Thursday, November 29, 2007


Among flowers, the cherry blossom;
among men, the samurai.

-Japanese proverb

On Monday, I visited the Sengakuji Temple. The temple in Sengakuji belongs to the Soto Zen school. This has two main temples in Eiheiji, on the northwest coast and Sojiji near Tokyo. Zen Master Dogen introduced the
Soto lineage to Japan and founded Eiheiji.

The temple is famous for its association with the story of the '47 Ronin'. A ronin is a masterless samurai.

In 1701, Lord Asano Takuminokami, Fuedal Lord of Ako, was appointed by the shogungate to entertain imperial envoys visiting Edo from Kyoto. However, his official advisor Kira Kozukenosuke treated him with disrespect and disgraced his honour as a samurai.

In response to this, Asano drew his sword on Kira and cut him on the shoulder and forehead. Although Kira was not killed, the shogun, hearing of this, ordered Asano to commit seppuku(hari-kiri), the traditional form of suicide, which he did.

The seppuku took place in the garden of another Lord's residence on the very same day without proper investigation. Seppuku outside was for a criminal and inappropiate for someone of Asono's standing. His estate was confiscated and his family line was dethroned from the lordship.

Two years after the incident, 47 samurais of Ako were brought together by the former chief samurai, Oishi Kuranosuke to avenge their lord's death. On December 14th 1702 they attacked and killed Kira at his residence and then marched to Sengakuji to present Kira's head to Asano's grave. The shogun then ordered the deaths of all the ronin and on February 4, 1703 they all commited seppuku.

Walking into the temple you first pass through the Middle Gate and on your right is a bronze statue of
Oishi Kuranosuke, which was built in 1921. He is holding a roll listing the names of the ronin.

After this, you pass through
Main Gate, which was rebuilt in 1832. On the upper floor, there are 16 statues of Arakan(Arahats) or Buddhist saints.

After you have passed through the main Gate, you come to the
Hondao(main hall of the temple). The original building was detroyed in WWII and was rebuilt eight years later. Next to this is a statue of Sawaki Kodo Roshi, who was one of the most influential Zen masters of the 20th century. He dedicated his life to the revitalization of Zazen as an authentic and fundamental Buddhist practice.

To the left of the statue is the
Bonsho(bell). This was constructed in 1913 under the 41st abbott. During morning Zazen the bell is rung and also when the gate is closed.

Going out of the main temple area and heading towards the grave,s you come across a
plum tree and stone, which is believed to have been stained by Asano Takuminokami's blood when he committed seppuku. Next to this there is a well. After the retainers had avenged their master by killing Kira, they washed his decapitated head(kubi) in the well and then laid it at the front of their lord's grave and announced their success.

The samurai were buried on February 4th, 1703. As people enter the graveyard they are given incense, which they place by the gravestones. The pictures of some of the graves can be seen

The story, dealing with the themes of sacrifice and loyalty, has been made into various plays and is commonly called 'Chu-shin-gura'(The Story Of The Loyal Retainers').

You can see all of the photos