The 47 Ronin

You probably heard about the story of the 47 Ronin, One of the most beloved and known stories in Japan,

Whether you are familiar with the details or not, the story of the 47 Ronin is filled with honor, duty and fulfillment…

The sun was just beginning to rise. The streets were silent and almost deserted.

A group of warriors had scattered around Kira’s mansion to execute an attack. The last attack of their lives.

They dressed as samurai.

They moved like samurai.

But they were not samurai.

They were the 47 Ronin.

Between the years 1701 and 1703 approximately happened what was known as the “Ako Incident”.

What would go down in history as The Legend of the 47 Ronin.

Brief Description of Ronin

Ronin means “wave man.”

It was a name used to refer to masterless Samurai during feudal Japan.

No matter how long the vassals may wish their master to live, there is always the possibility that he may fall into ruin, or die, or lose their favor.

And for a samurai, whose very name means “he who serves,” there was no worse misfortune than to be left without a master to serve.

Without it, his life lost purpose.

He becomes a wandering man, like the waves of the sea.

A wave man.

A ronin.

The Death of Master Asano

Asano Naganori was the daimyo of the domain of Ako (a small fief west of Honshu). In 1701, he had been selected by the Shogun to entertain members of the imperial family. And, to help him in his new duty, Kira Yoshinaka, the highest-ranking master of protocol in the government, was assigned to instruct him in matters of etiquette.

The relationship between these two, however, started on the left foot; with Kira demanding to his new pupil a monetary compensation for his teachings and Asano refusing, because he considered that it was his duty.

The friction was not long in coming; the jokes of Kira, who positioned himself above Asano, were sharp and constant, ending more and more with the patience of the young daimyo.

One day things went too far.

Kira insulted Asano directly, and Asano, burning with rage, drew his Katana and tried to kill him.

To Samurai honor it is normal. Typical behaviors such as beheading someone who insults you were common in feudal Japan.

The problem?

It is that this action had been carried out inside the palace of the Shogun, which was punishable by death.

On top of that, Asano had not succeeded in killing Kira. He had barely cut him before he was stopped.

Thus, the daimyo was quickly arrested by the palace security guards and was forced to commit seppuku.

In his ceremony, Asano wrote the following death poem:

“More than cherry blossoms,

Inviting a wind to take them away,

I wonder what to do,

with the rest of spring.”

And with those sad farewell words from distant times, began one of the world’s most beloved and respected battle stories of revenge.

47 Ronin

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Vengeance Is Served Cold

When the news of Asano’s death reached their loyal samurai, they saw their world fall. They had lost their master, and with him their sense of living.

Now they were Ronin.

Of the 300 samurai who had served Asano, only 47 were entrusted to do justice.

Soon they began to forge their plans for vengeance against Kira. They even made a secret oath so that no matter what happened, they would not rest until they gave their master a fair rest.

The now Ronin decided to leave the castle and serve Asano’s family while they paved the way for revenge.

Suspicion Impregnates the Air

Kira was no fool.

Anticipating retaliation from Asano’s family, he increased his personal guard and fortified his residence. Oishi, one of the Ronin, knew they could do nothing as long as Kira kept the defenses high.

His plan was to wait for his prey to become confident, while he waited for the right moment to attack.

For this purpose, all the 47 Ronin hid many of their weapons, samurai swords and armor in different locations, and dispersed to become merchants and monks, while waiting patiently for vengeance.

Oishi, who was one of Asano’s most loyal samurai, even began to frequent brothels and taverns, as if nothing were further from his mind than vengeance.

He even abandoned his own wife and sent her away with his two children, replacing her with a young concubine.

If even he had given up, what could be expected of the rest?

But they say “More knows the devil for being old than for being the devil.”

Although at first sight Asano’s faithful servants had apparently dispersed and followed his path, Kira did not yet trust them. And he sent spies to observe the ex-samurai.

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Touching the Bottom of the Hole

One of the 47 Ronin who got most into his role was Oishi.

He returned one day so drunk from a bar that he collapsed in the street, asleep. And everyone passing by laughed at him.

Lost honor. Lost dignity. Lost his master, for whom he was willing to give his life. Oishi lay disheartened and drunk with his head on the street like a vagabond.

A man from Satsuma passing by that path was completely enraged at the sight of the ex-samurai’s condition, both for his lack of courage to avenge his master and for his current behavior.

Satsuma’s man insulted him and spat on him.

One of Kira’s spies, who had been watching this, returned to inform his master.

With Oishi in ruins and the rest of the Ronin scattered, Asano’s old servants were no longer a problem.

Kira could finally make himself comfortable and lower his defenses.

Oh, big mistake, Kira…

The Revenge of 47 Ronin

While Kira trusted and lowered the defenses, some of the Ronin managed to infiltrate his home as workers.

There, they took the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the design of the house as they searched for its weak points.

One of them even married the daughter of the house builder, to obtain the plans and give them to Oishi.

Others, meanwhile, were still secretly gathering and transporting weapons to Edo.

The storm was hovering over Kira’s head.

With all the new information that indicated it was time, a night Oishi fled Kyoto, misleading the spies who watched him, and met his men in a secret place in Edo.

The 47 Ronin Attack

“No man shall live under the same heavens or tread on the same earth as the enemy of the lord or the father.”

– Words of Confucius quoted by the 47 ronin in their wills.

On the morning of December 14, 1702, in the midst of a violent snowfall, the 47 ronin gathered around Kira’s mansion. The time for attack had come.

According to the carefully plotted plan, the ronin split in two groups to attack the mansion, armed with swords and bows.

One of the groups, led by Oishi himself, attacked the front entrance.

They entered by surprise, knocking down the front door while some climbed the walls with a ladder. They caught Kira guards, falling on them like an avalanche, hidden by the snowstorm, killing some and knocking out many. Being careful, however, with women, children, and the elderly, whom they set apart without harm.

They had infiltrated like ninjas, but fought with honor, like samurai.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, the second group, led by Oishi’s son, infiltrated through the rear entrance, silently knocking down the guards and waiting for the signal.

Once the main entrance was secured, Oishi sent messengers to the homes of all the neighbors to warn them that they were not thieves, but Samurai seeking revenge.

Did the neighbors do anything?

Yes, of course.

They watched from the outside as the 47 Ronin did their thing.

Everyone hated Kira! And now at last they would see how he was going to get what he deserved.

The first part of the plan was over.

Oishi’s next step was to place archers on the roof of the entrance to prevent those in the house from sending people to seek help. Then he blew the drum to announce the start of the attack.

Ten of Kira’s men went immediately to meet the samurai, but were surprised by the group of Oishi’s son, who charged and attacked them.

Kira, terrified, took refuge in a room with his wife and female servants.

The rest of his men, who were sleeping in the barracks, tried to break into the house to rescue him. However, they met the 47 ronin, who fought them with fury and steel, preventing them from passing.

A few of Kira’s men nearby tried to run for help, but were shot one by one efficiently by the archers on the roofs.

Ending the violent confrontation, the rest of Kira’s men were subdued.

Of Kira, however, there was no sign.

The 47 Ronin searched desperately throughout the house, but found nothing but women and children.

They were beginning to lose hope, when Oishi touched Kira’s bed; it was still warm. Which meant he wasn’t far away.

Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The Last Cherry Blossom

A renewed search by the warriors revealed a secret entrance to a hidden backyard. There was a small building in which charcoal and firewood were stored.

There, they were caught by two Kira guards, who were easily dispatched.

When they searched the building, they discovered another hidden man, who tried to attack them by surprise with a dagger. But they disarmed him without any problem.

That man refused to say who he was, but the ronin suspected it was Kira himself, so they whistled to attract the rest.

When everyone gathered in that courtyard, Oishi himself looked at the man from head to toe and confirmed that he was Kira. As if that were not enough, he had the scar that Asano had left him when he attempted to kill him.

The mark Asano had left him before he died had become the mark of death for Kira.

Oishi brought the man to his knees and gave him the opportunity, because of his high rank, to die with honor, as a true samurai should.

Just as his master Asano had had to commit seppuku, now it was Kira’s turn.

At the moment of truth, however, the man refused to end his life. So Oishi himself had to do it, with the same wakizashi his master had used.

Upon completion of the vengeance, one of the 47 ronin, Terasaka Kichiemon, was sent as a messenger to Ako to report that the mission had been successful.

On the same day the ronin took Kira’s head to Asano’s tomb and offered it to him.

And they, with the purpose of their lives fulfilled, surrendered.

700 soldiers went for them to Sengakuji.

An Honorable End

“My father warned me from the beginning that our crime was so great that, even if we were to be pardoned by a one-charge trial of grace, I must not forget that there would be a hundred million charges against us for which we would have to commit suicide.

– Written text left by Oishi

On February 4, 1703, the Ronin were granted the great honor of dying for seppuku and not dying as criminals, as they had not behaved like common criminals. The people were in their favor. They were heroes. The decision to order their seppuku was not popular. However, the government decided that maintaining order was the most important thing.

The forty-seventh Ronin, identified as Terasaka Kichiemon (the messenger), eventually returned from his mission and was pardoned by the Shogun (some say on account of his youth). He lived until the age of 87, dying around 1747, and was then buried with his comrades.

In Sengaku-ji are the graves of the 47 ronin. It is said that the Samurai of Satsuma who spit on Oishi went to the temple and also committed seppuku to make amends for his mistakes.

A favorable Kabuki play was written and became a classic. In the end, the 47 ronin became a legend.

Today, the tombs of Asano and the 47 ronin can be visited at Sengaku Temple in Tokyo, where the Japanese continue to venerate their memory, incense them and celebrate a festival on the anniversary of their death at the end of the year.

At the entrance to the temple is a statue of Oishi and the names of the warriors.

The vengeance of the “Ako Gishi” has been depicted in several Japanese movies and television series, and is now commonly known as “Chu-shin-gura” (The Story of Loyal Samurai).

This is a popular story, which still touches the hearts of the Japanese after 300 years.

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