Japanese Calendar Holidays & Festivals

Emperor's Birthday  (tennou tanjoubi)  National Holiday


Emperor Heisei's Birthday (tennoutanjoubi) is a national holiday. On this day it is possible for average citizens to visit the Imperial Palace in downtown Tokyo and possibly even see the Emperor and family. The emperor gives a speech which is broadcast on national television.

T.T., Dec.91 -- 47 RONIN

The tale of the 47 Ronin is a historically-based classic taught to schoolchildren throughout Japan. It is remembered as an example of honor and conflicting obligations put upon the heroes of old at a time when men were men, women were women, and boy, you just didn't get confused about it, that's for sure.

In 1703, the Shogun appointed a great Samurai, Lord Asano, to conduct an important ceremony in (Edo) Tokyo. Lord Asano was betrayed by Lord Kira, a powerful man close to the Shogunate who instructed Lord Asano to wear an inappropriate costume to the well attended ceremony.

Lord Asano was humiliated and angered. In violation of Bakufu (government) law, he drew his sword in the Shogun's palace and attempted to avenge the wrong done him. He wounded Kira, but was later forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) by the Shogun's edict. Lord Asano's death obliged his samurai (retainers) to carry out the justified revenge or else commit suicide themselves. Forty-eight of them formed a secret pact, pretending to choose between neither disturbing option, and disband, becoming ronin (masterless samurai, and ruffians). After months of feigning a complete lack of honor, spat upon by former associates and disowning relatives, they met one night, overwhelmed Lord Kira's surprised guards and beheaded their avowed enemy. His head and their master's sword (now twice bloodied) were brought to Lord Asano's grave. All of Tokyo was amazed - and their master's humiliation was avenged. To correct the new loss, the men were ordered to kill themselves, which they willingly and peacefully did. The 47 Ronin were buried at Sengakuji Temple in Tokyo, where their graves are still visited with respect.

Every year on December 14th a procession is carried out to commemorate their act of honor. The parade will arrive at the Asakusa Line's Sengakuji Station (just north of Shinagawa) at about 7:30 p.m. A memorial service will be held in the Buddhist worship hall. To get to the temple, use Sengakuji Station's Exit A2. Coming out, turn right, going up the slight hill. In two blocks there will be a traffic light. Go straight for one more block to the temple entrance. A small museum is to the left (south) side, and the graves are up the steps behind this building. (by Paul Abramson)

T.T., Dec.92 -- 47 Samurai - With One Serious Attitude

The historical tale of the 47 Ronin (Gishi Sai) is often used as an example of Japanese culture and values. The story involves honor, crime, shame, loyalty, death, and ultimate virtue.

In 1701 a certain regional samurai leader (Lord Asano) was forced to commit suicide for disobeying an edict of the shogun. His death was caused in the first place because of a cruel trick which had been played upon him.

His retainers were naturally then expected to exact an appropriate revenge. Honor was at stake - their master had been wronged. The retainers were the men who are now known as the 47 samurai, who had suddenly become master-less. But instead they pretended to fall into dishonor, acting as if nothing could be done anyway. They formed a secret pact then disbanded to lead lives of debauchery. The leaders in Edo (Tokyo) were shocked by the men's lack of virtue. They were soon disowned and spat upon by all who once respected them. The samurai leader who they needed to kill was too powerful. So they waited for a full year so they could catch him with his guard down. On a particular appointed night the determined men again met, assembled their weapons and successfully attacked and overwhelmed the few shocked guards who stood in their way. They destroyed their master's nemesis and surprised all of Edo (Tokyo) with their cunning valor. Pretending to have had no virtue they later exhibited the greatest resolve and loyalty of all.

On December 14th of each year this great event is remembered. The 47 Ronin were later buried at Tokyo's Sengakuji Temple, where there is also a museum in their honor. The parade to the temple will begin at Asakusa Subway Line's Sengakuji Station (north of Shinagawa, one stop) at at about 7:30 p.m. Guests can join the procession to the memorial service at the Buddhist worship hall. The graves are just behind the museum (to the south side), up the steps. (Paul Abramson)

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