In 1701 two lords were assigned to tend to the emperor’s envoys during a visit to the Shogun. The senior lord, Kira, expected gifts from the younger lord Asano for his help in court etiquette. Unhappy with his gift, he insulted Asano who then wounded Kira with his sword. Samurai law banned the drawing of a sword in a Shogun’s castle and Asano had to commit seppuku, ritual suicide. His samurai lost their status, becoming ronin –masterless samurai. 47 of these ronin swore vengeance!

To ease suspicion, they disbanded and two years later they met outside Kira’s heavily guarded mansion. Startled, many guards dropped their swords and ran. Finding Kira hidden in a shed, the ronin killed him and took his head to Asano’s grave before surrendering to the city authorities.

It was decided they would be allowed the honourable death of seppuku. The 47 ronin, known as Chushingura - the League of Loyal Hearts, were buried near their lord Asano in a temple in Tokyo where their graves exist today.

In 1701 two lords were assigned to tend to the emperor’s envoys during a visit to the Shogun. The senior lord, Kira, expected gifts from the younger lord Asano for his help in court etiquette. Unhappy with his gift, he insulted Asano who then wounded Kira with his sword. Samurai law banned the drawing of a sword in a Shogun’s castle and Asano had to commit seppuku, ritual suicide. His samurai lost their status, becoming ronin –masterless samurai. 47 of these ronin swore vengeance!

To ease suspicion, they disbanded and two years later they met outside Kira’s heavily guarded mansion. Startled, many guards dropped their swords and ran. Finding Kira hidden in a shed, the ronin killed him and took his head to Asano’s grave before surrendering to the city authorities.

It was decided they would be allowed the honourable death of seppuku. The 47 ronin, known as Chushingura - the League of Loyal Hearts, were buried near their lord Asano in a temple in Tokyo where their graves exist today.

© 2006, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. All Rights Reserved.

Background of a woodcut print depicting a play about the 47 Ronin where Lord Enya (Asano) attacks and wounds Morano (Kira).

Lord Enya attacking and wounding Morano (note: these are stage names that were used to describe the story they were depicting – a portrayal of Asano attacking and wounding Kira).

Utagawa Yoshitora
Gift of Mr. Theodore Lande
c. 1852
JAPAN
AGGV 84.54.7.3
© 2006, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. All Rights Reserved.


A woodcut print depicting Act XI of a play about the 47 Ronin wherein one of Kira’s guards is being slain by the ronin.

One of Kira’s strong guards being slain by the ronin.

Yamada Kuniteru II
Gift of Margaret G. Norman
19th Century
JAPAN
AGGV 1997.020.006
© 2006, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. All Rights Reserved.


A woodcut print wherein the ronin present the head of Kira before the grave of their master.

The ronin present the head of Kira before the grave of their master.

Yamada Kuniteru II
Gift of Margaret G. Norman
19th Century
JAPAN
AGGV 1997.020.007
© 2006, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. All Rights Reserved.


Photograph of actual gravesite of the 47 Ronin at Sengaku Temple in Tokyo, Japan.

Photograph of actual gravesite of the 47 Ronin at Sengaku Temple in Tokyo, Japan.

Photograph taken by Barry Till
c. 1991
Tokyo, JAPAN
© 2006, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The following learning objectives have been created with considerable and specific reference to the Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLOs) for various grades and subjects as outlined by the Ministry of Education for the province of British Columbia. The portions that directly reflect curricula language have been italicized. All applicable texts, websites, and other learning resources are listed in the bibliography under References.

• Students will read the non-fictional story of the 47 Ronin and this account will serve as an example of how important loyalty and honour were to samurai culture and how it was demonstrated.
• Students will identify woodblock prints from the Permanent Collection with the story, wherein reading and viewing creative works with visual and contextual support will encourage diverse responses.
• As these are a series of woodblock prints based on a play about the true story of the 47 Ronin, students will identify and examine relationships between real-life experiences and dramatic presentations while also identifying the relationship between theatre performance and other art forms.
• Students will relate the story to contemporary Japanese culture by viewing a current photo of the 47 Ronin burial site (in Tokyo) and make the connection that though the story is presented and depicted through art (in the woodblock prints), it is in fact also history.


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