Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Revenge of the 47 Ronin

The revenge raid by the Forty-Seven Ronin of Ako was an incident that turned samurai culture on its head. As any popular account will relate, a young lord called Asano Naganori was taunted mercilessly by the greedy and cunning Kira Yoshinaka. Goaded to the limit, Asano struck Kira with a sword. As a result of the attack Asano was condemned to death, thus making the 47 samurai retainers who remained faithful into impoverished ronin or 'men of the waves', a word implying that they had been cast adrift on the ocean. Motivated solely by the principles of samurai honour and loyalty to their late master, the Forty-Seven Ronin, as history now knows them collectively, hatched a plot in complete secrecy and then, on a snowy night in January 1703, launched a raid to take the life of the cowardly Kira Yoshinaka. The Shogun, the ruler of Japan, utterly failed to recognize that the samurai code of bushido (the way of the warrior) and the self-denying tenets of Zen Buddhism had compelled them to seek revenge, and instead condemned them all to death. Within days they all committed suicide, earning thereby the respect and admiration of their contemporaries.