First off, can someone tell me why the movie got so much shit? I thought it was good! It was fun at the very least. Sure its cheesy at times but the story is based on true events. Loosely based and exaggerated but it’s core is rooted in history. I just don’t get it. Is it because Keanu Reeves is in it or that it’s in English when it really should be in Japanese with English Subtitles? Please help me out here!
Anyway, after watching the movie, legally of course, ahem….I felt inspired to check out the actual burial site of the real 47 ronin. Turns out it’s at the Sengakuji Temple in the Shinagawa area of Tokyo. The story as depicted in the movie is obviously a beefed up, mystical interpretation made for the Marvel movie generation but it’s surprisingly similar to the story as depicted in the history books.
Now, I’m not even going to attempt to explain the story here in the likely chance I butcher the shit out of it. There’s plenty of info online about the events that actually did take place. For example, the incident at Edo Castle actually did happen. Apparently, Lord Asano attacked Lord Kira for being an arrogant, corrupt, smug asshole and when the shogun heard news of this, Lord Asano was forced to commit honorable suicide (seppuku) as punishment for his shameful actions. In retaliation, the samurai under Lord Asano, who being master-less at this point and were now referred to as ronin, plotted their revenge for a period of 2 years. After which, a carefully plotted raid on Lord Kira’s compound took place that resulted in the ronin walking away with Lord Kira’s head in a bag. GANGSTA! Upon returning to Sengakuji Temple, they all were ordered to commit seppuku for the act of murder, even though they acted in accordance with Bushido law. Wait, I just said I wouldn’t try to butcher the story and there I go and butcher the story. Fuck!
Its an fucking epic story. A story of courage, determination, will power, loyalty and honor. Yes its also a story of straight up Clint Eastwoodism. Kinda makes me want to take revenge on my enemies and stick a blade in my gut. Just kidding! Although I wouldn’t be surprised if the rate of revenge murder and subsequent suicide doesn’t increase since the movie kinda glamorizes the shit out of it.
The temple is quite beautiful but I must admit, after walking through it I found myself asking, “is this the whole thing”? and “where’s the rest of it”? Considering it’s the burial ground for some of the most epic men in Japanese history, you’d think their graves would have a little more pizzazz to them. I know that sounds insane but seriously, I felt it wasn’t a fitting tribute. But honestly, who am I to say such things? Even though I have Japanese blood flowing through my clogging arteries, I’m but a visitor in this land of my peoples.
The pictures above are from the temple as you’ve probably guessed. The larger grave at the bottom of the set is the grave of Kuranosuke Oishi who was the leader of the 47 ronin. The larger more elaborate grave is that of Lord Asano. The other ronin have the smaller graves stones which are lined up next to that of Oishi and Lord Asano. It was a somber moment and there was an energy in the air. There were also several people who were burning incense and saying prayers at each of the graves. It was a wonderful thing to witness. I would really encourage each of you to visit this temple if you have an opportunity to do so. There is also two museums at the site. Admission for both is only 500 yen and the first museum features scrolls and letters from the ronin as they plotted their revenge. Also, it features many articles of clothing and weapons as well. The second museum is a room full of wooden carvings depicting the actual 47 ronin. I believe they were all carved by a very famous sculptor. Its definitely worth a look!
Thanks so much for reading! Please post your thoughts as well. I wish Tumblr was a bit more interactive and let you post comments. I think I have to add a question mark to enable that right?
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.
Some people live all their lives without knowing which path is right. They’re buffeted by this wind or that and never really know where they’re going. That’s largely the fate of the commoners–those who have no choice over their destiny. For those of us born as samurai, life is something else. We know the path of duty and we follow it without question.
Oishi Kuranosuke gives his 16 year old son, Oishi Chikara, the choice of taking care of his mother and siblings or joining the assault on Lord Kira’s residence.
Ichiriki Chaya (一力茶屋, Ichiriki Teahouse)(formally Ichiriki-tei (一力亭?, Ichiriki House)) is one of the most famous and historic ochaya (geisha “tea house”) in Kyoto, Japan. It is located at the southeast corner of Shijō Street and Hanami Lane, with its entrance on Hanami Lane (Hanami Lane is the heart of the district of Gion). It is considered an exclusive and high-end establishment; access is invitation only and entertainment can cost upwards of 800,000 yen a night. Ichiriki Chaya is over 300 years old, and has been a major centerpiece of Gion since the beginning of the entertainment district. Like other ochaya in Gion, Ichiriki was a place where men of status and power went to be entertained by Geisha, who distracted guests through dancing, banter, and flirtation. Ichiriki has traditionally entertained those of political and business power. The house is run by the Sugiura (杉浦) family, and the nameplate on the entrance gate reads Sugiura Jirou(u)emon (杉浦治郎右衛門), the name of the ninth generation head.
The noren curtain at the entrance features the characters ichi (–, one) and riki (力, strength) printed in black on a dark red ground, stacked vertically and touching, so they resemble the character man (万, myriad, ten thousand). It is said that the establishment was originally called yorozuya (万屋, general store), but in the play Kanadehon Chūshingura (仮名手本忠臣蔵) (a telling of the story of the forty-seven ronin, based on events at the house – see below) the name was changed by splitting the character into 一 and 力, disguising the name (names were disguised in the play to avoid censorship). Due to the play being a major success, this was then adopted by the house itself, yielding the present name. —- The Ichiriki plays a part in the events of the Akō vendetta, a historical event described by some scholars as a Japanese “national legend”. Near the start of the eighteenth century, a group of samurai find themselves left masterless, ronin, after their daimyo is forced to commit the ritual suicide of seppuku for the crime of drawing a sword and injuring a man in the Imperial Palace. Kira Yoshinaka, who incited the attack with a series of verbal abuses, was left unpunished. The ronin samurai, moved to obey the bushido samurai code of honor, plot to assassinate Yoshinaka for over two years.The ronin, led by Oishi Kuranosuke, realize they will be monitored in case they enact an attempt at revenge. Thus, in an effort to dissuade the suspecting parties and Imperial spies, they send Kuranosuke to Kyoto. Kuranosuke spends many nights in Ichiriki Chaya, earning a reputation as a gambler and a drunkard. As he gives the appearance of becoming more and more relaxed and unprepared, Kira becomes less active in his suspicions and relaxes his security. Because the Ichiriki provided the cover to mount an attack, the ronin eventually killed Yoshinaka and were forced to commit seppuku themselves. This story has been retold numerous times, a genre known as Chūshingura, which has served to increase the fame of Ichiriki Chaya.