Sengaku-ji and the 47 ronin

In this post i will bring you to Sengaku-ji Temple 泉岳寺

The sengaku-ji 泉岳寺 temple is located near Shinagawa on the Toei Asakusa line. It is a Soto Zen Buddhist temple and one of the most famous temple in Tokyo if not all Japan. This temple is a really minimalistic one, not like senso-ji in Asakusa which is flamboyant. It  holds a special place in my heart and to many Japanese people because of one story. It was the story of the 47 ronin. This temple is the burial ground for the daimyo Asano Takumi no Kami and is 47 samurai’s.  This story is a really popular one in japan and all over the world. It’s a feudal story of dedication and determination. This temple is a really minimalistic one, not like senso-ji in Asakusa which is flamboyant.

I like being at Sengakuji  because even tho it’s a famous temple it’s rarely busy. It’s a warrior temple so not suited for prayers. Personally I’m a kendoka which mean I practice kendo (Japanese fencing) so being in a warrior temple suits me . Every time I pass the main gate at this temple, I always experience a rush of emotion flowing intensively inside my body.Lets say it’s a mixture of honor fulfillment and life. Some readers might say ”how come you feel those emotion entering a temple!” Your right let me explain, this temple like I said as a strong influence on Japanese culture for its story.  The journey of the 47 ronin was one of the greatest example of bushido in Japanese history. Bushido 武士道 is the samurai way of the warrior. It was the mind and heart of the samurai, a code of conduct in life, battle and death.  But for you to maybe grasp a little more the history of this temple I will write a resume of the 47 ronin story. I hope you will like it

四十七士 Shi-ju Shichi-shi

The Forty-seven Ronin

Everything started on the night of the 14th day of the 12th moon of the 15th year of Ganroku (January 30th 1703), Forty-seven ronin* attacked the palace of  lord Kira Kozuke no Suke.

A year before, Asano Takumi no Kami and Date Sakyo no Kami were asked by the shogun* Tokugawa Tsunayoshi to organize a ceremony for 3 emperor emissaries. Asano was the daimyo* of the 47 samurai, he was a young and impetuous warrior. On the other hand Date was older, impose respect by is temper and wisdom.They decided to consult the lord in charge of the ceremonies in the palace, Kira Kozuke Suke a mere samurai bureaucrat barely able to hold is katana*. The young Asano could not stand the sight of kira. For Asano, Kira was a disgrace for the samurai. The silent anger that was filling Asano’s body seamed to motivate kira’s irony and mockery. It was too much for Asano he drew is sword and started to chase Kira in the palace to finally hurt him. No doubt that without the intervention of his assistants he could have killed Kira in a blink of an eye. The rules of the Tokugawa government are strict, there are no exceptions even with extreme circumstances. It is strictly forbidden to denude the blade of a sword in the vicinity of the palace and to hurt or kill someone. Kira Kozuke no Suke immediately went to complain about the incident with is fellow young samurai. within seconds the cause was heard and Asano was sentence to commit sepuku*. He accepted the sentence and died the same night.

Asano’s samurai were devastated, they want the head of the coward traitor that provoked their master and made them ronin’s masterless samurai. Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshitaka was Asano second, he decided to organize with 46 other samurai in the biggest secrecy  the assassination of Kira. The first problem was that the enemies were on their toes. He needed to daze the suspicion of his enemy. In order to do that the 47 ronin spread out in the region embarking in different work or dishonorable activities for a samurai. The 47 ronin all started to pass for traitors, they were disrespected a thing that would be unbearable for a samurai. Now under the radar from the general population as mere ronins, the samurai’s now could start their spying operation. With their body boiling with courage and focus on the task at hand, they waited patiently.

Finally a year later, they learn that Kira will hold a tea ceremony on the night of  the 30th of January 1703. The conditions were ideal, the moment all the ronins were painfully waiting for was at their reach. At mid night on the 30th Oishi and is acolytes were piling up around the precinct of the castle , all under a snowy winter sky. In a flash the assault started, in no time the ronins found the traitor lord Kira and killed him. After the battle, the victorious samurai’s took the road to sengakujin to offer the head of Kira to their Daimyo grave. At Sengakuji they would offer their last respect to Asano, to then surrender to the authorities, knowing they would join him really soon.

With in no time, the words of the exploits were heard all around Japan, like a gunpowder trail blazing in glory.  The heart of the people were fild with respect for this incredible demonstration of bravery, honor and devotion to their master. From enthusiast to incredibility passing to compassion, the 47 brave were starting passions. Even if their exploits were an act of violence, revenge even a rebellion against the establish order of the shogun. The justice system hesitated longly before presenting a verdict. Finally after many days of discussion and debate the ronins were ask to commit sepuku, on the 14th day of the 2nd month of the 16th year (March 20th 1703).  The verdict was read like this:

Oishi Kuranosuke and the 46 other samurai’s of the old clan of Enya. Having plotting and put in to execution your plan of attacking and burning the palace of a minister, against are laws and emperor. Having killed Kira Kozuke Suke, massacred is male blood line and most of his soldiers. Should be put to death like the murderers they are, to send out a message to all other samurais that would want to follow their example. Taking in consideration the honorable reasons of their actions, they will be allowed to take their life the honorable way. The old Enya clan will be reconstituted and follow the new daimyo Naganori,Asano’s brother. As an answer to the ronins leader Oishi Kuranosuke, the samurais will be buried with their master at the Sengaku-ji temple. The youngest of the 47 ronins, Terasaka Kichiemon will stay alive so his bloodline will perpetuate and they will be able to take care of the Temple and to practice the according rituals for his master and fellow brother of arms. Only one of the 47 brave is honorable enough to take care of this task.

Has history tells the 46 braves executed the sepuku ceremony with satisfaction, to even say with grace near the tomb of their master. With their deaths came the end of a life journey but the start of a legend that will touch the heart of Japanese and Gaijin alike all around the world.

To fully understand what this story really mean as sacrifice fulfillment of life and achievement you must really understand the philosophy of the Japanese people at the time and the Bushido strict code of the samurai. I would suggest to read the 47 ronins book it will surely be better than my resumé, but it will make you understand even more.  Last but not least if your in the Tokyo area make sure you can stop to this wonderful temple full of history.


Ronin 浪人 is a masterless samurai.

Ronin literally means wave man. Some one that drift’s around wandering.The Bushido states that a samurai was supposed to commit seppuku upon the loss of his master. One who chose not to honor their master or the code was left alone and was meant to suffer great shame. The undesirability of rōnin status was mainly a discrimination imposed by other samurai and by the daimyo .

Daimyo 大名 Is a feudal lord of Japan.Daimyo’s controls land in feudal Japan and had samurai’s serving them.

Shogun 将軍 Is the highest and most powerful military title in feudal Japan

Katana 刀 is the Japanese sword used in the feudal period.

Katana’s are also known as the sharpest and beautiful blades in the world still as of today

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3 Comments

  1. It’s a wonderful shrine and story. You did a beautiful writen and historicly corect resume!
    Loved it
    keep it up

  2. I love the story of the 47 Ronin and I have seen several samurai movies based on the 47 ronin. There are a lot of misconception about the 47 Ronin of course as they have been romanticized throughout history. I wrote about it on my blog several months ago. Check it out here if your interested.

    http://toshogu.blogspot.com/2009/12/47-loyal-samurai.html

    • Really good post! I like it, your covering really good issue about the contradictions in that story! I’m going to link your blog on gaijinlife right away. Really good writing.


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