The Creation of the Soul of Japan
Yoshimasa may have been the worst shogun ever to rule Japan. He was a failure as a soldier, incompetent at dealing with state business, and dominated by his wife. But his influence on the cultural life of Japan was unparalleled. According to Donald Keene, Yoshimasa was the only shogun to leave a lasting heritage for the entire Japanese people.
Today Yoshimasa is remembered primarily as the builder of the Temple of the Silver Pavilion and as the ruler at the time of the Onin War (1467–1477), after which the authority of the shogun all but disappeared. Unable to control the daimyos—provincial military governors—he abandoned politics and devoted himself to the quest for beauty. It was then, after Yoshimasa resigned as shogun and made his home in the mountain retreat now known as the Silver Pavilion, that his aesthetic taste came to define that of the Japanese: the no theater flourished, Japanese gardens were developed, and the tea ceremony had its origins in a small room at the Silver Pavilion. Flower arrangement, ink painting, and shoin-zukuri architecture began or became of major importance under Yoshimasa. Poets introduced their often barely literate warlord-hosts to the literary masterpieces of the past and taught them how to compose poetry. Even the most barbarous warlord came to want the trappings of culture that would enable him to feel like a civilized man.
Yoshimasa and the Silver Pavilion gives this long-neglected but critical period in Japanese history the thorough treatment it deserves.
"Keene's multifarious learning and engaging manner illuminate the improbable story of the fastidious aesthete whose taste has been so important in forming the look of the modern world." — The New Yorker
"Keene has crafted a small gem that provides a fresh and penetrating study of 15th-century Kyoto and the role of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa.... Keene is a master at placing Yoshimasa in his time and drawing out the cultural influences flowing from the Silver Pavilion. A well-written and accessible essay. Highly recommended [for] readers at all levels interested in Japanese history and culture." — Choice
"[An] elegant, incisive new biography... Yoshimasa and the Silver Pavilion is a dense little book, packed almost to overflowing with information, and one that richly rewards the careful reader. Keene is a graceful, entertaining companion, writing with a refreshing lack of pomposity.... Yet the book is always authoritative and lucid. Anyone curious about the development of the legendary style of Japan will find it an invaluable and charming guide." — Time Magazine
"With such admirable industry did then Yoshimasa create "the soul of Japan." And his assiduity has been matched by that of Keene, who in this short and elegant book contributes a popular account of the man and his times." — Donald Richie, The Japan Times
"Keene has outdone himself with this exceptional book, which is based on the idea that the modern Japanese aesthetic was the creation of an exceptionally incompetent fifteenth-century shogun." — Colorado Springs Independent
"Yoshimasa and the Silver Pavilion gives this long-neglected but critical period in Japanese history the thorough treatment it deserves." — Sushi and Tofu
"This is a book not only for all students of Japanese history but also for all who want to understand what Keen calls "the soul of Japan."" — Hugh Cortazzi, The Royal Society for Asian Affairs
"Keene, the prominent scholar of Japan, brings together a masterful account." — Yumi Sakugawa, Pacific Citizen
"Replete with murder, mayhem, political and sexual intrigue, and a devastating war, Japan's fifteenth century seems the stuff of Jacobean drama. And like those dramas, the story can at times be devilishly difficult to follow. Yoshimasa and the Silver Pavilion offers a engaging narrative of this tumultuous, but also incredibly fertile, period in Japanese cultural history. Keene deftly unravels the complex politics of the era and offers a masterful account of the cultural developments that came together in the Higashiyama epoch. A highly readable and exceptionally accessible book, Yoshimasa is the place to start for anyone interested in the political and cultural life of late medieval Kyoto." — Thomas Keirstead, Indiana University
Shoguns of the Ashikaga Family
Yoshimasa and the Silver Pavilion