Gishisai, as the festival is locally known, takes places yearly on December 14th. Ako Primary, Junior schools and local business close as the town's streets are lined with festival stalls and coloured lanterns.
As a foreigner residing in Ako I had been told countless times by local residents proudly of the 47 Ako Ronin
), their loyalty (bushido
) and the significance that this history held for all Japan. It certainly appeared to bring joy to the kids, a day off school to sport the latest fashions, hang out with friends and consume the tasty ready-to¨Cgo food from the street sellers.
I was anxious to get to the bottom of the board cut-outs of samurai one sees on arrival at Ako station, the tourists flocking to Ako castle and the numerous fictions, television and movie dramatizations of the story. ¡®Why?¡¯ I asked myself, and, indeed, ¡®Why Ako?¡¯
The best place to start is the historical tale itself. I learned that the actual events of the tale began in 1701 when the emperor sent an envoy to the Shogun. Unfortunately, the two nobles, Asano and Kira, entrusted to receive the envoy, had had a little scuffle among themselves.
Taunted, Asano had lunged at Kira, wounding him, only superficially however. The penalty of such gross misconduct was death. Asano was ordered to commit seppuku -
more popularly known in the West as 'harakiri' - a form of ritual suicide, limited to the samurai class involving ¡®honorable¡¯ self-disembowelment.
Asano¡¯s household retainers, numbering 47, became Ronin or ¡®masterless wave men¡¯ swearing to avenge their master. On the 14th December the Ako Ronin killed Lord Kira and as a punishment then had to commit seppuku