One of these places, which travel guides seem to avoid, is Sengaku-ji, a temple strongly linked to the Story of the Loyal Retainers, which became famous worldwide thanks to Kenji Mizoguchi’s movie and recent movie adaptations, like 47 Ronin (2013).
The temple was founded in 1612, long before the Ako Incident happened. This incident took place in March 1701 in the shogun’s palace, when the daimyo Asano, feudal lord of Ako, drew his sword and injured the daimyo Kira, who had goaded and insulted him. The use of a weapon or hitting someone in the palace was strictly forbidden, so Asano was condemned to commit seppuku, the ritual suicide.
Asano’s retainers, having lost their lord, became ronins, samurais without master. Forty-seven of them decided to take revenge for Asano. For two years, they hid as merchants or farmers, waiting for Kira to lower his guard, until they could visit their enemy’s house without raising suspicion. In 1702, on the night of December 14th, the 47 ronins attacked Kira’s estate, killing everybody on their way to Kira. When they seized him, they offered to assist him in an honorable death by seppuku, using the sword that killed Asano. But Kira refused, so the ronins beheaded him. They then took his head to Sengakuji, where Asano was buried, washed Kira’s head in the well and offered it to their lord’s tomb.
The ronins were sentenced to death by the Shogun, and they committed seppuku. They were buried in Sengakuji as well. Many Japanese books and movies originate from this story, which is a classic tale about the sense of honor and loyalty.
Nowadays the temple includes a small museum, Asano and the ronins’ tombs, and the well where Kira’s head was washed. All the explanations are in Japanese and the place might not be a popular spot for foreign tourists. However, it is strongly recommended for those interested in this historical period of Japan.
In July 2014, the construction, near Sengakuji, of an 8-story residential building was announced. The building would be 24 meters high and occupy a surface of 400m². The temple’s priests initiated a petition against this project. Ten thousand people had signed it in October, 2014, and it was submitted to Minato city’s office. But it seemed impossible to stop this construction, as the project respected the ward’s urban regulations. The building has finally been built near the entrance of Sengaku-ji, but it is not the nuisance feared by the priest and it does not disturb the visit.
How to get to Sengaku-ji
By subway -- Asakusa Toei Line, stop at Sengakuji Station (A07) then 3 minutes walk
By train -- JR Yamanote Line, Shinagawa Station then 15 minutes walk
Location reachable with the JRP : order your Japan Rail Pass (from ~US$ 281)
Open every day:
- from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (between April and September)
- from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. (between October and March)
How long / when to visit
December 14 -- Commemoration parade for the 47 Loyal Retainers starting from Sengakuji