There are many published articles outlaying history and understanding of the different forms of leadership employed by different ancient societies. Of interest to this paper, has been the development of leadership styles among ancient Japanese. The various groups of the Japanese included those living in different parts of the nation and cultural epochs of their history like the Kitayama and Higashiyama epochs. Moreover, most of the groups failed to secure a centralized system of governance despite their trials. An example is the samurai lords who attempted to come up with a strategic structure of leadership after the collapse of the Kamakura shogunate, who had effectively exercised control over the samurai. Such hurdles would require the emergence or rather the presence of aristocratic warriors, as it is expounded herein about Yoshimitsu, the third Ashikaga shogun. The goal of this essay is to provide understanding about ancient Japanese cultural leadership while comparing the reign of Yoshimitsu, the Kamakura shogunate leadership including the samurai lords and hence give a decision on the criteria to be used to measure warrior dominance.
The essay is organized into three main sections, the first providing an account of the leadership style of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, while the second compares Yoshimitsu's reign to that of leaders during and after the Kamakura shogunate, including the samurai lords. Through the comparisons, the characteristics of a desirable warrior in a democratic world will be evident. I end my essay with a conclusion emphasizing the importance of good leaders as well as what is expected of them to be dominant warriors.
The Reign of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu
As the third shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate, Yoshimitsu was both culturally and militarily dominant. He was appointed a shogun at only age ten and was admitted to the imperial court as Acting Grand Counselor at twenty. He had much influence over a wide area, including the traditionally preservative kuge, who were the custodians of Heian court tradition. Yoshimitsu's power was so high that he even attempted to merge the bun and the bu, referring to culture and the military respectively (Varley 184). His impact was fueled by his constant desire for art, upon which he expected an aesthetic reward. Among the most outstanding doings of this warrior included reorganizing the institutional framework of the Gozan Zen established before, thereby becoming the first person of the warrior class to host a reigning emperor at his private residence. Ashikaga Yoshimitsu also negotiated the end of the Nanboku-Cho imperial schism that had negatively affected politics for a long time. Soon after, he became Grand Chancellor of State, which was the highest-ranking member of the imperial court. The great warrior facilitated the Sino-Japanese trade agreement that endured for over a hundred years. Due to his marvelous deeds, many knew Yoshimitsu both locally and beyond; for instance, the Chinese sovereign pronounced him as "King of Japan." Sometime before he died, he sought to enforce his powerful authority through the idiom of Buddhist kingship to make himself a universal monarch.
According to some thirteenth-century lampoons, Ashikaga shogunate leaders among them Yoshimitsu, greatly criticized the shocking decline in moral values and behaviors of life. Some even termed this as "madness" (Varley 185). During his reign, Yoshimitsu never allowed anyone else to have the freedom to give verdicts in critical political as well as social matters. This way, he was able to avoid the likelihood of misunderstanding or escalation of such disputes. Most of the laws he gave were binding to all and wherein most circumstances final. He made almost everyone to feel comfortable with his style of leadership by placing himself into the shoes of many classes of his people. For example, Yoshimitsu was a warrior aristocrat who shared a class commonality with the kuge. This way, he was able to reach to each without discrimination. However, the authors of the Kemmu formulary of 1336 criticized the extravagant and those who violated the required moral code by engaging themselves in despised activities, from the change of behavior and morals, fashionable attire to expensive possessions. Kemmu formulary authors even termed this form of extravagance as Basara, meaning all sorts of condemnation about clamoring vulgarity and rowdyism (Varley 186).
However, most of those who had been shoguns including Ashikaga Yoshimitsu did not concern themselves so much with the ways of the extravagant, as they believed that only the wrong kind of people was engaging in it. As far as this was considered dissolute, it enabled people to have the freedom to live their lives in the way they deemed comfortable (Varley 187). Conversely, had this been only allowed among the elites, boldness could have grown to make the leaders forget the struggles of the common countrymen. Therefore, legalizing this way of life by the leaders made them warriors to be admired by everyone.
In other societies which prohibited this among the common society men, there were many problems which led to the downfall of leadership. An example is the Kamakura, whereby the shogunate was unable to offer control effectively. It was because almost everyone in the elite class felt like a leader who could give all types of verdicts, thereby undermining the power of centralization. Sasaki Doyo, a former official of the Kamakura Shogunate, was referred to as Basara by the authors of the Taiheiki. He was a military man who never recognized the power of authority and was it not for his ruthlessness; he would never have risen to power (Varley 188).
Kamakura Shogunate and Samurai Leadership
Among the Kamakura were warriors such as Sasaki Doyo, who was a brutal military man. Similar to Yoshimitsu, he liked art. However, he was much more inclined to other material possessions compared to Yoshimitsu, who never restricted anyone from owning what they desired. Doyo was more willing to material things, which negatively affected the leadership of his people after his tenure and consequently the collapse of the Kamakura shogunate. The samurai lords after that tried to adopt a policy of strategic governance regarding their internal coalitions, but all was in vain (Ikegami 121). Shoguns such as Sasaki Doyo had instilled a sense of elite feeling to almost everyone among the samurai, which made them fail to arrive at a good policy for effective leadership.
Continued struggles of the samurai led to the rise of the Muromachi shogunate, which proved much weaker than the previous Kamakura shogunate. There had never been a static social order during the Kamakura regime due to two different classes with different leadership styles. The samurai and the imperial court were coexistent in a way to make the Kamakura leadership complex. Initially, the direct servants of the Kamakura shogunate had territories spread over various areas. Non-Heir male children and women possessed the rights to a piece of land ownership. Indeed, geographical fragmentation of their regions was one factor that enabled the shoshi to increase their autonomy (Ikegami 127). This form of decentralization encouraged more disputes, especially over land ownership.
Many changes in leadership were adopted by the samurai within a short time, including the shift of their kinship structure to a single-male-heir system. Women became more restricted as the samurai houses became even more patriarchal. These organizational structures led to an emphasis on honoring masculine warriors, an act that saw the elites to be taken as gods by the ordinary citizen. Those trying to be leaders did so at the expense of the underprivileged comfort (Ikegami 127). In the long run, there was the growth of an individualistic character among the medieval samurai. It was fueled by two socio-economic possessions, land and armed force. Restriction of women not only reduced their social status and independence but also weakened their cultural norms.
The old samurai organizations led to the growth of military-like households, each headed by a male. These household organizations grew and formed the basis for the early samurai household structures, with women marginalized and their social status profoundly weakened (Ikegami 128). Towards the sixteenth century, the samurai lords came up with a new structure, the Ikki organizations which were more like military bodies with the primary goal of protecting their tax revenues and themselves from outside threats. At this time, the wealthy farmers were more or the same as the samurai lords as they could group up and confront the samurai lords to fight for their interests. It is compelled the samurai lords to entrust their ideas with outsider army individuals, who instead of working in the lords' interests, became more powerful by betraying the samurai lords and even ruling them. In the sixteenth century, the samurai lords had become almost powerless with the warlords (Sengoku daimyo) establishing themselves as the "public authority." Within a short time, the samurai lords were absorbed into the new government machinery with the aim of state formation, leading to end of samurai lords' tenure.
There were differences as well as similarities between Ashikaga Yoshimitsu's reign and the Kamakura leadership by Sasaki Doyo and later by the samurai lords. Yoshimitsu and Doyo portrayed the characters of a desirable warrior by offering leadership styles many could not. After the collapse of the Kamakura shogunate, the samurai lords attempted many ways at their disposal to control their coalitions to no avail. Therefore, to be dominant as a desirable warrior, one must have the characteristics of Yoshimitsu and Doyo. These include by being always present to attend to the needs of the society, being able to delegate duties and engage in recreational activities as portrayed by arts of the two ancient Japanese warriors and having passion and ambition in activities that bind members of the society. As a good warrior, one should not expect any reward from anyone. For example, Yoshimitsu loved art not because of rewards but because of the beauty of its outcome. Being able to be aggressive and ruthless at times also enables warriors to be able to perform best, since they can bar any potential problems by certain mean individuals to forcefully instill fear for their gain. It was employed by Sasaki Doyo.
Ikegami, Eiko. "The taming of the samurai: honorific individualism and the making of modern Japan." (1965).
Varley, H. Paul. "Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and the World of Kitayama: Social Change and Shogunal Patronage in Early Muromachi Japan." CORNELL EAST ASIA SERIES 109 (2001): 183-204.
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