Oishi Yoshio, better known under the name of Oishi Kuranosuke, is a samurai born April 24, 1659 and died March 20, 1703. He officiated during the long Edo period, also known as the Tokugawa period, which lasted from 1603 to 1868. Oishi Kuranosuke did not come from an influential clan and could have had a very mundane life. But history has decided otherwise, by placing him at the head of the legendary 47 rônin.

Oishi Kuranosuke’s clan

Oishi Kuranosuke was not part of a large clan, but he was the chamberlain, or “karo“OfAsano Naganori, whose family was a branch of the powerful Asano clan, based in Hiroshima.

The first influential member of the Asano clan is Asano Nagamasa, born in 1526 and died in 1610. He is the brother-in-law and one of the principal advisers of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the second unifier of Japan. The clan then swears loyalty to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the third and last unifier of Japan, which gives it great power and a substantial fiefdom. He is the son of Asano Nagamasa, Asano Nagaakira, which inherits the domain ofHiroshima thanks to its role in the seat ofOsaka, a campaign that I will talk about later.

Asano Naganori is therefore the daimyo from the domain of Ako. He was born on September 28, 1667 and died on April 21, 1701. Oishi Kuranosuke is his “karo”: he manages the castle daily in the absence of his lord. But why would a daimyo need a samurai of lower rank to manage his domain? Because of the policy of “sankin-kotai“, Which could be translated by” alternation of services “: it obliges the daimyos provinces to spend every other year in a residence in the capital, Edo, and to leave women and children there when they return to their provincial domain. The advantage is twofold: the sankin-kotai allows the shogun to have hostages in the event of an uprising of a domain, and it considerably impoverishes the daimyo who are forced to maintain two residences instead of one. During Asano Naganori’s annual stay in Edo, it is therefore Oishi Kuranosuke who manages Ako’s estate as well as his amouraï.

Asano Naganori holds small positions in Edo, more honorary than anything else. However, he ended up being appointed by the shogun as one of the two officials responsible for welcoming the emissaries of theEmperor Higashiyama came from Kyoto.

Samurai Rider Takeda

The shogun of this time is called Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. He is nicknamed the “dog shogun” because he edits many laws to protect animals, especially dogs. Because he was born in the year of the dog. The pinnacle of this policy is the installation of feeders for around 100,000 dogs, fed with rice and fish, paid with taxes from the residents of Edo.

Historical context

Because he is going to welcome the Kyoto officials, Asano Naganori must learn the protocol from a koke, or master of ceremonies, named Kira Yoshinaka. However, relations between the two men deteriorate very quickly. According to most versions, Kira Yoshinaka was corrupt to the bone and demanded very large bribes in return for his teachings, which Naganori refused. From that moment on, the koke does not lose an opportunity to demean and humiliate his pupil until that fateful day.

Lord Asano tries to kill the Koke
Lord Asano tries to kill the Koke

On April 21, 1701, after Kira Yoshinaka called him an asshole (or an insult of the same ilk), Asano Naganori unsheathed his wakizashi and attempts to assassinate him in the Couloir des Pins, edo castle. He only manages to injure him slightly in the head, before being overpowered by the spectators of the drama. Since it is strictly forbidden to draw a weapon in the castle, the sentence is immediate and applied the same day: Ako’s daimyo is condemned to be seppuku. The ako castle and his domain are confiscated by the shogunate and all samurai in the service of Naganori are condemned to become ronin. As for Kira Yoshinaka, he gets away without any penalty.

The feats of arms of the 47 ronin

Oishi Kuranosuke’s first step is to convince the samurai in Asano Naganori’s service to deliver the castle to the shogun’s envoys smoothly. Resisting them would lead to certain death, and the old kuro has other plans. The first of these is to try to avoid the disgrace of the Asano of Ako’s domain. He asks the shogun for permission for Asano Daigaku Nagahiro, the brother and heir of Asano Naganori, to succeed him but this is refused.

He therefore works on his other and much more ambitious plan. He and 46 other warriors of the old domain, now ronin, decide to avenge their daimyo by assassinating the koke Kira Yoshinaka. Obviously, the latter suspects that Naganori’s faithful will try something and strengthen the guard around him while sending spies to monitor all these little people, Oishi Kuranosuke in priority.

What the 47 ronins do for a year and a half varies according to the very many versions of the story. What is certain is that they are working to deceive Kira Yoshinaka’s vigilance while remaining in contact with each other. Oishi Kuranosuke, known to be a calm and measured man, pretends to be completely devastated by the downfall of the Asano clan and indulges in all manner of excesses in the houses of geisha of Kyoto. He cuts ties with his wife and children: this confirms his reputation as a destroyed man while avoiding reprisals that could befall his family. Only his eldest son Oishi Chikara remains in contact with him… For the simple reason that Chikara is one of the 47 ronins having taken an oath to kill Kira Yoshinaka.

The koke eventually loosens its watch and becomes less and less suspicious. Meanwhile, the ronin, perfectly coordinated by Kuranosuke, manage to get the blueprints for Kira Yoshinaka’s house and bring in Edo enough weapons for everyone, or craft them. All eventually reach the capital and establish a plan: his goal is to find Lord Kira, cut off his head and go and place it as an offering on the tomb of their late master Asano Naganori, buried in the temple. Sengaku-Ji.

Beginning of the attack of the 47 ronin
Beginning of the attack of the 47 ronin

The attack took place on January 30, 1703, in the early hours of the morning when the sun had not yet risen and the capital was covered with snow. The group of warriors split into two: those led by Oishi Kuranosuke, who attack through the main gate, and those led by Oishi Chikara, who lead the assault from behind. The code is as follows: a bell will give the signal to attack, and a whistle will mark the death of Kira Yoshinaka. Archers are posted everywhere, including on the rooftops, to shoot down any messengers who might seek help. Four ronins climb the walls, neutralize the gatekeepers and tie them up.

The bell is sounded, and Kuranosuke’s team smashes down the main door. Yoshinaka’s guards hold the position and prevent the ronins from entering. Chikara’s squad, which has managed to enter, takes them from behind. Then begins the search of Kira’s house. The rest of Kira Yoshinaka’s men who sleep in outdoor barracks are kept at bay by the archers.

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In the main building, the ronins injure or kill the last koke warriors. Women and children are spared, in accordance with what was decided in the plan. After a long search, they end up finding Kira Yoshinaka hidden in the shed of an interior courtyard. The final whistle is blown, and Lord Kira is then beheaded.

The head of the Koke is washed before being presented at the tomb of Lord Asano
The head of the Koke is washed before being presented at the tomb of Lord Asano

The sun is just starting to rise as the ronins leave for the temple Sengaku-ji, where the tomb of their lord is. Once there, they wash the head of their enemy and present it as an offering to Asano Naganori. They eventually donate their money to the temple and ask the priests there to be buried with the daimyo Asano, as they only know very well what will happen to them next. Once all this is settled, they end up surrendering to the shogun’s men.

The latter is caught in a dilemma: these ronin defied his authority by killing Kira Yoshinaka despite the judgment rendered. On the other hand, they followed the precepts of bushido, and this has earned them extraordinary popularity among the people. Tokugawa Tsunayoshi decides to decide (it is the case to say it) by condemning them to death by seppuku. That is to say in an honorable way, and not by cutting off their heads like vulgar robbers. On March 20, 1703, Oishi Kuranosuke as well as his son Chikara and the other ronins were seppuku. In accordance with their last wishes, they will be buried in Sengaku-ji, opposite the tomb of their lord.

The 47 rônin pass to posterity

If there is a popular Japanese legend, it is that of the 47 ronin. The story is quickly adapted into a play, kabuki and bunraku, and this for centuries. Even today, the theme is frequently taken up in Japan. It was adapted a few times for the cinema, but more often still for television.

It is besides the popularity of the history which makes the historical work difficult: the 47 rônin very quickly became a national pride, taken again according to the conveniences for various propaganda. The myth ended up mingling with history and it is still becoming difficult even today to disentangle the true from the false. This is why I have only given you a concise version of the story: a multitude of details are still controversial. Even in everything I have told you.

But this is the proof that, by their bravery and their valor, Oishi Kuranosuke and his 46 men went from the status of samurai in love with revenge to that of living legends. Aware of the death that awaited them at the end of their journey, they did not hesitate to go to the end.

It should be noted that Oishi Kuranosuke will have killed two birds with one stone: seeing the value of Ako’s men, the shogun decides to restore Asano’s name by rehabilitating Asano Daigaku Nagahiro, Naganori’s younger brother, even if he now only has a tenth of his elder’s land.

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Master Jean-Jacques

Maître Jean-Jacques is passionate about the history of Japan, as well as parts of its folklore.

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