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Ashikaga Takauji (Jp. 足利 尊氏) (1305–June 7, 1358) was the founder and first shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. His rule began in 1338, beginning the Muromachi period of Japan, and ended with his death in 1358. He was a descendant of the samurai of the Seiwa Genji line, descended from emperor Seiwa, that had settled in Ashikaga area of Shimotsuke Province which is in present day Tochigi Prefecture.
Genko Rebellion and the Kemmu Restoration
Takauji was a general of the Kamakura shogunate sent to Kyoto in 1333 to put down the Genko Rebellion which had started in 1331. After becoming increasingly disillusioned with the shogunate over time, Takauji joined the banished emperor Go-Daigo and Kusunoki Masashige and seized Kyoto. Soon after, Nitta Yoshisada attacked Kamakura and finally destroyed the shogunate and the emperor Go-Daigo became the de facto ruler of Japan, reestablishing the primacy of the imperial court in Kyoto and starting the Kemmu restoration.
However, shortly thereafter, the samurai clans became increasingly disillusioned with reestablished imperial court which sought to return to the social and political systems of the Heian period. Sensing their discontent, Takauji pleaded with the emperor to do something before rebellion would break out, however his warnings were ignored.
Hojo Tokiyuki , son of the 14th Hojo regent Hojo Moritoki , took the opportunity to start the Nakasendai rebellion (Nakasendai no Ran) to try to reestablish the shogunate at Kamakura in 1335. Takauji put down the rebellion and took Kamakura for himself. Taking up the cause of his fellow samurai, he claimed the title of Seii Taishogun and alloted land to his followers without permission from the court. Takauji announced his allegiance to the imperial court, but Go-Daigo sent Nitta Yoshisada to reclaim Kamakura.
Early Muromachi Period and the Northern and Southern Courts
Meeting at the Battle of Hakone Take no Shita , Takauji defeated Yoshisada and afterwards marched all the way to Kyoto. He took it only to be driven out and to Kyushu by the regrouped forces of Yoshisada with Masashige. Takauji allied himself with the clans native to Kyushu and again marched to Kyoto. At the decisive Battle of Minato River in 1336, Takauji defeated Yoshisada and killed Masashige, allowing him to seize Kyoto for good. Emperor Komyo was installed as emperor beginning the turbulent Northern and Southern Court period (Nanboku-cho) which would last for almost 60 more years.
The story of Ashikaga Takauji, emperor Go-Daigo, Nitta Yoshisada, and Kusunoki Masashige from the Genko rebellion to the establishment of the Northern and Southern Courts is detailed in the 40 volume Muromachi period epic Taiheiki .
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