Temples, coffee, doughnuts, revenge

I’d read in one of our free Tokyo guidebooks about a nice little nature walk in the suburbs of the city so this morning Tim and I made the trek out to the Tokyo burbs. We thought we were being clever by buying an all-day pass (like the book told us to) only to find out those passes didn’t work out in that area and so we still had to pay an additional fare. We don’t always buy all-day passes and today we were reminded why that was.

Anyways, we walked through this “jungle in the city” as our book called it, but we weren’t really that impressed. It was basically a creek with a lot of wild vegetation and a concrete path. Nature-loving Tim was highly disappointed. Nonetheless, he admitted it was still better than being surrounded by skyscrapers.

However, as we worked our way through the area, we came upon a temple, but it being early in the morning, the temple wasn’t open yet. We worked our way back through the park and around the residential area to kill time until we could go back to get a temple stamp.

Following our jaunt through the suburbs, we headed back into the city where we walked about 2 km worth of a covered market (we would discover covered markets are a thing in Japan), ate grocery store sushi for lunch, visited another temple and picked up another stamp for the book, and then went on the hunt for adorable doughnuts (another thing I’d read about in the guide).

Unfortunately, the book didn’t give the exact address to the doughnut place. It just gave an approximate location, and we’d already done a ton of walking for the day so as the number of steps walked exponentially grew, I was nearly ready to quit. But then, finally, we found the tiny doughnut shop where you could get a plain doughnut with no glaze (which was actually really good and not overly sweet) or you could get little doughnuts decorated like cute animals. Today’s options were koalas, frogs, pigs, kittens, or chicks. I got the last kitten and a koala. The doughnuts themselves had a consistency between a regular, airy doughnut and a cake doughnut, and like I said not overly sweet. Tim and I agreed that although the animal doughnuts are adorable, we thought the plain ones were better.

Our next destination was the Sengakuji Temple dedicated to the 47 Ronin. If you are a martial arts movie and/or Japanese history buff, you might know what I’m referring to. If not, the short explanation is that the ronin means “leaderless samurai,” and in the 18th century, 47 such ronin banded together to seek revenge for the death of their feudal lord who’d been commanded to commit ritual suicide two years earlier. If that’s all you care to know, you can skip the rest of this explanation.

Otherwise, the full story is that this was the sentence given to the feudal lord after he’d attacked a shogunate official inside the shogun’s residence. As the story goes, the court official that was attacked really instigated the whole thing. Supposedly he was either really rude, corrupt, or both, and after the court official called the feudal lord a “country boor with no manners” (that is from Wikipedia), the lord couldn’t let that pass and stabbed the official with a dagger, but didn’t manage to kill him before guards broke up the fight.

Shortly after, the lord was ordered to commit suicide. The ronin took issue not only with the severity of the sentence, but also with the fact that nothing happened to the court official who instigated the whole thing, and the fact that the lord had been ordered to kill himself in the garden which was basically a way of saying the lord was really nothing better than a common criminal. Adding final insult to injury, his family was stripped of all lands and titles, and his samurai  were deemed “leaderless.” The samurai were also specifically forbade to seek revenge. However, 47 of the original 300 samurai secretly vowed revenge, which they plotted and prepared for two years.

The leader of the group knew that they had to appear to not to seek revenge so he did all the most un-samurai things he could think of: go out drinking, go to brothels, divorced his wife (so that she wouldn’t be connected to the plot), and basically look as pathetic as possible. Meanwhile the others became monks or tradesmen. Such jobs gave them reasons to go in and out of Edo where their target lived. One of them even married the daughter of the builder so that he could gain access to the building layout. Fearing revenge, the court official sent out spies, but they reported back that there was no evidence of plotting as the leader was a drunken mess and everyone else had scattered to the four winds.

After two years of this, the ringleader decided that their target wasn’t expecting anything, and it was time to strike. On January 30th, 1703, the group made their attack, but not before warning all the neighbors of their intentions for seeking revenge on the court official. As he was generally disliked by his neighbors, it seemed the ronin were given carte blanche to do what they needed to do.

Early in the morning, they split into two groups- one attacking from the front and the other from behind. In the end, they killed 16 of the court official’s men, wounded 22, and found the official hiding out in a woodshed. They tried to get him to do the honorable thing and kill himself, but he refused, so they did it for him. They then cut off his head (with the dagger their leader had used to kill himself) and left.

Upon arriving to Sengakuji Temple where their leader was buried, they washed the head and placed it and the dagger at their leader’s headstone. The 46 ronin present (the 47th sent to announce that the revenge had been realized), paid the monks all the money they had on them and asked to be buried there. They then left to turn themselves in. Many people were impressed by such acts of loyalty and rallied in support of the ronin. However, since they killed a man when forbidden not to seek revenge, they had to be punished. Rather than executing them like common criminals, however, the court allowed them to commit ritual suicide.

On March 20th, 1703, the 46 samurai committed ritual suicide. They were then buried at the temple with their leader. The 47th ronin was spared this sentence for reasons that still aren’t clear to me. When he died at the ripe old age of 87, he was buried among his brothers. There is actually a 49th grave (47 ronin + leader =48), and it belongs to a man who, upon hearing of what these samurai had done, recalled a time he struck and spit on the ringleader thinking the samurai was nothing more than a drunken disgrace. Upon realizing his error, he presented himself to the samurai’s grave, begged forgiveness, and then, you guessed it, committed ritual suicide. So, the monks buried him next to the samurai’s grave.

The youngest of the ronin to commit ritual suicide was the ringleader’s son who lead one of the two groups of samurai at the age of only 15. He was 16 when he died. Following the whole incident, the family of the deceased feudal lord were given back their titles and 1/10th of their land, and the remaining 250 or so leaderless samurai had their honor restored, thus allowing them to work as samurai again.

The story immediately became popular among the Japanese as a symbol of absolute honor and loyalty. However, some say that the 47 samurai were too focused on successfully gaining revenge rather than simply executing an immediate attack. The line of thinking goes that they waited so long that their target very easily could have died before they acted, thereby removing any possibility of restoring honor to their leader, his family, and the other samurai. A true samurai, it is argued, acts and worries less about winning and losing. Fortunately for them, their gamble worked.

Our final stop for the evening was Zojoji Temple. Naturally, I asked for a stamp, but this time in order to get one, I had to practice calligraphy myself! I was handed something in with Japanese characters and told to fill it in with the calligraphy pen. No big deal except they were closing in about 5 minutes, and it turns out I am exceptionally slow at filling in Japanese characters. As Tim hovered over me, making me more stressed, I tried to get him to help me, but nothin’ doin’. Then, to add to the pressure, a little Japanese girl sat down a few minutes after I started and promptly started swooping, swishing, and flicking her wrist-working through those characters at lightening speed. Tim watched her, watched me, she watched me, and I watched her. It was intense, but I wasn’t gonna let her win. Tim insists she beat me, but all I know is, is that I stood up first. So ha, take that, in your face random, little Japanese girl!

I hurried to turn in my sheet and get my book, and they moved to close the doors behind us. That was definitely quite an experience! To cool off, we wandered around the complex taking pictures before heading off for ramen and sake at a nearby restaurant.

 

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