Many tales from history transcend the boundaries of time. They are told over and over again, by those who remember and later by those who heard the story. They are told again and again because they teaches us something. Some tales talk about love, others about friendship. Some reveal extreme loyalty and a sense of sacrifice beyond anything we could have imagined. Such is the tale of the forty-seven ronin from 18th century, Japan.
Their story begins with a tragedy and ends with a sacrifice.
Ronin were samurai left leaderless. In the case of the forty-seven samurai, their feudal lord Asano Naganori was forced to commit seppuku – ritual sacrifice. Lord Asano was among those tasked to prepare a reception for the envoy of the Emperor. In doing so, he had to listen to the instruction of a court official, Kira Yoshinaka. The court official took a quick dislike to lord Asano and treated him harshly. After many insults, the feudal lord attacked Kira Yoshinaka with a dagger. This offense was punishable by death and the lord was ordered to commit seppuku.
His lands and goods were confiscated. His family was to be ruined. All his samurai were to become ronin. The news was carried to Ōishi Kuranosuke Yoshio, Asano’s counselor. After moving the lord’s family away, the man surrendered Asano’s properties to the government.
Even though revenge had been prohibited, forty-seven of Asano’s men including Ōishi Kuranosuke Yoshio refused to let their lord die unavenged. The men lay in waiting, hoping to get Kira’s spies off their trail. Ōishi acted unlike a samurai to make it seem that he would not avenge his master. After two years, with all spies off their backs, the ronin attacked. The household was overwhelmed by the ronin. Kira was given a choice: commit seppuku or be killed by the men of lord Asano, the one he had wronged. Kira chose the last.
After avenging their master the ronin turned themselves in. The Shogun, impressed by the loyalty, allowed them a samurai’s death and ordered them to commit seppuku. They died with honor knowing their master had been avenged. Do you know other such stories from feudal Japan?
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