OF the numerous dramas performed in the kabuki-shibai, or in the marionette theatre, by far the most
popular as a subject for colour-prints was the
Chushingura, or the
Loyal League of Forty-seven Ronin.
While we find actors innumerable in characters from scores of plays, in the
Chushingura almost alone, with
an exception of an odd scene or two, like the examples cited in a previous chapter, from other dramas, do we find
the complete play illustrated in an entire series of tableaux, generally eleven or twelve in number.
This will give some idea of its immense popularity, a popularity which it has retained to the present day,
so much so that any theatre which finds itself losing patronage has only to stage the
regain its audience.
Originally written for the marionette theatre by Chikamatsu Monza-yemon (1653-1734) and Takeda Izumo (1688-1756),
Japan's two most celebrated playwrights, the
Chushingura was first performed in Yedo in 1748.
In 1706, however, Chikamatsu Monza-yemon had produced a play called
Goban Taiheiki, which was based on the
story of the Forty-seven Ronin, and it was just before his death in 1734 that he proposed to Takeda Izumo, his
successor, that they should collaborate together in writing a play for marionettes dealing with the events of
In the same way, the story of the Forty-seven Ronin was introduced into an historical drama called
Kokyo-no-Nishi-ki, written in 1734, and staged in 1747, with the actor Sawamura Sojoro in the part
of Yuranosuke, and it was his success therein which induced Takeda Izumo to produce the
in the kabuki-shibai with real actors in place of marionettes.
Chushingura is founded on an historical event which took place in the fourteenth year of the
Genroku period, that is A.D. 1701, and relates how a certain noble, Asano Takumi-no-Kami, was so
persistently insulted by another noble, Kira Kotsuke-no-Suke, his instructor in Court etiquette, that he was at
last compelled to draw his sword upon his tormentor in the latter's palace, though he only managed to inflict a
slight wound, owing to the timely (or untimely, according to the point of view) interference of a certain officer,
Kajikawa Yosobei, thanks to whom Kotsuke escaped an attack which otherwise would certainly have ended fatally for him.
Such an offence (drawing his weapon within the Court-precincts) was punishable by death, and Takumi-no-Kami was condemned to commit seppuku, or self-immolation.
Briefly, the story of the Forty-seven Ronin upon which the play is based is as follows:-
At the time when these incidents occurred, the Shogun at Yedo, Tsunayoshi, the fifth of the Tokugawa line, was the real, or temporal, ruler of the country, the Emperor, the hereditary and spiritual ruler, being but little more than a figure-head, and practically a royal prisoner with his Court at Kyoto. When therefore the latter wished to make known his will to the Shogun, communication was made through an envoy, who was received with royal honours, and the duty of entertaining him was entrusted to nobles of high rank. The two officers appointed on this occasion to receive the Emperor's envoy were Asano Takumi-no-Kami, Lord of Aka, and Kamei Oki-no-Kami, Lord of Tsuwano. For brevity's sake we shall refer to these two by the names given them in the play, Takumi-no-Kami being called Yenya, and Oki-no-Kami, Wakasa. The councillor, also of high rank, appointed to teach these two the proper ceremonies to be employed in discharge of their duties towards the envoy was Kira Kotsuke-no-Suke, otherwise called Moronao in the play.
Now this Moronao was of an avaricious nature, and not deeming the presents which Yenya and Wakasa gave him, according to time-honoured custom, in return for his instruction, sufficient, took no trouble to instruct them, but on the contrary not only insulted them, but also taught them wrongly, so that they made mistakes.
Yenya at first bore his insults patiently, but Wakasa determined to rid the world of so pestilent a fellow, though well knowing that if he attacked Moronao within the precincts of the castle, his own life would be forfeit, and his family and retainers ruined. So calling together his councillors in secret, he advised them of his purpose to kill Moronao on the morrow, to which they were, perforce, obliged to concur, seeing remonstrance was useless.
His chief councillor, however, a man of much wisdom, knowing Moronao's greedy nature, determined to buy off his hostility towards Wakasa, and during the night collected all the money he could, and early in the morning, before the latter arrived at Moronao's castle, presented it, together with a sum for his retainers.
This had the desired effect, and Wakasa was agreeably surprised by the changed demeanour of Moronao towards him.
Not so, however, was it with Yenya, towards whom Moronao was, if possible, more insulting. Unfortunately Yenya's
own chief councillor, Yuranosuke, was not with him at the time, and the councillor in attendance in his place
was not quick-witted enough to propitiate Moronao as Wakasa's had done. Had Yuranosuke been with his lord,
the drama of the
Chushingura might never have been written.
As a crowning insult, Moronao ordered Yenya to tie up the ribbon of his sock, which the latter felt in duty bound to do. When he had done so, Moronao, affecting to be displeased with the way he had tied it, called him a clumsy boor.
This proved the last straw, and Yenya no longer able to contain him-self; rushed at Moronao with his dirk, but the blow was only a partial one, inflicting a slight wound. Yenya essayed another blow at his enemy, but again missed his aim. At this point a retainer (Honzo in the play) rushed up and held back Yenya, thus allowing Moronao to make good his escape.
Yenya was arrested, disarmed, and kept in custody till sentence was pronounced upon him to the effect that, for drawing his sword in the castle-precincts, even under great provocation, he must commit seppuku, or self-immolation, his castle of Ako and other property be confiscate, and his retainers to become ronin, that is leaderless men.
Some of these attached themselves to other daimyos, while others turned merchants, but forty-six of them banded together under Yuranosuke, the chief, to avenge the death of their lord.
Such is the historical episode which furnished the theme for the play. During the Tokugawa regime (c.1600-1868), however, it was forbidden, when dramatizing history, to use the real names of persons of high rank, or to publish current or recent events of a public character. As this episode occurred during the Tokugawa period, the principal characters were taken from the time of the first Ashikaga Shogun, Takauji (c.1330), and the scene is laid at Kamakura instead of Yedo.
By comparing the foregoing historical account with the description herein given of each scene, it will be seen how the two versions differ.
Additional facts will be given where necessary, when describing the various scenes, respecting the different characters introduced, some of whom occur only in the drama, and showing also how the authors, while disguising the reality by diluting it with a certain amount of fiction and transferring the actors to an earlier period, have dovetailed the two versions together into a consecutive whole.
For this purpose we have taken the well-known set by Hokusai, complete in eleven scenes, yoko-ye shape.
This is the largest and finest
Chushingura set designed by him, and is found in two issues, one by the
publisher TSURUYA (dated Tiger 4), and the other by SENICHI which is dated Tiger 6 = 6th month, 1806.
Having thus given an account of the play generally as dramatized in its eleven scenes, we will devote the following
chapters to various series of
Chushingura prints, representative as far as possible of the whole school of
Ukiyoye. We shall thus endeavour to present it in as varied a form as possible, so that in the end
practically every episode and incident which finds a place in the story will have been illustrated.
In order to render the play more intelligible we give below a list of the characters in it, with their names as they occur in the story and in the dramatized version of it.
|REAL NAME.||DRAMATIZED NAME.|
|Asano Takumi-no-Kami, Lord of Ako, in the Province of Harima||Yenya Hangwan, a Koke (noble) under the Shogun, Ashikaga Takauji.|
|Kamei Oki-no-Kami, Lord of Tsuwano, in Province of Iwami.||Momonoi Wakasa-no-suke, another noble.|
|Kira Kotsuke-no-Suke, expert in Court ceremonial.||Ko-no-Moronao, a noble.|
|Oishi Kuranosuke, chief councillor to Lord of Ako, and Prime Minister of Ako.||Oboshi Yuranosuke, leader of the forty-seven ronin.|
|Oishi Chikara, his son.||Rikiya.|
|Kajikawa Yosobei, retainer to the Shogun.||Kakogawa Honzo. |
|Ohotaka Gengo, retainer of Asano.||Ohowashi Bungo.|
|Kayano Sampei, retainer of Asano.||Hayano Kampei.|
|Terasaka Kichiyemon, a low-class ronin, or common soldier.||Tera-oka Heiyemon, retainer to Yenya and brother to Okaru (see below).|
|Ono Kurobei.||Ono Kudayu, a former retainer to Yenya, turned spy.|
|Ono Gunyemon, son of Kurobei.||Ono Sadakuro, a robber.|
|Amanoya Rihei, a loyal merchant, and contractor to Lord Asano Takumi.||Amakawa-ya Gihei.|
|The following characters also occur in the play;-|
|Tadayoshi, brother of the Shogun, acting as his deputy.
Lady Kawoyo, wife of Yenya.
|Commissioners at Yenya's seppuku.|
|Tonase (Honzo's wife).
Little Wave) (his daughter).
O-kaya (Yoichibei's wife).
Yazama Jiutaro (real name Hazama Jujiro)
|Retainers to Yenya.|
|Sagisaka Bannai, retainer to Moronao (appears in Acts III and VII).
0-Sono, wife of Gihei.
O-ishi, wife of Yuranosuke.
Okaru (betrothed to Kampei), maid to Lady Kawoyo and sister of Heiyemon.
Yoichibei (a farmer, Okaru's father).
ACT I. Kabuto Aratame:
Examination of the Helmets. Scene in the grounds of the Hachiman
Temple of Kamakura. Moronao offers his verses to the Lady Kawoyo, wife of Yenya, Wakasa standing behind him.
(See Plate 38.)
Lady Kawoyo has been brought to the Hachiman Temple to identify the helmet of Nitta Yoshisada, a rival to the Shogun Takauji, from amongst forty-six others, the spoils of war. Yoshisada was the famous Minamoto warrior, who, in 1333, became an adherent of the Emperor Go-Daigo-Tenno, and attacked the Hojo clan, at this time the real rulers of Japan, at their Castle of Kamakura.
In return for his services the Emperor presented him with this helmet. Now before Kawoyo married Yenya she had been in service at the Castle of Nitta Yoshisada, and was the only person who knew which one it was out of the forty-seven. In the presence of Moronao, Yenya, Wakasa, and other nobles, she at last picks out the helmet and hands it to Ashikaga Tadayoshi, brother to the Shogun Takauji.
After the examination of the helmets, Moronao secretly hands a love-letter to the Lady Kawoyo, with a request for a sympathetic answer, at the same time making himself agreeable to Yenya, but insulting towards Wakasa, because the latter upbraided him for making advances towards another man's wife.
ACT II. Scene in the grounds of the Castle of Wakasa-no-suke. On the veranda is seated Wakasa, and in front of him is Honzo cutting off the branch of a pine tree; behind, love scene between Konami and Rikiya.
Wakasa, his patience exhausted by the insults of Moronao, has decided to kill him on the morrow, and takes his
councillor, Honzo, into his confidence. The latter, however, knowing that such a deed would ruin the family of
Wakasa, and all dependent on him, is determined to prevent it. So taking his (i.e. Wakasa's) sword he cuts off
the branch of a pine tree, saying,
You cut off Moronao's head like that, at the same time putting back
his sword in its sheath without first wiping it. Owing to the great amount of wax in the Japanese pine,
this would have the effect of causing the sword to stick fast in the sheath when the wax dried, so that the blade
could not be drawn.
ACT III. The scene now changes to the Castle of Kamakura, outside the walls, and we are shown Kampei being attacked by Bannai and his men, and Okaru assisting by entangling them in her scarf.
To connect this with the last act we must retrace our steps, and pick up the thread of the narrative.
During the night Honzo propitiates Moronao with suitable gifts, so that when Wakasa appears early at Kamakura Castle the next morning, prepared to carry out his threat against Moronao, the latter flatters him and apologizes for his former insults. This abrupt change of behaviour throws Wakasa off his guard, so that he loses his chance of killing Moronao, and goes off.
Yenya then appears on the scene, and hands Moronao an answer from the Lady Kawoyo to his love-letter (Act I). Moronao is at first very gracious to Yenya, but when he reads the answer, rejecting his overtures with scorn, he completely changes his attitude, and deeply insults him.
Yenya, unable at last to keep his temper any longer, rushes at Moronao with his short sword, or dirk, to kill him, but at this moment Honzo seizes him from behind and allows Moronao to escape with nothing worse than a slight wound.
While these scenes were being enacted inside the castle grounds, Kampei remained outside with the rest of Yenya's body-guard, and spent his time chatting with Okaru, who had arrived very early in the morning with Lady Kawoyo's answer for Moronao which she (Okaru) gives to Kampei to take to Yenya. While thus engaged Bannai and his men approach, and the former, being in love with Okaru, tries to arrest Kampei, and run off with her, but the attempt fails.
During this scrimmage between Kampei and Bannai outside the castle grounds, Yenya is made prisoner, and handed over to the safe custody of another noble, till sentence should be passed on him. On learning the fate of his lord, Kampei is so mortified that he decides to commit seppuku on the spot, but Okaru persuades him to flee with her to her father's home at Yamazaki, near Kyoto, over three hundred miles from Kamakura.
ACT IV. Interior of Yenya's castle at Ogigayatsu (Yedo). Rikiya receiving the commissioners who have brought sentence of death on Yenya; the Lady Kawoyo seated with attendants, and surrounded with branches of the rare eight-fold cherry-blossom, and other presents, brought to console her for the loss of her husband.
ACT V. View on the road to the village of Yamazaki. The murder and robbery of Yoichibei, father of Okaru, by Sadakuro, for the sake of the money he obtained from a joro-ya keeper by the sale of his daughter, to help Kampei.
Sadakuro is himself accidentally killed by Kampei, while stepping aside to avoid the charge of a wild boar the latter is hunting. Kampei then helps himself to the money stolen from Yoichibei. In the background, the meeting of Kampei and Senzaki Yagoro, one of the ronin. This scene is generally represented as taking place in a rain-storm, hence the umbrella carried by Yoichibei which Sadakuro is cutting through with his sword, but Hokusai here only indicates rain by a black sky.
We now take up the story from the end of Act III, when Kampei decides to go with Okaru to her father's house at Yamazaki. They are now married, and live together as husband and wife. Kampei is anxious to be one of the band of forty-seven ronin, and learns that Yuranosuke is collecting money to pay for a monument over Yenya's tomb. (See Note, page 244).
But, unfortunately, neither he nor his wife, nor her father, Yoichibei, have any money, all being very poor, so Okaru decides to sell herself as a courtesan to the tea-house Ichiriki, in Kyoto, with her father's consent, but does not tell Kampei.
Yoichibei goes to the tea-house and receives payment in advance, to the amount of 50 Ryo (about £50 to £60 present rate). Just as he nears home he is attacked by Sadakuro, who was lying in wait behind a stack of rice-straw for any traveller who happened to pass. At the same moment a boar rushes by which Kampei was hunting, and Sadakuro, starting aside, receives the shot intended for the animal.
While out hunting Kampei meets Senzaki Yagoro and tells him where he (Kampei) is living. From him he learns that Yuranosuke wants money, and that if he (Kampei) wishes to join them, he must subscribe his share. With this they part.
Kampei having fired his shot at the boar goes up to it, and to make sure of its being dead beats it violently with the butt of his gun, and then touches the body, when to his horror he finds that, in the darkness, he has been beating a man (Sadakuro). At first he is inclined to run away, but thinking perhaps the man had been lying there ill, he searches his pockets for medicine and finds the purse of money stolen from Yoichibei.
Though not intending to steal the money, yet knowing how urgently he wants it to help on the revenge of his lord and join the ronin, he takes it and, running after Yagoro, hands it to him. 
ACT VI. Yoichibei's house, the scene of Kampei's seppuku. Okaru being taken away in a kago to the tea-house Ichiriki, at Kyoto.
Kampei is now returned to Yoichibei's house, and at the same time Yoichibei's corpse is found by two hunters, and brought home to his wife O-kaya, who suspects Kampei as the murderer, and reviles him.
Two of the ronin, Hara Goyemon and Senzaki Yagoro, then come to the house, and join in the accusation, at the same time returning Kampei his money, saying Yuranosuke does not want money obtained by murder.
As they turn to go Kampei calls on them to wait and hear his explanation.
He then tells them how, after Yagoro had left him last night, he saw a boar and shot at it, but found he had killed a man instead. While searching the body for medicine he found money, which he gave to Yagoro. On his return home he hears how the money was what Yoichibei had got for the sale of Okaru, and that he must have killed his father-in-law by mistake. Owing to the darkness he could not see at the time whether it was Yoichibei or Sadakuro he had shot.
While telling this to the two ronin, he attempts to commit seppuku on himself. The two ronin
We will examine Yoichibei's body to see if he is killed with a gun-shot or by a sword-thrust.
Finding it is by a sword, this is proof Sadakuro killed him and not Kampei. Therefore Kampei was quite right in killing
Sadakuro, a murderer, in revenge for the death of his father-in-law.
Being thus satisfied of Kampei's innocence, he is asked to sign the roll of the ronin, and the scene shows him holding it out. Kampei willingly signs it, but dies soon afterwards, and the ronin hand back his money for his funeral and leave.
The true account of how Kayano Sampei (Kampei in the play) came to his death is as follows:-
After Yenya's death, Sampei returns home to his village, and finds his mother dead. His father begs him to stay with him, pleading his loneliness and old age. As all the ronin have strictly promised to keep their revenge secret, and to tell no one, his father is in ignorance of the fact that Sampei is one of them, and refuses permission to him to leave home when attacking time approaches. In his dilemma, being unwilling to disobey his father by going away without leave, and unable to join the ronin, he commits seppuku.
Kuranosuke, in honour of Sampei's loyalty, when making the attack on Moronao's castle, carried a spear with a paper
attached, on which was written
Kayano Sampei, and with it killed an enemy on Sampei's behalf.
ACT VII. Scene at the tea-house Ichiriki, Kyoto. Heiyemon dragging out the spy Kudayu from under the engawa, and raising his sword to kill him; Okaru standing by. Yuranosuke squatting on the engawa looking on, and two other ronin inside the tea-house. (See Plate 38.)
On the death of Yenya, Moronao, expecting that the former's retainers would seek one day to be revenged on him, had spies set to watch their movements.
Yuranosuke, however, in order to throw these spies off the scent, ordered the ronin to scatter, while he and his son went to live at Yamashima, near Kyoto, Yuranosuke himself appearing to lead a dissolute life with wine-bibbers and spending his time in the courtesan quarter, having also just divorced his wife. Every night Yuranosuke would come from Yamashima to Kyoto and spend his time in the Ichiriki tea-house, and often give supper-parties. During such a party, three of the ronin enter with Heiyemon, brother to Okaru, and ask when Yuranosuke intends going to Kamakura, that is to attack Moronao. Knowing there are spies about, he replies that he has no intention of taking any revenge; it is Yenya's fault they are now all ronin. Such a reply creates consternation amongst Heiyemon and the other ronin, and they leave the tea-house, thinking Yuranosuke must be mad, or at least drunk with sake. At this point there enter the two spies, Kudayu and Bannai, who join Yuranosuke's party. Kudayu, in order to test Yuranosuke, offers him a piece of fish. As he was on the point of taking it, the former reminds him that it is the anniversary of the death of Yenya, but Yuranosuke eats it all the same, thus showing he troubled himself little about his late lord. To show respect to the departed, Buddhist families never eat fish or meat on the anniversary of the day on which their parents or, in the case of a ronin, their lord died.
These tactics on the part of Yuranosuke, which were all duly reported by spies to his enemy, entirely threw Moronao off his guard, who thought little was to be feared from a man who appeared not to trouble himself in the slightest about the fate of his lord, nor show any intention of avenging him, so that he gradually relaxed his precautions.
In the meantime, other ronin, disguised as pedlars or workmen, contrived to gain entrance to Moronao's castle, and thus made themselves familiar with the plan of the building, and also ascertained the character of the inmates, all of which matters they make known to Yuranosuke.
Other versions of this act show Yuranosuke playing blindman's-buff with the tea-house girls, or reading a letter which Rikiya has brought him from the Lady Kawoyo, while the spy Kudayu, hiding under the engawa, reads it from below, Okaru also reading it by the aid of a mirror from the balcony above.
This refers to the scene which takes place after Yuranosuke has eaten the fish Kudayu offered him, when the former goes out, and is handed a letter by his son Rikiya about Moronao from the Lady Kawoyo. He sits down on the balcony outside to read it, while the spy Kudayu hides underneath and reads from below as Yuranosuke unrolls it, while Okaru, who has gone up into the balcony of the floor above, also reads it by the aid of a mirror. Suddenly Yuranosuke becomes suspicious that others are reading his letter, and, looking up and seeing Okaru, calls to her to come down. He then tells her he proposes to pay her debt and free her from the joro-ya keeper, but wants her to be with him for three days, not knowing she is already Kampei's wife.
At this point her brother Heiyemon enters, and having seen her reading Yuranosuke's letter from the balcony threatens to kill her as a spy, but Yuranosuke intervenes and says she is no spy, and commands him to drag out Kudayu from under the balcony, whom he (Yuranosuke) had stuck through with his sword, and throw him into the river.
ACT VIII. Tonase and her daughter Konami walking along the sea-shore at Tago while on their way to Yamashima, near Kyoto, to find Rikiya, to whom Konami is betrothed, and who had gone to live there with his father, Yuranosuke.
This scene introduces characters which only occur in the play, and have no part in the actual story, so calls for no detailed description. In the play this is a gay scene of dancing and singing, and is introduced as an antidote to the others, which are too full of murder and sudden death.
ACT IX. The house of Yuranosuke at Yamashima. Rikiya attacking Honzo, who is also defending himself from
Ever since Yenya's death, there has been bad blood between Honzo and Yuranosuke because the former stopped Yenya from killing his enemy, Moronao, by holding him back. Honzo, in this scene, comes to Yuranosuke's house disguised as a ronin beggar with the bamboo flute and basket hat of the komuso, to apologize and make amends, bringing with him a plan of Moronao's castle.
We now take up the story from Act VIII, showing Tonase and Konami journeying to Yamashima. In Act IX they have
arrived at Yuranosuke's house, and Tonase, wife of Honzo, says to O-ishi, wife of Yuranosuke,
I have brought
my daughter to marry your son, Rikiya, as you have promised. O-ishi flatly refuses to sanction the marriage,
Your husband, Honzo, interfered and prevented my lord, Yenya, from killing his enemy, Moronao, at
Kamakura Palace; I refuse to allow my son to marry the daughter of such an unchivalrous man.
Tonase and O-ishi then start quarrelling, and Konami, to settle matters, and knowing that if she married Rikiya without consent, she would be divorced, consents to sacrifice herself, and to this her mother agrees, and takes up a sword to kill her. At this moment she is interrupted by Honzo's piping who enters and stops her. He then insults O-ishi, who thereupon snatches up a spear to stab him, but he is too quick for her, and overcomes her. Rikiya then suddenly appears and attacks Honzo with a spear, which the latter seizes by the shaft and guides into his own body. The dying Honzo then confesses his fault in holding back Yenya when he attacked Moronao, and appeals to Konami, his daughter, to marry Rikiya, at the same time producing a plan of Moronao's castle which he explains to Yuranosuke, who has just appeared on the scene. Yuranosuke consents to the marriage of Rikiya and Konami, and Honzo expires. Yuranosuke then takes the dress of Honzo and, disguised as a komuso, starts on his journey to Kamakura to fulfil his revenge on Moronao.
ACT X. Scene at the house of Amakawa-ya Gihei at Sakai. (See Plate 38.)
Gihei was a contractor to Lord Yenya, and Yuranosuke entrusted him with the making of the arms and armour to be used by the ronin in their night attack on Moronao.
Yuranosuke, however, was very anxious as to what might happen supposing the authorities were to raid Gihei's house and, finding a store of arms and armour there, accuse the latter of being in a conspiracy against the Government. Gihei himself was prepared for this eventuality, and knowing he would be executed if discovered, divorced his wife in order to avoid trouble.
Yuranosuke, therefore, sent some of the ronin to Gihei's house, disguised as police, in order to see if he would disclose the arms he had or confess for what purpose he had made them.
The ronin, therefore, raid his house, and finding the arms, threaten him with arrest, on the ground that he is plotting against the Government. Gihei, however, is true to his salt, denies the charge, and says they may kill him if they don't believe him. (This is the incident portrayed in Act X, in Hokusai's set, which we are here describing.) This proof of loyalty satisfying the ronin, they reveal their true identity to Gihei, saying they are not police, but ronin formerly in the service of Lord Yenya, and go off.
True Story of Gihei (Amanoya Rihei).
Amanoya Rihei was a native of Osaka, and business took him, one day in summer, to the Castle of Ako, Lord Asano's
residence. It so happened that this was a
spring cleaning day, and all the treasures of the house were
placed in one or two rooms while their proper resting-place was being cleaned and renovated. Rihei asked permission
to examine them, which he was allowed to do. When the cleaning was over, and everything was being put back, it was
discovered by the servants that a small, but valuable cup was missing.
As no one but Rihei had had access to the collections, suspicion naturally fell upon him, and on being questioned by Kuranosuke he confessed that he had stolen it, and would willingly abide by the consequences.
This candour on his part proved to Kuranosuke that Rihei was no ordinary man, so not knowing what he should do under the circumstances, he referred the matter to Lord Asano for decision, who said there was no necessity to make a fuss as he himself had just found the cup, at the same time showing it to Kuranosuke.
When Kuranosuke, after his lord's death, began to make his plans to take revenge on Moronao, he remembered how Rihei had proved his honesty on an earlier occasion, and decided to make use of his services by entrusting him with the fitting out of the ronin with arms and armour.
Rihei secretly made them, having first sent away his wife and children, and as secretly forwarded them in readiness for the attack to Yedo.
But after they had been delivered in Yedo, one of his workmen reported the matter to the authorities, because the arms were of a very unusual kind.
Rihei is arrested and put on trial, but though questioned many times, never reveals the true purpose for which the arms were made. Eventually he is submitted to torture to make him confess, but he remains firm in his trust.
At last he pleads his memory has gone, owing to the trials and torture he has endured, and asks to be set free till next spring, so that he may recover, when he will explain everything. The authorities accede to his wish, but before the time comes for his re-trial the ronin attack Moronao and attain their revenge. Rihei, thus released from secrecy, then confesses, and the authorities, in consideration of his fidelity to his trust, set him free.
Rihei then returns home and retires from his business, which is carried on in his stead by one of his sons. He died at Osaka in January, 1727, aged 66.
ACT XI. The ronins' attack on Moronao's castle.
Yuranosuke, at last satisfied by the reports he received that Moronao was now thoroughly off his guard, and quite certain no attack was to be feared from Yenya's retainers, appointed a secret meeting-place for the ronin, and decided to make the attack at midnight, in the season of mid-winter, when the whole country was deep under snow.
The ronin, to the number of forty-seven, including their leader, dressed in a black uniform with
a white diamond pattern, and on the sleeve the
kana character (one for each man; the Japanese
alphabet, hirakana, consists of forty-seven characters), attack the principal gate and break it open,
the actual forcing of the door being done by one of the younger ronin, Ohowashi Bungo (real name Ohotaka
Gengo), who may be identified in the scene of this act by his carrying an enormous wooden mallet.
After a severe fight with the defenders of the castle the latter are overcome, and Moronao is eventually found by Yazama Jiutaro, hiding in an outhouse used as a coal-cellar. He is dragged forth and, in consideration of his rank, given the option of dispatching himself by seppuku, as Yenya was obliged to do. As Moronao declined to die the death of a nobleman, Yuranosuke was obliged to dispatch him himself, cutting off his head with Yenya's dirk.
Thus did the forty-seven ronin avenge the insult and death of their lord, and then set out on the return to Yedo, to lay the head of their enemy as an offering before the grave of Lord Asano, at the Temple of Sengakuji.
Chushingura sets this last episode, the journey to Sengakuji, completes the series,
though the play itself always ends with the attack on Moronao's castle.
True story of the attack on Moronao.
On the 14th day of December, the anniversary of the death of Yenya, in the 14th year of Genroku (1702), the ronin assembled at the house of one of them, O-no-dera Junai, under the command of Kuranosuke, and started near midnight, under heavy snow, for Moronao's castle.
Moronao who was now expecting an attack by Yenya's ronin about this time, was on this night entertaining his friends at a farewell dinner, preparatory to departing next morning for Yonezawa, in the Province of Dewa, the territory of the daimyo Uesugi, whose daughter was married to his (Moronao's) son.
The ronin, arrived at the castle, divided into two forces; half under Kuranosuke attacked the main gate, while the remainder under Oishi Chikara, his son who, though only sixteen years old, was a giant in size and strength, attacked the back gate.
One of the party at the front gate gained entrance over the wall by means of a rope ladder, and all the guard being asleep, opened the gate from inside.
Kuranosuke and the rest immediately dash in, while at the same time his son forces the back gate. Most of the defenders run away, but some put up a strong fight against the ronin. They are, however, all finally over-powered; and then begins a hunt to find their enemy Moronao. He cannot be found, and the ronin in despair resolve to commit seppuku. At last, however, one of them, Yazama Jiutaro, goes to the coal cellar, where bags of charcoal are stored, and thrusts his spear well into them in case anyone is hiding behind. Drawing out his spear he finds it blood-stained, so immediately removes the bags of charcoal to find Moronao crouching
behind them. He is immediately dragged out and the signal, a whistle, given that he has been found.
Kuranosuke runs up and identifies Moronao by the wound on his forehead, inflicted by Yenya when he attacked him a year ago. Moronao is invited to die the death of a nobleman by committing seppuku, Kuranosuke offering to act as his second. But being a coward he steadfastly refuses, so Kuranosuke has no option but to dispatch him himself, and completes the revenge by cutting off his head.
In spite of the severe fighting with the defenders of Moronao's castle, none of the ronin were killed, and only some were even wounded.
Having achieved their purpose the ronin are reassembled and leave the castle, with Moronao's head, to make their way to Sengakuji Temple, about seven miles distant, at Takawana, a suburb of Yedo, where Yenya is buried.
Before they arrived at Sengakuji the day broke, and everyone came out to watch the procession. On reaching the temple, they washed the head of Moronao in a well in the grounds and laid it as an offering before their lord's tomb, while the abbot read prayers and they each burnt incense.
Having done this they departed, and awaited the sentence of the Government. They were divided into four parties, and sent to four different daimyos in Yedo, till sentence should be passed upon them, namely Lords Hosokawa, Matsudaira, Mori, and Mizuno.
They were kept in custody till the following spring, when, on the 4th day of the second month in the 16th year of Genroku (1703), the Tokugawa Government ordered that all the ronin, except Terasaka Kichiyemon (who was of too low a rank), should commit honorary execution by seppuku for the murder of Moronao.
Knowing this would be their fate they were prepared for it, and met their death bravely. The priests of Sengakuji Temple prayed that they might be allowed to have the bodies, which, on their request being granted, they reverently buried round the grave of Lord Asano. Kichiyemon was also buried there when he died later. Owing to his low rank, he was not allowed to die by seppuku, an honour only for nobles and samurai.
The fame and loyalty of the ronin caused crowds to flock to their burial-ground to pray there, and at the present day it is still a place of pious pilgrimage.
Actually there are forty-eight graves besides the larger one of Lord Asano. The history of the forty-eighth grave is as follows:-
When Kuranosuke was living at Yamashima, in order to deceive Moronao's spies, he frequently pretended to be drunk, and used to fall asleep in the road. One day a samurai of the Satsuma clan came across him lying thus in the middle of the road, and reviled him, saying he was a disgrace to the rank of samurai, at the same time kicking and otherwise insulting him.
When, after the death of the ronin the story of their loyalty to their chief and how they plotted to avenge him became known, the Satsuma man was so ashamed of his behaviour towards Kuranosuke at Yamashima, that, in atonement for his insult, he came to their burial-place at Sengakuji, and there committed seppuku, and was buried alongside the graves of the ronin by the priests of the temple.
Such is the story which inspired the most famous drama on the Japanese stage, a story of loyalty and heroism one cannot but admire.