The truth in the fictions: the exploration of the Chūshingura world.

Date

2011-11-29

Authors

Katsumata, Yuriko

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Abstract

This thesis explores the world of Chūshingura. It is a story based on the actual vendetta referred to as "the Akō incident" which occurred on December 14th of 1702. The forty-seven Akō rōnin (masterless samurai) avenged their lord‘s death on Kira Yoshinaka, a high-ranking official of the Tokugawa bakufu. They were the former vassals of Asano Naganori, daimyō (feudal lord) of the Akō han (domain), who was forced to commit seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) as a punishment for attacking Kira in Edo Castle on March 14th of 1701. The Asano vassals became rōnin. They believed that this affair was a kenka (fight), but Kira was declared innocent. Infuriated by the unfair bakufu judgement, the Akō rōnin led by Ōishi Kranosuke, karō (chief retainer) of the Akō han, successfully carried out the vendetta. A month and a half later, all the vendetta league members were sentenced to seppuku. This incident had a strong impact on the people in the peaceful Genroku era and it has since been taken up in various forms of entertainment and art. Among them, a kabuki and jōruri play (Japanese traditional puppet play) Kanadehon Chūshingura has maintained an unsurpassed status since its first performance in 1748. After Kanadehon, the term Chūshingura has become the title of almost all the Akō-mono (works with the theme of the Akō incident). However, this play mainly depicts the fate of fictional characters outside the vendetta league. The first purpose of this thesis is to investigate the reasons for the long-lasting popularity of Kanadehon as the most representative Chūshingura story, in spite of the clear absence of historical facts. As the second purpose, this thesis will examine the recent polarization trend in Chūshingura productions. Until a few decades ago, the straightforward vendetta stories with Ōishi the hero versus Kira the villain boasted overwhelming popularity. While the popularity of these ―orthodox‖ stories is rapidly diminishing, Chūshingura stories with diverse perspectives, such as those featuring defectors, have been steadily increasing in the modern age. Performances of Chūshingura parodies written by Tsuruya Nanboku IV in the early 1800s are also increasing both in traditional and contemporary plays. After having investigated this polarization trend and ascertained its reasons, I will try to forecast the future of Chūshingura.

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Keywords

Akō incident, Chūshingura, revenge story, kabuki, jōruri, Kanadehon Chūshingura, Genroku Chūshingura, Tsuruya Nanboku IV, Tōkaidō Yotsuya Kaidan

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