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Unformatted text preview: rònin, probably the best-loved story
in Japanese history, has been recreated countless times in many media,
including the puppet theatre, kabuki, novels, and the cinema (fig. 60).
Its “meaning” or “meanings” have been endlessly debated from the time
that the rònin carried out their vendetta in 1702 until the present day.
One Japanese scholar has even suggested, rather hyperbolically, that “if
you study Chûshingura [the rònin story] long enough, you will understand everything about the Japanese.”5 Let us pause to examine the rònin
story in some detail.
In 1701 Lord Asano, daimyo of the Akò domain in western Japan,
was assigned to perform ceremonial duty at the shogun’s court in Edo. Heterodox Trends 209 Fig. 60 “View of Loyal Akò Samurai Breaking into Kira’s Mansion,” by Shirai
Toshinobu, depicting a scene from the story of the forty-seven rònin (Honolulu
Academy of Arts, Bequest of Norman D. Hill, 1938 [10,953] ) On the last day of his duty, Asano attacked a shogunate official named
Kira and wounded, but did not kill, him. Having violated a strict rule of
the shogunate about drawing a weapon at court, Asano was ordered to
commit suicide by disembowelment (seppuku) that very afternoon. No
one knows precisely why Asano attacked Kira. He said something about
a “grudge” before the attack, but after the attack, so far as we know, he
went to his death in silence.
Upon Asano’s death, all of his vassals automatically became rònin or
masterless samurai. Ultimately, forty-seven of them, headed by Òishi
Kuranosuke, joined in a secret pledge to avenge their deceased lord.
Late in 1702, nearly two years later, they fulfilled this pledge by attacking
and killing Kira at his residence in Edo.
During the long period between Asano’s assault on Kira and the rònin’s
destruction of him, there had arisen a major division of opinion among
the rònin over how to proceed.6 One group, with Òishi Kuranosuke as its
spokesman, gave first priority to saving the Asano house and its property,
holding that the matter could be considered settled—that is, personal
revenge against Kira would not be necessary—if the shogunate allowed
Asano’s younger brother to succeed to his title and estate. But another
group was intent from the outset upon avenging their lord by killing Kira....
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at The University of British Columbia.
- Spring '13