Not all Samurai were able to keep to their lofty ideas of honor. Some fell into the category of the assassin by default: by becoming Ronin. Ronin means âwandering man’ or âvagrant.’ It refers to Samurai left without a daimyo or overlord to represent. This was a common occurrence during the early Edo period of the seventeenth century. Then, many daimyos lost their territory meaning they could not keep their Samurai. The numbers of masterless fighters swelled. For these men, fighting and killing were all they knew. Although some took up other careers in commerce and farming, others became mercenaries.
However, many Samurai also chose to become Ronin as a form of resistance against the Tokugawa shogunate. Free of any oaths of loyalty, they could group with other Ronin to act against the regime covertly and without endangering the honor of their Lord. Some daimyo even ordered their samurai to become Ronin so they could move against the system without jeopardizing their domain.
The most famous band of Ronin were the Forty-seven Loyal Ronin who in the eighteenth century banded together to seek vengeance against the killer of their master. The men were left leaderless when their Daimyo Asano Naganori was forced to kill himself after assaulting a court official, Kira Yoshinaka who had insulted him. The ronin waited for over a year, planning for just the right moment to kill Kira.
The Ronin kept the residence of Kira under surveillance. Many of their number settled in the area, disguised as tradesmen and monks so they would not attract undue attention- and so that they could gain access to the residence. In their disguises, they were able to enter the Yoshinaka mansion and familiarize themselves with the layout. After nearly two years, they were satisfied that they had enough information and made sufficient plans to strike. The reconnaissance group then summoned the rest of the band, and the Forty Seven Ronin struck.
On January 30, 1703, during a snowstorm, the ronin stormed Kira’s mansion. One group entered at the front, the other at the back. The band searched the house for their target, managing to avoid killing all but fourteen retainers during the search Eventually, they cornered Kira and beheaded him after he refused to kill himself. The ronin then laid his head on Asano Naganori’s tomb. As the vendetta was illegal but governed by honor, they were allowed to commit suicide. They were buried at the Sengakuji temple in Tokyo.