In one of my favourite movies ‘Ronin‘, there is a story told about a group of samurai that I’ve always found fascinating. The story goes like this:
47 samurai were left leaderless (becoming ronin) after their master (Asano Naganori) was compelled to commit suicide (seppuku) for assaulting a court official named Kira Yoshinaka. The ronin avenged their master’s honour by killing Kira, after waiting and planning for a year. In turn, these ronin were themselves obliged to commit seppuku for committing the crime of murder. The shogun could have them executed as criminals, but allowed them some mercy. This would keep honour among their families and restore the Asano clan’s status. Although 47 ronin were involved with the attack, one of them (who had been sent off to inform others of the attack’s success) was pardoned by the Shogun. Upon his natural death, he too was buried among the other ronin.
(A longer version of the story can be found on this Wikipedia page.)
The true story of the 47 ronin has been told over and over across many generations of Japanese people. It has been made popular in their culture as a symbol of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honour that people should preserve in their daily lives. Although the first account of these events was written some 50 years after the event (due to the censorship laws of the shogunate in the Genroku era, which forbid portrayal of current events, numerous historical records and artifacts about the actual events survive.
I recently found out that the actual burial site of these brave men is located in Tokyo, close to the Shinagawa station. I felt compelled to pay a visit. Inside the gates of the compound, which contains a large temple, there are two small museums containing items related to the historical events.
Entrance to the area is free, but you may wish to purchase a map that contains answers to many of your questions. Incense is also available for a fee. Thousands of people come to the shrine to pay their respects each year on December 4th, the anniversary of their deaths.