Fuwa Kazuemon was born 1670 and died by ceremonial decapitation on 1703/2/4 (March 20, 1703). His history is unique among the 47 Ako ronin who avenged the death of their lord, Asano Takumi no kami Naganori. Unlike the others, Fuwa had been banished from the clan, having lived as a ronin for several years before the Ako clan was disbanded.
Fuwa Kazuemon was the son of Okano Jidayu and was adopted into the Fuwa family, retainers of the Asano clan in the Ako domain. No evidence was found that he married or produced children. He was dismissed from the Asano clan by Lord Asano Naganori in 1697 and thus became a ronin at age 27. As for the reasons for Fuwa's dismissal, it appears that he was in the habit of committing tsujigiri (Edo period thrill killing, striking down unarmed passersby at night). Fuwa was also noted for being a Kabukimono, elements of the samurai class that dressed up in “gaudy kimonos” and engaged in “wild antics”. Attacks by Kabukimono gangs against civilians were not uncommon during the Edo period.
As to what Fuwa did after his dismissal, this is unknown. One of the specifications of the Buke Shohatto that were in effect in 1683 stated: "...a man who has had a difference (literally hindrance) with his original lord is not to be taken into service by any other lord." So he would not have been able to obtain a position as a retainer by any other lord.
One can only speculate about the options open to a dismissed ronin during this time. Fuwa could have become an outlaw or he could have been hired by a yakuza gang as a bodyguard. However, for a man forbidden to take service under a different lord, his best hope would most likely have been to attempt to win reinstatement by his original clan lord. There were few options open to ronin in late 17th century Tokugawa Japan. Most ronin lived in poverty, effectively existing outside of the official class structure (samurai, farmers, artisans, merchants). He could have taught in a terakoya (a neighborhood school for commoner’s children). Or he could have offered martial arts lessons to commoners; it is strongly speculated that the 17th century swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, who spent most of his life as a ronin, earned some of his keep that way. Or else he could have earned his keep in fashioning piecework handicrafts.
Though Fuwa had a reputation as a skillful swordsman, there are no records that indicate that he had fought in duels. No records exist that indicated that Fuwa renounced his Buke status and became a commoner.
In 1701, upon receiving information of the death by seppuku of his former lord and the confiscation of the Ako estate, Fuwa Kazuemon rushed to Ako to offer his services in order to atone for his original offense against his lord. According to most sources, Oishi Kuranosuke, former chief retainer of Ako, rejected Fuwa’s offers of service because of his earlier dismissal from the clan. Fuwa kept persisting and eventually was allowed to join the league of Lord Asano’s avengers.
Fuwa Kazuemon repaid the faith shown to him by Oishi Kuranosuke. Legend has it that when he traveled to Edo, he stopped by Lord Asano’s grave, bowed down deeply and sincerely apologized for the offense he had committed that had caused him to be banished. During the attack on Kira’s headquarters, he killed more of Kira’s staff than any other of the Ako ronin, although it is unclear if they were one of Kira's three-five samurai or his household servants. A letter written by Fuwa while being held under house arrest after the raids establishes that the Ronin lied about the method used to kill Lord Kira. While they claimed to have dispatched him with a single spear strike, Fuwa claimed that “all the ronin present had stabbed and hacked Kira until he was dead. They sawed off his head…”.
Fuwa Kazuemon, along with his compatriots, turned himself in to the bakufu authorities. There was some discussion after the attack about whether the ronin should surrender voluntarily to the bakufu authorities or, as some advocated, should commit seppuku on the spot at Sengakuji Temple. Fuwa Kazuemon was on the side of his leader, Oishi Kuranosuke, who thought that surrender to the authorities would be best. He wrote a letter to his father where he had urged this surrender. Some scholars have argued that the decision to surrender to the bakufu authorities was a sign that the Ako ronin were convinced that this would lead to a pardon rather than death. However, most evidence suggests that the Ako ronin never expected anything other than their own deaths in any event.
Fuwa Kazuemon was executed by decapitation during a mock seppuku cermemony in the second month of 1703. He was buried at Sengakuji Temple along with his compatriots and Lord Asano Naganori.
FURTHER NOTES ON THE AKO RONIN: The life of Fuwa Kazuemon raises questions about the character of the daimyo Asano Naganori and the motives, characters, and actions of the forty-seven ex-retainers who planned and executed the successful attack upon the hatamoto official, Kira Kosuke-no-Suke Yoshinaka. A revisionist view has been written by some recent scholars, stating essentially that the attack upon Kira was not justified because of the bad character of Lord Asano and the failures of his retainers to rein him in and properly educate him. This assessment of Lord Asano’s character and mode of governance was derived mainly from the Dokai Koshuki, a report prepared by agents of Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi that concerned the lives and behavior of daimyo in Japan. In this report, Asano Naganori was portrayed as a daimyo who, though he had strict and consistent rules for his fief, spent time gathering women for his own pleasure, that he would give promotions to retainers based upon the beauty of the women that his retainers procured for him. The report also said that he was “only concerned with his personal amusement” and left the government of his domain in the hands of those who served him. The report went on to state that Asano Naganori lacked both military and literary skills. The report states furthermore that chief retainer Oishi Kuranosuke had failed in his duties in keeping Lord Asano more in line with proper decorum and behavior.
So is the Dokai Koshuki an accurate report? Can the assertions stated therein be unconditionally accepted as fact without critical review? If so, then an implication can be made that people, not only in Japan but around the world, have been celebrating an incompetent and selfish daimyo and a band of murderous ronin; these outlaw ronin attacked a hatamoto official whose only dereliction may have consisted of attempting to perform his normal duties toward an unwieldy and uncooperative daimyo.
Evidence does not exist about Kira Yoshinaka’s arrogance, greed, and desire for "gifts" i.e. bribes. Any accounts accusing Kira of such were written after the Ronin's raid and their elevation into popular heroes. Two such accounts were written by Confucian scholars. One of these scholars, Sato Naokata Naokata (1650 - 1719), was a critic of Asano Naganori and his former retainers. Thus there are no motives for Naokata to unfairly impugn Kira's character. However, he characterizes Kira as "born to be greedy, and he was detested by everyone for his arrogance, conceit, and evil mind" The other scholar, Asami Yasusade (1562 - 1711), states that Kira "appears not to have cared, because of his personal greed and willfulness, whether or not [Asano] Takuminokami committed clumsy errors, and made him disgrace himself in front of people in the Palace of Splendor."
Kira Yoshinaka’s desire for such gifts, and his alleged mistreatment of Asano Naganori for failure to produce sufficient bribes are usually given as the motive for Asano’s original attack on him within the Shogun’s palace; in reality, the motive can only be speculated as there are no eyewitness accounts of the dispute that caused Asano to act as he did toward Kira. Some have claimed that Kira Yoshinaka has been unduly smeared by the historians, playwrights, and film-makers who have tried to build motives for the Ako ronin’s attack upon him.
Some have claimed the Dokai Koshuki as an unbiased source. But is it truly unbiased? One must critically examine the agendas of a government that would issue such a report – could there possibly be motives in unduly criticizing some of the various daimyo that may have been viewed as dangerous to the centralized bakufu authorities? There is an incongruity here, with the actions that have been recently claimed to be so unjustified being celebrated as heroic deeds for over 250 years. Has the majority of an entire nation been taken in by a series of propagandist hoaxes?
The question does arise: would the writers of the Dokai Koshuki have motive to impugn the character of Lord Asano Naganori and his retainers – and if so, why? A possible motive may have been that the Asanos ruled over a tozama or “outside” fief, holding no hereditary ties to the Tokugawa Shogunate. Because Ako was an “outside” fief, it would serve bakufu interests to downgrade the character and performance of its daimyo; this would be a way to discredit the ruling family to possibly prepare for a lessening or outright confiscation of the fief.
An extended discussion of the events, justification, and accuracy of scholarship concerning the issues surrounding the Ako ronin’s attack is beyond the scope of this article. However, some speculations do arise in examining Fuwa Kazuemon’s life. He was dismissed by Asano Naganori; over the course of 4-5 years, he failed to win reinstatement and thus was consigned to the marginal existence of a discharged ronin. Fuwa requested permission to take part in the raid not because he had a special attachment to Asano, but basically because he was looking for a fight.
- Asami Yasusada, translated from Japanese by Hiroaki Sato: "On the Forty-Six Men" included in Legends of the Samurai Overlook Press, 1995). One of several arguments advanced by Confucian scholars shortly after the 1702 Ako ronin attack. Yasusada provides his description of Kira Yoshinaka's reputation.
- Bodart-Baily, Beatrice, The Dog Shogun: The Personality And Policies of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi: (University of Hawaii Press, May 2007). This book contains a chapter on the 47 Ako ronin and their former lord. The author expounds the revisionist view of the issues surrounding the Ako ronin’s attack, mainly citing the Dokai Koshuki to support this view.
- Hall, John Carey, translator: Buke Shohatto 1683 (The Tokugawa Legislation, Yokohama 1910, PP. 286-319) URL: http://www.uni-erfurt.de/ostasiatische_geschichte/texte/japan/dokumente/17/tokugawa_legislation/index_files/buke_shohatto_1683.html This is the text of the laws in effect at the time of Fuwa Kazuemon’s life that mainly concern the conduct and behavior of those in the Buke class.
- Murdoch, James: A History of Japan: (Routledge, December 16, 1996). This 3-volume set was first published in 1926. I read the chapter on the 47 ronin at an online site which no longer exists at the particular URL address. Murdoch mainly cited Shigeno Yasutsugu, whom Professor Henry Smith (cited below in the bibliography) describes as “the first Japanese historian to analyze the incident using the tools of modern scholarship.” Included in this account are summaries of Kira Yoshinaka’s alleged greed, including a report of an incident a different daimyo occuring 4 years previous to Asano Naganori’s attack. This daimyo, Kamei, who ruled over Tsuwano in Iwami, had been insulted by Kira for failure to provide sufficient "gifts."
- Rankin, Andrew, Seppuku (Kodansha International Ltd, Tokyo 2011)
- Sato Naokata, , translated from Japanese by Hiroaki Sato: "On the Forty-Six Men" included in Legends of the Samurai (Overlook Press, 1995). One of several arguments advanced by Confucian scholars shortly after the 1702 Ako ronin attack. Included was his assessment of Kira Yoshinaka's propensity for arrogance and greed.
- Sansom, George, History of Japan: 1615-1867 (Stanford University Press June, 1963). This is a text of the general history of Japan during the Tokugawa period. There is a bare mention of the Ako ronin events. However, the author does mention the tozama status of the Asano family of Ako. There is also a general summary of how ronin fared during this time.
- Smith Henry D., Columbia University, New York, NY, U.S.A: "Rethinking The Story Of The 47 Ronin: Chûshingura In The 1980s": (Prepared for the Modern Japan Seminar, Columbia University, April 13, 1990). Critical article that studies the events and legends of the 47 Ronin incident. Includes summary of revisionist theories. URL:
- Smith Henry D., Columbia University, New York, NY, U.S.A: “The Trouble with Terasaka: The Forty-Seventh Ronin and the Chushingura Imagination” (Japan Review 2004, 16:3-65) URL: http://220.127.116.11/jpub/pdf/jr/IJ1601.pdf . This is an interesting article, mainly about Terasaka Kichiemon, the lowest-ranked Ako ronin who was involved in the attack. Unlike his compatriots, he was not sentenced to commit seppuku but lived on for many years. Why this happened has been subject to rife speculation and research. Because of some confusion in fictional portrayals between his life and Fuwa Kazuemon’s life, some historical facts and speculations concerning Fuwa’s life are included in this article.
- Utagawa Kuniyoshi, translated with notes and introduction by David R. Weinberg: The Faithful Samurai, prints and inscriptions (KIT Publishers; New Ed edition, January 2006). This book contains Kuniyoshi’s prints of each of the 47 Ako ronin and some of their relatives and followers, also Asano Nagayori and Kira Yoshinaka. Each print contains an inscription that is translated by Weinberg. The inscriptions each purport to be a biography of the people involved. Weinberg notes that some of the information is factual and some is legendary, not based upon fact.
- Yamakawa Kikue, translated by Kate Nakai: Women of the Mito Domain: Recollections of Samurai Family Life (Stanford University Press, March 26, 2001). Nothing about the Ako ronin’s attack, but good information about samurai clan life during the late Tokugawa period.
- Web site produced by students at Ako High School in Japan, translated into English. This site contains the story of the 47 Ronin also images of wooden votive tablets of the 47 Ronin in the Oishi Shrine, Ako. Contains biographies of some of the ronin including Fuwa Kazuemon. URL: http://www.eonet.ne.jp/~chushingura/index.htm