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Sengaku-ji and the 47 Ronin

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On a wintry night in 1703, the 47 loyal retainers of Lord Asano fought their way into the home of Lord Kira and struck him down. With the decapitated head of their enemy in tow, they marched slowly back through the streets of Edo, headed for Shinagawa and the Sengaku-ji temple, where they would lay Kira’s head at the foot of Lord Asano’s grave. Their mission of revenge complete, the ronin would soon take their own lives.

Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin

The true story of the 47 Ronin, or the Chōshingura as it’s known in Japan, has become the country’s most beloved legend. Everyone likes a good tale of honor and revenge, and this is as good as they get.

Lord Asano Naganori had been asked by the Shogun to receive emissaries from Kyoto. It was a delicate task, and Asano first had to be trained in proper court etiquette by Edo official Kira Yoshinaka. A corrupt and arrogant man, Kira despised having to deal with Asano, whom he considered a country bumpkin, and constantly berated and insulted him. Asano bore the abuse as long as possible, but eventually became so enraged that he snapped, striking a glancing blow with his katana across the back of Kira’s neck. Unsheathing one’s sword in Edo Castle was absolutely forbidden, and punishable by death. Honorable Asano recognized his crime and committed the ritualized form of suicide known as seppuku.

The 47 samurai who had been under the charge of Asano now became ronin, meaning “masterless samurai,” and they swore to take revenge on the man who had brought about the death of their lord. On January 30th, 1703, the ronin stole through Edo and fought their way into Kira’s house. They killed sixteen guards and, after finding Kira hiding in the courtyard, hacked off his head with a dagger.

As they returned to Shinagawa with Kira’s head, the ronin were hailed by the townspeople on the streets as heroes. Kira had been a reviled figure, and the story of Lord Asano’s death was familiar to most of Edo at the time. On arriving at the Sengaku-ji, they washed Kira’s head in a fountain and laid it on Asano’s grave. The ronin fully understood what the punishment would be for the premeditated murder of a court official and, like their master, met their fate honorably by committing seppuku. Also like their master, they were buried in the Sengaku-ji.

Today, you can visit the graves of both Lord Asano and his loyal samurai in a small cemetery on the temple grounds. The Sengaku-ji itself is a lovely place of worship, and its central role in one of Japan’s most historic tales makes it even more special. Standing before the tombstones of the ronin, all of them equal in size and shape, it’s nearly impossible not to feel moved.

The tale of the 47 Ronin is a popular subject of Kabuki theater, and has been brought to film a number of times, most recently in 2013, with Keanu Reeves starring as a fictional half-English ronin named “Kai.” This rendition was savaged by critics, and the best film treatment of the story remains Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1941 version.

Location of the Sengaku-ji on our Map

Read All About The 47 Ronin

Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
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June 20, 2014 at 4:15 pm Comment (1)

The Streets of Ryogoku

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We had been introduced to Ryogoku while visiting the Edo-Tokyo Museum, and were intrigued enough to return the very next day. The neighborhood’s dominant theme is sumo. Besides the National Sumo Stadium (the Ryogoku Kokugikan), the streets are littered with statues of famous Yokozunas (the highest rank a wrestler can achieve), complete with molds of their terrifying hand-prints.

For lunch, we sat down at Chanko Tomoegata, a restaurant which was founded by a popular wrestler after his retirement. As the name suggests, the main dish here is chanko: a heavy stew eaten by sumo wrestlers looking to bulk up. Floating inside the thick broth are protein-heavy ingredients like tofu, fish balls, daikon radish, and chicken.

With our bellies bursting, we stomped over to the Eko-In Temple. Past the gates, a shrine was busy with people bearing incense and flowers. The photographs left by mourners clued us in that this is a place to remember lost pets. Statues of a dog and a cat guarded the entrance, and outside people had left offerings of bird seed and doggie treats.

Sad, but nearly as melancholy is the shrine across the path, which is dedicated to unborn children. Rows of Buddha figures lined up around the shrine were adorned with red bibs and bonnets, which would never be worn by the children for whom they were intended. After an obviously crestfallen couple entered, we beat a hasty retreat. Normal cemeteries, we can handle, but shrines to dead pets and unborn children are a serious mood-dampener.

In need of a distraction, we went inside a nearby fireworks museum. In July, Ryogoku becomes the scene of a popular fireworks festival. We’d be missing that, but just seeing the huge firecrackers in this free museum helped cheer us up.

Also in Ryogoku, we found the former residence of Lord Kira. One of the more popular stories of Shogun-era Japan is that of the 47 Ronin and their quest for vengeance against the arrogant lord. Until now, I hadn’t been aware that this is a tale based on fact. Though the home is gone today, a small shrine memorializes the location where the villainous Kira was confronted and assassinated by the ronin. The fountain in which his decapitated head was subsequently washed has also been preserved.

Locations on our Map: Chanko Tomoegata | Eko-In Temple | Fireworks Museum | Lord Kira’s Residence

Our Apartment In Tokyo

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March 24, 2014 at 8:37 am Comments (2)
Sengaku-ji and the 47 Ronin On a wintry night in 1703, the 47 loyal retainers of Lord Asano fought their way into the home of Lord Kira and struck him down. With the decapitated head of their enemy in tow, they marched slowly back through the streets of Edo, headed for Shinagawa and the Sengaku-ji temple, where they would lay Kira's head at the foot of Lord Asano's grave. Their mission of revenge complete, the ronin would soon take their own lives.
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