Ako Forty-seven Loyal Warriors Festival(赤穂義士祭) at Sengakuji, Japan, Dec 14, 2013

Ako gishi, 47 ronin, sengakuji temple

Ako gishi Forty-seven Loyal Warriors

Ako-gishi(赤穂義士) story is one of the most beloved stories among Japanese. Some dramas and films about Ako-gishi are on TV on every beginning and end of the year, as the name of Chushin-gura(忠臣蔵).
Some of programs extremely run long, up to 12 hours!! In my case, I switch to another channels. I wonder why others don’t feel boring for the look-alike programs every year.

It is about revenge of Ako-gishi samurai whose lord, Asano Naganori(浅野内匠頭長矩),  was sentenced to death for attempting to murder Kira Yoshinaka(吉良上野介義央) in early 1700s.

Here is a summary about this story. But, I hope you keep in mind. I’ve got under passing point on Japanese history in my school days at times. There must be bunches of my misunderstandings. So, I’m glad you read just for pleasure.

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Both Asano Naganori and Kira Yoshinaka were in charge of services for Imperial envoys. Asano Naganori slashed down Kira Yoshinaka with his sword on the day when they should serve for Imperial envoys. What is worse, this incident happened in Edo Castle(江戸城), where the tycoon, Tokugawa Tunayoshi(徳川綱吉), resided in.
Asano Naganori was sentenced to commit seppuku(切腹)/stomach-cutting on the incident day. His last word was not allowed, so the reason why Asano Naganori attempted to kill Kira Yoshinaka is still unknown. On the other hand, Kira Yoshinaka was acquitted.In case of murder, both party should be generally imposed serious penalty in feudal period. However, Kira Yoshinaka got out of trouble.

It is said that Kira Yoshinaka played a significant role for Uesugi clan(上杉家) to prevent the extinction of the family name. Uesugi clan was one of notables during Sengoku period(戦国時代).
However, Uesugi Tunakatsu(上杉綱勝) passed away early without his heir. This means thousands of his retainers forced to be roninKira Yoshinaka put his son, Uesugi Tunanori(上杉綱憲), up for adoption to Uesugi clan so as to get through the crisis. Uesugi clan and Asano clan were on a different class. Uesugi clan got 3 times more earnings than Asano clan. Kira Yoshinaka got no punishment, thanks to Uesugi clan’s obligation and power balance. All ideas which covered for Kira Yoshinaka and shielded facts came from Irobe Yasunaga(色部安長) who was Uesugi clan’s one of top-ranking samurai.

Here are family trees related with Chushin-gura story. Rectangles filled with yellow shows key people. This chart shows Tokugawa Tunayoshi(徳川綱吉), the 5th tycoon/shogun, and Kira Yoshinaka were distant relatives.

family tree related with 47 ronin

Some retainers of Asano Naganori went mad.
They lost everything in one night: lord, position, residence and earnings.
Oishi Yoshio(大石内蔵助良雄) and his samurai swore to avenge their lord Asano Naganori and kill Kira Yoshinaka.

However, just killing Kira Yoshinaka was hasty action and would bring dishonor to the name of Asano Naganori. They craved for a good cause to set the wheels in motion.  Fortunately, Nobody knew the reason why Asano Naganori attempted to kill Kira Yoshinaka.
That’s it!! They could make any reasons to gain an upper hand.
They though over a likely and effective reason day and night.

« Bribery!! Kira Yoshinaka demand a bribe from our lord over and over!! » Oishi Yoshio ordered his samurai to broadcast Kira Yoshinaka‘s bad rumor in Edo(江戸). They went to everywhere: Yuya(湯屋)/Bath, Chaya(茶屋)/Tea House, Kabuki-goya(歌舞伎小屋)/Kabuki Theater, Misemono-goya(見世物小屋)/Freak Show, Yukaku(遊郭)/Red-light district.

At that time, the public resented Tokugawa Shogunate(徳川幕府)
which enforced a notorious policy: Shorui-Awaremi-No-Rei(生類憐れみの令). Those who kill animals and insects were executed. Later was worse.

  • Prohibited to cut a tree with a bird’s nest.
  • Prohibited to train dogs,cats and mice for show.
  • Offer a cache prize to those who blow a whistle who break the law.

Oishi Yoshio‘s tactic worked well. Further worse on Kira Yoshinaka side, rogues held by Kobayashi Heihachiro(小林平八郎)Kira Yoshinaka‘s top-ranking samurai, failed to assassinate Oishi Yoshio. Gossip dressed up gossip.  As he wished, the public were put fixed image: Kira Yoshinaka is an evil. Asano Naganori is a virtue.

Kira Yoshinaka‘s residence was inside Edo Castle district which was surrounded by thick-and-high walls. It was harsh to break in and kill Kira Yoshinaka. Even if they did, murder in Edo Castle district brought dishonor to the name of Asano Norinaga. Chances were small that Kira Yoshinaka left Edo Castle district. It was an indispensable prerequisite to make Kira Yoshinaka move to a new residence outside Edo Castle district.

How did they do with this trouble? Ako-gishi spread a rumor that they would make a raid on Kira‘s residence as their next tactic. Just then, March 14th was coming. The date was the first anniversary of Asano Naganori‘s death. Oishi Yoshio resided in Kyoto, but visited to Edo to make Kira-side people, especially Irobe Yasunaga threatened. Since then, dozens of Daimyo(大名)/territorial lords who settled around Kira‘s residence arranged their samurai for their security. However, nothing happened day after day. It was harsh for samurai who got used to peace for almost one century since Tokugawa Shogunate ruled the whole nation. Moreover, daimyo got involved in financial squeeze. Daimyo pleaded for moving to another place one after another, while there was no blank space. As a result, Kira Yoshinaka was ordered to move out of Edo Castle district.

Kira Yoshinaka built a residence like a fort which was surrounded by over 5m walls. Water tanks and logs were set on heights which were for anyone not to get close to. Trenches were build and filled with water.
Paths in premise had bunches of pitfalls and were set like a maze.
There was a secret path under ground to a well for an emergency exit.

Uesugi clan provided financial aid for Kira‘s new residence. Uesugi clan was one of outstanding daimyo, but fell into financial distress.Kira Yoshinaka was asked to move to Uesugi territory far northern away from Edo.He had secluded after the incident and had lost his ambition for resurgence in his position, so that Kira Yoshinaka complied with Uesugi clan’s request.

Kira Yoshinaka just wanted to open a tea ceremony to say farewell to his friends before leaving. Irobe Yasunaga guessed Oishi Yoshi would make a raid on Kira Yoshinaka on the day of tea ceremony. Irobe Yasunaga regarded this opportunity as a best chance to kill Oishi YoshioIrobe Yasunaga proclaimed the farewell tea ceremony would be held on these three days, 5th, 14th and 22nd of December.

Irobe Yasunaga meticulously prepared for a raid and placed his samurai around Kira‘s residence all day and night on the 5th of Dec. His samurai had to bear chilly and snowy weather. After all, it ended in vain. It just made his samurai indignant.

Doubt was gnawing at Irobe Yasunaga‘s confidence.
« When would Oishi be going to attack Kira Yoshinaka? 14th? »
The 14th Dec was the same date on different month of Asano Norinaga‘s death.
« Will Oishi take such a thoughtless action? The 22nd is doubtful as well.
Year-end and New Year is coming. Ceremonies are going to be held every day. Oishi has lots of options. »
Irobe Yasunaga made up his mind to release his sumurai’s duty on the 14th of December.

However, Greate Minds Oishi Yoshio counterplotted Irobe Yasunaga.
He summoned his samurai Ako-gishi to make a raid on Kira Yoshinaka on the 14th of December. He provided his samurai with swords, spears, arrows, Kusari-Katabira(鎖帷子)/Chain-mailed ArmorZori(草履)/Shoes and Mawata-Zukin(真綿頭巾)/Floss Silk Hood.
He prepared not only one but extra.

« Go! »
In the midnight, Oishi Yoshio commanded his samurai to charge.Some of his samurai set ladders up, climbed up and broke every trap on heights, such as water tanks and logs. Some of them broke gates and killed Kira-side samurai one by one. The number of Kira-side samurai was 3 times more than that of Oishi-side, 47 ronin. However, it didn’t matter. Ako-gishi samurai were heavily armored, while Uesugi-side samurai wore only night clothes. Their grits were also on a different level.

Nevertheless, it was tough to intrude into Kira‘s room. Ako-gishi samurai took a rest in turns and changed their clothes into new ones. Oishi Yoshi was regardful. He prepared for foods: Nigiri-meshi(握り飯)/Rice ball, Porridge, Fish, Miso Soup and Sake. These foods added more grits on Ako-gishi samurai. On the other hand, Uesui-side samurai just took a sip of chilly water.

The dawn was coming. Oishi Yoshio wanted to put an end to this battle before another Uesugi-side samurai coming. He changed his tactic and commanded his samurai to break through the roof. Ako-gishi samurai put forth their final power and slashed down Uesugi-side samurai one after another. Finally, they found, slashed down and beheaded Kira YoshinakaAko-gishi samurai let out a whoop up for triumph.

The thing that it is amazing about Ako-gishi is that nobody was killed and all of them shared their deed.

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This festival is held to pay tribute to Asano Norinaga and Ako-gishi 47 loyal warriors on every 14th of December.

Here are some pictures and a video.

47 ronin festival

The gate of SengakujiTemple(泉岳寺)

The Statue of  Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio

The Statue of Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio(大石内蔵助良雄)

Buddist Monks recite scripture for Asano Naganori.

I’ve got to know there is an intriguing event on Google on that day. http://japanfestival.web.fc2.com/04-tradition/gishisai/gishisai-sengakuji-2007.html. It says those who dressed in samurai clothes like Ako-gishi parade from Tsukiji to Sengakuji Temple.Plus, they play a Ako-gishi show at Zojoji Temple at 1:00PM.

It’s a must-see show. I headed to Zojoji temple.

Zojoji Temple and Tokyo Tower

Zojoji Temple and Tokyo Tower

I waited and waited at Zojoji Temple until 2:00PM. But, there is no sign of their coming. I wondered it must be there is no show this time. I went back home. 

But, I found an article. http://4travel.jp/travelogue/10840571. It says that they arrived just before 4:00PM. I’m not sure the detail. It seems that there was no show. They just took pictures with visitors, let out a war whoop, and headed to Sengakuji Temple due to schedule delay. Should I say I’m lucky or unlucky? Next time, I’ll watch it!

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As for Zojoji Temple, there is a Tokugawa clan Mausoleum in where bodies of the 2nd shogun Tokugawa Hidetada,the 5th shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi etc are placed.  Tokugawa clan Mausoleum is generally not disclosed in public. However, Lucky to me! It was on public on that day.

Tokugawa clan mausoleum, Zojoji Temple

Tokugawa clan Mausoleum at Zojoji Temple

Tokugawa clan mausoleum, Zojoji Temple

Explanation board of Tokugawa clan Mausoleum at Zojoji Temple

Plus, there was a monkey show on that day. Here it is!

More pictures? Check out this site. « Eat up Japan!! Eat up Tokyo!!« .

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When
Every 14th on December
Time to pray for Asano Norinaga
11:00AM – 11:30AM
URL
Official Site(Japanese): http://www.sengakuji.or.jp/event/akougishisai.html
Access

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