After deliberating for some time and calling in the advice of leading philosophers! Which, of course, they did. Not two weeks later the first play based on the incident was performed and promptly shut down by the authorities. This story of duty resolutely carried out to the most extreme lengths resonated within the core of the Japanese people and became the basis for a nearly boundless waterfall of plays, novels and films.
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We may take in the general drift of what is said to us in a foreign tongue, but fail to understand the meaning which lies hidden beneath the surface.
In reading a novel we may be unable to discriminate between a national characteristic and a personal idiosyncrasy; the rhythm and cadence of poetry may appeal to us in vain; and we may take too seriously humourous language and mistake the vulgar and coarse for the refined and elegant. The Japanese language, which comes of a stock totally different to the Indo-European languages, has grown in a state of almost complete isolation, and in course of time, developed characteristics of its own.
One of these is the abundance of vowel-sounds, for the consonants are almost invariably accompanied by vowels. Another is the frequency with which connective enclitics occur in a sentence. The Japanese is an agglutinative language, and the repetition of meaningless form-words naturally deprives the language of force and allows of little change in the order, of speech.
Although there are other characteristics, the frequency of enclitics and form-words and abundance of vowels in individual words are the most important. It is hardly necessary to dwell here upon the difficulty of translating a joruri, or semi-lyrical drama, like the Chushingura, especially as it abounds in word-plays. In the phoneticii system of the Japanese language, which has a comparatively few consonantal sounds, such sounds being, as has already been stated, seldom unaccompanied by vowels, the variety of syllables is small and so, accordingly, is the number of their combinations, with the result that there is an abundance of homonymous words.
The identity or similarity of sound is utilised to produce words that may be taken in more senses than one. Often, also, sentences that sound sweet and graceful are taken wholesale from literature of a former age and inserted so skilfully that one fails to detect any incongruity in the mosaic so formed; and yet, unless one is versed in the literature which has been drawn upon, it would be difficult to make out the drift of the passages in which they occur.
These peculiarities are not, it is true, confined to joruri, for they may be found in all other works of lyrical nature; but they give a characteristic charm to joruri, and make it a very difficult task to translate a joruri into a European language. Thus, the eighth act of the Chushingura, which is made up of sentences and phrases of this description, fails to convey much meaning when translated into English. In spite of these linguistic difficulties, an attempt has been made, it is to be hoped not altogether without success, to give in the present work the plot and spirit of the Chushingura; but for the full comprehension of the play and its motif, the reader should possess some acquaintance with the social condition, manners, and ideas of the time to which it refers.
The vendetta of the retainers of Ako, which forms the subject of the play, took place early in ; and the play saw the light forty-five years later, in It was a production of the golden age of Tokugawaiii literature. During the little more than a century and a half that have since elapsed, remarkable changes have come over society.
Our wars with China and Russia have greatly influenced the whole society, and our customs and manners undergone marked changes. The postal halting-places have become railway stations, and express couriers have been replaced by telegraph. It is therefore believed that it would not be an altogether needless task to make a few remarks here on the condition, manners, and thought of society at that time. Before treating, however, of the Genroku age in which the vendetta of the Ako retainers took place, which has left such a mark upon the history of this country, we must glance at the period of the Tokuwaga Shogunate.
That period lasted two hundred and sixty-four years from the appointment to the Shogunate of Tokugawa Iyeyasu in to the surrender of political power to the Emperor by Tokugawa Yoshinobu in Towards the close of the Ashikaga Shogunate , the country was torn by factions and plunged in civil war.
But the great hero Toyotomi Hideyoshi, better known as the Taiko, gave the country a brief respite from war. Society during the Tokugawa period may be generally divided into four classes, the kuge, the samurai, the common people, and the lowest classes. The Emperor reigned over the country at Kyoto; and around him were the Imperial princes, some of whom were qualified to succeed to the Throne in case of failure of Imperial issue.
The kuge, or Court nobles, numbered about one hundred and thirty; their titles and offices were hereditary. They were jealous of their social position. They attended daily at the Imperial Court; but their duties mostly concerned the grant and deprivation of Court rank, various ceremonies, and Court etiquette. Administrative affairs were entirelyv in the hands of the feudal government. All business between it and the Imperial Court was transacted by a few high officials.
The political authority over the whole nation was held by the feudal government. The Emperor merely watched over the sacred treasures of his House and delegated political power to the feudal government. During the civil wars the fortunes of Imperial Court seriously declined; but Ota and Toyotomi, who were loyal to the Throne, presented landed estate to the Court when they had brought the country into peace.
Tokugawa frequently built Imperial palaces and presented funds for household expenses; and the Imperial House was placed in easier circumstances. But it was the policy of the Tokugawa family to hold the real power over the nation. In , Iyeyasu established regulations for the control of the kuge, by which although the real power of the Imperial House was diminished the principle of loyalty to the Throne and distinction of lord and subject were strictly maintained, and Tokugawa himself set the example to the nation by his reverent treatment of the Imperial Family.
Although this attitude towards the Throne was a policy of Iyeyasu, it was also an expression of the innate loyalty and patriotism of the people. Thus, the dignity of the Imperial Family remained unimpaired; and it may be seen from the original cause of the Ako revenge how high the importance was attached to the reception of Imperial envoys.
The samurai were all under the control of the feudalvi government. Those whose annual stipends were not less than ten thousand koku of rice were called daimyo, those below them were hatamoto, and the lowest were kenin. The daimyo were of three classes, lords of provinces, lords of castles, and lords of domains without castles. They ruled over their domains. Asano Takumi-no-Kami, the vengeance for whose death forms the subject of the Chushingura, was the lord of the castle of Ako in the province of Harima; his annual income was 50, koku; he belonged to the second category of daimyo.
The samurai who left their clans and drifted about, or for some reason, lost their stipends, were known as ronin. By common people were meant the merchant and agricultural classes. They were not permitted to wear swords or have family names; and they were known only by their individual names. Thus, merchants and artisans were called by their trades and farmers by their villages. Besides the above-mentioned kuge, samurai, and the common people were the lowest classes. Although there were in this way four grades of society, such grades did not regulate the material circumstances of the people belonging to them; but as a whole the kuge were poor and the daimyo wealthy.
With the samurai wealth was considered contrary to the principles of Bushido; and while they made it their pride that they possessed no more than a hat to shelter them from wind and rain, few tried to accumulate wealth; but as the samurai spirit began to decline, there were many who sought forvii wealth.
The most wealthy were to be found among the common people, for, debarred from the rights and privileges enjoyed by the samurai, they directed all their energies to money-making; it must, however, be added that many of them also lived in abject poverty.
The vendetta of the retainers of Ako was an outward expression of the spirit of Bushido. The people of the Eastern Provinces, the centre of which was Yedo, were from the oldest times noted for their fearless courage. Moreover, when Yedo became the seat of the feudal government, the samurai who had been engaged in rapine and slaughter during the wars preceding the Shogunate of Tokugawa, flocked to the city and made it their place of residence.
The city became the second home of the simple and intrepid samurai of Mikawa, the province, of which Tokugawa Iyeyasu was originally daimyo; and the retainers of other clans also repaired thither in great numbers. In fact, Yedo was the centre of neither commerce nor industry; it had been established solely for the residence of samurai; and there hundreds of thousands of samurai gathered to practise military arts.
In short, in Yedo, Bushido was in greatest vigour. The principal elements of Bushido were three in number:— The first of these was the high esteem for military valour and practice of military arts. In remote antiquity, the two families of Mononobe and Otomo took to the profession of arms and guarded the Imperial Court.
It became their hereditary office to act as the Imperial bodyguard. All their descendants wereviii trained in military arts and grew up to be men of high resolution and integrity.
They were taught to refrain from all acts likely to bring dishonour upon their family name. When, however, the Fujiwara family came into possession of the political power, military affairs began to decline and give place to civil affairs which were then held in high esteem.
The military profession was regarded with contempt and looked upon as fit only for barbarians. This slighting of the military calling was due to communication at this period with China, whose civilisation so dazzled the Japanese that they caught the literary effeminacy which then afflicted that country. The samurai of Kyoto the capital gradually lost their former military spirit. But Bushido was not seriously affected by its decline in Kyoto; for this effeminacy was confined to the capital and its immediate neighbourhood.
Those, for whose ambition Kyoto was too small, mostly migrated into the country where they strengthened their position. And Bushido found its home in the country and there it developed without obstruction. These ambitious men lived in different provinces; and when their families grew too bulky, the members established themselves in other places.
Most of them became powerful men with large domains. They had many followers, who became their private soldiers. The relations between these local magnates and their adherents continued unchanged for ages.
The lord took care of his adherents and instructed and encouraged them so that they might prove of service to him in an emergency, and they, on their part, trained themselves in military arts so that they might be able to show their loyalty to their lord.
Thus, Bushido was driven out of the political centre of the land by the introduction of Chinese civilisation and grew up in the country, especially in the Eastern Provinces, because those provinces were lower in the degree of civilisation and at the same timeix retained a spirit peculiar to them. Military training was pursued to the highest pitch in the East; the samurai, whether leader or follower, considered it cowardly to show the back to the enemy, and always feared to bring dishonour upon their family name.
They looked upon it as shame to themselves not to die when their lord was hard pressed and not to help another in his difficulty. Their own shame was the shame upon their parents, their family, their house, and their whole clan; and with this idea deeply impressed upon their minds, the samurai, no matter of what rank, held their lives light as feather when compared with the weight they attached to the maintenance of a spotless name.
In their breasts was always present the thought that an unstained reputation was of highest value to those whose profession was of arms, and it was disgrace upon a samurai to be spoken of as having fled for fear of the enemy. Especially, when the Minamoto and Taira clans became the two great military families in the eleventh century, was this spirit carefully instilled into the hearts of their followers; and the characteristics of the samurai became more highly developed and the path of conduct of the subject towards his lord, of the soldier towards his commander, and of samurai towards each other became clearly defined to a degree unparalleled in any other age or country of the world.
This path was called the path of loyalty, which was the second essential element of Bushido Thus, by failure to follow this path, the samurai forfeited the name, he was despised and held up to scorn as a leper and a man of no spirit. Such contempt, once a man was exposed to it, was heaped upon him to the end, and he himself felt it keenly until death; and however wealthy he might subsequently become, he was too ashamed to hold up his face in public.
If, on the other hand, he strictly followed the path of loyalty, he was constantly praised by friend and foe alike; and consequently, if ax man was born of an unexceptionable lineage and had any military prowess of his ancestors to boast of, he would, in the battle-field even when a question of a few minutes was of vital importance, stand up before the enemy and make boast of it to them.
The third essential element of Bushido to be mentioned is the high estimation of honesty and integrity and disregard of pecuniary profit. Even when he was offered a thousand pieces of gold, the true samurai should not for a moment alter his original intention. The samurai gave money, but did not lend it; and he received money, but did not borrow it. At the time of the invasion of Korea towards the close of the sixteenth century, Hineno Hirotsugu, before he set out on his mission to that country, borrowed a hundred pieces of silver from Kuroda Josui, and upon his return he went to Kuroda to repay the money; but the latter told him that he had not lent it in hope of its being repaid, and in the end he absolutely refused to take it back.
The essential elements of Bushido may appear, when only these three are mentioned, to be very simple; but that is far from being the case, for there are many other minor elements which go to its making. Once anything was undertaken, it was dishonourable not to carry it out even at the sacrifice of life, property, and all that one possessed. The contempt for money and money-making which they expressed at all times had no doubt been handed down from the period of civil wars, when the whole country being overrun by soldiery, those who possessed wealth were in constant danger of attack and robbery.
To the warriors whose lives could never be called their own, money was only a means of temporary gratification of their senses; for if they fell into straits, they merely robbed, and in war time money was of less value to them than a mouthful of food or a sword, and it was only natural that they should be utterly indifferent to its acquisition.
Kono Moronao is made in the Chushingura to take bribes, because the authors wished to exhibit him as a man utterly bereft of the Bushido spirit and so contrast him with the loyal retainers who are the mirror of chivalry and single-heartedness; for the same reason he is shown up as a poltroon. The qualities above referred to are the characteristics of Bushido; and that they composed the spirit peculiar to our country will be patent to all who study the history of Japan from the oldest times.
Anotherxii custom was the seppuku or harakiri , or self-disembowelment. Death was looked upon as an atonement for all faults and errors. The death of Kanpei in the sixth act of the Chushingura is an instance in point. A samurai guilty of a serious offence which deserved capital punishment was sentenced to commit seppuku. In such case the order to commit seppuku, instead of being beheaded like a common criminal, was looked upon as an honour, as may be seen in the fourth act of the Chushingura where Enya Hangwan is condemned to death.
Chushingura, the Treasury of Loyal Retainers: A Puppet Play Summary & Study Guide
We may take in the general drift of what is said to us in a foreign tongue, but fail to understand the meaning which lies hidden beneath the surface. In reading a novel we may be unable to discriminate between a national characteristic and a personal idiosyncrasy; the rhythm and cadence of poetry may appeal to us in vain; and we may take too seriously humourous language and mistake the vulgar and coarse for the refined and elegant. The Japanese language, which comes of a stock totally different to the Indo-European languages, has grown in a state of almost complete isolation, and in course of time, developed characteristics of its own. One of these is the abundance of vowel-sounds, for the consonants are almost invariably accompanied by vowels. Another is the frequency with which connective enclitics occur in a sentence. The Japanese is an agglutinative language, and the repetition of meaningless form-words naturally deprives the language of force and allows of little change in the order, of speech. Although there are other characteristics, the frequency of enclitics and form-words and abundance of vowels in individual words are the most important.
The Japanese puppet play Chushingura is a story of revenge. Lord Hangan is ordered to kill himself as punishment. As the play begins, four lords gather to celebrate the opening of a new temple and to discuss an addition to the treasury. Infuriated by the interference, Moronao viciously berates the lesser lord, nearly provoking Lord Wakasanosuke to violence. At the consecration, Moronao receives a poem from Kaoyo that signifies her rejection of his love. Hangan responds with steel, successfully wounding Moronao.