Tokyo Series Day 5: The 47 Ronin

Editor’s note: I’ve had the great opportunity to visit Japan twice in the last five years, first in 2016 and again in 2018 and with the start of the Olympic Games in Tokyo I wanted to revisit those trips and share some of the pictures that I may or may not have already.

The legendary story of the 47 ronin, known as the Ako incident, represents loyalty, sacrifice and honor and is a national point of pride in Japan.

In 1701, a group of samurai were left without their leader, Asano Naganori. He was a daimyo, or feudal lord, of Ako. He was sentenced to seppuku, suicide, after he lost patience when he was repeatedly disrespected by an official at Edo Castle and assaulted him. The official, Kira Kozukenosuke, went unpunished, which was not customary.

Some of Asano’s followers, known as the Ako Gishi, could not accept the punishment and vowed revenge. More than a year later they got it. They raided Kira’s mansion on the grounds of Edo Castle on Dec. 14, 1702, and beheaded him. They brought Kira’s head back to Sengakuji Temple, then they turned themselves in for judgment.

They were sentenced to seppuku after weeks of tense deliberations by authorities. Turns out many others did not like Kira either and wrote in support of the ronin. Still, their fate was sealed. However, the decision did save the samurai their dignity by sparing them an execution as criminals.

Forty-six of the ronin killed themselves Feb. 4, 1703, and were buried near Asano. The 47th ronin, Terasaka Kichiemon was sent on another mission after the raid and was pardoned upon his return. When he died in 1747 he was buried with the other samurai.

Their gravesite at Sengakuji Temple is a popular destination and there’s a festival each year Dec. 14 to honor their story.

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