Takauji promptly had himself installed as Shogun, but the rule of the Ashikaga Shogunate was always less forceful and centralized that that of Kamakura had been. The daimyo grew more numerous and independent, each maintaining their own armies, and finally the empire fell into true chaos with the start of the Onin War.
The Onin War - 1467-1477:
The Onin War began gradually, as a conflict between the two most powerful daimyo families, the Hosokawa and the Yamana. This dispute was often a subtle one, however, being played out in the courts of other daimyo, particularly when the two sides supported different parties in a succession dispute.
Matters came to a sudden head in the 1460's. The Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, had risen to his title at the young age of 14; his elder brother, Yoshikatsu, had been Shogun before him, but he died when Yoshimasa was only 8 years old. Yoshimasa's reign was marked by significant cultural achievements, but the man never seemed to have much taste for power, nor great skill with it.
In 1464, Yoshimasa was 29, and still without heir. He also apparently desired to retire from the Shogunate, even (unusually) giving up real authority. Towards this end, he adopted his younger brother Yoshimi to serve as his heir, pulling the fellow out of a monastery of his own.
In the next year, however, Yoshimasa finally sired a son, Yoshihisa. Naturally, Yoshihisa's mother Tomi-ko supported him for the Shogunate. Thus was the stage set for a violent argument over the succession.
Ruin of Kyoto - 1467:
The Hosokawa and Yamana immediately drew up battle lines. Hosokawa Katsumoto threw his clan's support behind the brother, Yoshimi, while Yamana Sozen supported the infant son, Yoshihisa. As was so often the case in Japanese politics, the parties were all closely related: Hosokawa Katsumoto was in fact married to Yamana Sozen's daughter.
Yamana Sozen is generally considered a villain in Japanese histories. Called the "Red Monk", he was in fact a monk, but also renowned for his violent and vengeful ways. He certainly was a man of ambition, and it seems likely that he took up arms in hopes of moving himself closer to the position of shogun himself. He was already 64 when the Onin War began; his son-in-law and opponent was 37.
Throughout this growing dispute, Yoshimasa had proven most unwilling to commit himself. But when both clans raised massive armies and brought them to the outskirts of the capital, the Shogun issued a decree in an attempt to preserve order: whichever side attacked first would be declared a rebel.
Despite Yoshimasa's relative weakness, this was still a powerful threat when the two sides were so closely balanced. And so some time passed by while each clan's armies stood ready for battle.
Then the Hosokawa clan manor in Kyoto was burned to the ground. It has never been proven that the Yamana were responsible for this, but neither has it been seriously disputed. Regardless of the truth, the Shogun declared the Yama rebels, and the battle was joined in earnest in July of 1467.
Yoshimasa did not however, take any real action against the Yamana. Although they were officially rebels, he did not impose sanctions on them or attempt to raise his own followers against them. Consequently, while Yamana's position was slightly weakened by the Shogun's disapproval, the final results of the battle were still very much up in the air... especially when Yamana's armies were joined by the powerful daimyo Ouchi Masahiro.
The battle for Kyoto took a heavy toll. The imperial capital was reduced to ruins over the next few months, and still the two sides battled for control. Despite their best efforts, by the end of the year neither side had won the upper hand.
Switching Sides - 1468:
In the next year, Yoshimi officially broke with his brother the Shogun, and joined with the Yamana clan, which now declared him as its candidate. The Shogun, in response, declared his brother a rebel, and the Hosokawa promised to support the Shogun and his newly declared heir, the infant Yoshihisa.
The two clans have thus literally switched sides, all the while maintaining their same positions. The Hosokawa have had the benefit all along of claiming to work for the Shogun, while Yamana Sozen is more obviously after power for himself. Nonetheless, the outcome of the war is far from clear. Each side continues to raise followers among the other clan heads when they can, as they continue to battle over the smoldering ruins of Kyoto.
Transition - 1473:
This goes on for five full years, though both the Hosokawa and Yamana troops become more conservative with time, as it becomes clear that victory is not imminent. Then, in 1473, both Hosokawa Katsumoto and his father-in-law, Yamana Sozen, pass away. Their clans continue the fight, however. Ouchi Masahiro, a powerful daimyo who has been supporting the Yamana faction, takes up leadership of its cause.
The Shogun also takes this opportunity to finally complete the resignation he had planned. Passing the mantle to his four year old son, Yoshihisa, he charges the Hosokawa with protecting and serving his heir. Yoshimasa himself lives another 17 years, but succeeds in his goal to escape political involvement. (He spends much of his time planning the construction of the Ginkaku-ji, a fine temple to rival the famous Kinkaku-ji built by his great-grandfather Yoshimitsu. The Kinkaku-ji was the "Golden Pavilion Temple", famous for its gold leaf coverings. The Ginkaku-ji was originally intended to be covered in silver, but this was not included in the final construction, and it is instead a model of refinement.)
Onin War ends - 1477:
The Onin War ends even more gradually than it began, as one daimyo after another agrees to follow the new Shogun. It is hard to attach a specific date to the end of the war, but in 1477, Ouchi Masahiro submits, and the war is effectively over. Kyoto is a complete ruin after ten years of bloody warfare, and throughout Japan rebellion and violence are commonplace.
The Ashikaga Shogunate has been reduced to a puppet government; the Hosokawa are effectively in charge, and the only challenge to that authority comes from other members of the same Hosokawa clan, or occasionally other powerful families like the Ouchi.
Sengoku Jidai - 1467-1615:
This entire period is known as the sengoku jidai, the "age of the country at war". This is often referred to as the "Warring States" period, though Japan remained one nation in name - it was only the warlords who were battling among themselves for power.
Starting with the Onin War, and continuing until the country is reunited in the 17th century, Japan degenerates into an endless series of violent battles for power. The number of daimyo decreases over this period, as various rulers fall to more powerful neighbors, or (frequently) to treacherous vassals. Where there were once over 250 independent warlords, there are many fewer by the time Oda Nobunaga begins his campaigns in 1550.
Next time: Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Tokugawa