THE 47 RONIN BY KUNIYOSHI: Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) will always be remembered as Japan's greatest master of legendary and historical prints. One of his most famous and sought after series is
The Biographies of the Loyal Retainers (The 47 Ronin). The celebrated story of the 47 Ronin is based on real incidents and has been performed on stage and illustrated since it occurrence shortly after the turn of the 18th century. The story is as follows: Asano, a brash young lord from the country, was appointed by the shogun to receive the Emperor’s ambassadors. Because he was unfamiliar with court etiquette, Kira Kotsuke (Moronao) was given the job of instructing him in the ways of the court. Kira was an unscrupulous man who insulted Asano’s ignorance of court etiquette. His insults were so persistent that Asano felt compelled to draw his sword in the palace. This offense was punishable by death and he was obliged to commit seppuku in 1701. His principle retainer Oishi (Oboshi) and 46 of his samurai, who were now Ronin or masterless samurai, swore to avenge their master’s death. After much planning, they succeeded in slaying Kira in a night raid. They were all given the death penalty and committed mass seppuku in 1704. This act so embodied the Japanese ideals of the noble samurai’s devotion to his lord that the 47 Ronin were enshrined at Sengaku Temple beside their beloved master. Their graves receive every mark of respect to this day.