Background to the Story of the 47 Ronin:
During the Tokugawa era in Japanese history, the country was ruled by the shogun, or highest military official, in the name of the emperor. Under him were a number of regional lords, the daimyo, each of whom employed a contingent of samurai warriors. All of these military elites were expected to follow the code of bushido - the "way of the warrior." Among the demands of bushido were loyalty to one's master, and fearlessness in the face of death. The story known as "Chushingura" is based on a real historical incident that took place in 1701, in which forty-seven loyal samurai revenged the death of their lord. The story has become famous in Japan through countless plays, movies, and novels. Ronin' (a ronin - literally "wave man") - is a masterless samurai.
The Tale of the 47 Ronin:
In 1701, the emperor Higashiyama sent imperial envoys from his seat at Kyoto to the shogun's court at Edo (Tokyo). A high shogunate official, Kira Yoshinaka, served as master of ceremonies for the visit. Two young daimyo, Asano Naganori of Ako and Kamei Sama of Tsumano, were in the capital performing their alternate attendance duties, so the shogunate gave them the task of looking after the emperor's envoys. Kira was assigned to train the daimyo in court etiquette. Asano and Kamei offered gifts to Kira, but the official considered them totally inadequate and was furious. He began to treat the two daimyo with contempt. Kamei was so angry about the humiliating treatment he wanted to kill Kira, but Asano preached patience. Fearful for their lord, Kamei's retainers secretly paid Kira a large sum of money, and the official began to treat Kamei better. He continued to torment Asano, however, until the young daimyo could not endure it. When Kira called Asano a "country bumpkin without manners" in the main hall, Asano drew his sword and attacked the official. Kira suffered only a shallow wound to his head, but shogunate law strictly forbade anyone from drawing a sword within Edo castle. The 34-year old Asano was ordered to commit seppuku. After Asano's death, the shogunate confiscated his domain, leaving his family impoverished and his samurai reduced to the status of ronin. Ordinarily, samurai were expected to follow their master into death rather than facing the dishonor of being a masterless samurai. Forty-seven of Asano's 320 warriors, however, decided to remain alive and seek revenge. Led by Oishi Yoshio, the 47 Ronin swore a secret oath to kill Kira at any cost. Fearful of just such an event, Kira fortified his home and posted a large number of guards. The Ako ronin bided their time, waiting for Kira's vigilance to relax. To help put Kira off his guard, the ronin scattered to different domains, taking menial jobs as merchants or laborers. One of them married into the family that had built Kira's mansion, so that he could have access to the blueprints. Oishi himself began to drink and spend heavily on prostitutes, doing a very convincing imitation of an utterly debased man. When a samurai from Satsuma recognized the drunk Oishi laying in the street, he mocked him and kicked him in the face, a mark of complete contempt. Oishi divorced his wife and sent her and their younger children away, to protect them. His oldest son chose to stay. As snow sifted down on the evening of December 14, 1702, the forty-seven ronin met once more at Honjo, near Edo, prepared for their attack. One young ronin was assigned to go to Aso and tell their tale. The forty-six first warned Kira's neighbors of their intentions, then surrounded the official's house armed with ladders, battering rams and swords. Silently, some of the ronin scaled the walls of Kira's mansion, then overpowered and tied up the startled night watchmen. At the drummer's signal, the ronin attacked from the front and rear. Kira's samurai were caught asleep, and rushed out to fight shoeless in the snow. Kira himself, wearing only undergarments, ran to hide in a...
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