Ashikaga Yoshimasa was the 8th shogun of the Muromachi shogunate, ruling from 1443-1474. He is known both for his political prominence, and for his extensive engagement in cultural pursuits. The central figure in the phenomenon of Higashiyama culture, he employed a number of notable tea experts, court painters, and the like in his court; collected and displayed Chinese and Japanese ceramics, paintings, and other art objects; and constructed the Ginkaku-ji in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto.
He married Hino Tomiko in 1455, the daughter of Hino Shigemasa, a prominent warrior from Yamashiro province. More interested in cultural pursuits than rule, Yoshimasa began moving towards retirement as early as the 1460s, and allowing his brother Ashikaga Yoshimi to begin unofficially taking over some amount of administrative duties. He officially named Yoshimi his successor in 1464. However, Tomiko gave birth to a male heir, Ashikaga Yoshihisa, the following year, leading to a succession dispute between supporters of Yoshimi and those of Yoshihisa. This dispute developed into the Ônin War, a ten-year conflict which left much of Kyoto in ruins and fractured the realm politically, leading Japan into the Sengoku period, and marking the beginning of the end for the Muromachi shogunate. Yoshimasa formally abdicated as shogun on Bunmei 5/12/19 (7 Jan 1474), and was succeeded by his son Yoshihisa, even as the "rebellion" of Yoshimi and his supporters continued to rage.
In 1465, Yoshimasa visited the Shôsôin and requested & received from the Imperial Court a piece of the ranjatai, an Imperial treasure piece of aromatic sandalwood. He and Oda Nobunaga are possibly the only two people outside of the Imperial family to have ever been granted this honor.
At some point, he adopted his nephew Ashikaga Yoshitane, who then later became the 10th Ashikaga shogun.
Yoshimasa began construction on his retirement palace, the Higashiyama-den, in 1482. The jewel of the palace compound, the so-called Silver Pavilion, was completed in 1489; however, unlike the Golden Pavilion built nearly a century earlier by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the Silver Pavilion was never covered in silver, remaining instead unadorned wood. Debate continues as to whether this was due to Yoshimasa's inability to afford to complete the project, as a result of the raging war, or whether Yoshimasa intended to leave the Pavilion in such a state all along, in accordance with his sense of restrained aesthetics. Regardless, this retirement palace became the center of what has come to be known as "Higashiyama culture." Yoshimasa hosted regular tea gatherings and other events, including exhibitions of his personal collection of tea implements, Chinese ceramics, and other art objects. These displays are likely the most oft-cited premodern precursor in Japan to the modern museum, and were accompanied by the advent of gyomotsu mokuroku, formal records of the contents of the collection.
Following Yoshimasa's death in 1490, the palace was converted into a Buddhist temple in accordance with his wishes. The dispersal of Yoshimasa's collection, enabling or fueling the collecting habits of other samurai and courtier elites, has been identified as a significant event in the development of collecting as a prominent elite practice.
- Paul Varley, The Onin War. Columbia University Press, 1967.
- Morgan Pitelka, Spectacular Accumulation, University of Hawaii Press (2016), 22-24.