Monday, December 14, 2015

忠臣蔵 "The 47 Ronin" : Always the most popular tale in Japan

Every year, December 14th at Sengakuji Temple 泉岳寺 in Tokyo, thousands of Japanese and foreign tourists visit the resting place of the 47 Ronin and pay homage to their dedication to Bushido... Under the fallen leaves, I too go for a stroll to the historical place. Around me, Bushido fans, pilgrims, tourists, families coming with their new born babies, all taking a rest in a Yatai 屋台 (mobile food stall). It's Monday but Japanese will skip the office eventually to pay respect as shown on this video: 

The story of the 47 Ronin 元禄赤穂事件, known as Chushingura 忠臣蔵 (tale of the loyal retainers) is one of the most popular Samurai tales in Japan, it is said to be the ultimate expression of the samurai code of honour. It is also one of the most successful Kabuki play.

The plot: The story began on april 21st 1701, when lord Asano Naganori, the Daimyo of the Ako Domain (Today's Hyogo prefecture) was forced to commit ritual suicide for attacking Kira Yoshinaka in Edo Castle (Today's Tokyo) a rude and arrogant Master of Ceremony under the Tokugawa Shogun.

The loyal 47 Ronin took over a year to planned their surprise raid on Kira's mansion. On a snowy December night, they strike on Kira’s home, taking everyone by surprise.

After killing Kira, they went to their Master's Grave, and turned themselves in to the authorities. For committing such a vendetta, the 47 Ronin were requested by the Shogun to commit seppuku 切腹, the ritual self-disembowelment.

Today in Japan, the 47 Ronin and samurai like Musashi Miyamoto are regarded by the Japanese people as Cultural Heroes and they are honored in traditional holidays and a in countless kabuki plays, movies, novels and manga.

Every year, the Gishisai Festival takes place on December 14th in Ako city in Hyogo prefecture, in memory of the 47 Ronin. On that day, schools and business are close and the streets are decorated with banners and colored lanterns. In Tokyo, also on December 14, Sengakuji Temple holds a festival commemorating the event.

While I filmed the Sengakuji, the temple was protected by police and guards, I could hear not far from there, loudspeakers of the nationalists' trucks with Enka music, the Japanese sentimental ballades music. Some say Enka song is a postwar expression of modern Japanese nationalism.

The location where the Ronin committed seppuku is not in Sengakuji but just on top of the Takanawa hill, up the temple, in an isolated and sober garden on the other side of the ex-property of Prince Takamatsu 高松宮宣仁親王.

Japanese strategists always need time to prepare, plan, adjust, and strike with the utmost precision and success. This scenario was repeated uncountable times in ancient and in modern Japan.

"... The Samurai were knights who defended and fought for their lords at a time when useful farming land was scarce and in need of protection. They believed in duty, and gave themselves completely to their masters. The Samurai believed that only after transcending all fear could they obtain peace of mind and yield the power to serve their masters faithfully and loyally even in the face of death..." Hagakure 葉隱 The Book of the Samurai.


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