Forty-seven Ronin

Forty-seven Ronin

The revenge of the , [ [ Tsuchihashi conversion] ] early in the morning in a driving wind during a heavy fall of snow, Ōishi and the ronin attacked Kira Yoshinaka's mansion in Edo. According to a carefully laid-out plan, they split up into two groups and attacked, armed with swords and bows. One group, led by Ōishi, was to attack the front gate; the other, led by his son, Ōishi Chikara, was to attack the house via the back gate. A drum would sound the simultaneous attack, and a whistle would signal that Kira was dead. [Mitford, pp. 16–17.]

Once Kira was dead, they planned to cut off his head, and lay it as an offering on their master's tomb. They would then turn themselves in, and wait for their expected sentence of death. [Mitford, p. 17] All this had been confirmed at a final dinner, where Ōishi had asked them to be careful, and spare women, children, and other helpless people. [Mitford, pp. 17–18.] The code of bushido does not require mercy to noncombatants, although it doesn't forbid it.

Ōishi had four men scale the fence and enter the porter's lodge, capturing and tying up the guard there. [Mitford, pp. 18–19.] He then sent messengers to all the neighbouring houses, to explain that they were not robbers, but retainers out to avenge the death of their master, and that no harm would come to anyone else: they were all perfectly safe. The neighbours, who all hated Kira, were relieved and did nothing to hinder the raiders. [Mitford, p. 19.]

After posting archers (some on the roof), to prevent those in the house (who had not yet woken up) from sending for help, Ōishi sounded the drum to start the attack. Ten of Kira's retainers held off the party attacking the house from the front, but Ōishi Chikara's party broke into the back of the house. [Mitford, pp. 19–20.]

Kira, in terror, took refuge in a closet in the veranda, along with his wife and female servants. The rest of his retainers, who slept in a barracks outside, attempted to come into the house to his rescue. After overcoming the defenders at the front of the house, the two parties of father and son joined up, and fought with the retainers who came in. The latter, perceiving that they were losing, tried to send for help, but their messengers were killed by the archers posted to prevent that. [Mitford, p. 20.]

Eventually, after a fierce struggle, the last of Kira's retainers was subdued; in the process they killed sixteen of Kira's men and wounded twenty-two, including his grandson. Of Kira, however, there was no sign. They searched the house, but all they found were crying women and children. They began to despair, but Ōishi checked Kira's bed, and it was still warm, so he knew he could not be far. [Mitford, p. 22.]

The death of Kira

A renewed search disclosed an entrance to a secret courtyard hidden behind a large scroll; the courtyard held a small building for storing charcoal and firewood, where two more hidden armed retainers were overcome and killed. A search of the building disclosed a man hiding; he attacked the searcher with a dagger, but the man was easily disarmed. [Mitford, p. 23.]

He refused to say who he was, but the searchers felt sure it was Kira, and sounded the whistle. The ronin gathered, and Ōishi, with a lantern, saw that it was indeed Kira—as a final proof, his head bore the scar from Asano's attack. [Mitford, pp. 23–24.]

At that, Ōishi went on his knees, and in consideration of Kira's high rank, respectfully addressed him, telling him they were retainers of Asano, come to avenge him as true samurai should, and inviting Kira to die as a true samurai should, by killing himself. Ōishi indicated he personally would act as a second, and offered him the same dagger that Asano had used to kill himself. [Mitford, p. 24.]

However, no matter how much they entreated him, Kira crouched, speechless and trembling. At last, seeing it was useless to ask, Ōishi ordered the ronin to pin him down, and killed him by cutting off his head with the dagger. Kira was killed on the night of the 14th day of the 12th month of the 15th year of "Genroku."

They then extinguished all the lamps and fires in the house (lest any cause the house to catch fire, and start a general fire that would harm the neighbours), and left, taking the head. [Mitford, pp. 24–25.]

One of the ronin, the ashigaru Terasaka Kichiemon, was ordered to travel to Akō and inform them that their revenge had been completed. (Though Kichiemon's role as a messenger is the most widely-accepted version of the story, other accounts have him running away before or after the battle, or being ordered to leave before the ronin turn themselves in. [. [ [ Tsuchihashi conversion] ] This has caused a considerable amount of confusion ever since, with some people referring to the "forty-six ronin"; this refers to the group put to death by the Shogun, the actual attack party numbered forty-seven. The forty-seventh ronin eventually returned from his mission and was pardoned by the Shogun (some say on account of his youth). He lived until the age of seventy-eight, and was then buried with his comrades. The assailants who died by "seppuku" were subsequently interred on the grounds of Sengaku-ji, in front of the tomb of their master.

The clothes and arms they wore are still preserved in the temple to this day, along with the drum and whistle; the armor was all home-made, as they had not wanted to possibly arouse suspicion by purchasing any.

The tombs became a place of great veneration, and people flocked there to pray. The graves at this temple have been visited by a great many people throughout the years since the "Genroku" era. One of those who was the man who had mocked and spat on Ōishi as he lay drunk in the street. Addressing the grave, he begged for forgiveness for his actions, and for thinking that Ōishi was not a true samurai. He then committed suicide, and is buried next to the graves of the ronin.

Re-establishment of the Asano clan's lordship

Though this act is often viewed as an act of loyalty, there had been a second goal, to re-establish the Asanos' lordship and finding a place to serve for fellow samurai. Hundreds of samurai who had served under Asano had been left jobless and many were unable to find employment, as they had served under a disgraced family. Many lived as farmers or did simple handicrafts to make ends meet. The 47 ronin's act cleared their names and many of the unemployed samurai found jobs soon after the "ronin" had been sentenced to an honorable end.

Asano Daigaku Nagahiro, Takuminokami's younger brother and heir, was allowed by the Tokugawa Shogunate to re-establish his name, though his territory was reduced to a tenth of the original.


The ronin spent a year waiting for the "right time" for their revenge. It was Yamamoto Tsunetomo, author of the "Hagakure", who asked this famous question: "What if, nine months after Asano's death, Kira had died of an illness?" To which the answer obviously was: then the Forty-seven Ronin would have lost their only chance at avenging their master. Even if they had claimed, then, that their dissipated behavior was just an act, that in just a little more time they would have been ready for revenge, who would have believed them? They would have been forever remembered as cowards and drunkards—bringing eternal shame to the name of the Asano clan.

The right thing for the ronin to do, wrote Yamamoto, according to proper "bushido", was to attack Kira and his men immediately after Asano's death. [Yamamoto, T. (Kodansha, 1979). "Hagakure", pph. 26. ] The ronin would probably have suffered defeat, as Kira was ready for an attack at that time — but this was unimportant. Ōishi, from the perspective of "bushido", was too obsessed with success. His convoluted plan was conceived in order to make absolutely certain that they would succeed at killing Kira, which is not a proper concern in a samurai: the important thing was not the death of Kira, but for the former samurai of Asano to show outstanding courage and determination in an all-out attack against the Kira house, thus winning everlasting honor for their dead master. Even if they failed at killing Kira, even if they all perished, it wouldn't have mattered, as victory and defeat have no importance in "bushido". By waiting a year they improved their chances of success but risked dishonoring the name of their clan, the worst sin a samurai can commit. This is why Yamamoto and others claim that the tale of the Forty-seven Ronin is a good story of revenge — but by no means a story of "bushido".

The Forty-Seven Ronin in the Arts

The tragedy of the Forty-seven Ronin has been one of the most popular themes in Japanese art, and has lately even begun to make its way into Western art.

Immediately following the event, there were mixed feelings among the intelligentsia about whether such vengeance had been appropriate—many agreed that, given their master's last wishes, the forty-seven had done the right thing, but were undecided about whether such a vengeful wish was proper. Over time, however, the story became a symbol, not of bushido, as the forty-seven can be seen as seriously lacking it, but of loyalty to one's master and later, of loyalty to the emperor. Once this happened, it flourished as a subject of drama, storytelling, and visual art.


The incident immediately inspired a succession of "kabuki" and "bunraku" plays; the first, "The Night Attack at Dawn by the Soga" appeared only two weeks after they died. It was shut down by the authorities, but many others soon followed, initially especially in Osaka and Kyoto, further away from the capital. Some even took it as far as Manila, to spread the story to the rest of Asia.

The most successful of them was a "bunraku" puppet play called "Kanadehon Chūshingura" (now simply called "Chūshingura", or "Treasury of Loyal Retainers"), written in 1748 by Takeda Izumo and two associates; it was later adapted into a "kabuki" play, which is still one of Japan's most popular.

In the play, to avoid the attention of the censors, the events are transferred into the distant past, to the 14th century reign of shogun Ashikaga Takauji. Asano became Enya Hangan Takasada, Kira became Ko no Moronao and Ōishi rather transparently became Ōboshi Yuranosuke Yoshio; the names of the rest of the ronin were disguised to varying degrees. The play contains a number of plot twists that do not reflect the real story: Moronao tries to seduce Enya's wife, and one of the ronin dies before the attack because of a conflict between family and warrior loyalty (another possible cause of the confusion between forty-six and forty-seven).

Cinema and television

The play has been made into a movie at least six times, the earliest starring Onoe Matsunosuke. The film's release date is questioned, but placed between 1910 and 1917. It has been aired on the Jidaigeki Senmon Channel (Japan) with accompanying "benshi" narration. In 1941 the Japanese military commissioned director Kenji Mizoguchi "(Ugetsu)" to make "The 47 Ronin". They wanted a ferocious morale booster based upon the familiar "rekishi geki" ("historical drama") of The Loyal 47 Ronin. Instead, Mizoguchi chose for his source "Mayama Chūshingura", a cerebral play dealing with the story. "The 47 Ronin" was a commercial failure, having been released in Japan one week before the Attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese military and most audiences found the first part to be too serious, but the studio and Mizoguchi both regarded it as so important that Part Two was put into production, despite Part One's lukewarm reception. Renowned by postwar scholars lucky to have seen it in Japan, "The 47 Ronin" wasn't shown in America until the 1970s. [cite web | url = | title = Movies | publisher = Chicago Reader]

The 1962 version, "" is most familiar to Western audiences. In this, Toshiro Mifune appears in a supporting role as legendary spearsman Genba Tawaraboshi. Mifune was to revisit the story several times in his career. In 1971 he appeared in the 52-part television series "Daichūshingura" as Ōishi, while in 1978 he appeared as Lord Tsuchiya in the 1978 epic "Swords Of Vengeance," aka "Ako-Jo danzetsu".

Many Japanese television shows, including single programs, short series, single seasons, and even year-long series such as "Daichūshingura" and the more recent NHK Taiga drama "Genroku Ryōran", recount the events of the Forty-seven Ronin. Among both films and television programs, some are quite faithful to the "Chūshingura," while others incorporate unrelated material or alter details. In addition, "gaiden" dramatize events and characters not in the "Chūshingura". Kon Ichikawa directed another version in 1994. In Hirokazu Koreeda's 2006 film Hana yori mo naho, the event of the 47 "ronin" was used as a backdrop in the story, one of the ronin being a neighbour of the protagonists.

Woodblock prints

The Forty-seven Ronin are one of the most popular themes in woodblock prints, or "ukiyo-e"; the list of artists who have done prints portraying either the original events, or scenes from the play, or the actors, is a Who's Who of woodblock artists. One book on subjects depicted in woodblock prints devotes no less than seven chapters to the history of the appearance of this theme in woodblocks.

Among the artists who produced prints on this subject are Utamaro, Toyokuni, Hokusai, Kunisada and Hiroshige. However, probably the most famous woodblocks in the genre are those of Kuniyoshi, who produced at least eleven separate complete series on this subject, along with more than twenty triptychs.

In the West

*The earliest known account of the Akō incident in the West was published in 1822 in Isaac Titsingh's posthumous book, "Illustrations of Japan". [see above] ]

*A widely popularized retelling of the Akō story appeared in 1871 in A.B. Mitford's "Tales of Old Japan".

*Jorge Luis Borges retold the story in his first short story collection, "A Universal History of Infamy", under the title "The Uncivil Teacher of Etiquette, Kotsuke no Suke."

*The "History Bites" episode "Samurai Goodfellas" blends the story with elements reminiscent of "The Godfather".

*Lucia St. Clair Robson's historical fiction novel "The Tokaido Road" is adapted from the tale of the Forty-seven Ronin.

*In "The Simpsons" episode Thirty Minutes over Tokyo, Homer and Bart are forced to perform in a kabuki play about the Forty-seven Ronin while imprisoned in Japan. Homer stated he wanted to be Oishi but was made to be Ori.

*There are several references to the 47 ronin story in Martin Cruz Smith's novel "December 6".

*The German 1983 fantasy thriller "Der Sommer Des Samurai" ("Summer of the Samurai") tells of the vendetta of a Japanese-raised German banker (Hans Peter Hallwachs), who follows the ancient ways of the samurai, against the thieves of Ōishi Yoshio's legendary Muramasa katana in Hamburg, using the legend of the 47 Ako ronin to add to the plot's mysticism.

*One episode of the Nickelodeon game show "Legends of the Hidden Temple" featured an artifact called "The War Fan of the Forty-Seven Ronin."

*Maurice Béjart, ballet choreographer, created a ballet work "The Kabuki" based on the "Chūshingura" in 1986, and it has been performed more than 140 times in 14 nations world wide by 2006.

*Beckett Comics published a very fictionalized version that mixed elements of the tale with those of the Robin Hood myth in Ronin Hood of the 47 Samurai.

*Actors Dylan and Cole Sprouse have created an action book series called 47 R.O.N.I.N. published by Simon & Schuster Inc. about 15 year-old twin brothers Tom and Mitch who learn that their father and live-in butler are members of a rogue crime-fighting organization, R.O.N.I.N., which dates back to feudal Japan; that their father is in danger; and that they have just been recruited to join their father's clan.

*The novel "The Fifth Profession" by David Morrell mentions the tale of the 47 ronin to show ultimate loyalty even beyond death as this is the overall theme of the book.

*The motion picture Ronin (1998), starring Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard, Jonathan Pryce, Sean Bean and Natascha McElhone, while not about the historical Japanese 47 Ronin, references the 47 Ronin specifically in the context of the modern mercenaries that the story of the film deals with and how they are in many ways similar to the warriors, and the warrior code of bushido, of earlier times across many cultures.



* Allyn, John. (1981). "The Forty-Seven Ronin Story." New York.
* Dickens, Frederick V. (1930) "Chushingura, or The Loyal League." London.
* Keene, Donald. (1971). "Chushingura: A Puppet Play." New York.
* Robinson, B.W. (1982). "Kuniyoshi: The Warrior Prints." Ithaca.
* Sato, Hiroaki. (1995). "Legends of the Samurai." New York.
* Screech, Timon. (2006). "Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779–1822." London.
* Steward, Basil. (1922). "Subjects Portrayed in Japanese Colour-Prints." New York.
* Titsingh, Isaac. (1820). "Mémoires et Anecdotes sur la Dynastie régnante des Djogouns, Souverains du Japon." Paris: Nepveu.
* Weinberg, David R. et al. (2001). "Kuniyoshi: The Faithful Samurai." Leiden.

External links

* [ Chushingura and the Samurai Tradition] — Comparisons of the accuracy of accounts by Mitford, Murdoch and others, as well as much other useful material, by a noted scholars of Japan
* [ Ako's Forty-Seven Samurai] — Web site produced by students at Ako High School; contains the story of the 47 Ronin's story, and images of wooden votive tablets of the 47 Ronin in the Oishi Shrine, Ako
* [ "Sources of Japanese Tradition"] — de Bary, William T. et al. (1960). "Sources of Japanese Tradition." New York.
* [ The Trouble with Terasaka: The Forty-Seventh Ronin and the Chushingura Imagination] by Henry D. Smith II
* [ Well photos] — The well where 47 Ronin washed the head of Kira
* [ Sengakuji Photos] — Photos from Sengakuji Temple, including the Kubi-Arai well
* [ Five different woodblock print versions of the story by Ando Hiroshige]
* [ Article at Martial Edge]
* National Diet Library: [ photograph of Sengaku-ji (1893)] ; [ photograph of Sengaku-ji (1911)]

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