47 Ronin

The following refers to the A. B. Mitford book, published by Fall River Press, the 2012 ed. Since I was unable to find a Kindle version of this artistically done book, I forced myself to obtain a paper copy. Had I known Project Gutenberg had a mobi version, I would not have gotten the book…


First of all, I like the fact that, in this book, the 47 Ronin is the least of the stories in the book. Having read the book “Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai”, I am familiar with his intense dislike for the story of the 47 Ronin. Wikipedia summaries his position perfectly:

The ronin spent more than 14 months waiting for the “right time” for their revenge. It was Yamamoto Tsunetomo, author of the Hagakure, who asked the well known question: “What if, nine months after Asano’s death, Kira had died of an illness?” His answer was that the Forty-seven Ronin would have lost their only chance at avenging their master. Even if they had claimed, then, that their dissipated behavior was just an act, that in just a little more time they would have been ready for revenge, who would have believed them? They would have been forever remembered as cowards and drunkards—bringing eternal shame to the name of the Asano clan. The right thing for the ronin to do, wrote Yamamoto, according to proper bushido, was to attack Kira and his men immediately after Asano’s death. The ronin would probably have suffered defeat, as Kira was ready for an attack at that time—but this was unimportant

The question posed above is a variation on the question of good and evil being absolute or relative. If a man steals because his family is starving, is it evil? If a Samurai pretends to be dishonorable to position himself to avenge his master, is he honorable or has he taken those critical first steps towards dishonor? A question that has been asked throughout the ages that has only two absolute answers, yes and no, and one relative answer, maybe.

I particularly liked the story “The Wonderful Adventures of funakoshi Jiugémon”. It was similar in some ways to the stories in “Water Margin Tales from the Marsh”, but doesn’t show the character of the people nor the traditions in as much detail and energy. See my Water Margin post linked here.

The illustrations were nice, if repetitive. Some of the artwork on the web, really bring out the story beautifully! There are some great websites that display the woodcuts;
47ronins.com has a nice gallery.
hiroshige.org has five different versions of the woodcuts, all from the 1800s.

The entire book is in the Gutenberg collection:
Read it online in HTML.
They have both MOBI and EPUB versions, with and without illustrations, a plain text version, and the link above for the HTML version, see Gutenberg.org for the various versions. When I first tried to find the book online, I never thought to look for “Tales of Old Japan by Baron Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford Redesdale”, which is Project Gutenberg’s version of the title!

Since you can get it for free, what are you waiting for?

Maybe it has been the books I have chosen to read, but I notice that translated tales from Japan seem to be short, simple affairs while many of the Chinese tales are complicated and flowery to the nth degree. The translation in this book was very relaxed and informal. This is a very easy book to enjoy. Note, the Gutenberg edition has more bite! The language is a bit more formal and I believe may be closer to the original intent of the stories.