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Monday, February 14, 2011

Chushingura (1)

A little snow pile up on the road yesterday. In recent years we have little snow here.

Late on the 14th day of the 12th month in the lunar calendar (January 31st in 1703 according to the Gregorian calendar), forty-seven Ako(赤穂) warriors raided the house of Kira Kozukenosuke(吉良上野介) and killed him around 4 a.m. on the 15th day.

We think of the scene that the warriors are headed for Kira's house in the snow. The memorial event for Ako warriors are held at Sengaku-ji Temple on December 14th, but the snow doesn't piled up at this time of year. In fact, it is said that it was a clear and frigid night with a full moon.

Kanadehon Chushingura (仮名手本忠臣蔵) based on this incident was written by Takeda Izumo Ⅱ(二代目竹田出雲), Miyoshi Syouraku(三好松洛), Namiki Senryu(並木千柳) premiered as a bunraku play in 1748, as a kabuki play in 1749.

he story has been featured in films and TV dramas many times in Japan.
In 2012, this story will be adapted into a 3D film called "47 Ronin" that starred Keanu Reeves. He will play an imagined character for the film. Ronin means a masterless samurai.


It all starts with the incident that Asano Takumi no Kami (浅野内匠頭), the lord of the Ako Domain made a cut at Kira Kozukenosuke with a sword in the corridor of Edo Castle on the 14th day of the 3rd month(on April 21st) in 1701.  The Edo Shogunate was due to perform a very important ceremony after welcoming Imperial messengers at Edo Castle.

The 5th Shogun Tsunayoshi was outraged by the incident. Asano committed suicide(harakiri) on the order of Tsunayoshi on the day of the incident without a detailed investigation in the face of opposition, and that he was sentenced to death by committing harakiri on the garden. Generally a feudal lord committed harakiri in the house.

It was unprecedented for a lord of domain to be ordered to commit suicide on the day of an incident.
Asano said that he had something against Kira, but it's not known exactly why he did so. The shogun extinguished the Ako Domain.  Kira was not punished because he didn't fight back at all.

At night on the 14th day, Asano's retainers received his body and held a funeral in obscurity at Sengaku-ji Temple(泉岳寺). At midnight, Asano's wife was taken along to a house belonging to her father.

The Edo Shogunate decided to punish Asano's brother and cousins on the 15th day. The domain's residences were handed over to another domains on the 17th and 18th day after the members of the Ako Domain working in Edo (now Tokyo) left there.

In the early morning of the 19th day, the members of the domain in Ako(now a part of Hyogo Prefecture) got the initial report of the incident.
The domain used to pay with local paper money issued in Ako. Chief retainer Oishi Kuranosuke(大石内蔵助) decided to change local paper money into national currency at a 40% discount. At that time another domains paid at more discount rate.

The members in Ako split over what to do about the incident. One group advocated holding out against the government barricading themselves inside Ako castle and the other group advocated reviving the domain after surrendering their castle to the government.

The members in Edo strongly advocated avenging their lord's death. Oishi Kuranosuke distributed more surplus funds to low-class warriors, but Oishi himself didn't get a share of the funds.
He led the members to accept the surrender of the castle to ask for reviving the domain by following their master to the grave. Advocates for his plan made an oath to commit harakiri by submitting a written pledge sealed with blood.

On the 19th day of the 4th month, Oishi surrendered Ako castle without blood. Some members including him attended to their backlog of the domain's government.  Asano's tomb was raised at Koyasan.

In the 8th month, the shogunate ordered Kira to move home and ordered Kira's brother, Kira's close companion and the person who made Asano commit suicide in a demeaning manner to give up their posts. In the 12th month, Kira transferred responsibility for the family to his adopted child(his biological grandchild) and his wife came back to her parents.

In the 1st month in 1702, Kayano Sanpei(萱野三平), one of the advocates committed suicide at the age of 28 because he was torn between loyalty to his lord and his father who offered to serve another lord. Hayano Kanpei(早野勘平) in Chushingura was modeled on him. Another advocate committed suicide with a courtesan.

Oishi lobbied powerful persons for reviving the domain, but their hopes were dashed on the 18th day of the 7th month in 1702. Oishi also decided to aim exclusively at avenging their lord's death.
Then Oishi provided an opportunity for the advocates to withdraw from the alliance by returning their written pledges. Because the advocates included the supporters of reviving the domain.

On the 5th day of the 11th month, members including Oishi reached Edo. It's not true that Oishi visited Asano's wife to say farewell after reacing Edo.

Oishi learned from a Japanese classical scholar that a tea ceremony was held at Kira's house. The scholar was one of Oishi's friends and was often invited to Kira's house.
Otaka Gengo(大高源五), one of the advocates, was also well known as a haiku poet and apprenticed himself to a famous tea master to found out the dates of the tea ceremony. Otaka published a collection of haiku poems before going to Edo.

Late on the 14th day of the 12th month (on January 31st in 1703), forty-seven warriors raided the house of Kira.

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