On January 30th, 1703, a cold, still winter night with snow fluttering over Edo, forty seven ronin – samurai without a master – crept into the house of their dead master’s arch enemy and exacted a brutal revenge, so creating one of the greatest tales of ‘bushido’ – the code of honour for which Japan is known.
The temple next to which their graves lie – at the side of their master – is Sengakuji. Nearby Sengakuji Station on the Asakusa Line takes its name from the temple and is a short 5 minute walk up a gentle incline. The temple is also just a 10 minute walk from Shinagawa Station.
The highlight of a visit to the temple is of course a visit to the graves of the 47 ronin and the well in which they washed the severed head of Kira – the courtier who had allegedly provoked their master Asano into drawing his sword and attacking Kira – an offense for which ritual suicide was the required punishment. A fate which 46 of the 47 ronin also met.
Aside from the remarkable history of the temple, the grounds and buildings are imposing and austere, and on a weekday, quite serene. The geography of the area gives a clue of how it must have been on the day after the deed as the party of ronin traipsed across Edo to the temple with Kira’s head. Absent of tall buildings and with the Edo era coastline considerably inland from where it is now, the gate of the temple would have likely afforded a view over the still waters of Tokyo Bay.
Although not on the same date as the event itself, a festival is held in commemoration of the ronin on the 14th of December each year.
Entrance to the temple is free, but you are welcome to make a donation at the main prayer house. There is also a museum to the 47 Ronin on the grounds.