The other night I watched the movie, Ronin. I had no previous knowledge of this movie and it caught my attention because of its name. Immediately I thought of Kenshin. Then I started thinking of the meaning of the word and the relation to the character. Is not just the fact that he is a masterless-samurai, wondering about, helping people. But why is he a rurouni? After doing a proper research on the word ronin, I found more than just a satisfactory answer.
Just a quick note; the word rurouni is a merge from the word ru (wandering) and the word ronin (masterless samurai).
The literary meaning of the word ronin is “wave man”. I found that the word was first used in reference to a serf (servant from the feudal age) that had abandoned his master’s land. It was then used for samurai that had become masterless-samurai by the death or fall of their master.
The story goes that a samurai who had become masterless had to commit the oibara seppuku or hara kiri (ritual suicide) according to the samurai code, the Bushido Shoshinshu. However, if a samurai chose not to commit the oibara seppuku, then, he became a ronin; being a ronin was a disgrace for a samurai, as the word samurai means “one who serves”.
The number of ronin increased during the Edo period, especially during the Tokugawa Shogun. The samurai were able to change masters and even occupations, but during the Tokugawa shogunate, because of their unbending laws, the samurai were restricted from being employed by another lord or master. They were viewed as dangerous people, therefore the shogunate banished them from their cities and towns. Because of the limited options they had, the ronin joined the Keian Uprising, during 1651 AD. This uprising forced the shogunate to change the laws against the ronin, allowing them once again to be able to change master and occupations.
One of the most famous story of ronin in the history of samurai, is the story of the Forty-seven Ronin. The consultants of Asano Naganori, under the command of Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio, became ronin after their daimyo (lord) was forced to commit seppuko for attempting to murder an Edo official, Kira Kozuke-no-Suke Yoshinaka. These forty-seven ronin, then planned patiently and with precision for more than a year to avenge the death of their daimyo, and committed seppuko after successfully murdering Kira. Their leader, Oishi, even bared humiliation by another samurai who thought him a disgrace for not taking immediate actions upon his lord’s death. However, this same man, later committed seppuko on the grave of the forty-seven ronin in shame for wrongly insulting Oishi.
It is this story what has made the name ronin to be seen in a different light, since –in the Japanese culture- it has become a symbolism of the good qualities men should acquire and strive to maintain, like; devotion, diligence, honor and sacrifice.
In the Kenshin story, although the main character is based on Kawakami Gensai, an actual hitokiri from the Bakumatsu era. The story starts after Kenshin has fought in the Bakumatsu war and decides to travel through Japan helping people in need, in a way to atone for his sins, maintaining the four qualities above mentioned. Kenshin is loyal to those close to him; he is persistent in his goal of reaching atonement; he is ready to sacrifice for those in need, thus honoring the name samurai. kenshin becomes a wandering masterless-samurai. He becomes Ruruoni Kenshin.
I have also found many interesting facts about the manga and anime. But, it will have to wait for another post.
This is our “wave man”; Himura Kenshin.
This is my favorite Kenshin… “Oro!”
Until next post! 🙂
-The story of the Forty-seven ronin is more complex than what I wrote. I did not want to get too much into details of their story, as my post is more about the significance of the word in relation to the character Kenshin, as in what it symbolizes, and not the actual story of the Forty-seven Ronin.
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