Departmental Bulletin Paper Rebel with a Cause: The (Im)Morality of Imagawa Ryōshun

SATHER, Jeremy A.

This essay examines the dissonance between contemporary accounts ofImagawa Ryōshun’s activities and the later Tokugawa period image of himas exemplar of warrior values. A critical of contemporary sources reveals thathis is an altogether different image: that of rebel. While Ryōshun sacrificedtwenty-five years of his life attempting to subjugate the island of Kyushu forthe Ashikaga, things turned sour when his enemies slandered him to AshikagaYoshimitsu, who summarily dismissed him from the post of Kyushu tandai.Yoshimitsu’s absolutism brought him into conflict with other powerfulwarlords like Ōuchi Yoshihiro and Ashikaga Mitsukane, both of whom in theend plotted rebellion. While Ryōshun disavowed any participation in the plot,it is reasonably clear that he did participate, if only tacitly, and even musteredtroops before surrendering and ending his life in political exile. In order tojustify his betrayal, he seems to have relied on ideas from Mencius to suggestthat Yoshimitsu was an immoral ruler whose profligacy demanded reignchange. Mencius gave him the opportunity to argue that the Ashikaga familywas worthy of rule but that Yoshimitsu was not. In other words, Ryōshunremained loyal to the Ashikaga house, not the individual ruling it, a positionmore in line with Tokugawa ideas on loyalty than his own. His stance on reignchange, however, was dangerous for the Tokugawa, who were concerned withmaintaining control of the warrior class. Accordingly, Ryōshun’s betrayal wasforgotten or ignored, leaving the image of paragon to posterity.

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