Saturday, February 4, 2012

This Day in History- February 4, 1703- 46 of the Forty-seven Ronin commit seppuku

The revenge of the Forty-seven Ronin (四十七士, Shi-jū-shichi-shi), also known as the Forty-seven Samurai, the Akō vendetta, or the Genroku Akō incident (元禄赤穂事件, Genroku akō jiken) took place in Japan at the start of the 18th century. One noted Japanese scholar described the tale as the country's "national legend." It recounts the most famous case involving the samurai code of honor, bushidō.

The story tells of a group of samurai who were left leaderless (becoming ronin) after their daimyo (feudal lord) Asano Naganori was forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) for assaulting a court official named Kira Yoshinaka, whose title was Kōzuke no suke. The ronin avenged their master's honor after patiently waiting and planning for two years to kill Kira. In turn, the ronin were themselves forced to commit seppuku for committing the crime of murder. With much embellishment, this true story was popularized in Japanese culture as emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that all good people should preserve in their daily lives. The popularity of the almost mythical tale was only enhanced by rapid modernization during the Meiji era of Japanese history, when it is suggested many people in Japan longed for a return to their cultural roots.

On arriving at the temple, the remaining forty-six ronin, (one of the ronin, the ashigaru Terasaka Kichiemon, was ordered to travel to Akō and inform them that their revenge had been completed), washed and cleaned Kira's head in a well, and laid it, and the fateful dagger, before Asano's tomb. They then offered prayers at the temple, and gave the abbot of the temple all the money they had left, asking him to bury them decently, and offer prayers for them. They then turned themselves in; the group was broken into four parts and put under guard of four different daimyo.

During this time, two friends of Kira came to collect his head for burial; the temple still has the original receipt for the head, which the friends and the priests who dealt with them all signed.

The shogunate officials in Edo were in a quandary. The samurai had followed the precepts of bushido by avenging the death of their lord; but they had also defied the shogunate authority by exacting revenge, which had been prohibited. In addition, the Shogun received a number of petitions from the admiring populace on behalf of the ronin. As expected, the ronin were sentenced to death for the murder of Kira; but the Shogun had finally resolved the quandary by ordering them to honorably commit seppuku, instead of having them executed as criminals. It is known that each of the assailants ended his life in a ritualistic fashion.

Each of the forty-six ronin killed himself in Genroku 16, on the 4th day of the 2nd month (元禄十六年二月四日, Tuesday, February 4, 1703). 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, identified as Terasaka Kichiemon, 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. 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 visited the tombs 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

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