Lifespan: 4/5 of Bunan 6 (1449) to 7/4 of Bunmei 18 (1486)
Rank: sengoku daimyō
Bakufu: Military Governor of Echizen Province
Father: Asakura Takakage
Mother: Daughter of Asakura Yukikage
Siblings: Ujikage, Kageaki, Magoshirō, Kagefusa,
Norikage, Ichi-Munekatsu, Tokikage, 景儀、Norikage (Sōteki)
Children: Sadakage, Kagemune
Asakura Ujikage served as a sengoku daimyō and the eighth head of the Asakura clan of Echizen Province. Ujikage was the eldest son of Asakura Takakage (Eirin Takakage), and father of Asakura Sadakage.
In 1458, a conflict known as the Battle of Chōroku arose between Kai Jōchi, the deputy military governor, and Shiba Yoshitoshi, the military governor of Echizen. Yoshitoshi ultimately lost and fled to Suō Province. In the aftermath of the battle, the victors had to resolve issues of succession. Yoshitoshi’s son, Shiba Yoshihiro, was only three years old at the time. In 1461, a decision was made to have the son of Shibukawa Yoshikane, a court official serving Ashikaga Masatomo (the first Horigoe kubō) assume the name of Shiba Yoshikado and inherit the clan. He was then appointed military governor of Echizen, Owari, and Tōtōmi provinces. Yoshikado’s appointment, however, was aimed, in part, to enable Yoshimasa to order the Shiba army to support the operations of the bakufu in the Kantō Region, and he was beset by internal challenges to his authority.
In the Ōnin-Bunmei Conflict that raged in Kyōto from 1467 to 1477, Ujikage joined Takakage as a soldier in the Western Army. Takakage, however, traveled from Kyōto to Echizen to negotiate switching sides to the Eastern Army. To avoid suspicion by the Western Army, Ujikage was left behind as a hostage in Kyōto. In 1471, a letter from the Muromachi bakufu to Takakage confirmed his appointment as military governor of Echizen, and it became known that he had joined the Eastern Army. Within weeks, Ujikage slipped away from the camp of the Western Army and went to the residence of Hosokawa Shigeyuki of the Eastern Army, a shugo daimyō, proceeding next to Echizen.
In 1481, he succeeded Takakage as head of the family, and endeavored to pacify Echizen with the support of three uncles: Asakura Tsunekage, Asakura Kōkyū, and Asakura Kagefuyu. After inheriting the domain, Ujikage restrained the Kai clan. While head of the clan, Takakage had collaborated with Ashikaga Yoshimasa (the eighth shōgun) and Hosokawa Katsumoto (leader of the Eastern Army) to dispossess the Shiba clan of their territory in Echizen. This served as an illustration of the phenomenon of gekokujō, whereby families of lower status usurped the power of those above during the Sengoku period. Shiba Yoshitoshi and his eldest son, Yoshihiro, made incessant appeals to Yoshimasa to restore the Shiba to the role of military governor of Echizen. Owing to their control of the province, the Asakura no longer feared the Shiba, but the appeals showed the continuing relevance of the bakufu as a source of authority regarding provincial affairs.
Compared to the Shiba clan, an influential military governor and member of the Ashikaga family, the Asakura served as lower-ranking retainers of the Shiba and, from the perspective of the ruling Ashikaga, a tozama, or outsider. Nevertheless, Yoshimasa was concerned about the prospect of intervention from those in surrounding provinces if he abrogated the right to govern Echizen based on an appeal from the Shiba. In the past, the Ashikaga had incurred a military intervention owing to a power-struggle between the Kai and Ninomiya clans, both senior retainers of the Shiba. Ujikage sought to peacefully resolve issues concerning the governance of Echizen based on authority from the bakufu to oppose the Shiba as former incumbents. He initiated this effort by cultivating ties with the priests of the Heisenji-Hakusan Shrine, a leading institution in Echizen where religious influences were strong.
Knowing that the Shiba maintained close ties with the Ashikaga family, Ujikage accepted a proposal from Saitō Myōjun of Mino Province to offer support to the son of Shiba Yoshikado, a former rival of his father (Takakage), who had earlier been appointed as shugo in 1461. The plan entailed having the Kuratani kubō, or the political administration of the Kuratani become successors of the Shiba, and assign the name of Ashikaga Yoshitoshi to Yoshikado’s son. The Kuratani were an offshoot of the Ashikaga, descended from the son of Ashikaga Yoshitsugu (the younger brother of Ashikaga Yoshimichi, the fourth shōgun). This would have Echizen ostensibly become the territory of the Kuratani kubō, impeding the ability of the Shiba to maneuver in an attempt to restore itself as the military governor of Echizen.
In their former role, the Shiba clan were prominent members of the Ashikaga family, but, in terms of lineage, had become a cadet family of the Ashikaga long ago during the Kamakura period. Meanwhile, the Kuratani kubō descended from Ashikaga Tsugutoshi, the son of Ashikaga Yoshitsugu, who was the younger brother of Ashikaga Yoshimochi, the fourth shōgun. Consequently, the Kuratani kubō held a notably higher ranking than the Shiba. By recommending Ashikaga Yoshitoshi to serve as the Kuratani kubō of the puppet administration, the Asakura succeeded in reducing the authority of the Shiba clan. Based on additional research, there is a theory that the Kuratani were actually direct descendants of the Ōshū-Shiba, but the Ōshū-Shiba were also a prominent military family, and would have posed a challenge to Shiba Yoshihiro.
Ujikage’s ingenious scheme upset both the Shiba as well as officials of the bakufu, but owing to their decisive action, the Asakura clan achieved a fait accompli, securing an unassailable basis for governing the province. While his father had initially acquired the position of military governor, to cement their control of Echizen, Ujikage created an association with the Ashikaga family and solidified the role of the Asakura as the sovereign of the province. And, by leveraging the Kuratani kubō as the front, the Asakura had the political justification needed to defend their provincial governance.
In 1486, Ujikage died at the age of thirty-eight after having served as head of the clan for five years. His eldest son, Asakura Sadakage, served as his successor.