Bunshō Political Incident


Ashikaga Yoshimasa


Yamana Sōzen

The Bunshō Political Incident (Bunshō no seihen) occurred on 9/6 of Bunshō 1 (1466) in which close retainers of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eighth shōgun of the Muromachi bakufu (namely, Ise Sadachika and Kikei Shinzui) fled the capital of Kyōto after Sadachika was suspected of making false charges of a planned rebellion by Ashikaga Yoshimi (the younger brother of Yoshimasa), who had the backing of Hosokawa Katsumoto.  Owing to the central role performed by senior officials in the bakufu administration under Yoshimasa, Yoshimasa could no longer exercise powers of governance with Sadachika and Shinzui, allowing daimyō to fill the political vacuum. Differences among these daimyō then triggered the Ōnin-Bunmei War that engulfed the capital of Kyōto and other areas throughout the country for the following eleven years.


Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eighth shōgun, endeavored to establish autocratic rule by appointing Ise Sadachika (the official in charge of the administration of domains and general affairs of powerful noble families in a bakufu organ known as the mandokoro) and Kikei Shinzui (the head of the dormitory at the Rokuon monastery) to intervene in the affairs of the daimyō.  In 1454, the son of Hatakeyama Mochikuni (Hatakeyama Yoshinari) and his nephew (Hatakeyama Masahisa) engaged in a dispute.  When Hosokawa Katsumoto and Yamana Sōzen supported Masahisa, Yoshimasa backed Yoshinari and had Sōzen retire.  Yoshinari then took advantage of the opportunity to march upon Kyōto.  After Mochikuni died the following year, Yoshinari was recognized as his successor and promoted by his close retainers.  Yoshimasa aimed to implement policies to reclaim the landholdings of temples and shrines and to impose restrictions on relationships between military governors and provincial families of influence.  He further ordered Shiba Yoshitoshi (the military governor of Echizen, Owari, and Tōtōmi provinces) and daimyō from Mutsu Province to mobilize for a campaign to subjugate Ashikaga Shigeuji, the Koga kubō, who opposed the policy in Kantō.

These efforts, however, came to a standstill.  Yoshinari tracked down and attacked Masahisa in the name of Yoshimasa, while intervening militarily and seizing territory in Yamato Province.  This caused Yoshimasa to lose trust in Yoshinari. Owing also to the fact that Sōzen regained his authority, in 1460, Hatakeyama Masanaga (the younger brother of Masahisa) became head of the family in lieu of Masahisa, and Yoshinari collapsed in Yoshino.  In 1464, Masanaga was appointed the deputy shōgun and succeeded Katsumoto who had earlier backed Masanaga.  Meanwhile, in the Battle of Chōroku, a contest for control of Echizen erupted between Shiba Yoshitoshi (the military governor of Echizen) and Kai Yukihisa (the deputy military governor).  Rather than obey orders, Yoshitoshi placed a priority on defeating Yukihisa, causing Yoshimasa to banish Yoshitoshi and replace him with Matsuōmaru as head of the clan in an event known as the Buei Disturbance (Buei sōdō).  The Shiba army, however, did not deploy to Kantō, so Yoshimasa lost the faith of the daimyō in Mutsu Province.  Thereafter, the daimyō from Mutsu refused to obey orders from the bakufu and did not deploy to Kantō.

After a series of policy failures, Yoshimasa changed direction and plotted the formation of a faction.

Intervention in the families of military governors

In 1461, Yoshimasa removed Matsuōmaru from his recent appointment as head of the Shiba clan, replacing him with Shiba Yoshikado, a distant relative originating from the Shibukawa clan.  This plan came from Shibukawa Yoshikane (Yoshikado’s father) who served as the secretary for Ashikaga Masatomo (the older half-brother of Yoshimasa).  Masatomo was sent by the bakufu to Kantō to serve as the new Kamakura kubō, but was denied entry and instead served as the Horigoe kubōIn 1460, as the father of the head of the Shiba clan, Yoshikane aimed to mobilize the Shiba army following a reduction in conflict after the return home by Imagawa Noritada, the military governor of Suruga.  In 1462, Yoshikane came into conflict over rights in Sagami with the Ōgigayatsu-Uesugi family who were confronting the Koga kubō as representative of the bakufu in the Kantō.  The bakufu, however, sided with the Ōgigayatsu-Uesugi while Yoshikane was removed from his position.

In 1463, following the death of Hino Shigeko (Yoshimasa’s mother), Yoshimasa conducted an amnesty and pardoned Yoshinari and Yoshitoshi.   In the tenth month of 1465, Yoshimasa declined a request from Hosokawa Katsumoto to subjugate Kōno Michiharu in Iyo Province.  Instead, he issued an order to subjugate Ōuchi Masahiro who supported Michiharu, while secretly assisting Masahiro, and, via Sadachika and Shinzui, ordered Yoshitoshi (who was under Masahiro) to march upon Kyōto.  On 12/29, Yoshitoshi arrived in Kyōto, and, on 12/30, Yoshitoshi and his father, Shiba Mochitane, met with Yoshimasa and received pardons.  Upon hearing this news, Yoshikado pressed Yoshimasa to issue a written notice from the magistrate’s office of the bakufu dated 12/30 permitting Yoshikado to continue governing his own territory and prohibiting unilateral acts by servants operating under Yoshitoshi.  Jinson, a priest at the Kōfuku Temple in Nara (which owned a shōen, or manor, in Echizen Province) expressed dismay at Yoshimasa’s actions.

On 7/23 of 1466, Yoshitoshi succeeded Yoshikado as head of the Shiba clan, while, on 7/30, Masahiro received a pardon.  The pardoning of three individuals who were once enemies served to oppose the alliance of daimyō led by Katsumoto and Sōzen, reflecting the true intent of efforts to bolster the bakufu faction.

Opposition and shifting alliances

Yoshikado opposed this plan by Yoshimasa and plotted to form a faction of daimyō families.  Yoshikado was appointed head of the Shiba clan to reinforce the Horigoe kubō in Kantō.  However, owing to the removal of his father, Yoshikane, and inability to carry out an order from Yoshimasa to serve as an intermediary with Ōsaki Norikane, the local commissioner of the bakufu in Mutsu Province who originated from the same Shiba clan, Yoshimasa decided to call upon Yoshitoshi who had earlier served as the intermediary with Norikane, and pardoned him.  In an effort to thwart the return of Yoshitoshi and his own removal, Yoshikado hurriedly acted to build relationships with various daimyō.

On 9/21 of 1465, Yoshimasa traveled to Yamato to visit the Kasuga Grand Shrine, accompanied by Yoshikado and a retainer, Asakura Takakage.  At this time, Yoshimasa met with Ochi Iehide from a local family of influence in Yamato who supported Yoshinari.  When Yoshinari raised arms in the prior month, Takakage sent a long sword.  In the spring of the following year, Furuichi Tanehide, a member of Yoshinari’s faction, became a servant to Yoshikado and engaged Yoshinari who, although pardoned, was blocked.  Therefore, it is surmised that beyond the visit to the Kasuga Grand Shrine, Yoshimasa had relations with Iehide and Tanehide.  In the eighth month, Ōuchi Masahiro, accompanied by Yamana Sōzen (Masahiro’s grandfather-in-law) crossed the Seto Inland Sea to Iyo Province against the wishes of the bakufu.  This may have been connected to Yoshinari through the intermediation of Ochi Iehide.  In 1466, Yoshikada became engaged to the daughter of Yamana Sōzen, furthering ties to the Yamana faction.

The political incident

Opposing a change in the head of the Shiba clan, Sōzen, along with Isshiki Yoshinao and Toki Shigeyori, supported Yoshikado.  However, after Yoshitoshi became the new head of the clan on 8/25, Yoshimasa appointed him to serve as the military governor for Echizen, Owari, and Tōtōmi provinces, whereupon Yoshitoshi and his son, Matsuōmaru, performed in his service.  In the ninth month, Ise Sadachika made false charges to Yoshimasa that Ashikaga Yoshimi (the younger brother of Yoshimasa) was plotting a rebellion and appealed for him to be killed.  On the evening of 9/5, Yoshimi entered the residence of Hosokawa Katsumoto and explained that Sadachika had made charges against him to Yoshimasa and was aiming to kill him.  On 9/6, Katsumoto met with Yoshimasa in defense of Yoshimi.  Suspected of a crime, Sadachika and Shinzui, along with Yoshitoshi and Akamatsu Masanori, fled from Kyōto.  Owing to a succession struggle, Yoshitoshi had connections with Sadachika and Shinzui, while Masanori came from the same family as Shinzui, and Shinzui had a role in the revival of the Akamatsu clan.

Aftermath of the incident

After losing his close retainers, Yoshimasa could no longer govern on his own, resulting in an administration led by daimyō.  In the wake of the incident, on 9/14, Yoshikado resumed the role as head of the Shiba clan, while Yoshinari raised arms in Yoshino on 8/25 (the day that Yoshitoshi was appointed the military governor of Echizen, Owari and Tōtōmi provinces) and attacked the territory of Masanaga in Kawachi.  The bakufu decided to deploy for purposes of an expedition to oust Yoshinari, but, in the latter part of the twelfth month of 1466, Yoshinari marched upon Kyōto with the backing of Yamana Sōzen and Yoshikado.  On 1/5 of 1467,  he was recognized as the head of the Hatakeyama clan, while, on 1/8, Masanaga was replaced by Yoshikado in the role of deputy shōgun.  On 1/18, Yoshinari and Masanaga launched a violent attack at the Kamigoryō Shrine in the Battle of Goryō.  After losing, Masanaga harbored at the residence of Katsumoto.

In this incident, a change in the head of the Shiba clan under the policies of Yoshimasa and his retainers for Kantō threatened Yoshikado, for which he engaged Yoshinari (who had been pardoned by Yoshimasa) and Yamana Sōzen to form a faction to expel Sadachika, Shinzui, and Yoshitoshi.  When Katsumoto served as the deputy shōgun, Sōzen and others questioned the involvement of Katsumoto and opposed the change of the head of the clan, serving as a factor in formation of the faction.  Meanwhile, the removal of Masanaga caused concern for Katsumoto, hailing daimyō to the capital of Kyōto for retaliation, contributing to the outbreak of the Ōnin-Bunmei War.

As a commonly understood reason for the Ōnin-Bunmei War, it is noted that Hino Tomiko (the formal wife of Yoshimasa) backed her son, Ashikaga Yoshihisa, in opposition to Yoshimi, who was an adopted son of Yoshimasa, as the designated successor to Yoshimasa.  In so doing, she requested Yamana Sōzen to serve as Yoshihisa’s guardian, while Hosokawa Katsumoto served as the guardian for Yoshimi, leading to a clash between the guardians.  However, prior to the birth of Yoshihisa, a Yamana faction had already been formed, so there are other theories.  Namely, while consensus had been reached between the Ashikaga shōgun family members (Yoshimasa, Tomiko, and Yoshimi) on one side, and influential daimyō led by Yamana Sōzen on the other side to back Yoshimi in a transitional role until Yoshihisa matured, Ise Sadachika opposed this arrangement and attempted to dislocate Yoshimi, serving as the root cause for the Bunshō Political Incident.