A few months ago in America we had an election for a new President. The election basically boiled down to a contest between two factions, each supporting a chosen candidate. Voters essentially had to choose between two wealthy bourgeoisie financial people with a history of racist remarks, a lack of understanding for the common man, and accusations of political corruption. And each of their factions were headed up by moneyed interests – other wealthy bourgeoisie – who cared only about their own interests over that of the country as a whole.
You know what that kind of reminds me of? The Onin War.
You know, the war that arguably began the Sengoku Period where the Yamana and Hosokawa clans openly fought against each other and brought destruction to the capital. But where did it all begin?
The difference between the American election and the Onin War are that…in America we voted with ballots and in Japan they voted with spears and arrows.
But like everything in life it all started with a woman, as life is wont to do. And that woman in particular was Hino Tomiko.
Hino Tomiko (1440-1496)
Tomiko was the daughter of Hino Shigemasa. Shigemasa was Naidaijin during the reign of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa. The Hino clan, at the time, was a strong kuge family. It was arranged that Tomiko would marry the Shogun and so she became his wife at the age of 16, because that’s how political marriage works.
Four years after the marriage, Tomiko gave birth to her first child. Unfortunately the child died later that day. Tomiko, not wanting to be ostracized as infertile or anything and replaced as the Shogun’s wife decided to blame the child’s death on the wet-nurse, Imaimari no Tsubone. Tsubone was exiled to Oki island, upon lake Biwa, and she committed suicide before arriving.
Yoshimasa was a relatively lazy man, though, and really didn’t even want to be Shogun. He wanted to retire and make someone else rule for him. Since his son hadn’t survived infancy he decided to name his younger brother Yoshimi as his heir. The idea was that Yoshimi would be taken under Yoshimasa’s wing and would eventually ascend to the position of Shogun.
Tomiko did not like this idea, she wanted to be the wife of the Shogun and the mother to the next Shogun. Unfortunately being the mother of no one, meant that she had little say in her husband’s plans.
That is until a year after Yoshimasa had already put his plan in motion when Tomiko gave birth to a fancy new son. She pushed for Yoshimasa to halt his plan to enthrone his brother, and instead name their newly minted son as heir.
This caused factions to form within the capital. Yoshimi – the brother – was backed by the very powerful Hosokawa clan, while the young son – eventually named Yoshihisa – was naturally backed by Tomiko’s family, the Hino clan and also the strong Yamana family.
And thus we have the McGuffin for the Onin War. Eventually things degraded between the Yamana and Hosokawa to the point of all-out war, destroying much of the capital and setting up what eventually became the Sengoku Period.
The Onin War is often cited as the straw that broke the camel’s back and led the way for the Sengoku Period to begin. It showed that the Ashikaga Shogunate no longer had any of the real authority they once had and that they couldn’t control their underlings: The samurai daimyo of the outer provinces. And one could argue that it was all caused by an ambitious woman who wanted her son to be ruler of the nation. That woman was Hino Tomiko.
One could also argue it was all caused by a lazy man, but this month’s story was about Tomiko so I ended on her name, instead of Yoshimasa’s. If you’d like to hear more about the finer details of the Onin War, then let us know in the comments. If there’s anything else samurai-related you’d like to learn about, let us know that, too.