Dec. 14 is the anniversary of the 47 samurai’s revenge. The bare bones of the story are these: In 1701, for reasons unclear to this day, Asano Naganori, head of the Asano daimyoate (powerful territorial lord), pulled his sword on Kira Yoshinaka and slightly wounded him. Most versions of the argument between them have Kira demanding outrageous bribes to teach Asano the basics of Edo Castle protocol, of which he was put in charge — and Asano refusing.
Asano was forced to commit seppuku the next day, which is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment (stomach cutting), and Kira escaped without punishment. The Asano Han (feudal domain) was abolished, throwing hundreds of Asano samurai out into the street as ronin wandering samurai with no master.
On December 14, 1702 (known as the Genroku year 15)), 47 former Asano Samurai — led by Kuranosuke Yoshio — assaulted Kira’s mansion, found him hiding in a closet, dragged him out into the courtyard, and executed him.
Carrying his head before them, the 47 Samurai marched through the streets from what is now Asakusa to Shinagawa in Tokyo, to the grave of Asano Naganori and reported that justice had been fulfilled.The 47 samurai then calmly waited for the authorities to arrive and arrest them. They were condemned to commit seppuku, and the sentence was carried out at the beginning of February 1703.
Within two weeks of their death, the first Kabuki play about the Chushingura, as they came to be known, titled “The Treasury of Loyal Samurai,” was performed. Since then, there has been an endless outpouring of plays, literature, art and movies about the Chushingura. In particular, the year-end is always marked by the latest movies about the 47 samurai.
Without question, this is the central and perhaps defining moment in Japanese history. Certainly, it is without doubt the most famous — one even widely known overseas. In many ways, it epitomizes Japanese thought, the spiritual nobility of Japan’s samurai, and their sense of selfless sacrifice for honor and justice — even at the cost of their own lives.