The 47 Ronin: The Story of Exemplary Samurai Loyalty and Honour

Graveyard of the 47 ronin in Tokyo, Japan.
Graveyard of the 47 ronin in Tokyo, Japan.


The story of the 47 Ronin or 47 leaderless warriors is one of the most celebrated stories in the history of the Samurai. It happened at a time when the Samurai class was struggling to maintain an image of themselves as warless warriors. This way of living was inspired by the teachings of an influential theorist called Yamaga Soko. He wrote broadly on the samurai warrior spirit.

The Story of Lord Asano

Yamaga's writings inspired Oishi, a Samurai and retainer of Lord Asano, who led a branch of the powerful Asano family. Lord Asano was chosen by the ruler to be among the vassals who entertained envoys from the imperial family. The government's highest ranking master of a protocol called Kira was assigned to Asano to instruct him on etiquette.

Kira expected monetary compensation from Asano for his work which Asano declined since he was performing his duty. The two disliked each other greatly and Kira put in every effort to embarrass Asano. The situation escalated in April 1702 within the ruler’s palace, when Asano attacked Kira with his sword for insulting him. Kira was injured and Asano was confined.

Asano had committed a grievous crime by angrily attacking Kira inside the palace. During his questioning, he expressed regret for failing to kill Kira. The inspector generals completed their investigation and sentenced Asano to death by ordering him to slit his belly at once. His land was also confiscated and his brother Daigaku was placed under house arrest.

Asano’s retainers were greatly disturbed and debated on what action to take. Oishi urged them to peacefully surrender the castle and work to rehabilitate the Asano family as they prepared to revenge on Kira. The retainers, now ronin, agreed with Oishi and started to hatch the plan.

Kira, expecting an attempt on his life by Asano's men increased his guard. Oishi's plan was to lure him into believing he was completely safe before attacking him. The ronin hid their weapons and armor then dispersed, pretending they had lost hope for their futures.

Oishi left his wife and frequently went to brothels. It is said that a samurai from Satsuma stumbled upon the drunken Oishi in the streets at one time, and he spat upon him saying he was no real samurai. One year later, Kira loosened his guard believing he was safe, and the ronin struck.

They attacked in two groups catching Kira's men caught off guard. Many of them were killed and wounded, while only one ronin lost his life. Kira was found in an outhouse and brought before Oishi who offered him the chance to commit suicide. When he did not reply, Oishi struck off his head using the same sword Asano had used to kill himself.

Kira's head was carried in a bucket to Asano's grave, and after the ronin had given him the bloody trophy, they turned themselves in. They were sentenced to death and were ordered to commit suicide. They were divided into four groups each guarded by a vassal, and once they were dead their bodies were buried beside Asano. The Satsuma samurai who had spat on Oishi is also said to have committed suicide in the temple as atonement for his insults.


More in Society