The story of the 47 ronin is one of the best known samurai stories in and outside of Japan. The books, movies, TV films and theater performances are more than numerous. The story is based on real events that took place in feudal Japan of 1703.
First Publication: April 2009
Latest Update: February 2014
A few years after the actual events, a kabuki play came on stage under the name of "Chushingura". It became the most popular kabuki play ever.
Also Ukiyo-e printmakers soon picked up the popular subject. Prints with scenes from the fight of the 47 ronin are probably more frequent than any other subjects from the world of Japanese history and legends.
Watch this documentary by History Channel about the 47 Ronin and about the code of honor and bahavior of the Japanese samurai. Duration: 6 minutes. Thanks to johnmb76 for sharing this with us.
On a winter's night in early 1703, forty-six masterless samurai broke into the home of Lord Kira Yoshinaki and took his life, in revenge for the death of their own lord.
Far from the normal state of affairs in Tokugawa Japan (1600-1868), their act was a stunning return to the "death before dishonor" and "katakiuchi" ("striking down one's enemy") ethics that had been motivating principles in medieval warrior society.
The Tokugawa regime, seeking stability and order in society, had sought for a century to steer samurai away from these patterns of thought and action, instilling in their place the ideals of the Confucian gentleman.
Ultimately, the Shogun, Tsunayoshi (nicknamed the "Dog Shogun" for his Buddhist-based laws against the taking of life) ordered that the 46 ronin must be put to death, but allowed them the honor of taking their own lives by ritual disembowelment, the Japanese suicide known as seppuku.
With the finality of his decision, over which he struggled for months, the incident seemed as though it would be put to rest.
The general public, however, was far more sympathetic to the burning idealism of the ronin, whom they called "gishi" ("virtuous samurai"), and their death sentences were merely the tragic element that made their story one that would never die.
Just weeks after the deaths of the 46 ronin, an initial attempt to stage their story under the guise of a Soga Brothers play was made, but this was shut down according to the Tokugawa law that forbade depiction of recent events.
In 1706, however, the great writer for the puppet theater, Chikamatsu Monzaemon, connected the story of the ronin to a historical romance he was creating, setting the work in the fourteenth century to avoid censorship.
The real names of the 47 ronin and the persons involved were changed of course. Thus Asano became Enya, Kira became Moronao and Oishi Kuranosuke became Oboshi Yuranosuke.
Over the next decades, multiple authors continued to make references to the incident, drawing on Chikamatsu's play and its subsequent variants for inspiration, until in 1748 the eleven act version of "Kanadehon Chushingura" ("A Calligraphy Handbook: The Storehouse of Loyal Retainers") now canonical, was completed.
The twisting subplots - though they bear little relation to the historical incident - and the heroic message of against-all-odds struggle and triumph make Chushingura still a popular favorite, broadcast ritually every New Year.
Author: Dan McKee
edited by Dieter Wanczura
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