Sengakuji: The Temple of the 47 Ronin
Most people have heard about the famous story of the 47 ronin in Japan, but did you know that there was a temple dedicated to those loyal samurai spirits?
First, a little about the famous legend of the 47 ronin which is the most celebrated tale in the history of the samurai.
The tale is based on a 17th century historical event in which a band of ronin (masterless samurai) avenge the death of their master (Lord Asano Naganori). The tale is regarded as the best known example of the samurai code of honor or bushido, and is Japan’s ‘National Legend’. The popularity of the tale grew during the Meiji era in Japan and became part of the nation’s heritage and identity. It is the ultimate tale of loyalty, sacrifice, persistence and honor and has been made into many movies, TV dramas and kabuki plays throughout the years in Japan. Hollywood even jumped in on the act recently and released a version of the tale starring Keanu Reeves in 2013.
The tale or legend tells of a group of samurai who were left masterless (becoming ronin) after their daimyo (feudal lord) Asano Naganori was required to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) for assaulting a court official named Kira Yoshinaka. The incident happened at Edo Castle where Lord Asano was insulted by Lord Kira. Lord Asano was reported to have drawn his sword on Lord Kira in the Great Pine Corridor, wounding him in the attack. It was against the law to not only draw your sword in Edo Castle, home of the Shogun, but to also strike anyone in anger.
The ronin waited and planned their revenge for over a year. They became and acted as farmers and merchants to lull Lord Kira into a false sense of security, which caused him to lower his guard.
On the night of December 14th 1702 the 47 ronin gathered and using armor and weapons they had crafted themselves avenged their master’s honor by killing Lord Kira at his Edo mansion. Kira’s head was then placed in a bucket and carried off to Sengakuji Temple, where Lord Asano was buried. The head of Lord Kira was offered to the spirit of Lord Asano, and the men turned themselves in.
Their act of loyalty and bravery was seen as the ultimate form of samurai spirit and instead of being killed as common criminals they were allowed to commit seppuku in honor. Their bodies were buried together at Sengakuji Temple.
Today, you can find the graves of the brave 47 ronin and Lord Asano at Sengakuji Temple (泉岳寺) a Sōtō Zen Buddhist temple located in the Takanawa neighbourhood of Minato-ku, Tokyo. Every year on December 14th the temple holds a festival commemorating the famous event.
The graves are a popular site for pilgrimage with many people visiting to pay their respects by burning incense sticks in the graveyard. The graves are located at the southern end of the temple. The grave of Oishi Kuranosuke, who was the leader of the 47 ronin is the largest and is contained within small wooden housing.
A stone column and a plaque mark the Kubiarai Ido (head washing well) which is the spot where the 47 ronin washed the decapitated head of Lord Kira before presenting it to the spirit of Lord Asano.
There is also a small museum at temple which commemorates the 47 ronin. The museum houses realia relating to the exploits of the 47 ronin and contains various exhibits of armor worn by the ronin, handwritten documents, as well as the drum supposedly beaten to launch the attack on Lord Kira’s mansion. Entry to the museum is ¥500.
The temple grounds also feature a statue of Oishi Kuranosuke, which greets visitors at the temple gate.
If you are looking for a unique place to visit with a fascinating piece of samurai history then this place in my opinion is a must see for anyone visiting Tokyo.
Hours: Open daily from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm (until 5:00 pm from October to March)
Closed: Open all year round
Admission: Free for the temple grounds and graves, ¥500 for the Museum
Address: 2-11-1 Takanawa, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0074
The temple is a short 15 -20 minute walk from Shinagawa Station on the JR Yamanote Line. Alternatively, you can take the Toei Asakusa Subway Line to Sengakuji Station and step off the station into the temple.