama Yoshitoyo) and Hatakeyama Hisanobu, and dispatched Akazawa Tomotsune to launch further attacks in Yamato Province.  In 1507, Masamoto continued to expand the reach of the Hosokawa clan by providing support to Takeda Motonobu of Wakasa Province, having Sumiyuki and Sumimoto attack the base of Isshiki Yoshiari in Tango Province.  However, Masamoto apparently grew battle-weary, indicating a desire to travel around Mutsu Province and engage in ascetic practices as an adherent of shugendō.  Masamoto gave up this plan after being remonstrated by his retainer, Miyoshi Yukinaga.  In the midst of attacking Isshi Yoshiari to support Takeda Motonobu, Masamoto complied with an imperial edict to return to Kyōto.  The next month, while taking a bath, he was assassinated by retainers who supported Sumiyuki, including Kōzai Motonaga, Yakushiji Nagatada, and a member of his security staff, Takeda Magoshichi.  The event of his assassination is known as the Lord Hosokawa Incident (Hosokawa-dono no hen), and the broader succession struggle as the Eishō Disturbance (Eishō no sakuran), named after the Eishō era during which it occurred.

Reasons for the assassination

Kōzai Motonaga is viewed as the ringleader of the assassination.  Although Masamoto originally adopted Sumiyuki to be his designated heir, he may have gradually come to regret the promise owing to deep opposition within the family toward the prospect of an unrelated person becoming his successor, whereupon he accepted Sumimoto from the branch of the Hosokawa in Awa Province instead.  This, however, resulted in a loss of authority for Motonaga, who had been serving as Sumiyuki’s assistant.  Meanwhile, Masamoto had assigned a retainer of the Keichō family named Miyoshi Yukinaga to serve as Sumimoto’s assistant.  Masamoto increasingly relied upon Yukinaga for his military prowess and also made him the new chief of staff, significantly expanding his authority within the Hosokawa clan. Yukinaga moved from Awa to serve Sumiyuki while continuing to have a role in governing Sanuki Province in Shikoku.  Sanuki was also Motonaga’s birthplace, fueling resentment toward Yukinaga. Moreover, Masamoto’s inclination to generate a lot of problems made family members worried about their future, causing the retainers to support Sumiyuki and assassinate Masamoto as a means to seize power.

Sumiyuki himself may have been working behind the scenes.  In 1506, soon after his coming-of-age ceremony and removal from the line of succession, he obeyed orders from Masamoto to attack Kaetsu en route to subjugate Isshiki Yoshiari in Tango Province.  These actions were for appearances only, while, in fact, Sumiyuki conspired with the Isshiki to feign capture of the castle and then withdraw his forces. Ishikawa Naotsune of Kaetsu Castle that Sumiyuki earlier pretended to capture successfully attacked Akazawa Tomotsune at the time that Tomotsune attempted to lead his forces back to Kyōto following news of Masamoto’s assassination.  Sumiyuki conspired with others prior to these events which appear to have been meticulously planned.  Resentment at the revocation of his appointment as Masamoto’s designated successor was likely the primary motive for his actions.

After his demise

Having been referred to as the “half-shōgun” owing to his considerable power, Masamoto’s death triggered internal conflict regarding the succession issue in the Hosokawa-Keichō family.  This resulted in a significant weakening of authority, impacting their governance structure, territory, and retainers alike.  In the wake of the assassination, the members of the family reached a consensus regarding the exclusion of Sumiyuki because he was not a blood relative of the Hosokawa family.  Nevertheless, after the subsequent defeat and killing of Sumiyuki, the confrontation persisted between those who supported Sumimoto (from the Awa branch of the family, along with his son, Harumoto) on one side and those who backed Takakuni (from the Hosokawa-Yashū branch of the family) on the other.  This was further complicated by opposing factions in regard to the role of shōgun, with some supporting Ashikaga Yoshizumi and others supporting Ashikaga Yoshitane.  These divisions within the Hosokawa clan bred conflict for approximately twenty-five years after Masamoto’s assassination (until 1532), in a prolonged military struggle known as the Conflict between the Hosokawa (Ryō-Hosokawa no ran).