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47 Ronin

Have you seen the movie titled 47 Ronin?  Would you believe me if I tell you that they were real?  Who are they and why are they so famous among Japanese people?

What is a Ronin?

A ronin refers to a lordless or masterless samurai.  A samurai becomes a ronin when they loss in battle or when their master dies or as a punishment for their misdeeds.  The 47 ronin were made famous because of their loyalty to their daimyo (feudal lord), Asano Naganori.

The Story

The story began in the early 18th century when Asano Naganori, a young daimyo from the Akō Domain, along with Lord Kamei of the Tsuwanon Domain, were tasked by the shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, to entertain the envoys from the imperial family.  To help them with the task, Kira Yoshinaka, a powerful Edo official and a master of protocol, was also assigned by Tokugawa to teach them proper court etiquette in preparation for the reception of the visitors from the imperial family.  But it seems that Asano Naganori and Kira Yoshinaka doesnt get along so well.  It has been said that Kira became upset because of the insufficient presents that Asano gave Kira.  Kira treated Asano harshly and often insulted him.  On the day of the reception, Asano could no longer restrain himself.  He drew his sword and tried to kill Kira.  But he was not successful in the attack and Kira was only wounded in the face.  Asano was promptly placed under arrest.  Attacking an official within the shoguns residence was considered a grave offense.  Because of Asano’s attack on Kira, he was ordered by the shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, to commit seppuku(Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment).  His possessions were to be confiscated and his retainers were to be made ronin after seppuku is carried out.  Kira’s residence has been well guarded after Asano committed seppuku, so as to prevent Asano’s retainers (samurai warriors) from taking revenge.

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Ōishi Yoshio, led a group of 47 lordless samurai to avenge the death of their master. They are now famously called as the “47 Ronin”.

Images taken by moof and Szabolcs Arany

Upon hearing the death of Asano, Ōishi Kuranosuke Yoshio, Asano’s principal consellor, plot a plan to avenge their master’s death.  Knowing that taking revenge for their master is prohibited and would cause them to be punished, Ōishi and 46 other ronins banded together secretly and made an oath to avenge their master.  The plan was to lead Kira into thinking that Asano’s retainers were bad samurai who doesn’t have the courage to avenge their fallen master.  The 47 ronin each lived separate lives doing menial jobs.  Some became traders and monks.  Ōishi lived in Kyoto and was always seen in a brothel or engaged in a drunken brawl.  Ōishi make it seem like he doesn’t care about his future.

The Comeback

After 2 years of spying, Kira was convinced that Asano’s retainers were harmless and so he let down his guard.  Noticing that Kira was off his guard, Ōishi and the other 46 ronins gathered in a secret place in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) to renew their oaths.  On December 14, 1702, the 47 ronin, led by Ōishi, executed their plan of revenge for their master.  They split into two groups.  The first group attacked the main gate, while the second group attacked the back gate.  They were able to infiltrate Kira’s residence.  Their plan was successful.  Kira was killed.  After Kira was killed, Terasaka Kichiemon, the ashigaru (foot-soldiers employed by samurais), was ordered by Ōishi to travel to Akō and report about their successful revenge.

Sengakuji Temple is the place where the 47 Ronin and their master are buried.

Sengakuji Temple is the place where the 47 Ronin and their master are buried.

Image taken by motoyen

From Kira’s residence, the ronins marched to their lord’s grave in Sengaku-ji temple carrying Kira’s head.  After they laid Kira’s head on their master’s grave and offered prayers, all the ronin, except Terasaka Kichiemon, who was on a mission to Akō, turned themselves in to the authorities and waited for the shogun’s verdict.

The shogun was in a dilemma.  Ōishi Kuranosuke Yoshio and the other ronin followed the bushido code (Way of The  Warrior) by avenging the death of their master, Asano Naganori.  But they also defied the shogun’s order which prohibited them from taking revenge.  But because of the petitions received by the shogun, they were allowed to honorably kill themselves by committing seppuku.   All the ronin, except Terasaka Kichiemon, who was on a mission to Akō, performed seppuku.  When Terasaka Kichiemon returned from his mission, he was pardoned by the shogun and lived until 1747, dying at the age of 87.  He was buried next to his comrades and master at the grounds of Sengaku-ji Temple.

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The burial place of the 47 Ronin and their master, Asano Naganori, at the grounds of Sengaku-ji Temple in Tokyo, Japan.

Images taken by tomcensani and Stefan

Chūshingura

Years after the successful attack of the 47 Ronin, stage plays and puppet plays have been made to re-enact the incident.  Fictionalized story, plays and depictions about the revenge of the 47 Ronin for their fallen master is called Chūshingura.  Re-telling of the story have been done countless number of times, even today.

The story of the 47 Ronin is the most famous example of bushidō or the samurai’s code of honor.  Even death could not stop the 47 Ronin from taking revenge to show their loyalty for their fallen master.

The movie 47 Ronin, is a depiction of the event which happened some 300 years ago.  The story more or less runs parallel with the real event, that is, the story is about the loyalty of the 47 Ronin.  Of course, the story of Kai in the movie is not real.  So are the dragon and the witch.

Japanese flock into Sengaku-ji Temple on December 14 of every year to commemorate and honor the 47 Ronin.

Sources:
  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forty-seven_Ronin
  2. http://www.samurai-archives.com/ronin.html
  3. http://asianhistory.about.com/od/japan/p/47ronin.htm
  4. http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3000.html
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