Japanese Lotteries – Old and New

The Ashikaga shoguns ruled Japan during the Muromachi period. Although not strictly considered a hereditary position, the title of shogun remained in the hands of the Ashikaga clan from 1338 until 1573.

The office most commonly passed from father to son or from older to younger brother, but on occasion it passed in entirely different ways.

One of the strangest?

A lottery.


The fourth Ashikaga shogun, Yoshimochi, held the title of shogun from 1395–1423, at which time he retired in favor of his son, Ashikaga Yoshikazu. Unfortunately, Yoshikazu died only two years later.

After his son’s untimely death, 40 year-old Yoshimochi resumed the shogun’s office–but did not reclaim the title, serving as shogun in fact but not in name until his own death in 1428. During the five-day period between Yoshimochi’s death and his funeral, high-ranking government officials (members of the samurai class) debated who should succeed Yoshimochi as shogun.

Ultimately, the officials opted for a lottery, which was held at the  shrine in Kyoto. The winning candidate, Ashikaga Yoshinori, was a younger brother of Yoshimochi–and also a buddhist monk. As a sixth son, with no realistic chance of becoming shogun, Yoshinori had entered a monastery in 1404, at the age of ten. He remained there until his appointment as Shogun in 1428.

Not surprisingly, Zen Buddhism gained influence in Japan during Yoshinori’s term as shogun. Perhaps more surprisingly, Yoshinori proved a competent military leader, and also a capricious one. He was assassinated on his birthday in 1441.

Which brings us to a second, less dangerous form of Japanese lottery — a giveaway of my upcoming Shinobi Mystery, Claws of the Cat! My publisher, Minotaur Books, is holding a drawing through Goodreads and giving away 15 advance copies of Claws of the Cat. The drawing is open to residents of the US and Canada only (Sorry!). The entry window closes on May 10 – tomorrow! – so click over to Goodreads and enter today if you’d like a chance to win your copy early!