Japan’s Best Piece of History: Ako’s 47 Ronin

The story of the 47 Ronin is my favorite from Japanese history. It is also a story that many foreigners are not familiar with. But don’t worry, I’m here to share a summarized version with you now: 

It was at the turn of the century, the 17th century that is, when the town of Ako would change forever.

Every year Lord Asano made the journery from Ako to Tokyo with his samurai, gaurds, and many others from the village. 

In 1701, Lord Asano was at a reception at Edo Castle in Tokyo. While there, he and Kira (a powerful official) had a bit of a disagreement. Some say Kira was displeased by insufficient presents from Asano. Some say Kira continuously insulted and ridiculed Lord Asano.  

Whichever is true, something led to Asano, who had been even-tempered, losing his temper and attacked Kira with a dagger. 

The wound was hardly lethal, but a crime just the same and Lord Asano was sentenced to death. 

Because of Asano’s status, he was able to perform seppuku, ceremonial suicide, which allowed his family to keep honor to their name. 

However, the death of Lord Asano left his samurai masterless, or ronin. 

Lord Asano’s head samurai, Oishi, knew his Lord had been treated unjustly by Kira and plotted with 47 other ronin to plan an attack to avenge their Lord. 

Kira, being no fool, sent his men to spy on the ronin to assure he was in no danger of revenge. For TWO YEARS Oishi and the others led their lives as divorced men, town drunkards, visiting brothels, moving to Kyoto and Tokyo, and all to make sure Kira was thrown off their scent. 

Once Kira’s men had assured them that Oishi and the others were honorless samurai, it was time to attack. 

The men split into two groups, one led by Oishi and one led by his son, and began to play their well laid-out plan. 

They surrounded Kira’s home, capturing guards and scaling the walls. They posted swordmens and archers to fight off Kira’s men. They came to Kira’s room, who’s bed was still warm. 

Finally, they came to a hidden courtyard and found a man they thought to be Kira. Oishi came to the man, and it was indeed Kira. 

Oishi offered Kira, because of his status, to commit seppuku and Oishi himself would act as kaishakunin (person who beheads one commiting seppuku to avoid a lingering death), but Kira being coward just trembled in fear. 

Alas, the men pinned Kira down and Oishi killed and beheaded him. 

Quickly after, Oishi ordered one ronin to run back to Ako to spread the story, and the others took Kira’s head to Sengaku-ji temple to Lord Asano’s grave. 

The tale spread quickly, and many petitioins began on behalf of the, now, 46 ronin. 

Knowing that this attack would lead to death, the samurai had not anticipated the officials decision to grant seppuku on the grounds of their Lord’s grave. But the dedication, commitment and loyalty of their actions could not go unnoticed. 

Getting to Ako:

Depending on what part of the country you are in, you will take various trains or just one. However, the name of your final destination stop is Banshū-Akō Station.

Before You Go:

If you want to learn more about the story here are my two suggestions: 

47 Ronin starring Keanu Reeves- A loosely-based movie about the 47 Ronin… minus the half-breed and magic.

47 Ronin by John Allyn- This is a little more accurate than the Hollywood produced movie. And gives much more detail true to story.

Either way, it is a story worth knowing and sharing. If you ever get the chance to visit Japan, I suggest Sengaku-ji temple and Ako being on your list! 

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