April 13, 2021

#08-070: The Forty-Seven Ronin

wood block print of old Japanese-style mantion with men in Edo-period clothing marching up its approach, while others are climbing on the snow-covered roof
The 47 ronin attack Kira's mansion

Note: The beginning of Japan's epic story cycle pits a haughty courtier against a sincere bumpkin; it ends with a revenge plot worthy of the Count of Monte Cristo.

Get Ready: Do you admire honorable revenge, or should offended parties always "turn the other cheek"?

Chushingura is as important to Japanese culture as the King Arthur stories are to the British. The story begins when a young country lord named Asano is assigned to perform a ceremony in the castle of the shogun or ruling general. Asano refuses to pay a bribe for instruction by Lord Kira, the ceremonial expert, believing it is part of Kira's job. For this, Kira treats Asano rudely, at last provoking him to draw his sword on Kira--a violation of strict rules in the castle.

Though Kira's wound is minor, Asano is stripped of his fiefdom and forced to commit suicide. His samurai become masterless.

Not long after, Asano's right-hand man, Oishi, lays plans for revenge: some of the most faithful of his men, known today as the Forty Seven Ronin (masterless samurai), swear a secret oath to avenge their lord, knowing their lives would be forfeit. In order to lull Kira's suspicions, they disperse, taking on other professions and even disguising themselves.

Oishi himself becomes a wastrel and a drunkard, living the "high life" in Kyoto. After many months of this, Kira at last lets down his guard.

Asano's men then secretly gather in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and using their disguises gain information on the house of Kira. One of them even marries the builder's daughter to get the floorplans! At last, after two years of waiting, the time comes.

Oishi's men attack the two gates of Kira's mansion, after explaining to the neighbors that they are not mere robbers but honorable men avenging their lord. Women, children, and helpless people in the mansion will be spared. No opposition comes from the neighbors.

After a search, the cowardly Kira is found and captured. Refusing to honorably take his own life, he is beheaded by Oishi's men. A messenger is sent to Asano's home territory of Ako to spread the news, and Oishi with the other 45 take Kira's head for presentation at Asano's grave at Sengaku-ji Temple. While there, they arrange for their own burials as well. They then turn themselves in to await sentencing.

In the end, they are allowed an honorable death by their own hands, rather than the ignominious punishment of execution. Their graves, and that of Lord Asano, can still be seen at Sengaku-ji. (I've been there!) 


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forty-seven_r%C5%8Dnin

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. fiefdom
  2. forfeit
  3. ignominious
  4. lull
  5. oath
  6. provoking
  7. right-hand man
  8. samurai
  9. suspicions
  10. wastrel

  1. given up in payment
  2. a useless person 
  3. causing someone to do something
  4. a vague ideas of something
  5. an area ruled by a lord
  6. cause to be less alert
  7. shameful; humiliating
  8. a sacred promise
  9. a Japanese warrior or knight
  10. one's main assistant

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 13, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. e; 2. a; 3. g; 4. f; 5. h; 6. c; 7. j; 8. i; 9. d; 10. b