Sengaku-ji Main Gate by Rekishi no Tabi Via Flickr: This is where the 47 Rōnin of Akō, along with their lord, Asano Naganori, are interred. Sengaku-ji is located in the Takanawa are of Minato-ku, Tokyo, near Shinagawa Station.
Ōishi Kuranosuke was the chief retainer of the Asano clan during the turmoil associated with the 47 Rōnin incident, in which the feudal lord, Asano Naganori, attacked and wounded Kira Yoshinaka within Edo Castle. As drawing a weapon within the shogun’s castle was a capital offence, Asano was sentenced to commit seppuku the same day.
As a result of Asano’s impulsive behavior, the Shogunate disbanded the Asano clan and seized their lands. Ōishi and 46 other former Asano retainers waited and unleashed their misguided revenge on Kira, attacking his home in the dead of night in December 1703, killing his body guards as well as taking his head and placing it in front of Asano’s tomb in Sengaku-ji Temple in Takanawa, Tokyo.
All the Akō rōnin were sentenced to death by seppuku (harakiri). Actually, recent scholarship is saying that the rōnin may have not been allowed the honor of death by seppuku, but were actually beheaded like common criminals. The promise of the right of death by seppuku may have been a sugar-coated lie told by the shogunate to help the public more easily swallow the death sentence imposed on the Akō rōnin.
Anyway, the loyalty that these guys showed to their foolish lord by committing what can only be described as what me and some of my friends refer to as a feudal “drive-by”- Japanese style, has been lauded by the Japanese public ever since. The facts behind the actual events have been buried in the countless puppet and kabuki plays as well as movies that have been made about this.
I’m not a terribly big fan of Asano Naganori, nor do I think the Akō rōnin were particularly “brave” by carrying out a night attack after a party and fighting a small group of drunk bodyguards and taking the head of a feeble old man. But, this perspective is from modern, western eyes. In reality, night attacks of this nature have always been a staple of samurai warfare, being documented since the Heian period. As much as I don’t partake in the 47 Rōnin Kool Aid drinking parties, I do admit to enjoying watching a good fictional film or kabuki play about these guys.