Jitsuroku Ichi: The 47 Ronin
Original Story from A.B. Mitford's Tales of Old Japan
Afterword & Commentary by Justin Hagen
At the beginning of the eighteenth century there lived a daimyo, called Asano Takumi no Kami, the Lord of the castle of Ako, in the province of Harima. Now it happened that an Imperial ambassador from the Court of the Mikado, having been sent to the Shogun at Edo, Takumino Kami and another noble called Kamei Sama were appointed to receive and feast the envoy; and a high official, named Kira Kotsuke no Suke, was named to teach them the proper ceremonies to be observed upon the occasion. The two nobles were accordingly forced to go daily to the castle to listen to the instructions of Kotsuke no Suke. But this Kotsuke no Suke was a man greedy of money; and as he deemed that the presents which the two daimyos, according to time-honored custom, had brought him in return for his instruction, were mean and unworthy, he conceived a great hatred against them and took no pains in teaching them, but on the contrary rather sought to make laughing-stocks of them. Takumi no Kami, restrained by a stern sense of duty, bore his insults with patience; but Kamei Sama, who had less control over his temper, was violently incensed, and determined to kill Kotsuke no Suke.
One night when his duties at the castle were ended, Kamei Sama returned to his own palace, and having summoned his councilors to a secret conference, said to them, “Kotsuke no Suke has insulted Takumi no Kami and myself during our service in attendance on the Imperial envoy. This is against all decency, and I was minded to kill him on the spot; but I bethought me that if I did such a deed within the precincts of the castle, not only would my own life be forfeit, but my family and vassals would be ruined, so I stayed my hand. Still the life of such a wretch is a sorrow to the people, and tomorrow when I go to court I will slay him: my mind is made up, and I will listen to no remonstrance." And as he spoke his face became livid with rage.
Now one of Kamei Sama's councilors was a man of great judgment, and when he saw from his lord's manner that remonstrance would be useless, he said, “Your lordship's words are law; your servant will make all preparations accordingly; and tomorrow, when your lordship goes to court, if this Kotsuke no Suke should again be insolent, let him die the death.” And his lord was pleased at this speech, and waited with impatience for the day to break, that he might return to court and kill his enemy.
But the councilor went home, and was sorely troubled, and thought anxiously about what his prince had said. And as he reflected, it occurred to him that since Kotsuke no Suke had the reputation of being a miser he would certainly be open to a bribe, and that it was better to pay any sum, no matter how great, than that his lord and his house should be ruined. So he collected all the money he could, and, giving it to his servants to carry, rode off in the night to Kotsuke no Suke's palace and said to his retainers, “My master, who is now in attendance upon the Imperial envoy, owes much thanks to my Lord Kotsuke no Suke, who has been at so great pains to teach him the proper ceremonies to be observed during the reception of the Imperial envoy. This is but a shabby present which he has sent by me, but he hopes that his lordship will condescend to accept it, and commends himself to his lord ship’s favor.” And, with these words, he produced a thousand ounces of silver for Kotsuke no Suke, and a hundred ounces to be distributed among his retainers.
When the latter saw the money, their eyes sparkled with pleasure, and they were profuse in their thanks; and begging the councilor to wait a little, they went and told their master of the lordly present which had arrived with a polite message from Kamei Sama. Kotsuke no Suke in eager delight sent for the councilor into an inner chamber and after thanking him, promised on the morrow to instruct his master carefully in all the different points of etiquette. So the councilor, seeing the miser's glee, rejoiced at the success of his plan; and having taken his leave returned home in high spirits.
But Kamei Sama, little thinking how his vassal had propitiated his enemy, lay brooding over his vengeance, and on the following morning at daybreak went to court in solemn procession.
When Kotsuke no Suke met him, his manner had completely changed, and nothing could exceed his courtesy. “You have come early to court this morning, my Lord Kamei,” said he. “I cannot sufficiently admire your zeal. I shall have the honor to call your attention to several points of etiquette today. I must beg your lordship to excuse my previous conduct, which must have seemed very rude; but I am naturally of a cross-grained disposition, so I pray you to forgive me.” And as he kept on humbling himself and making fair speeches, the heart of Kamei Sama was gradually softened, and he renounced his intention of killing him. Thus, by the cleverness of his councilor, was Kamei Sama, with all his house, saved from ruin.
Shortly after this, Takumi no Kami, who had sent no present, arrived at the castle, and Kotsuke no Suke turned him into ridicule even more than before, provoking him with sneers and covert insults; but Takumino Kami affected to ignore all this, and submitted himself patiently to Kotsuke no Suke's orders.
This conduct, so far from producing a good effect, only made Kotsuke no Suke despise him the more, until at last he said haughtily, “Here, my Lord of Takumi, the ribbon of my sock has come untied; be so good as to tie it up for me.”
Takumi no Kami, although burning with rage at the affront, still thought that as he was on duty he was bound to obey, and tied up the ribbon of the sock.
Then Kotsuke no Suke, turning from him, petulantly exclaimed, “Why, how clumsy you are! You cannot so much as tie up the ribbon of a sock properly! Any one can see that you are a boor from the country, and know nothing of the manners of Edo.” And with a scornful laugh he moved towards an inner room.
But the patience of Takumino Kami was exhausted; this last insult was more than he could bear.
“Stop a moment, my lord,” cried he. “Well, what is it?” replied the other. And, as he turned round, Takumino Kami drew his sword, and aimed a blow at his head; but Kotsuke no Suke, being protected by the court cap which he wore, the wound was but a scratch, so he ran away; and Takumi no Kami, pur