Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tokyo Day 5: Sengaku-ji - Tale of the 47 Ronin & True Samurai Loyalty

After leaving Chuo-ku's Ginza, we headed towards Sengaku-ji Temple located in the Minato-ku district of Tokyo.

Sengaku-ji was the Temple of the 47 Ronin and the site of their graves - one of the greatest loyal samurai stories in Japan's history.

It took everything in this Humanities student to not become overwhelmed by visiting the site of such awesome historical events.

Here goes my attempt at a short version of the story:

Lord Asano, master and samurai leader of the men who became the 47 Ronin, was given an assignment with higher up samurai Lord Kira. Kira tried to get Asano to accept a bribe and when Asano told him he wouldn't because it wasn't the samurai way - Kira called him a "country boor". Asano having enough pulled his dagger and struck Kira's head, but failed to kill him before he was pulled away by Kira's samurai.

Asano wasn't punished for the attack on Kira, which was seen as just...but he was punished for pulling his weapon within the Imperial grounds - a crime usually punished with execution. They allowed Asano to take the more honorable punishment of seppuku (ritual suicide)... Asano returned to his temple Sengaku-ji, committed suicide and was buried on the grounds. His men were told to leave and were now considered "ronin" or masterless samurai.

47 of these samurai decided to plot a revenge against Kira for his slight on their master...Oishi, who was the head samurai for Asano, became the leader of this group. Lord Kira was very scared of an attack since under bushido, code of the samurai, revenge was proper. Kira sent spies for the next two years to follow Oishi and his men.

In order to trick the guards they came up with the plan to separate and leave their lives as samurai - becoming tradesmen. Oishi moved to Kyoto and began taking up a life full of geisha girls and alcohol. He was so believable in his guise that at one point while drunk outside... a passerby stopped to yell insults at him, spit and slap him... telling him he was a coward for not seeking revenge. The spies seeing this returned to Kira and told him there was nothing to worry about any longer.

Some of the men, who were now skilled in their trades, got jobs inside of Kira's estate as carpenters or other tradesmen...they began to learn the makeup of the entire estate. After a little while, Oishi returned to Edo (Tokyo) and met secretly with the other ronin. In 1703, they surrounded Kira's estate - let the innocent leave and attacked Kira's retainers...they finally found Kira hiding with his wives in a closet.

When they found Kira - they told him who they were and offered him the honorable death of taking his own life...they handed him the dagger that their master Asano had committed suicide with, but Kira fell to the ground crying. Oishi then took the dagger and chopped off Kira's head...the men took the head and returned to Sengaku-ji. They washed Kira's head in a well and placed it on their master's grave. Then, knowing that they would be punished for their actions, they turned themselves in.

The shogun had a tough time punishing the 47 ronin because they committed the crime of murder, but did it as an act of revenge which followed bushido... many spoke on behalf of the ronin and the shogun finally decided that their punishment would be honorable suicide instead of execution.

The 47 ronin returned to Sengaku-ji and each committed seppuku against a rock within the grounds of the temple and buried within Sengaku-ji next to their master Asano.

A few days after the punishment... the man who had once spit and slapped Oishi for not being brave - went to Sengaku-ji to visit his grave... he apologized and asked for forgiveness from Oishi and then committed suicide near Oishi's grave... he is buried at the temple as well.

Even though the men knew their punishment would be death, they followed through with the revenge for Asano in order to clear his name. The shogun after all of these event decided to return part of Asano's former lands to Asano's heirs.


So that wasn't very brief, but I love the story...

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