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47 samurai

The incident of the 47 samurai (or 47 ronin, also known as Ako vendetta) is a famous case of the samurai code of honor. A group of samurai were left leaderless after their master was forced to commit seppuku avenged him a year later.

In 1701 (in Western reckoning) Asano Naganori was a young daimyo of Ako province[?] who was told to arrange a fitting reception to the envoy of emperor in Edo during his sankin kotai[?] service. Asano sought instruction in court etiquette from Kira Yoshinaka, a powerful official in the hierarchy of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi[?]’s shogunate. Kira disliked him – allegedly because he had not given him gift that was extravagant enough – refused and taunted and humiliated him in public. Eventually Asano lost his temper, drew his sword and wounded Kira in the face.

Kira’s wounds were hardly serious but the attack on shogunate official – especially within the boundaries of Edo castle[?] - was an attack against the shogunate itself. Therefore Asano was ordered to commit seppuku. For a lack of an heir, Asano’s lands were confiscated after his death and his retainers became ronin.

47 of Asano’s reputedly 300 men -- and especially their leader Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio -- refused to allow their lord to go unavenged. To quell the suspicions of Kira and other shogunate authorities, they dispersed and became tradesmen or monks. Oishi himself begun to frequent brothels and taverns and abandoned his family. Eventually Kira’s agents reported that Asano’s men were harmless.

Early in the morning of December 15, 1702, Oishi and 46 samurai attacked Kira Yoshinaka’s mansion in Edo armed with swords and bows. In the process they killed 16 of Kira’s men and wounded 22, including his grandson. They found Kira hiding in a storage room and offered him a chance of seppuku with the same dagger their lord had used. When he refused, they stabbed him and beheaded him. They carried Kira’s head to their lord’s grave in Sengaku-ji temple[?] and turned themselves in. The group was broken into four parts and put under guard of four different daimyos.

The Shogunate officials were in quandary. The samurai had followed the precepts of bushido (avenged the death of their lord) but also defied shogunate authority. The Shogun ordered them to honorably commit seppuku (instead of having them executed as criminals). They did so in February 4, 1703. They were also buried in Sengaku-ji cemetery, as they had requested.

This incident inspired a kabuki play called Kanadehon Chushingura. In the play the events are transferred to 14th century reign of shogun Ashikaga Takauji[?]. Asano became Enya, Kira became Moronao and Oishi became Oboshi. Moronao also tries to seduce Enya’s wife. This play has been made into a movie at least six times, with the 1962 version most familiar to Western audiences, where Toshiro Mifune appears in a supporting role.


  • John Allyn: The 47 Ronin Story

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