Chushingura often referred to as 'the Treasury of Loyal Retainers' is a tale of forty-seven Samurai warriors who avenged the death of their master. The Samurais were declared ronin after their master, Asano Naganori (as Enya Hangan) was sentenced to commit seppuku, an honorable death performed by oneself to avoid the shame of being tortured and killed by enemies. The incidence rose when Lord Hangan attacked his senior Kira Yoshinaka (as Ko Morono) when he got infuriated by his arrogance. Asano then drew his sword and slightly injured Morono on his head, which was unlawful and punishable by death. After his death, the soldiers became ronin, meaning a wanderer or a masterless samurai. The property of Asano was taken away by the government, and his family was left in abject poverty. His warriors also suffered due to the loss of their master and were left to do casual jobs, as they planned how to avenge the death of Hangan. A samurai warrior had an obligation to uphold morality, be loyal to their masters and put the interests of other people before their own. This code of living was known as Bushido, and all warriors had to respect it. In an attempt to show loyalty to their deceased master, the warriors planned and executed revenge against Hangan, after which they also committed seppuku. Women and family are one of the major themes covered in the play and especially their culture during the Edo period, while the scenes VIII and IX are good examples that portray the importance attached to the two. The character Hangan is also a good example which illustrates what an early modern Japan family looked like.
A family was an essential aspect in the life of the Samurai and was referred to as ie. Ie had a more profound meaning than the modern families we know about, which are either co0nstructed through blood, marriage or adoption. Instead, the Japanese families of the Edo period comprised of an area that had similar political and economic control (Gainty). This explains the cohesion that was with the warriors, for example, it was a symbol of unity when the warriors of the late Hangan took an oath to avenge the forceful killing of their master.
Women, on the other hand, were treated as subordinates to men and were expected to follow instructions from their husbands. They were supposed to be submissive to their fathers when they are young, to their husbands when married and to their sons in old age (Kaibara et al.). A woman was therefore inferior to man and at no stage in their life had they power over the man. They were not allowed to inherit property from their husbands, and if a husband happened to die without a son, his property was confiscated by the government. Hangan, although he had previously adopted a son due to the fear of confiscation following an earlier illness, his property was confiscated and his family left in ruins. He knew the importance of family and was not willing to die and leave no heir behind. However, the government decided to impoverish the family as a punishment for Hangan's actions.
The selected acts VIII and IX give an account whereby the daughter of Kakogawa Honzo (one of Morono's officials who prevented Hangan from killing their master), named Konami, in the company of her mother, Tonase goes to Yurasonuke's home. Before Hangan's death, Konami was successfully engaged to Yurasonuke's son, Rikiya, but following the death, everything had changed. The wedding plans had halted, and Konami together with her mother was left disappointed. On that day, Tonase and Konami had decided to go all the way to Yurasonike's to force if not negotiate the wedding. When Tonase realizes the impossibility of there being a wedding between the two families, she and her daughter decide to take away their own life to avoid the shame of not being married, but Honzo intervenes and takes his own before them (Takeda et al.). He blames himself for having restricted Hangan from killing his master, and therefore causing shame upon his daughter.
There was so much importance attached to a marriage which is the reason Tonase and Konami were willing to force the marriage. Marriage was and still is the sure way to promote new generations and to ensure continuity of kinship especially in Japan's broad ie. If a daughter failed to be married and spent all her days in her father's house, it was regarded as a disgrace and a shame not only to herself and her family but the ie as a whole (Gainty). She would not bear children, and after her death, she would not have a lineage after her.
Marriage is regarded as a form of happiness. On their way to Yuranosuke's, Tonase assures her daughter Konami that she will find happiness after she is married. She tells her, "Once you've drunk the marriage cups, you'll share bedchamber endearments and sweet whisperings that neither your mother nor your child will ever know about, ...how happy you'll be!" (Takeda et al.). It is for the same reason that Honzo takes away his own life because he realizes that he is the reason his daughter has not found her happiness yet, through his loyalty to his king. Although it was the way of a samurai to remain loyal and to protect his master, he saw himself as a hindrance to his own family's happiness now that it was not going to be possible to have his daughter wedded. As it was, the daughter was then going to live a sorrowful life. As seen during their journey to Yurasonike's home, Konami is envious of a marriage procession that passes them on their way, and she is bitter that it did not happen to her as it was planned. She talks to self, saying that "If things were as they used to be, I should now be traveling in just such splendor and luxury for the great occasion of my life." (Takeda et al.). Her mother, however, gives her hopes that she will still enjoy her marriage, but it proves impossible as soon as they arrive at Yuranosuke's home.
The use of women to attain specific goals is evident in the act nine. Some people engaged in marriage only to achieve certain status attached to marrying particular persons. This was especially so with the women who believed that getting married in the loyal families came with some honor. In the Chushingura case, the incident that was meant for marriage benefits the ronin with the plan of Morono's mansion, which they later use during their raid to avenge the death of their master Enya Hangan. (Takeda et al.). Possibly, the reason Honzo decides to give the plan to the enemies of his master is that he realized the mistake he did in being loyal to his master and causing sorrow for his own family. He, therefore, made a quick decision to make up for the daughter and the family of Yuranosuke, by giving them ease of access to the masonry. However, because he could not stand the raid and suffer the guilt of disloyalty again, he grabs a spear that belonged to Rikiya and uses it to kill himself, releasing the mansion plan. The bottom line of this argument is that marriage can be used to satisfy self-needs. Had the marriage happened, the ronin would probably still get the plan because Rikiya would use Konami as his wife to get the plan from his father. Konami would do as ordered in an attempt to be a submissive wife.
Marriage and family go hand in hand as it is through marriage that family continuity is ensured. Marriage is other people respect a symbol of honor for both the man and the woman and those in a marriage situation. Family for the early modern Japanese life consisted of people who were under the same political and economic control. Thus it was broad and extensive. The broadness of their families is the one that ensured cohesion within the families and enabled the ronins to successfully plan a raid for more than one year, and no outsider got to know about their plans. In fact, they agreed to pretend and engage in activities such drinking and prostitution to fool the King Morono and his people that there was no revenge planned and therefore they relaxed and helped make it easy for them.
Gainty, Denis. Family, Gender and sex in early Modern Japan.
Kaibara, Ekiken, et al. Women and Wisdom of Japan. J. Murray, 1905.
Takeda, Izumo, et al. Chushingura (the Treasury of Loyal Retainers). Columbia UP, 1997.
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