47 Ronin a Samurai from Japan Jennifer Bassett (Part one)

Read Stoy English.


In the old days in Japan, the samurai were warriors, fighting men. They served a daimyo, one of the great Japanese lords. They lived in his castle, fought for him, and died for him. They fought with long swords and short swords, spears, and bows and arrows. They were brave, fierce men, famous for their loyalty to their lord.

CHAPTER ONE: The Death of Asano

‘Good morning, Lord Asano.’

The speaker was Lord Kira Yoshinaka, a tall man, in black. He stood in the middle of a room in the Shogun’s palace. He watched Lord Asano, and waited.

Lord Asano Naganori was a younger man, thirty-four years to Lord Kira’s sixty years. He walked slowly across the room from the door, and stopped in front of Kira.

‘Lord Kira,’ he said coldly. ‘Good morning.’ And then he bowed, just a small bow of the head.

Lord Kira bowed too, an even smaller bow. He smiled, but his eyes were cold.

‘Are you ready for your next lesson, Lord Asano?’ he said. ‘You have much to learn about palace ceremony, and you are a very slow student. Shall we begin?’

Lord Asano bowed again, but did not speak. His mouth was a thin, hard line. Every day Kira called him ‘slow’, or ‘stupid’, or ‘difficult’, and he did not like it.

In the Shogun’s palace at Edo in the year 1701, ceremony was very important. The right words, at the right time of day. The right bow, small or deep, for different people. The right clothes, at different hours of the day. The right presents, for the right people… This was the way of life in the Shogun’s palace, and Lord Kira was the teacher of ceremony – for this Shogun, and for many Shoguns before him. After forty years as a teacher, Kira knew everything about the ceremony of the palace.

But Lord Asano knew nothing. He was a daimyo from the country, from Ako Castle, a place seventeen days’ journey by horse to the south-west of Edo. The daimyo were powerful men in Japan at this time, and were rulers in their own part of the country. But daimyo must also serve the Shogun, and every year the Shogun called two of them to his palace at Edo.

‘Every day is the same,’ said Asano angrily, at his house in Edo that evening. ‘Every day I must do this ceremony, or that ceremony, I must stand here, or there, bow to this person, or that person. And I must do six months of this! Every day Kira calls me bad names! I make mistakes because he is a bad teacher!’

Hayami, one of Asano’s samurai, helped him with his ceremonial clothes. Hayami was very good with the bow and arrow, but not so good with words.

‘Lord, I heard something about Kira,’ he said.

‘What?’ said Asano.

‘He likes presents, and money. The other daimyo gives him presents or money, and then Kira is happy, and the lessons go well. Why don’t you give him a present?’

‘No!’ shouted Asano. ‘I am Lord Asano of Ako, and I do not give presents to the Shogun’s servants! His job is to teach me ceremony, not to ask for presents!’

Hayami said nothing more, but he was afraid for his master. Every day Asano came back from the palace with an angry face, and angry words.

‘How is this going to end?’ Hayami said to Kataoka, another of Asano’s samurai. ‘Four more months of this. What can I do? We need Oishi here. Lord Asano doesn’t listen to me, but he listens to Oishi sometimes.’

But Oishi Yoshio was at Ako Castle, a long way away. He was the captain of Lord Asano’s three hundred samurai. When Lord Asano came to Edo, most of his samurai came with him, but Oishi stayed behind at Ako to take care of everything there.


It ended suddenly on a spring day in 1701.

The day began well, with a blue sky and the song of birds in the palace gardens. Lord Asano arrived at the palace, put on his ceremonial clothes, and went for his lesson with Lord Kira.

Perhaps Kira was tired that day. Perhaps he was angry because there were no presents from Lord Asano. Perhaps he just did not like the young lord from Ako.

‘You must wait,’ he told Asano. ‘I have another, more important meeting first.’ He turned his back on Lord Asano. ‘What a stupid man!’ Kira said. Usually, he said things like this in a quiet voice, but today he did not speak quietly, and everybody in the great palace room could hear him. ‘I hear Asano’s wife is stupid too, and his children,’ Lord Kira said to the room.

Something broke inside Lord Asano. ‘Lord Kira, stop a moment,’ he cried.

‘Well, what is it?’ said Kira, turning back to Asano.

People remembered this moment for many years. Asano drew his sword, and attacked Lord Kira. With a cry, Kira put his hand to his head, but he did not fall. Asano lifted his sword again, but now there were palace guards around him. They: pulled him to the floor, and held his sword arm. Lord Kira ran away. There was a deep cut on his face.

Xem thêm:  47 Ronin a Samurai from Japan Jennifer Bassett (Part 2)

The Shogun’s palace was a place of ceremony, not a place for fighting. It was a terrible thing to do – to draw a sword and attack someone inside the palace.

The attack happened at about midday. At one o’clock the guards took Asano to the house of another daimyo. At four o’clock an order came from the Shogun. ‘Lord Asano must die, but because he is a daimyo, he can die the samurai way, with honour. He can commit seppuku.’

And so it happened. At six o’clock that same day Lord Asano of Ako committed seppuku. He took out his long knife, and cut into his stomach from left to right.

Outside the palace Lord Asano’s samurai, Kataoka, knew nothing of this. He waited for his master to leave the palace at the end of the day, but Asano never came. At last another daimyo told Kataoka the terrible news.

Kataoka ran back to Asano’s house in Edo, and called for Hayami and the other samurai. ‘Our lord is dead,’ he cried. ‘Get the horses ready! We must ride to Ako at once!’


At that time, it was usually a journey of seventeen days from Edo to Ako, but Kataoka and Hayami did the journey in ten days. When they arrived at Ako Castle, they were tired, dirty, hungry, and thirsty. Oishi Yoshio, the captain of the Ako samurai, was not pleased with them. ‘Look at you!’ he said. ‘What kind of samurai are you? Dirty clothes, dirty horses…’

But Oishi forgot about that when he heard the terrible news of Lord Asano’s death.

‘And that’s not all,’ said Hayami. He pushed the hair out of his eyes. ‘The Shogun’s government is going to take Lord Asano’s castle, his land, his money – everything! Can they do that, Oishi?’

‘Yes,’ said Oishi. ‘They can. To draw a sword in the Shogun’s palace is a crime. But why did Lord Asano attack Kira? What happened? Did they fight?’

‘We don’t know,’ said Kataoka, ‘we weren’t there! But Lord Asano was angry every day because of Lord Kira.’

‘But Asano didn’t kill Kira?’ said Oishi.

‘No,’ said Hayami. ‘Kira is alive and well. People say that he just has a cut on his head.’

‘And where is Lord Asano’s body now?’ asked Oishi.

‘They’re taking it to the temple of Sengaku-ji,’ said Kataoka, ‘just outside Edo. Some of our samurai went with the body. Then they are coming back to Ako.’

During the next days, Lord Asano’s samurai made the journey down to Ako. Some of them brought news.

‘Lord Asano’s younger brother, Daigaku, is under house arrest in Edo,’ Yoshida told Oishi. Yoshida was one of the older samurai. He and Oishi were old friends.

‘Did you see Daigaku?’ asked Oishi.

‘Yes, just for two minutes. They’re going to send him away, to Hiroshima, to the Asano family there.’

Soon there were nearly three hundred of Asano’s samurai at Ako, and Oishi Yoshio called a meeting. It was a noisy, angry meeting.

Horibe was a famous swordsman. He was a fierce fighter, and a brave man, but he did not often stop to think before he spoke. He was the first to speak.

‘Lord Asano is dead because of Kira,’ he shouted to the meeting. ‘Kira is a killer. A man cannot live under the same sky as the killer of his lord. This is the code of the samurai! When do we attack Kira?’

The samurai began to talk, but Oishi held up his hand. ‘Nobody questions your honour as a samurai, Horibe. But we are not samurai now, we are ronin. We have no master, no lord. The Shogun’s government killed Lord Asano because of a crime – the crime of drawing a sword in the palace. And why did this crime happen? Because of Lord Kira. We want revenge for our lord’s death, and that means Kira must die. But he knows that, and he has many friends in the government. So we must be careful, we must be clever.’

‘Careful? Clever?’ shouted Horibe. ‘What kind of samurai are you? We must attack Lord Kira at once! In Edo, people in the streets are saying that. They know we must take revenge for Asano’s death. People want us to do that! It is the samurai way!’

‘So you want to die a dog’s death outside the palace?’ called Yoshida. ‘How many guards are there at the palace? Eh? Tell me that! Hundreds! We can’t get near Kira – he knows we want him, so he has hundreds of guards around him, day and night.’

‘The government is going to take Ako Castle away from the Asano family,’ called another samurai. ‘When the government soldiers come here, can we fight them? Can we hold Ako Castle for Daigaku? He’s the head of the Asano family now.’

Kataoka answered this question. ‘For a week, perhaps. But not longer. No, the Asano family at Ako is finished. We must leave Ako Castle and begin new lives as ronin.’

‘So what can we do?’ called Okuda, one of Horibe’s friends. ‘Tell us, Oishi! What can we do?’

‘What do you want?’ said Oishi. ‘Do you want revenge? Revenge has a price, and the price is death. We cannot hope to live after we take our revenge on Kira. We must commit seppuku – everyone of us.’

Xem thêm:  Điều Kỳ Diệu Của Tiệm Tạp Hóa NAMIYA Higashino Keigo.

‘We are samurai!’ cried a man called Hara. ‘Death with honour is always better than a life without honour. That is the samurai code!’

Oishi smiled. ‘There are brave hearts in this room. Now go away, and think. Think about the samurai way. Where is the road to honour? Can you live under the same sky as the killer of your daimyo? Think long and carefully. Talk to your families, and come back here in three days. Or leave Ako and begin a new life.’

In the next two days many ronin left the castle. They took their families and went away, perhaps to serve a new daimyo, perhaps to work in the cities, perhaps to go hungry. The life of a ronin was not easy.

After three days Oishi called the next meeting. He and Yoshida stood at the door and watched. Horibe, Okuda, and their friends arrived first, of course. Then more came, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty… sixty-two.

Yoshida closed the doors, and Oishi began to speak.

‘You are here because you want revenge for the death of our daimyo. You are true samurai, loyal to your lord in life – and in death. We must make a league together – a league for revenge. But for now, we must be silent, we must be secret, we must wait for months, maybe years, before we can move. We cannot attack Kira now, because he and his guards are waiting for us. But when he forgets about us, then we can move. Because we, the ronin – we do not forget. We can wait a long, long time for revenge.’


And so it was. The soldiers of the Shogun’s government came to Ako, took the castle and the land. And then the sixty-two ronin left Ako to go their different ways. Oishi talked to every ronin in the league before they left Ako, and every man had a plan.

Some of the ronin went to Edo. There, they found jobs as workmen, guards, or gardeners. Other ronin went to live in Osaka or other cities.

‘Live very quietly,’ Oishi told them. ‘Don’t talk about revenge, don’t talk about anything to anybody. Meet secretly, and be careful of spies. Kira’s men are going to be everywhere, watching and listening, all the time.’

Oishi took his family, his wife and three children, to live near Kyoto. Three of the ronin went with him – Kataoka, Mimura, and Hara. Kataoka and Mimura lived in Oishi’s house, and Hara found a job.

‘What kind of job?’ said Oishi.

Hara laughed. ‘I’m teaching boys how to shoot with bow and arrows,’ he said.

‘That’s not a job for a samurai!’ said Kataoka.

‘But we’re not samurai now, we’re ronin, remember?’ said Hara. ‘And a ronin needs rice to eat.’

Weeks went past, and weeks turned into months. Oishi began to live a very different life now from his old life as captain of the Asano samurai. Every day he went into the town, to the old houses down by the river. He made new friends, and spent his time with bad people. Often, he was out all night.

Kataoka and Mimura watched this, and they were not happy about it.

‘Why does he go to these places?’ said Mimura.

‘Why don’t you ask him?’ Kataoka said.

‘Not me!’ Mimura said. ‘He gets angry when you ask questions. He gets angry at bad news too. You remember when the news came about the seven ronin?’

Seven of the ronin from Ako did not want to be in the league against Kira any longer. The numbers were now down to fifty-five.

One day more news arrived – from one of the ronin in Edo. This man, Isogai, worked in the Shogun’s palace gardens. He could watch government workers when they came and went, and sometimes he heard things. He sent this message to Oishi.

Lord Kira does not work in the palace now. His job is finished. People say that the Shogun is not pleased with him. Kira is living in his daimyo house, a big mansion near the Sumida river. Horibe says, can we attack him now?

Oishi suddenly came alive again. ‘No, no, no! Not yet!’ he said. ‘I must go to Edo and talk to them. Kataoka, come with me. Mimura – stay here with my family.’

In Edo, Oishi met secretly with some of the ronin in the league. ‘Listen,’ he said. ‘Kira’s wife is from the Uesugi family, and they are very rich and powerful. There are many Uesugi guards around Kira’s mansion, because he is still afraid of us. We can never get past all those guards with just fifty-five men. We must wait.’

‘But how long?’ said Horibe. ‘Kira is an old man, and he could die any day! Where is our revenge then?’

‘Begin planning,’ said Oishi. ‘Everybody has swords, but we need armour, spears, and bows and arrows. You can begin to find them, but secretly. And hide them well!’

Oishi and Kataoka went back to Kyoto, and again, Oishi spent his nights in the town with all kinds of bad men. People began saying that Oishi was a samurai without honour. Hara came to visit one day, and was angry.

Xem thêm:  Điều Kỳ Diệu Của Tiệm Tạp Hóa NAMIYA Higashino Keigo.

‘This is not good!’ he said fiercely to Oishi. ‘Where is your honour as a samurai?’

‘Get out!’ shouted Oishi. ‘Get out of my house!’

Kataoka walked with Hara down the street.

‘What’s happening to him?’ said Hara. ‘Why is he doing this?’

‘It’s all right,’ said Kataoka. ‘Just go home, and wait.’

It was not a happy house. When he was there, Oishi shouted at everyone – his wife, his children, Kataoka, Mimura, the house servants.

Mimura often went out walking in the town, to get away from the house and all the shouting. One dark night he saw the cook from Oishi’s house at a street corner, talking to two men. When they saw him, they stopped talking, and the cook walked quickly away. Mimura crossed the street to look at the two men, but they turned away and went into a house. And in the light from the house doorway, Mimura saw something very interesting… He ran home at once with his news.

‘Oishi, I think your cook is a spy for Kira! Those men had on their coats the sign of the Uesugi family. It was very small, but I saw it clearly in the light!’

‘Ha!’ cried Kataoka. ‘What shall we do with this spying cook, Oishi? Kill him?’

Oishi smiled. ‘Nothing,’ he said.

‘Nothing?’ said Kataoka. ‘We can’t do “nothing”!’

‘Oh yes, we can,’ said Oishi. ‘This is very good. We want this spy to send news back to Kira – the right kind of news. We know the cook is a spy, but the cook doesn’t know that we know. So this is good for us. He can tell Kira that I am now a samurai without honour. And who is afraid of a samurai without honour?’

‘Aaah!’ said Mimura. ‘I think I begin to understand.’

‘Good,’ said Oishi. ‘At last.’

Kataoka laughed.

‘So,’ Oishi said, ‘when you talk in the house, be careful. Remember who is listening.’ Suddenly, he began to shout at them. ‘Get out! I’m going out into town, and nobody is going to stop me!’

Kataoka and Mimura left the room, smiling.

Time passed. Spring 1702 came, and then summer. The death of Lord Asano of Ako was now more than a year ago. In the streets of Edo, there was no talk of revenge by the Asano samurai. They were just ronin, living here and there in different cities in Japan. Their captain, Oishi Yoshio, was without honour, and spent his time with bad men. Kira began to feel safer, and the Uesugi guards around his home went back to the Uesugi mansion across the river.

At the end of the summer Oishi came home late one night after an evening down by the river in Kyoto. When he came into the house, he shouted noisily.

‘Riku! Riku! Where are you? Come here!’

Riku, his wife of twenty years, came quietly into the room, and Oishi began to shout at her.

‘I’m tired of you – I don’t want to see your face again. Go away! Leave my house! Go back to your father’s house – our marriage is ended. I can find more beautiful girls in the town. Go!’

Riku put her face in her hands and began to cry, very quietly. From the other side of the room, Oishi shouted some more. Riku did not move.

Then she said, very quietly, ‘Must I go?’

Oishi came and stood in front of her. He put his mouth close to her ear, and spoke in a whisper.

‘The time is coming. I don’t want you here in this house when it happens. You know why. So I must send you away, back to your father. The government cannot do anything to you when you live in your father’s house. That is best for you, and the children.’

Riku looked into his face. ‘Yes, I understand. Do you want me to take all the children with me?’

They still spoke in whispers, because in that house the walls had ears.

‘The younger children, yes,’ said Oishi. ‘But Chikara is fifteen, nearly sixteen now, and a man. He is ready to be a samurai. He can go with you, or he can stay with me. Ask him. Tell him to come and see me in the morning.’

Riku looked into his face one more time, then turned to go. Oishi put out his hand, and touched her face, just for a second. Then he, too, turned away.

That night he did not sleep. He sat for a long time in the dark, looking out at the stars in the night sky.

In the early morning his son Chikara found him there.

‘Father, I want to stay here with you. I want to be a samurai, and I am ready. I am a good swordsman now.’

Oishi put his hand on his son’s shoulder. ‘Good man,’ he said. ‘The league needs strong swordsmen like you.’ He was silent for a minute. ‘Did you say goodbye to your mother?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ Chikara said. ‘She left an hour ago. She…’ He did not finish.

‘Yes. I know,’ said Oishi. ‘But this is the life of a samurai. Come – we have work to do.’