Good The 47 Ronin And The Ako Accident Term Paper Example
The Japanese folklore passed on the Samurai stereotype as a hero, as representative of the Bushido high values, as brave and high trained warrior. Harold Bolitho retracts the character of the samurai exploring two contextualized historical periods. He started to analyzed the samurai warriors before the 1580, and in the Tokugawa period – from 1580 to 1870. The final portrait is completely different from the myth.
As a matter of fact, before the Tokugawa era the samurai had been fighting in several conflicts, including the Mongol invasions. They certainly were trained for a war, but they were not self-conscious of the military code, of honored death and Bushido moral codes. Instead they were like all the other Japanese man, earth-bounded and their loyalty was based on materialistic calculation.
The Tokugawa era was the apogee of the samurai society. As a matter of fact in the Tokugawa era the samurai were predominant in all the aspects of the social, political and cultural life. Despite all, the samurai still did not fit themeselves into their spread out myth. They were legitimated as military class but there were no wars to fight, their military skills were inadequate and so, they had to turn themselves into ordinary civil servants. Given their situation it was natural for them to associate themselves to the Bushido code – born in the Tokugawa era- and transmit the past samurai’s victories as a myth, in order to justify their status.
2. THE AKO INCIDENT
The Ako incident took place in 1701 at Edo castle. Asano Takumi –feudal lord of Ako- attacked Kira Kuzuke, who was the senior bakufu master of cerimony. In 1702 Asano’s retainers, left without their lord, attached Kira’s mansion with the intent to revenge their lord’s death. These two incidents strongly contributed to create a myth, since the facts above exposed had been reinterpreted over and over by later generations.
Every year, as customary tradition, the shogun sent imperial emissaries for the New Year’s greeting at the Kyoto court. The same imperial emissaries would respond in return by travelling also to Edo castle, and Asano’s task was to serve at the imperial envoy. Kira remained alive while Asano was condemned to honorable suicide, known as Seppuku in the Japanese tradition. The missing point of the incident is the origin of Asano’s grudge towards Kira. The historical sources implied to solve the mystery were not very helpful, since they were contradictory. It is not even clear if Asano’s samurai knew the reason of their lord’s grudge.
The Confucian scholar Muro Kyuso offered his personal theory, basing on the stories circulating at the time. Since Kira had guided Asano in matters of etiquette, in return Asano had to give a bride to Kira. The bride was considerate inadequate though, and Kira put shame on Asano using his lack of the ceremonial manners.
Even though Kyuso’s theory is a speculation, it may have some realistic fundaments. Furthermore, the Confucianism had a very strong influence on the society of the time. The emperor’s intention was to systematize the Confucianism in the imperial court in Kyoto. As a result the imperial etiquette turned itself to be more sophisticated than the previous bakufu protocol.
Kira - who was very proud of his knowledge of the ritual etiquette – deliberately offended the pride of Asano, considered as rude. The Ako incident represents a complex field of hostilities and contrasting ideologies. Beginning with Asano and Kira: Asano is a daimyo, a feudal lord, while Kira is an exponent of the centralized imperial power.
Aside the personal grudge, in the Ako incident there are two ideologies contrasting: the feudal autonomy and the superior centralized political power. As a matter of fact, the bakufu, as the imperial authority, supported Kira and considered Asano as insolent. According to the bakufu vision Kira should not have been punished. The Kenka Ryoseibai principle was an unwritten law, based on both party to a fight had to be punished equally. Since Kira had been attacked with no reason, the bakufu considered the incident as one side attack, also because Kira did not even try to defend himself.
3. REVENGE, PUNISHMENT AND CONFUCIAN JUDGMENTS
The Ako incident has to be contextualized into a conflict between the authority of a centralized regime and the regional baronial autonomy. As a matter of fact, the impersonal authority of the centralized regime created a deep conflict with the personal loyalty tied to the feudal power. The personal devotion due to the feudal lord is a component which explains the revenge of the 47 Ronin over Asano’s death. The roots of this conflict are in the Confucianism itself since its beginning. The concepts of rituals and righteousness on one side, law and punishment on the other side.
The Ako incident reveals the tension between the loyalty to the lord and the political relationships in the Tokugawa period. However, for the Japanese society the political values were prioritized over familiar values, including personal loyalty to the lord. The case of the Ako incident has been further complicated by the influence of the Chinese Confucianism, which prioritized loyalty over political values.
The point is, were the 47 Ronin criminals or terrorists? Were they justified or punished, but their lives could have been spared? Ogyu Sorai had great influence on the bafuku authorithies, which granted to the “criminals” an honorable death through seppuku. This decision recalls the conflicts between loyalty to the lord and respect of the political law. To the Confucian tradition belonged also two of the major thinkers of the time: Sato Naokata and Asami Keisai.
Naokata and Keisai have totally different judgments on the revenge issue. If Naokata considered the 47 Ronin as miscreants, Keisai considered them as heroes. Naokata was an idealist confucian thinker, who privileged law over ritual. Therefore his concept of moral was identified as the legal dimension in the authority of the shogun. Naokata considers first of all Asano as a criminal, as a consequence Kira is not the enemy but a victim. Besides, the 47 Ronin not only were seeking revenge on the wrong enemy but they also proved to be immoral because they did not respect the law. Naokata’s vision was an absolutist rule’s point of view, since according to his vision seeking revenge is like having assaulted the government.
On the opposite side, Keisai was a supporter of the absolute loyalty to the lord as inviolable until the extreme sacrifice with death. Even if Kira was legally recognized as the victim it did not release the ronin to perpetuate their revenge, since Kira was the cause of Asano’s death. Besides, Keisai recognizes the Ako incident as Kenka Ryoseibai among two samurai. Despite the modality of the incident Asano did not show any hostility to the shogun and the political law. To support his thesis Keisai highlights that the ronin submitted themselves after the attack to Kira, they accomplished the will of the shogun with the seppuku.
Hard to say if the Ronin were criminals or heroes. The truth lies in the middle, hidden in the Tokigawa historical period and the confucian fundaments of loyalty and law. The ronin had been following the absolute loyalty as duty and value, which for Naokata is objective while for Keisai is subjective.
4. ALTERNATIVE VERSIONS OF THE STORY
Let’s now rebuilt the case in two parallel dimensions: option 1) they have not done anything wrong and should not be punished, or at least their lives should be spared; option 2) they are terrible criminals (indeed, terrorists) and should be executed in the harshest manner possible.
In the first dimension the ronin did not do anything wrong. So they avoided punishments and their lives had been spared. Revenge would be allowed without punishment. The problem would be, when and how revenge would be legitimate or abused as excuse for personal and selfish purposes. The social and the political implications from the bakufu side would be very controversial. Managing law and justice would be very difficult because the bond of law and personal action would be very subtle. For sure it would be difficult to impose the political and centralized power as an absolute system of values and laws. As for the ronin, the first decision would have been affecting their behavior in a positive way. They would have found spiritual peace, took care of the Ako possessions, and celebrate their lord’s memory. Besides they would have lived in the absolute loyalty to their lord , even after his death. Their honor as samurai would have been respected and they may have developed commercial activities to economically sustain their independence.
In the second dimension, where the ronin were terrible criminals executed in harsh manners things would have been completely different. As political implication the executions would have given a strong example to all the community. From the part of the bakufu it would have increased the political strength of the centralized law and authority. It would not have avoided conflicts though. It would have created social and political conflicts, possible rebellions against the system. Besides harsh executions would have turned the authority into a kind of dictatorial system.
As for the Ronin executed, they would have become martyrs. Probably their families could have tried to revenge their death. The point is in the Japanese culture is a matter of honor: an honorable death can be accepted, whereas an harsh execution death could generate violence and revenge. The samurai social class would have acted against the system. Certainly the 47 Ronin, as criminals, would have ended their lives as enemies of the shogun.
Ogyu Sorai, as a confucian theorist, had a wise vision of the relationship between power and loyalty, between lords and authority. In the dimensions above explored if his recommendations would not have been followed would have been turned everything into a social and political chaos. In the first parallel dimension revenge needs to be regulated, whereas in the second parallel dimension harsh death should be substituted by an honorable death.
If the concept is to keep the balance between political power and social issues, more respect should have been given to the Ronin. More humanity and comprehension should have been involved in order to avoid a tyrannical system in the second case and avoid other terrorists to revenge on the Ronin’s harsh executions.
Harold Bolitho, “ The mith of samurai”, in Alan Rix and Ross Mouer, Japan’s Imput on the World, 1989
Bito Masahide, Henry D. Smith, “ The Ako Incident, 1701-1703”, in Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 58, No. 2 (Summer, 2003)
James Mc Cullen, “Confucian Perspectives on the Ako Revenge”, in Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 58, No. 3 (Autumn, 2003)
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