The 47 Ronin Story – a look into Japanese history from westerner’s eyes

“Among flowers, the cherry blossom (Sakura);
among men, the samurai”

Though based on an actual incident, many details have been lost to history, and, as a result, several version of the forty-seven ronin story have been told. But the fact remains that they were given the death penalty for their deed, which, at that time, so embodied the Japanese’s ideal of the noble samurai’s devotion to his lord that the forty-seven ronin were enshrined at Sengoku temple beside their beloved master. Thus came to a dramatic close the final chapter of what has been acclaimed the most famous vendetta in the annals of Japan

As I have said before, I read this book because Keanu Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada are going to play in a movie called 47 Ronin, however I should tell you that the movie is not based upon this novel because both book and movie are based on true event that took place in early 18th century.

The legend happened 300years ago, the details of the event were not clear but the remains of the legend were clear enough to be remembered from one generation to another generation. The legendary event had been turned into songs, poems and traditional theatrical performance called Kabuki. John Allyn tried to deliver his version of what had happened at that time.

Here is the legend:

In 1701, Asano Takumi no Kami Naganori, the Daimyo of Ako, along with other Daimyo were called by the reigning Shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, to his castle. In the Shogun Castle, Lord Asano had injured by Kira Kōzuke no Suke Yoshihisa, the master of ceremony. The penalty for drawing katana (sword) in the castle was death. Because of his noble blood, he was allowed to die in the most honorable way which was to commit seppuku. But, Kira was not killed and that fact brought wrath inside the heart of the samurai who served under Lord Asano. The shogun confiscated Lord Asano’s castle in Ako and all the samurai in the castle became Ronin (masterless samurai).

Ōishi Kuranosuke Yoshitaka , the head of the retainer of Asano Castle, surrendered the castle peacefully. He was then seen as a coward for not avenging his master’s death. One of the famous codes of the samurai was that a samurai should never live under the same sky of his master’s killer, that’s why Ōishi was considered as a coward. He was also seen as a drunker.

However, 2 years after the death of Lord Asano (in January 30, 1703), 47 Ronin of Ako led by Ōishi came charging into Kira’s mansion. They beheaded Kira and took his head to their master’s grave. They surrendered themselves to the Shogun without any struggle because they had done their master’s revenge and claimed their honor as samurai.

Their way of avenging their master’s death had touched so many hearts, even the heart of the reigning Shogun. The Shogun gave them the most honorable punishment for samurai, despite the fact they were jut Ronin. They committed seppuku and were buried next to their master’s grave in Sengaku-ji Temple. There is a museum near the temple that keeps the relic of the armors and weapons used by the men of Ako.

When I finished reading the book,
I have a wish to see the temple and the grave of those great ronin.

After reading the summary of the legend I have shared above, you can easily guessed what the book is all about. The legend has spoiled the story whether you like it or not. You know it won’t end happily. But you should also know that when reading a story about a samurai, you are most likely to meet sad ending with seppuku involved. I once read another true story regarding Samurai and their loyalty to their master. Their master’s son was killed in the battle, the father felt so sad and said that a son should never died before his father, upon saying that, he committed seppuku to join his son. About a dozen samurai who worked for him saw what happened and out of loyalty followed their master by committing seppuku.

I know that some people might think that it was a stupid act to commit seppuku out of loyalty…but for me, the code of samurai is a beautiful thing, I admired their discipline and loyalty.

Now, let’s get back to the book I have just finished reading.  John Allyn tried to relive the event by sharing what had happened to Ōishi. Why had Ōishi turned into a drunk and why did it take 2 years for them to avenge their master’s death. I will not share ‘the why’ as you have been spoiled by the legend…sharing ‘the why’ will totally ruin the books. Do read it yourself to know Allyn’s imagination of why Oishi did something like that.

I often have prejudiced over westerners who wrote about Japan because they often missed the codes which were honored by ancient Japan, but I quite like what Allyn had written. He could capture the way of the samurai in a good way. There were parts of the story that bored me and almost made me abandoned the book. Fortunately, he turned the situation back from boring to exciting before I total boredom took me over.

The 47 Ronin Story by John Allyn is a decent book that can open the eyes of people who know nothing about samurai. It is a good read…but…I am curious to read about those 47 ronin with real facts and from Japanese people’s point of view.

In the cemetery he wiped the snow from the plaque before Lord Asano’s grave and once again raised his head to speak to his dead master

“We are ready, my Lord, to take revenge”

“Your loyal forces have gathered. Before the night is over some or all of us may have sacrificed our lives, but we count it as nothing because our cause is duty and our course is honorable”

Page 210

I am so curious about the movie, the detail will not be the same as the book, it will be another version of 47 ronin. One thing that makes me so eager to see the movie (will probably be released in November 2011) is Hiroyuki Sanada as Ōishi. They couldn’t pick anyone better than him!! He has the right charisma and he can be considered as the modern day samurai, he is skilled in martial art.

Book Details:

Title: The 47 Ronin Story
Author: John Allyn
Language: English
Pages: 240 pages
Publisher: Charles E Turtle Company
Challenge: New Author Challenge 2011, What’s In The Name Challenge (for Number).

21 thoughts on “The 47 Ronin Story – a look into Japanese history from westerner’s eyes

  1. Sounds like I’m better off waiting for the movie. I already kind of get why it might take them a couple years to avenge their lord. Besides, Keanu Reeves, who can resist?

    1. I hope the movie will do justice for the legend…not too many sappy scenes. There will be some romance involved in the movie.

      I AGREE!! who can resist Keanu? Tho I am happy he doesn’t play as Oishi because he couldn’t act better than Sanada-san (I love you Keanu, but we all know your talent has limitation)

  2. Hiroyuki Sanada is a another favorite of mine. His The Twilight Samurai (as Tasogare Seibei is known to us in the west) is poetic and quite moving. He was great, too, in a smaller part in Sunshine.

    The story is a remarkable legend. I’m looking forward to the film. Thanks for the book review, Novroz.

    1. I haven’t watched the twilight samurai yet 😦 but I will one day. When I found out that he was in Sunshine, I could easily guessed that he is the captain of that spaceship…he has strong charisma of a honored leader.

      I am also eager to see the movie, but before that, I want to find the Japanese movie first as a comparison. Thank you for reading it, Michael.

  3. I try to watch every movie version of this story I can get my hands on. Its so brave and sad. Someday I hope to visit the shrine to pay my respects.

    Once again youv opened my eyes to yet another cool thing. I wrote down the book info to see if I can find it. Yay!

    1. Isn’t it the legend amazing?? I want to visit the temple too…it is said that we can feel the spirit of loyalty still lingers on the grave till these days.

      I am glad you find my post educative…that means I didn’t just write non sense things. Thank you Sara.

  4. Funny, I just watched and reviewed Tha Last Samurai and thought it was quite entertaining but more than that I thought I would love to read a good nonfiction book abot the Samurai. Preferably with pictures. I love the armor.
    This is a very handsome actor… I have never seen him. I’m looking forward tothe movie. I’m a huge Keanu Reeves fan.

    1. What a coincidence. I will check your review soon. I quite like Last Samurai.
      I have seen the picture of Keanu wearing samurai armour….whuaa kakkoi!!

      2 handsome actors in one movie is a definite watch.

    1. my bad 😉 I should have mentioned his previous movies, such as Last Samurai, Ringu, and Sunshine.

      He has played with my new love, Cillian, in Sunshine and will play with my old love, Keanu.

  5. Thanks for letting me know about this review. Somehow I missed it. I’m really curious about it since a Westerner did write it. I would be too intimidated to write about culture that I didn’t grow up in. And I really don’t know much about Samurais.

    1. You’re welcome and thank you for reading it 🙂
      I know pretty much about the samurai as I used to read non-fiction about them, Japan Foundation library has plenty of those kind of books. I agree with you, I would be intimidated too even though I have read a lot, but Allyn has done good job in depicting the Samurai’s code of honour. At least in the eyes of someone who has loved things Japanese for over 20 years, his story looks believable 😉

  6. You will cry when you see the movie. It has NOTHING to do with this story, It is an insult to the Samurai as well as the Ronin of Ako.

  7. It never bodes well for a film when its release date is delayed – much less when it’s been pushed back a whole year, ostensibly to accommodate reshoots that would bump up Keanu Reeves’ completely imaginary role in a Western blockbuster take on a classic, awe-inspiring tale right out of the Japanese history books. That way lies disaster and madness, one would think – and certainly the bland, monster-heavy trailers for 47 Ronin did the film no favours. Smack down your inner critic, however, and this epic fantasy flick – for that’s what it is – turns out to be reasonably palatable fare.

    The bare bones of the true story are all there: the kindly Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) is ordered to commit seppuku – ritual suicide by disembowelment – when he almost mortally offends Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano – a nicely ironic name if ever there was one). This renders all the honourable samurai in Asano’s service masterless i.e., ronin. Led by the noble Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the loyal band of 47 ronin vow to avenge Asano – even though they have been ordered by their Shogun (top military commander) not to do so.

    What’s less accurate, of course, is pretty much all the rest of it. Reeves plays Kai, a half-British, half-Japanese orphan who’s taken in by Asano but treated like an outcast by everyone in the household – except, of course, for Asano’s loving daughter Mika (Kou Shibasaki). Kira’s nefarious plans have the support of Mizuki (Rinko Kikuchi), a witch who can apparently take any form she likes: wolf, snake or dragon. It’s all a bit nonsensical, especially when Kai tries to get swords for the ronin amongst some pretty creepy folk who have gone from society’s outcasts to being part of what looks like a supernatural cult.

    In other words, 47 Ronin is a faintly ridiculous addition to the wealth of Chūshingura – fictionalised accounts of the 47 ronin tale – that already exist in Japan. It’s the kind of big, dumb blockbuster in which the good guys literally live to die another day as long as the plot calls for it. These fearless ronin even survive when the villain is protected by a witch with crazy mystical powers! She can set an entire field on fire, create poisonous spiders and turn into a dragon! And the ronin – at least 47 of them – live anyway! It’s crazy! That’s what makes it all the more surprising when 47 Ronin turns out to be… well, actually not half-bad. Once you’ve accepted the sillier aspects of the film for what they are, it’s easy to get swept along by its very earnest drama and spectacle. Reeves’ storyline is a made-up jumble of nonsense, but is played very straight – this is, in effect, Sad Keanu: The Movie – and it just about works. Casting Reeves as the outsider allows him to do what he does best: play the role with stony-faced reserve, whether he’s levelling up by battling demons in cage matches or pining moodily after Mika. Kai’s restrained love story with Mika is fairly predictable stuff, with the girl fading a little too much into the background (don’t expect any bloodletting from Shibasaki, Battle Royale fans), but it’s salvaged by the rather non-Hollywood way in which it all ends.

    For all that Reeves takes centre stage in the publicity campaign, the film belongs just as much to Sanada’s Oishi. He undertakes a more arduous emotional journey: one that takes him from grudging to full-hearted acceptance of Kai’s worth as a warrior and comrade. His relationship with his family is more fully examined than Kai’s unwavering loyalty to the Asano clan. As Oishi plots his course of action, one that will bring him shame for disobeying the Shogun even as he avenges his master, he warns his wife and son Chikara (Jin Akanishi) to disavow him. Their reactions provide some of the most emotionally resonant moments in the entire film.

    All things considered, the title of the film is a bit of a misnomer – it would more accurately be called 2 Ronin, subtitled Oishi And Kai’s Excellent Adventure – and it suffers from a lamentable lack of humour and historical accuracy. But it’s not a complete travesty. Tucked away beneath a layer of mystical beasts and witches lies a story with enough heart, nobility and soul to survive even the oddest twists and turns.

    More about the movie you can also find it here

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