Sunday, December 15, 2002


The story of the 47 ronin was re-enacted all over Japan yesterday; everybody wanted a piece of that nobility. In Edo (Tokyo), where the major events took place, in Ako (Hyogo Prefecture) where Asano and his samurai came from, in Yamashina where Ooishi lived during the year of planning, in Kyoto where he and others hung out in apparent dissolution, and anywhere else in Japan where the social medicine of this legend of loyalty and honor could serve to strengthen the body public.

At Sengakuji, just a spear's throw from where I used to live in Tokyo, all the relatives of the 47 ronin came as they do every year to burn incense and bask in the spirit of their ancestors. As one tv commentator pointed out, in terms of their times these ronin were criminals and seriously violated all sorts of laws, from murder to forced entry, but now they are heroes to a hero-needing nation, as it turns to this tale of 'criminals' for strength.

And what an incredible tale it is. It was all traced out in Yamashina yesterday, starting with Asano's injurious attack on the cruel and overbearing Kira in the Edo Palace. For this transgression of etiquette, Asano was ordered to commit seppuku (ritual suicide).

Ooishi and the dishonored ronin then began plotting to avenge their lord. Their fortitude, integrity and willingness to forsake everything to restore their honor, a quality distinctly lacking in the leaders of today, made this event all the more poignant and meaningful to a public whose leaders seem to be more like Kira than Asano.

But it was strange to a westerner like me to see, at Ooishi jinja in Yamashina (where Ooishi had lived and prayed and where yesterday's samurai parade ended), all the demure ladies in kimono dancing their delicate and sensual steps around the bloody cloth, slung from a spear, that held the 'head' of Kira.

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