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Chûshingura On Stage And In Print

Part 2: Books and Manuscripts (Starr Rare Book Reading Room)

30. Letters of the 47 Rônin

Throughout their months of plotting, and particularly as the day of decision drew near, the Akô rônin corresponded frequently. Some 250 authentic letters survive (and many forgeries), out of what must have been many more. Some are short and perfunctory, but many others are sustained and often moving explanations of their motivations, particularly the farewell letters written in the final months.

A number of these letters circulated in manuscript form in the Edo period, as these two examples show. Above is a copy of a single letter written by the leader of the league of revenge, Ôishi Kuranosuke, to the chief priests of three Zen Buddhist temples in Akô with whom Ôishi was intimate. Intended as a farewell letter, it reports on recent events and recapitulates in detail the course of the revenge The original letter in Ôishi’s own hand survives in Shôfukuji temple. This letter circulated widely in the Edo period, both in manuscript forms like this, and in private woodblock printings.

Below is a manuscript copy of three letters written by Mimura Jirôzaemon to his mother, particularly a long letter of farewell dated 1703.11.30, just half a month before the attack on Kira. Mimura was a 35-year-old bachelor and the second lowest ranking member of the league (just above the footsoldier Terasaka Kichiemon, who left the group after the attack and escaped punishment). He seems to have been very close to his mother.

Top shelf:
Ôishi Kuranosuke (1659-1703)
Ôishi Kuranosuke shukan  大石内蔵助手簡

(Letter of Ôishi Kuranosuke)
Manuscript copy, n.d.; copied by “Tônen”  桃年;
original letter dated 1702.12.13Waseda University LibraryBottom shelf:
Mimura Jirôzaemon 三 村次郎左衛門 (1667-1703)
Akô gishi bunshô
(Letters of an Akô Gishi)
Manuscript copy, n.d.; original letters dated 1702
Starr East Asian Library

31. Foundational Narratives

Until the final years of the Tokugawa period, it remained illegal to publish any printed accounts of the historical Akô Incident, even though many works for the stage were permitted simply by transposing the time to the Kamakura period three centuries earlier, and thinly disguising the names. The easiest way to circumvent this prohibition was to make hand-copied manuscripts, which was frequently done by private admirers of the 47 Rônin, as was clearly the case of the two copies on the top shelf (one from Waseda, one from Columbia) of one of the most important documents of the Akô Incident, an account by Horiuchi Den’emon, a senior retainer of the Hosokawa domain of Kumamoto who in charge of seventeen top-ranking rônin during their forty-eight days of custody before their execution. Horiuchi became very friendly with his prisoners, whom he clearly admired, and prepared a detailed history of their revenge.

    Very different was the case of Muro Kyûsô, a Confucian scholar who at the time of the incident was in Kanazawa, in the service of the Maeda lord of Kaga, and who wrote his account on the basis of information sent from informants in Edo. Completed in late 1703, and it rapidly became the single most influential account of the Akô Incident, particularly among intellectuals who could read the kanbun (Chinese) text. Highly embellished and sympathetic to the rônin, Kyûsô’s history set the tone of much later debate. It includes both a narrative of the entire incident, and individual biographies of each of the 47 Rônin. Manuscript copies of the revised 1711 version are displayed, from both the Waseda and Columbia collections.

Top shelf, left:
Horiuchi Den’emon堀内伝右衛門 (1645-1727)
Sekijô gishin taiwa  赤城義臣対話

(Conversations with the loyal retainers of Akô)
Manuscript copy, n.d.; original dated 1703
Waseda University Library

Bottom shelf, left:
Muro Kyûsô 室鳩巣 (1658-1734)
ô gijinroku  赤穂義人録
(Record of the righteous men of Akô)
Manuscript copy, n.d.; original dated 1711.
Waseda University Library

Top shelf, right:
Horiuchi Den’emon堀内伝右衛門(1645-1727)
Horiuchi Den’emon oboegaki

(The memorandum of Horiuchi Den’emon)
Manuscript copy, n.d.; original dated 1703
Starr East Asian Library

Bottom shelf, right:
Muro Kyûsô 室鳩巣(1658-1734)
ô gijinroku  赤穂義人録
(Record of the righteous men of Akô)
Manuscript copy, n.d., original date 1711.
Starr East Asian Library


32. Popular Jitsuroku Accounts

Another genre of chronicle of the Akô Incident is known as jitsuroku, accounts that were produced in the first instance by interested onlookers (almost all samurai, from what we know of the compilers) in the years immediately following the execution of the rônin. These were typically collections of disparate hearsay accounts that were often contradictory and obviously fabricated, providing the basis for the turning of history into legend from the earliest stage.

One important early jitsuroku is displayed on the top shelf, written by a samurai from the domain of Kago named Sugimoto Yoshichika, who had been a key informant of Muro Kyûsô (see case to the left). Entitled Akô shôshûki, it is not a coherently structured narrative like that of Kyûsô, but rather an assembly of reports and rumors. Works like this did not make for very entertaining reading, but were kept in circulation by manuscript copies made by amateur historians of the Akô Incident.

A work of particular importance in the jitsuroku lineage, but composed in a far more self-consciously literary style, was Katajima Shin’en’s Sekijô gishinden, published in Osaka in 1719. This was the first work to violate the prohibition against printing any account of the historical Akô Incident. It is said that it was produced by a group of publishers who knew that it would be banned, so they printed a large number of copies in advance and sold them in one lot in the major cities before the authorities could respond. Although immediately banned, it seems to have been illegally reprinted on later occasions, and this copy may be such a reprint. Shin’en’s account borrowed the style of the popular medieval military chronicle Taiheiki, and is often referred to under disguised title of Taihei gishinden 太平義臣伝. The pages displayed here show the end of the introduction, where the author lists his jitsuroku sources (many now lost). The left-hand page commences a series of portraits of the Akô rônin that were later widely copied.

Top shelf:
Sugimoto Yoshichika 杉本義鄰
Akô shôshûki
3 vols.; manuscript copy, n.d.; original manuscript 1703
Waseda University Library

Bottom shelf:
Katajima Takenori (Shin’en) 片島武矩(深渕)
Sekijô gishinden  赤城義臣伝

(Biographies of the righteous retainers of Akô castle)
15 vols., Osaka: Kawachiya Genshichirô, 1719
Waseda University Library

33. Later Elaborations

For over a century after Katajima Shin’en’s Sekijô gishinden, efforts to compile new total histories of the Akô Incident came to an end. A new type of jitsuroku appeared from the mid-seventeenth century, adding literary embellishments and more coherent plots to the older material, but of dubious historicity. Such works circulated primarily in manuscript through commercial lending libraries.

A variety of other types of works appeared in the later eighteenth century, however, such as the two seen here, both of which are bibliographical curiosities. On the top shelf is a splicing together of a fragment of a printed version of one of the Confucian debates over the legal and moral proprieties of the Akô revenge, with the missing part written by hand on a printed form. The pasted seam between the two can be seen in the middle of the right-hand page. Wholly different is the book on the bottom shelf, a biography of one Amanoya Rihei, said to be the historical model for the “loyal merchant” Amakawaya Gihei in Act X of Kanadehon Chushingura. The historicity of Amanoya Rihei, however, is much in doubt, and it seems likely that he was an creative “back-formation” from the fictional Amakawaya Gihei. The greater interest of this particular specimen from the Waseda collection is an inscription by its former owner, the famous Meiji painter in the Chinese style, Tomioka Tessai (1836-1924), recording a visit to Amanoya Rihei’s “grave” at Jizôin temple in Kyoto, popularly known as “Tsubakidera” (“Camellia Temple”). Included with the book is the postcard seen here of the grave and a statue of Rihei at the temple, inscribed on the other side with Tessai’s description of the statue.  

Top shelf:
Akamatsu Sôshû 赤松滄洲 (1721‑1801)
Dazai Tokuo Akô shijûrokushi ronpyô
(A criticism of Dazai Shundai’s opinion on the 46 Rônin)
Combined manuscript and printed copy, n.d.
Starr East Asian LibraryBottom shelf:
Rai Shunsui 頼春水 (1746-1816), comp.
Amanoya Rihei den  天野 屋利兵衛傳

(Biography of Amanoya Rihei)
Printed book, 1776 
Ex-coll. Tomioka Tessai 富岡鉄斎 (1836-1924)

Postcard of grave of Amanoya Rihei,
Tsubakidera Temple, Kyoto.
Inscription verso by Tomioka Tessai
Waseda University Library

34. Kibyôshi Parodies of Kanadehon Chûshingura

The receding interest in the historicity of the Akô Incident in the later eighteenth century was paralleled by the growing permeation of Kanadehon Chūshingura, the fictional stage version of the story of the 47 Rônin, into every known genre of Edo literature. Particularly popular were parodies of the play that appeared in the genre of kibyôshi, “yellow-cover” pamphlets in a comic-book format in which the text was incorporated within full-page images. These witty take-offs were intended for a sophisticated urban audience.

On the top shelf is one of the forty-odd kibyôshi parodies of Kanadehon Chūshingura that appeared over the course of some 25 years from the late 1770s. The title relates to the reigning ideal of urbane sophistication in this era of tsû, being “in the know” in the ways of the pleasure quarters and up-to-date fashion. Where an earlier parody punned with “Tsûjingura,” a “treasury of those in the know,” this work reversed it as a “treasury of the uncool.” The bottom shelf features two works by one of the leader writer-cum-artists of this era, Santô Kyôden (who did the pictures for the work on the top shelf under the name of “Kitao Masanobu”). The work on the right depicted the major characters in Kanadehon Chūshingura as types of horses that reflected the personality of each. The pages shown here depict Act I, where Lady Kaoyo on the left is shown as a tame and docile horse, choosing not a helmet but a saddle, while the villain Moronao on the right is a nasty “people-eating” horse. 

Top shelf:

Sakuragawa (Kishida) Tohô) 桜川杜芳  
Illus Kitao Masanobu 北尾政演 [Santô Kyôden
山東京伝] (1761-1816)
Kanadehon Futsûjingura  假名手本不通人蔵
(A treasury of uncool retainers)
Edo: Tsuruya Kiemon, 1787
Waseda University Library

Bottom shelf, left:
Santô Kyôden 山東京伝 (1761-1816)
Illus. Kitao Shigemasa 北尾重政 (1739-1820)
Chûshingura sokuseki ryôri  忠臣蔵即席料理

(Chûshingura, instantly cooked)
Edo: Tsuruya Kiemon, 1794.
Waseda University LibraryBottom shelf, right:
Santô Kyôden 山東京伝 (1761-1816)
Illus. Kitao Shigemasa 北尾重政 (1739-1820)
Katatazuna Chûshingura  假名手綱忠臣蔵

(Chûshingura on hobby-horse)
Edo: Tsuruya Kiemon, 1801
Waseda University Library

35. Spin-offs of Kanadehon Chûshingura

Here we encounter two unusual works from the Waseda collection that further demonstrate the ingenious ways in which Kanadehon Chushingura as the mother lode of Chûshingura was mined in Edo popular culture. On the top shelf is a two-volume work (here bound in a single volume) in the kibyôshi format, but one that involves not the usual plays on words but rather plays with pictures by the use of a rebus (in Japanese, hanji-e 判じ絵), a kind of visual riddle where words or syllables are depicted by pictures that suggest the sounds of the words or syllables that they represent. It is a common form of word play both East and West, and was particularly popular in late Edo culture. One often encounters the explanation that such rebuses were intended for the illiterate, but in fact they could be read only by the consummately literate. Shown here is Act V, where the first line to the right reads “Yoichibei”: a picture of a drunken man (yoi) + the kana chi + a picture of a fence (hei).    On the bottom shelf is a completely different sort of book, one that defies technical classification. It is conventionally described as a kan, a successor to kibyôshi with colorful covers. This particular work, however, is a prose rendition of a curious kabuki production of 1833 known as Ura-omote Chûshingura, or “Chûshingura Front and Back,” in which famous stock scenes from each act of Kanadehon Chūshingura were alternated with parodic “back” counterparts. Shown here is the “back” version of Act VIII, the michiyuki in which Tonase and her daughter Konami travel east. We see Honzô, the husband of Tonase, in the guise of a flute-playing mendicant monk in which he appears in that act, battling with some of the famed kumosuke porters that tried to cheat travelers wishing to cross the Ôi River on the Tokaido highway.
Top shelf:
Kyokutei Bakin 曲亭馬琴 (1767-1848)
Illus. Kitao Shigemasa 北尾重政 (1739-1820)
Onagusami Chûshingura no kangae  御慰忠臣蔵之攷

(A Chûshingura teaser for leisure time)
Edo: Tsuruya Kiemon, 1798.
Waseda University Library  

Bottom shelf:
Ichikawa Hakuen (Danjurô VII) 市川白猿 (1791-1859)
Illus. Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (1786-1864)
Ura-omote Chûshingura  裏表忠臣蔵

(Chûshingura front and back)
2 vols. Edo: Izumiya Ichibei, 1836-7 
Waseda University Library

36. Yamazaki Yoshinari’s Popular Tales of the Akô Gishi

Yamazaki Yoshinari (1797-1856?) was a remarkable writer who typified many of the trends of the second quarter of the nineteenth century in which he was active. Whereas the characteristic intellectual of late eighteenth-century Edo was a disaffected samurai of wit and intellect who communicated only with others within his own narrow circles in tricky and erudite puns, Yamazaki was a solid bourgeois citizen with an indefatigable curiosity about the past, and an eagerness to communicate his findings to a wide audience in plain and unadorned Japanese. He played a critical role in the history of the story of the 47 Rônin by restoring their historicity in printed books that had an impact far beyond that of all earlier accounts.

Crucial to Yamazaki’s achievement was a political breakthrough that occurred in the early 1850s, first in a work of the Confucian scholar Aoyama Nobumitsu that is displayed and described in the tall narrow case to your left. For reasons that are wholly undocumented and probably undocumentable, it suddenly became possible to talk about the Akô Incident in print, using the real names of the historical protagonists. Yamazaki’s masterpiece was Akô gishiden issekiwa, of which the complete set in the Starr East Asian collection is on display here. In ten volumes adorned with full-spread illustrations by the talented Hashimoto Gyokuran (Sadahide), Yamazaki narrated the course of the Akô Incident and then proceeded to biographies of all of the 47 Rônin. Although similar in structure to the works of Muro Kyûsô and Katajima Shin’en over a century earlier, it was far more accessible, and incorporated many of the countless new anecdotes that had been added to the Chûshingura repertoire by kôdan storytellers over the previous half-century. Yamazaki followed up with a sequel Akô gishi zuihitsu one year later, seen here in pages describing artifacts of the Akô rônin.  

Top row: 
Yamazaki Yoshinari 山崎美成 (1797-1856?)
Akô gishiden issekiwa
(An evening’s tale of the lifes of the Akô Gishi)
9 vols [vol. 10 missing]
Edo: Yamatoya Kihei, 1854. 
Starr East Asian Library

Bottom row:
Yamazaki Yoshinari 山崎美成 (1797-1856?)
Illus. Hashimoto Gyokuran 橋本玉蘭 (1807-1873?)
ô gishi zuihitsu  赤穂義士随筆
(Essay on the Akô Gishi)
4 vols. Edo: Yamatoya Kihei, 1855. 
Waseda University Library

37. The Kanbun Accounts of Aoyama Nobumitsu

As described in the adjacent flat case that displays the books of Yamazaki Yoshinari, there occurred a dramatic change in the middle of the nineteenth century in the telling of the story of the 47 Rônin when it suddenly became legal to publish books using the real names of the historical protagonists. The earliest work of this type is seen on the top shelf here, a compilation in Chinese (kanbun) of short biographies of all forty-seven of the league members. The author Aoyama Nobumitsu was a Confucian scholar of the Mito domain, and his writing served to forge crucial connections between the loyalist and nationalist ideology of the Mito School with the far more circumscribed loyalty of the Akô avengers, thus paving the way for the modern appropriation of the Chûshingura legend by Japanese nationalists. 

Aoyama followed up on his interest in the 47 Rônin a number of years later in his 1866 Gijin isô, a print edition of various poems left by the rônin together with some celebrations of their accomplishments in Chinese verse. A number of the Akô rônin were accomplished poets, particularly in haikai circles, and there exists a sub-cult of their verse in modern Japan.

Top shelf:
Aoyama Nobumitsu 青山延光  (1807‑1871)
Akô shijûshichishi den
(Lives of the 47 samurai of Akô)
2 vols.; Edo: Suharaya Ihachi, 1851
Starr East Asian Library

Bottom shelf:
Aoyama Nobumitsu 青山延光  (1807‑1871)
Gijin isô  義人遺草

(Poetic mementos of the righteous men)
Mito: Suharaya Yasujirô, 1866
Starr East Asian Library 

38. The Seppuku of Ôishi Kuranosuke

This hanging scroll painting of the ritual seppuku of Ôishi Kuranosuke is the single most important Chûshingura-related object in the collection of the Waseda University Library. It is one of a number of surviving copies of what appears to be the original painting that survives today in the private collection of the Yasuba family of Kumamoto. The date of the original is unknown, but it was presumably commissioned by Yasuba Ippei, who served as the “kaishaku 介錯” or second for Ôishi, severing his head as he took the dagger of disembowelment in his hand. It is presumed that the painting offers a reasonably accurate depiction of the scene at the Hosokawa mansion in Edo where the seventeen top-ranking leaders of the Akô league of revenge were executed on the afternoon of the fourth day of the Second Month of Genroku 16 (March 19, 1703).

Other known copies of this painting, such as those in the Eisei Bunko in Tokyo and in the Hyôgo Prefectural Museum in Kobe, differ in small details, notably in the pattern on the panel at the end of the veranda to the upper left. But it is the overall similarities that are important. The absolute center of attention in all versions is on the two protagonists, Ôishi with his short sword and Yasuba with his long sword. Ôishi seems wholly composed, with no intention of cutting his abdomen (which at this point in the history of seppuku was not expected). Yasuba, by contrast, stands crouched like a bow pulled taut, ready to slice off Ôishi’s head cleanly and then hold it up for inspection to the witnesses. Fully forty-five figures are shown in the officiating party, from the two bakufu inspectors in front of a ceremonial screen to the left, down to those in the bottom center who seem to be in charge of disposing of the corpses and cleaning up afterwards.

And then there are the remaining sixteen men who await their turn at decapitation to the upper right. In all versions of the painting, they are shown in varied, even casual poses, some apparently chatting with one another. In the real world that afternoon, of course, they could not have seen what was going on in the courtyard outside; they heard only the announcements that one of their brethren had completed the performance, and the calling of the next name. The entire ceremony of execution is estimated to have taken less than two hours. The sword that severed Oishi’s head survives in the Yasuba family, and was recently exhibited at the Akô City Museum of History on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the attack on Kira.

Gishi seppuku no zu  義士切腹之図            
(The seppuku of the Gishi)
Hanging scroll
Waseda University Library

39. Portraits of the Gishi

The 47 Rônin have been depicted countless times in sets of paintings, prints, and portrait sculpture. With the exception of a pair of carved wood sculptures of Ôishi Kuranosuke and his son Chikara in the Historiographical Institute at Tokyo University, which are thought to have been carved by a sculptor who had actually met the two men, all of these surviving portraits are imaginary. In print, the most influential lineage began in first volume of Katajima Shin’en’s Sekijô gishinden, published in Osaka in 1719.  Virtually the same portraits were then used again in the first volume of Yamazaki Yoshinari’s Akô gishi zuihitsu of 1855. Both of these works are included in other parts of this exhibition, and the portraits themselves may be seen in the adjoining seminar room in the form of a single large print depicting the entire group.

The book to the left also appears to have been modeled after these same standard portraits, although in fact the preface by the author Hosono Yôsai, a Confucian scholar from the Tokugawa domain of Owari (Nagoya), explains that he copied them from a set of portraits that had traveled from Sengakuji in Edo to be shown at a local temple in Nagoya.

Very different is the book of 1850 to the right, edited by a bakufu retainer in Edo, who commissioned a large number of contemporary artists in different styles to execute highly individualized portraits of the Gishi. To each portrait was then attached a Chinese text by a literary figure. These portraits are every bit as diverse and interesting as those of the standard lineage are stereotyped and devoid of particular interest. Seen here are Okano Kin’emon on the right (who also appears on the poster for this exhibition), and Yoshida Chūzaemon on the left, who at the age of 63 was one of the most senior members of the league.            

To the left:
Hosono Tadanobu (Yôsai) 細野忠棟 (要斎) (1811-1878)
Akô gijin shôzô
(Portraits of the Righteous Men)
Manuscript, hand-painted; 1863
Starr East Asian Library To the right:
Nagayama Choen 長山樗園, comp.
Gishi sh
ôzô sanshi  義士肖像賛詞.
(Portrait eulogies of the Gishi)
Edo: 1850
Waseda University Library


40. The Akô Gishi in the Meiji Era 

With the collapse of the Tokugawa regime in 1868, it became legal to talk freely about the 47 Rônin and the history of the Akô Incident. The legal prohibition of revenge in 1873, and the distaste for things feudal in the early Meiji period led to a brief lull in the popularity of the Akô Gishi, but the trend was rapidly reversed, and by the end of the Meiji period in 1912, all Japan was in the grips of a “Gishi boom.”

On here are a few of the countless publications about the Ako Gishi that reflect their growing modern popularity. To the left is an interesting variant on the prolific genre of “individual biographies of the Ako Gishi” (Akô gishi meimeiden 赤穂義士銘々伝), here chronicling instead the lives of the “heroines” (retsujo 列女) of the incident, the wives and mothers of the individual Gishi. Most of these women actually existed, but the flowerly biographies provided here are almost entirely the stuff of legend. The preface on display shows the Ôishi family, with his wife Riku (here labeled simply “woman who was the wife of Yoshio”) sitting discreetly in the background.

On the right is a copperplate pamphlet of 1890 that contains the list of eighteen orders that Ôishi sent to the members of the league about one month before the attack on Kira. This is likely the sort of item that one could buy at the souvenir shops lining the entrance to Sengakuji temple, as is the set of accordion-folded pictures stretched out along the bottom of this case below. It is untitled and undated, and illustrates the course of the Ako vendetta; it probably dates from around the 1910s. The side displayed here consists of twelve pictures that show the course of the incident from Asano’s attack on Kira up until the point that the 47 Rônin gathered at the gate of Kira’s mansion to begin their attack.

Rôgetsudô Yûjin 弄 月堂有人, ed.,
Akô gishi retsujo meimeiden  赤穂義士列女銘々伝

(Biographies of the women of the Akô Gishi)
Tokyo: Bunkyūdô, 1881
Waseda University LibraryAlong the bottom:
Untitled souvenir book,
Accordion style, 12 illustrations.
N.d., no publisher.

[Eiri] Ôishi Yoshio juhachi‑kajo moshihiraki jitsuroku 絵入大石良雄十八箇条申開実録
(Record of the 18-article memorandum of Ôishi Yoshio)
Matsushita Tetsunosuke, 1890
Starr East Asian Library

41. Documenting the Akô Incident

From the early twentieth century, the basic documents of the Akô Incident began to appear in convenient printed editions, enabling more systematic research on its history.  Adachi Ritsuen’s Sentetsu Akô gishi hyôron collected the chief writings of Confucian scholars about the Akô Incident, and appeared in the midst of a 47 Rônin boom. Shortly after appeared Akô gijin sansho, a critical work in making the basic documents widely available. These materials had originally been collected by Nabeta Shôzan (1778–1858), an official of the domain of Taira in northeastern Japan, and published some fifty years after his death in 3 volumes.  Two decades later, these volumes were supplemented by an additional three volumes of further material that had been unearthed in the interval, entitled Akô gishi shiryô .

After a long lull because of the war, a new series of documentary materials was begun in the 1980s by the city of Akô. Entitled Chūshingura, it is a projected 7-volume series, both historical and literary, about the Akô Incident, edited by a team of leading scholars of Edo culture. The chief editor, Nishiyama Matsunosuke, is himself a native of Akô. He is also the editor of the popular volume displayed here, which is one of the best of many volumes that give an illustrated overview of the Akô Incident and its Genroku period context.

One volume above, one to the left:
Akô-shi Sômubu Shishi Hensanshitsu赤穂市総務部 市史編さん室, ed.
5 vols. Akô: Akô-shi, 1987–.
Starr East Asian Library

Above to the left, with colorful cover:
Nishiyama Matsunosuke 西 山松之助, ed.
Zusetsu Chûshingura
Tokyo: Kawade Shobô Shinsha, 1998Top row, far right:
Adachi Ritsuen 足立栗 園
Sentetsu Akô gishi hyôron
Tokyo: Sekibunsha
Starr East Asian Library

Nabeta Shôzan鍋 田晶山, ed.
Akô gijin sansho
3 vols. Tokyo: Kokusho Kankôkai, 1910–1911. Top row, second from right:
Chûô Gishikai 中央 義士会, ed.
Akô gishi shiryô  赤穂義士史料
3 vols. Tokyo: Yûzankaku, 1931.
Starr East Asian Library

42. Rewriting the Akô Incident

The easy availability of the primary documents of the Akô Incident led to a rapid increase both in historical studies and historical fiction, of which three important examples are on display here.  The journalist Fukumoto Nichinan, for example, had written a popular history of the incident in newspaper serial form, published as Genroku kaikyoroku in 1909. The following year, however, the three volumes of the Akô gijin sansho collection began to appear, and Fukumoto realized how much he had missed. As a result, he completely rewrote his history under the title Genroku kaikyo shinsôroku, a “new record” of what he called the “valorous deed of Genroku.” In the pages open for display here, it is possible to see how he listed sources at the end of many paragraphs, and offered critical “Comment” (ben 辯) sections.

Over a decade later, the young novelist Osaragi Jirô wrote Akô roshi, first serialized in a newspaper, then published as a three-volume novel, and later often made into films and TV series. Osaragi used historical materials, but added wholly new characters and introduced a crucial new theme that saw the Akô avengers as preoccupied less with taking revenge on Kira than with criticizing the degeneracy and corruption of the bakufu.

Much more recent is Maruya Saiichi’s book What is Chūshingura? (Chûshingura to wa nanika), which attracted much attention when first published in 1984. Maruya basically argued that the Akô Incident was literally a “dramatic” incident in the sense that it was inspired by vendettas performed on the kabuki stage, particularly the revenge of the Soga Brothers of the twelfth century.

Above left:
Osaragi Jirô 大 仏次郎 (1897-1973)
Akô roshi  赤穂浪士
Vol. 2 out of three.
Tokyo : Kaizosha, 1928-29
Starr East Asian Library

Maruya Saiichi
Chûshingura to wa nanika
忠臣蔵とは何 か
Tokyo: Seikôsha, 1984 Above:
Fukumoto Nichinan 福本 日南
Genroku kaikyo shinsôroku
. 元禄快挙真相録.
Tokyo: Tôadô Shoten, 1914.
Starr East Asian Library


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