Teaching In Socks


47Black Cats
October 26, 2009, 4:32 pm
Filed under: Japan | Tags: , , , , ,

The 47 Ronin are Ako’s most notable contribution to Japanese history. In Edo Period Japan, 47 Samurai from Ako exacted revenge in the name of the former master- Asano, the Lord of Ako, against his enemy Kira. To accomplish this, they executed a masterful plan which involved them feigning disinterest and deceiving their enemy for two years before attacking. The immediate reward for their service was that they were forced to commit seppuku by the Shogun as punishment for the murder of Kira. The greater reward however, was that they had restored their honor (as well as the honor of the Ako domain)  and today their story is held in high regard as an example of loyalty and bravery.

Oishi Kuronosuke cat

Oishi Kuranosuke cat

I have noticed that the 47 Ronin are often depicted in cartoon form as black cats. There is even a series of black cat samurai dolls that seem to make a yearly appearance in Ako station as well as at local city events.  The choice to portray them as cats was something I questioned, albeit passively, never giving much thought into why they would be cats. I suppose that I casually  assumed that it was somehow related to the popularity of Hello Kitty.  However, since I am more of a dog person, I did think it was a little regrettable that these fearsome and treasured Samurai were not bestowed the honor of being a creature that perhaps inspired more respect. Also, cats are creatures more known for their independence and less for their loyalty.

Recently, I have started to do a little extracurricular study of Japanese history. My investment paid its first significant dividend last week as I was able to uncover and understand why the 47 Black Cats are black cats.

Last Tuesday a representative from the Post Office dropped by my school and asked if we would put up a promotional poster in our lobby. The poster was advertising a line of post cards which chronicle the story of the 47 Ronin using the Black Cat characters. While putting the poster up, I scanned through the listed of characters and noticed that one character, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, was depicted as  dog.

During my reading I came across a short biography of him. He was the 5th shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate–the dominate shogunate of the Edo Period. He was also the Shogun who punished both Asano and 46 of the 47 Ronin by forcing them to commit seppuku.

The beginning of his reign as Shogun was actually rather successful. He enacted many popular reforms; He chose advisers for their merit as opposed to their lineage, he was known to reward common people who were generous to their parents and he kept close tabs on local bad governors.

Unfortunately, in his late 40’s he decided to hand over the daily mechanics of the government to his close advisers-which resulted in political chaos. In addition, the economy began to decline. This was partly a result of Tsunayoshi’s extensive government spending and issuing of bad currency.  Tsunayoshi’s decline in popularity came a direct result of his fondness for dogs.

He established a law forbidding the killing of dogs across Japan–which seems like a positive reform, but he also began to build large (and expensive) kennels for stray dogs across Japan.  Under normal circumstances this is a policy I would support, but  the fact that he was nick-named the “Dog-shogun” is probably evidence that he took his obsession to an unhealthy extreme. When people begin to think the government cares more about dogs than them, it usually is cause for dissent.

As a result his legacy is not one of a prudent and pragmatic leader, but instead he plays the snarling canine foil to the noble and heroic Black Cat Samurai from Ako. Let this be a lesson to us all; if you try to do something good and this is what happens.

Images via The 47BlackCats Blog

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