The shijū shichishi (四十七士) or the forty seven rōnin, were a legendary band of samurais who displayed the ultimate form of loyalty and sacrifice. The story of the forty seven rōnin is called chūshingura (忠臣蔵). Although the chūshingura is a widely loved story, it’s a fictional story, and there is little evidence that the forty seven rōnin existed in real life. Nevertheless, the story is a national legend and popular portrayals of the forty seven rōnin exist in Japanese movies and theater.
First and foremost, a rōnin (浪人) is a samurai without a master. In the case of the forty seven samurais, they became rōnin when their master was forced to commit seppuku (切腹). Seppuku is suicide by disembowelment. The forty seven samurais all swore an oath to avenge their master’s death by killing the official who had ordered their master’s death.
The forty seven samurais were bound by a code of honor that required them to defend their master’s honor by fighting to the death. They knew that by killing the official they would have to commit seppuku for committing murder. However, they were still determined to carry out their revenge, even if it meant that they had to die. Their undying loyalty is what makes this story appealing to those who want to go back to a time when honor meant everything.
There are is a special day reserved to honor the deaths of the forty seven rōnin.
Every December 14th, there is a ceremony where incense is burned to commemorate the deaths of the forty seven rōnin:
There is also a grand procession that commemorates the chūshingura, which is the story of the forty seven rōnin”: