The Sengakuji Temple grounds is the final resting place of the 47 loyal ronin, one of the most famous stories in Japan. In 1701, a clan chief was force to commit ritual suicide, seppuku, after losing his temper with another clan chief in court. All of his retainers became ronin or masterless samurai when he died. Samurai are bound by duty and loyalty so losing ones master is the worst thing that can happen to a samurai. The 47 ronin planned their revenge for two years and eventually killed and beheaded the offending clan chief. Their loyalty to their own clan and dead chief was considered historic and they are revered in all Japan. Sengakuji is the temple that they journeyed to with the head of the other clan chief and it is also where their 47 graves are located. Their clan chief is also buried there.
The Sengakuji temple itself is not very remarkable in appearance. It is a medium sized wooden structure that looks like many other temples in Japan. To the left of the grounds entrance is a pathway that leads to the burial area. We passed by a small structure with a small fire burning in front and a man watched us as we passed. Walking up more steps and ramps and we arrived at the graves of the 47 ronin. The gravestones are cut rock with inscriptions carved into each and a small stone basin and a stone platform for incense to be placed. The grave area is about 15 feet on each side and the grave stones are placed 10 on three sides, six on the last side and two rows of five and six stones in the middle.
My son did not understand the meaning of the gravesite when we arrived and I had to tell him to speak softly to show respect. He looked around at the faces of the other visitors there and he understood. The gravesite of the 47 ronin is holy to some. We went back to the little shack and we paid the man there for a bundle of incense sticks. My son went to each grave one by one and placed a single incense stick in front of each gravestone then put his hands together and bowed. One by one, forty-seven times he did this in front of each grave. In the years to come, he’ll hear the story of the 47 ronin again. When he does he will remember the graves, he can reflect on showing each long dead samurai the respect they deserved, he will remember being there to see where these men are buried.
There were other people there presenting incense to the graves, most were men who were there alone. I looked at one of these men as he finished his last prayer to the 47. He was younger than me by a few years, sturdy looking fellow. He looked up into the void of the sky and I noted tears in his eyes. I wondered about this man, offering prayers to those long dead. Showing respect for ideologies of past generations and revering those who held them sacred. These are the ideals that I hope to pass along to my son.
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