A Master of the Arts

Ashikaga Yoshimasa may have been the worst of the shoguns. In his 30-year reign as Japan's supreme military commander (1443-1473), the power of the shogunate declined to a dismal low point, fracturing the empire into a patchwork of squabbling fiefdoms. Terrible famines ravaged the imperial capital of Kyoto and its surrounding provinces, and Yoshimasa did nothing to alleviate the suffering. His penchant for luxury brought the empire to the edge of financial ruin. When he finally realized that he was unfit to rule and decided to abdicate, his indecisiveness about naming a successor provoked the 10-year Onin war, one of the...

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