Celebrated in kabuki and bunraku plays, as well as on film, Chūshingura is a true story of honour, revenge and loyalty. In 1701, a young daimyō, Asano Takumi, became embroiled in a fatal argument in the shogun’s court with his teacher and fellow lord Kira Yoshinaka. Asano had lost face in his performance of court rituals and, blaming his mentor for his lax tuition, drew his sword within the castle walls and attacked Kira. Although Kira survived, the shogun, on hearing of this breach of etiquette, ordered Asano to commit seppuku, the traditional form of suicide, which he did.

Their lord having been disgraced, Asano’s loyal retainers, the rōnin – or masterless samurai – vowed revenge. On December 14, 1702, the 47 rōnin, lead by Oishi Kuranosuke, stormed Kira’s villa, cut off his head and paraded it through Edo in triumph before placing it on Asano’s grave in Sengaku-ji. The shogun ordered the rōnin’s deaths, but instead all 47 committed seppuku on February 14, 1703, including Oishi’s 15-year-old son. They were buried with Asano in Sengaku-ji, and today their graves are still wreathed in the smoke from the bundles of incense placed by their gravestones.

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