The Real 47 Ronin Story: A Mini-documentary of Samurai Loyalty and Revenge

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In the late 16th and early 17th century of feudal Japan, the great warrior samurai class was struggling to maintain its once proud identity. Japan was at peace for roughly 100 years and was experiencing political stability throughout the land. Lord Asano Naganori was chosen by the shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi to be one of many daimyo invited to Edo to entertain the Imperial family’s envoys. Assigned to assist Lord Asano was the Shogun’s highest-ranking master of protocol, Kira Yoshinaka. He was instructed to educate the Lord on matters of proper etiquette. The two had many disagreements and disliked each other immensely. Kira expected a monetary show of appreciation for his troubles, while Asano believed this was his duty and was what was expected from his title. Kira didn’t take kindly to such disrespect towards a superior and continued to embarrass Asano at every possible moment.

The two’s dislike all came to a head when just before the ceremony was about to begin Kira called Lord Asano a country boor with no manners. Unable to withstand the insults any longer, Lord Asano lunged at Kira with his sword striking him in his face. Drawing a sword in the Shogun’s palace was a serious offense and attacking another man, specifically a superior, would earn you a one-way ticket to paradise. When questioned about his crimes, Lord Asano showed no remorse saying he only regrets he did not kill Kira. The Shogun handed down Lord Asano the honorable death sentence of hara-kiri, but also seized his 50,000-koku fief at Ako in Harima. When news got back to Asano’s castle, his ex-retainers, now ronin, exchanged heated debate, but ultimately settled on Oishi Yoshio’s suggestion to surrender the castle peacefully and focus on a plan for revenge.

Understanding the code of loyalty between a lord and his vassals, Kira became extremely paranoid. He increased his personal guards and lived a life of self-imposed house arrest. Oishi and his men took menial jobs and adopted factitious characters of drunken ronin wasting their time in brothels. With all eyes on Oishi, he divorced his wife, frequented red-light districts, and was often found in drunken brawls with the lowest of men. Their goal was to wait for Kira and his men to let their guard down and strike when Kira accepted their saddened lives as reality. This was ultimately the outcome and after two years had passed on December 14, 1702 (Genroku 15), a cold snowy night in Edo, Oishi and his men decided tonight’s the night like Betty Wright.

Oishi and his men attacked Kira’s mansion taking everyone off guard. After a long fought battle Kira was found cowering in an outhouse. Oishi gave him the opportunity to commit seppuku, but apparently his reply didn’t come fast enough and Oishi gracefully decapitated Kira with the same sword that Lord Asano scarred him with just two years prior. The men took Kira’s bloody head, wrapped it in loincloth, placed it a bucket, and marched to Sengakuji where their Lord Asano’s shrine had been erected. They first washed the bloody head of Kira at the temple’s well and then presented the head to their lord’s shrine. After their ceremony was completed the 46 remaining ronin (one died in battle at Kira’s mansion) turned themselves in and were prepared to commit hara-kiri for their crime. On March 20, 1703, the 46 ronin followed through with their final duty and opened their bellies. The youngest being Oishi Chikara who was only 16 years old. Their bodies were later cremated and buried at Sengakuji along side their Lord.

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