The figures outlined above are notable for the fact that in some way or another they fought against and on occasion prevailed against the perceived wisdom and authority of their day, whether it be the Imperial court, other warrior houses, influential religions, or social mores. In insisting on their rights and views, they collided with other prominent historical figures of their day, and their misfortune was to be on the losing side when the historical record came to be written (or lost).
Take, for example, the case of Hino Tomiko. Here was a woman born into an aristocratic family tied to the Ashikaga shōgunate, who was married to the 8th Ashikaga Shōgun Yoshimasa at the age of 16. In the early 1460s Tomiko gave birth to a number of girls, but was unable to have any sons. This state of affairs was obviously a concern for the continuation of the Ashikaga household, so much so that Yoshimasa’s brother, originally known by his Buddhist name Gijin (as he had taken the tonsure and retired from public life), was brought back from the monastery, given the name Ashikaga Yoshimi, and was expected to succeed Yoshimasa in the position of shōgun.
However fate can sometimes conspire to play cruel tricks on mere mortals. In 1465 Tomiko gave birth to a son, Yoshihisa, which set off a series of events that would eventually lead to the Ōnin War. You see, Yoshimi had a powerful supporter in the form of Hosokawa Katsumoto, who believed that Yoshimi’s claim to the position of shōgun superseded that of Yoshihisa and so Yoshimi should become the 9th Ashikaga shōgun and was prepared to back him in that claim.
Tomiko had other ideas, however. Having tried for years to have a son, and with one finally available, Tomiko declared that Yoshihisa, as the son of Yoshimasa, had more claim to the shōgunate than Yoshimi. In order to support her claim, she appealed to Hosokawa rival Yamana Sōzen as well as her own Hino aristocratic family. This led to a direct standoff between the Hosokawa and Yamana clans, which in turn branched out to affect relations between other warrior and aristocratic families not only in the capital but also in the provinces, leading in turn to an outbreak of violence between supporters of the Hosokawa and Yamana in Kyoto in 1465.
This conflict, known as the Ōnin War, would last for approximately 11 years, during which much of Kyoto burnt to the ground, Katsumoto and Sōzen both died, and the power of the central aristocratic and military families waned as regional warlords rose to take their place. Tomiko would survive all of this, and would see Yoshihisa succeed as the 9th shōgun, albeit to a much weakened government and an unstable realm. Nonetheless, in her capacity as the wife of one shōgun and the mother to another, for which she was normally referred to as the ‘Midai-dokoro’ (御台所), she wielded considerable power for a woman in an age when women were not expected to play a prominent role in political and societal affairs (it certainly helped that she may, or may not, have also been secretly corresponding with Emperor Go-Tsuchimikado and carrying on a relationship with him, thus increasing her authority among the organs of state in the capital).
This in part explains why Tomiko’s reputation underwent such a hammering by later generations of historical scholars. Other causes are related to the fact that in the aftermath of the Ōnin War, Tomiko, as the real source of authority, ordered the installation of toll gates at the seven entrances to Kyoto in order to collect funds for the rebuilding of the Imperial palace – the ‘Dairi’ (内裏) – as well as to celebrate the end of hostilities and the return of peace to the capital. It does appear, however, that the collection of tolls was used to increase Tomiko’s personal fortune, a situation that created resentment and resulted in 1480 in the outbreak of a tokusei ikki (a form of protest which demanded the forgiving of debts and other financial burdens) during which the toll gates were destroyed. Not to be thwarted, Tomiko ordered the toll gates to be re-established at the city entrances, thereby making her a target of anger from not only commoners but also members of the aristocracy.
For a state still recovering from the effects of war and famine, and given the precarious state of the Ashikaga shōgunate at this period in time, it does seem foolish of Tomiko to have provoked popular anger by imposing financial hardship on the residents of the capital (Tomiko was also linked to the decision by Yoshimasa to embark on the construction of the ‘Hana no Gosho’ (Ginkakuji) during the great famine of Chōroku-Kanshō from 1459 to 1461, a move for which Yoshimasa was harshly criticized and admonished by Emperor Go-Hanazono). On the other hand, the Imperial palace was restored, although it would be another 30 years before any festivals were held in the capital.
It does seem that historical memory has conspired to ensure that Hino Tomiko’s memory remains forever tied to villainy, for her selfishness, her greed, and her indifference to the suffering of the people. Yet for around 40 years she managed to thrive in a society in a state of chaos, at the focal point of political and military power, dominating the shōgunate in a manner never to be repeated by any of the male successors to that position. Her rapacious nature may have been one born of necessity, given that the relative power of the shōgunate was waning in the face of challenges from other military houses which forced her to be ruthless. Yet she was loyal to those who served her interests, and her fortune enabled the Ashikaga shōgunate to continue into the sixteenth century until its eventual demise in the 1570-80s. As stated at the outset, history is written by the victors, and Tomiko’s misfortune was to be a powerful woman in an era where the instruments of state, overwhelmingly dominated by men, were falling apart. Her like would not be seen again until the emergence of Yodo-dono (also known as Cha-cha, concubine of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and mother of Toyotomi Hideyori) in the late sixteenth century, whose reputation would be the subject of slander in the same manner as Tomiko.