The Forty-Seven Ronin Incident: December 14th, 1702. (Months Past).(infamous Occurence in Japanese History)

By Cavendish, Richard | History Today, December 2002 | Go to article overview

The Forty-Seven Ronin Incident: December 14th, 1702. (Months Past).(infamous Occurence in Japanese History)


Cavendish, Richard, History Today


ONE OF THE MOST famous episodes in Japanese history is honoured on the traditional date of December 14th. It happened when Japan was ruled from Edo (now Tokyo) by the Tokugawa Shoguns, with the emperors reduced to a ceremonial role. In 1701 a nobleman named Asano Naganori, lord of Ako, was asked to help carry out certain formal duties at the shogun's court in Edo. An arrogant official named Kira Yoshinaka, however, was so unhelpful and treated Asano with such open contempt that the latter lost his temper, drew his sword and attacked him. This was a grave breach of protocol and Asano was ordered to commit suicide at once, which he did. He was buried in a temple outside Edo and his estate was confiscated.

The forty-seven samurai of Asano's bodyguard, now reduced to the status of ronin, or masterless samurai, decided that their code of honour demanded revenge. Taking to ostentatious idleness and dissipation to put both Kira and the authorities off guard, they waited for almost two years. The oldest of them, who was in his eighties, dropped out, but the remaining forty-six forced their way into Kira's house early on a cold winter morning at the end of January 1703, found him hiding in an outhouse and killed him. …

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