Forty-Seven Samurai: A Tale of Vengeance and Death in Haiku and Letters

No. Pages: 280
Dimensions: 6 x 8.5
Format: paperback
Price: $19.95
ISBN: 9781611720549
Release Date: 05-Aug-2019


A remarkable and true tale of loyalty, vengeance, and ritual suicide. . . . In the spring of 1701, the regional lord Asano Naganori wounded his supervising official, Kira Yoshinaka, during an important ceremony in the ruling shogunate's Edo Castle and was at once condemned to death. Within two years, in the dead of winter, a band of forty-seven of Asano's retainers avenged him by breaking into Yoshinaka’s mansion and killing him. Subsequently, all the men were sentenced to death but allowed to perform it honorably by seppuku.

This incident—often called the Ako Incident—became a symbol of samurai honor andat once prompted stage dramatization in kabuki and puppet theater. It has since has been told and retold in short and long stories, movies, TV dramas. The story has also attracted the attention of foreign writers and translators. The most recent retelling was the 2013 Hollywood film 47 Ronin, with Keanu Reeves, though it was wildly and willfully distorted.

What did actually happen and how has this famous vendetta resonated through history? Hiroaki Sato's examination is a close, comprehensive look at the Ako Incident through the context of its times, portraits of the main protagonists, and its literary legacy in the haiku of the avengers. Also included is Sato's new translation of Akutagawa Ryunosuke's short story about leader Oishi Kuranosuke as he awaited sentencing.


Hiroaki Sato is a prolific, award-winning writer of books on Japanese history and literature, and a translator of classical and modern Japanese poetry into English. American poet Gary Snyder has called Sato "perhaps the finest translator of contemporary Japanese poetry into American English."

He is the author of the classic works Legends of the Samurai and The Sword and the Mind. His reviews and articles have appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times Book Review, AsiaWeek, Mainichi Daily News, St. Andrews Review, Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese, The Journal of American and Canadian Studies, Comparative Literature Studies, The Japan Times, The Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, The Journal of Japanese Studies, Modern Haiku, Japan Focus, and others.

He recently received the 2017-2018 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Translation Prize for Silver Spoon (Stone Bridge Press).



"The vengeance of the 47 Samurai, depicted in innumerable films (including a recent Hollywood version for which Keanu Reeves goes ronin) is both fact and legend. That flash of violence and bravado— and whatever else it was— ended in an afternoon. This book is the scaffolding under that flash. It is also a kind of detective non-fiction. Here are the warring claims to how the incident came to pass; here are contemporary accounts, but also the vivid poems, plays, stories and penal codes that have been blowing along the trail behind that act of vengeance into this very moment."

Forrest Gander, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Writer

"Sato’s newest book paints a fascinating picture of one of Japan’s most complex historical incidents, best known as “The 47 Rōnin.” Scholars and students of history and literature will find a treasure trove of source materials, including haiku and letters, presented here for the first time to a non-Japanese audience. Sato has put together detailed accounts from multiple viewpoints about the masterless samurai who avenged their lord and were willing to sacrifice their lives for breaking the rules in doing so. By creating a Rashōmon Effect with his multi-faceted approach Sato succeeded in further deepening the mysteries of the Incident."

—Doris G. Bargen, Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts Amherst, author of Suicidal Honor: General Nogi and the Writings of Mori Ōgai and Natsume Sōseki (2006)

"Sato enlightens his readers, in English, on Japanese customs and culture relative to the incidents of the 47 Ronin with history, correspondence, and poetry, which may be unknown even to the Japanese people."

Prof. Allan Sosei Palmer, Urasenke Chanoyu, Kyoto, Boston

“The pre-eminent translator of Japanese poetry in our time...possessed of an unfiltered enthusiasm and spontaneity.”

August Kleinzahler, London Review of Books

“Over the last four decades, English-speaking aficionados of modern Japanese literature have delighted in the numerous translations, both of prose and poetry, undertaken by the masterful hand of translator, essayist, and poet Hiroaki Sato.”

Meera Viswanathan