The Righteous Samurai Collection (Gishi Taikan)

The Telling of the Story of the Forty-Seven Rōnin Through Pictures and Text

as Published by the Righteous Samurai Society 

Attack on the Kira Residence 吉良邸討入,

Koyama Eitatsu 小山栄達〈1880~1945)


First published in a limited edition of 200 copies in March 1920 (Taishō 9) by Gishikai Shuppanbu 義士會出版部, the publishing house of the Chūō Gishikai 中央義士会 (Central Office of the Righteous Samurai Society), Gishi Taikan 義士大観 (義士大觀) is the story, “according to historical facts,” of the 1701/1703 Akō Incident 赤穂事件, popularly known as Chūshingura 忠臣蔵 (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers) and Shijūshichishi 四十七士 (The Forty-Seven Rōnin), told through eighty woodblock prints and accompanying text.[1,2,3] The historical persons and incidents portrayed in the prints include both those involved in the Akō Incident itself and related events, real and fictional.


The woodblock prints were issued in both book form (Figure 4), consisting of four volumes with commentary and calligraphic tributes (see Figure 4A for an example of one such tribute) and in sixteen individual bound booklets each containing five prints (Figure 5). The woodblock prints in the four volume book are arranged in a rough chronological order of events, starting with a woodblock print depicting Chiyoda Castle (Figure 1), the scene of Lord Asano Naganori's attack on Lord Kira, the shogun's master of ceremonies, during New Year ceremonies at the castle, continuing with prints illustrating the motivations and activities of the Righteous Samurai leading to their attack on Kira's residence and his murder (Figure 2), with emphasis on the leader of the Righteous Samurai, Ōishi Yoshio 大石良雄, through to the bakufu's ordered suicide of the Righteous Samurai (Figure 3). Each print in the book is preceded by an explanation of the scene being depicted, authored by the historian and ultranationalist Fukumoto Nichinan 福本一誠 [福本日南] (1857-1921), and one or two pages written in calligraphy, paying tribute to the Righteous Samurai by a notable personage.[4] 

The woodblock prints were commissioned from eighty “leading painters of the day” from various artistic schools, each of whom contributed a single design.[5] While some of the artists had previously designed woodblock prints, for many this may have been their first foray into woodblock print design. Other than a reference to the prints being created using "advanced woodblock techniques" allowing "each artist's unique use of color and brushwork" to be faithfully reproduced, there appears to be no record of the names of the woodblock carver and printer commissioned by the Gishikai Shuppanbu to create these masterful works from the artists' input.[6]


The calligraphic tributes accompanying the large-format woodblock prints (each approximately 10 x 14 in.; 25.4 x 35.6 cm), were created “by 127 prominent figures from the world of politics, literature and art [and religion]” including Ōkuma Shigenobu 大隈重信 (1838-1922), founder of Waseda University and former Prime Minister (1898 and again in 1914 to 1916); Sakatani Yoshiō 阪谷芳郎 (1863-1941), former Finance Minister and mayor of Tokyo City; Ichinohe Hyōe 一戸 兵衛 (1855-1931), former general in the Imperial Japanese Army and Takeda Mokurai (1854-1930) 武田默雷, abbot of the Kenninji Temple in Kyoto. [7]

In the preface to the bound volumes Ōkuma Shigenobu praised the rōnin as "models for ten thousand generations" who "opposed the oppression of the strong and sought to assist the weak and downtrodden."[8]

The effort to coordinate the input of eighty artists and the tributes by such a large number of public figures must have been considerable, let alone the production costs. Perhaps the archives of the Chūō Gishikai in Tokyo hold some of the answers and, hopefully, in the future more details will be uncovered about these lavish productions.  

Thumbnails of each the eighty prints, along with the print's title and artist's name, are shown at the bottom of this page.

Figure 1

Chiyoda Castle


Kawai Gyokudō 川合玉堂 (1873-1957)

Figure 2

The End of Kira Kōzukenosuke


Odake Etsudō 尾竹越堂 (1868-1931)

Figure 3

Seppuku at the Hosokawa Residence


Yamakawa Eiga 山川永雅 (1878-1947)


The first edition of Gishi Taikan, containing eighty woodblock prints, was published in four volumes in March 1920 (Figure 4). In August 1920, the woodblock prints were issued in sixteen separate bound folders (Figure 5). In April 1921 and again in June 1921, a two-volume edition with lithographic and other reproductions of forty-eight of the eighty original woodblocks was issued by Gishikai Shuppanbu (Figures 6 and 6B below). These two volumes may have been accompanied by an additional volume titled Gishi Taikan Commentary 義士大観解説, edited by Fukumoto Nichinan 福本一誠 (1857-1921) (Figure 7 below). The calligraphic tributes preceding each print in these volumes are provided by different personalities than the original 1920 release and there are several new illustrations provided, along with black and white reproductions of Utagawa Hiroshige's c. 1836 Chūshingura series. Additional illustrated editions may have been published.

The complete edition of the four volume 1920 release containing woodblock prints can be found in The Early Japanese Book Portal Database, Art Research Center (ARC), the covers of which, along with the first woodblock print in each volume, are shown in Figure 1 below.[9]  While the colophon appearing in volume 4 of the ARC database shows an initial publishing date of March 19, 1920 大正九年三月十九日発行, it also gives a date of Spring 1933 for "bookbinding" 昭和八年春製本.  (See Figure 1B below.) 

The individual woodblock prints along with their titles and responsible artist, provided both in Japanese and English, can be found in the collection of the Mizuta Art Museum, Josai International University.[10] 

[1] Chūō Gishikai is also seen translated as Central Loyal Retainers Society; gishi is seen translated as "righteous samurai", "loyal and righteous samurai", "faithful samurai", "loyal retainer". 

[2]  Given that a large number of the woodblock prints depict legend rather than fact, the reference to "historical facts" should be taken with a grain of salt. 

[3]  The term "Chūshingura" appeared initially in the title of the puppet play Kanadehon chūshingura 仮名手本忠臣蔵, which was first performed in Osaka in 1748, and quickly spread to the kabuki stage in Osaka, Kyoto, and Edo. It has since become a term that is used to refer to both the historical Akō Incident and to its many recreations on stage and in fiction.

[4] The colophon for the four volume set which appears in the back of volume 4, lists Fujii Kyoseki 藤井巨石 (real name Fujii Shūgorō 藤井秀五郎) as the publisher, writer and printer 発行兼著作兼印刷人. Fujii, a friend of Fukumoto Nichinan, worked for the publishing company Bijutsu Nippō-sha 美術日報社  under the alias Fujii Sekidō  藤井石童. While Fujii is credited as the writer, it is clear to me that the commentaries (kaisetsu) preceding each print were written by Fukumoto.

[5] Mizuta Art Museum, Josai International University [last accessed 2/15/2022]

[6] Mizuta Art Museum, Josai International University (page provides a summary, in Japanese, of the 2017 exhibition "Contest of Modern Painters: The World of Chushingura") [last accessed 2/15/2022]

[7] ibid.

[8] The Forty-Seven Rōnin: The Vendetta in History, John A. Tucker, Cambridge University Press, 2018, p. 259.

[9] The four volumes in the ARC database can be found at the following URLs: [last accessed 2/15/2022]

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

Volume 4

[10] Mizuta Art Museum, Josai International University (to access an individual print, you must search on the artist's name as there is no other search function on the site.) [last accessed 2/15/2022]

Various Editions of Gishi Taikan

Figure 4

The four volumes in the ARC database, dated March 1920, but with a bindery date of Spring 1933

(昭和八年春製本). It is unclear whether the woodblock prints were re-printed for this edition.

Figure 4A

click on image to enlarge

Tribute by Shirakawa Tomokichi 白川朋吉 (1873-1963), Chairman of Osaka City Council. This tribute precedes the first print, Chiyoda Castle, in volume 1.

Figure 4B

click on image to enlarge

The colophon for the 1933 binding 

Figure 4C

click on image to enlarge

The colophon for first edition, a limited edition of 200, issued in March 1920.

Figure 5

Ten of the sixteen booklets, each containing five woodblock prints, published in August 1920

Figure 6

A set of three volumes first issued in April 1921. Two volumes contain reproductions (some in color, others in black and white), of some, but not all, of the original woodblock prints and a third volume contains commentary, likely by Fukumoto Nichinan as shown in Figure 8.

Figure 6B

Original 1920 woodblock print (left) and 1921 lithographic reproduction (right)

Pictured print: Heaven's Swift Judgement 天罰覿面 by Itō Chūta 伊東忠太 (1867-1954)

Figure 6A

click on image to enlarge

The colophon for the 1921 printing

Figure 7

Gishi Taikan Kaisetsu 義士大観解説, published by Gishikai Shuppanbu in 1920, edited by Fukumoto Nichinan 福本一誠 (1857-1921), text only. This book may have also accompanied the two volumes of lithographic reproductions issued in 1921.


"It began in the spring of Genroku 14, when on the fourteenth day of the third month (Western calendar April 21, 1701), the daimyo of Akō in Harima province, Asano Takumi no kami Naganori 浅野内匠頭長矩, attacked the senior bakufu master of ceremony (kōke) Kira Kōzuke no suke Yoshinaka 吉良上野介義央 in Edo castle with his short sword." On that same day Asano was sentenced to death by seppuku, carried out that evening. "This led twenty-two months later to the day, in the twelfth month of 1702 (Western calendar January 30, 1703) to an attack by a large group of Asano's former retainers on Kira's mansion in Edo." These violent incidents, along with the aftermath of the attack on Kira's mansion, ending with the bakufu ordered seppuku of the attacking retainers, constitute what has come to be known as the 'Akō Incident,' "which later became far more widely known when it was performed on the stage under the name Chūshingura 忠臣蔵, or 'treasury of loyal retainers.' But precisely because of the widespread fame of the incident, it was constantly reinterpreted and reimagined by later generations, so that the truth of the historical incident paradoxically became ever more inaccessible as time passed."[1] 


In 1908, according to the Gishikai website, Fukumoto Nichinan 福本一誠 [福本日南] (1857-1921) (see insert below) [born Fukumoto Makoto 福本誠] held the first meeting of the Chūō Gishikai to promote awareness and understanding of the values of the Forty-Seven Rōnin.[2] “Through local lectures and a national journal, the Chūō Gishikai fostered Gishi worship in conservative circles.”[3] Still active today, the organization describes itself as a "Chūshingura research organization not influenced by politics, religion, or ideology.”[4] Each year its members and others “meet before dawn at the spot where the mansion in which the samurai enacted their revenge once stood… and march to Sengakuji” (the temple containing the tombs of  the Forty-Seven Rōnin and their master, the Lord of Akō, Asano Naganori) where commemoration ceremonies are already in progress.[5]

Fukumoto Nichinan

(undated photo)

In 1908 Nichinan, ultranationalist, historian and journalist, began serializing Genroku kaikyoroku 元禄快挙録 (Record of the Valiant Vendetta of Genroku) his exhaustive history of the Akō incident, in the newspaper Kyūshū nippō.[6] Published in book form the following year, it became a national bestseller. Fukumoto's history of the vendetta has been described by historians as both a monumental work which "remains even today the single most exhaustive study of the historical Akō incident"[7] and as "bordering on fiction rather than reliable history."[8]

Involved less by ideology than by location [as sponsors of Gishi worship] are the temple of Sengakuji in Tokyo, and the city of Akō, both of which rely heavily on the Gishi for their economic prosperity." - Henry D. Smith II[9]

"December 14 [by the Japanese lunisolar calendar in use at the time] is the anniversary of the 47 ronin's avenge. A festival is held annually at Sengakuji to commemorate the event, attracting thousands of visitors."

image and caption source:

"Hyogo's small town of Ako celebrates being home to one of Japan's most famous historical stories."

image and caption source: Kansai Scene  |  WINTER 2018/19  |

[1] "The Akō Incident, 1701-1703," Bitō Masahide and Henry D. Smith II, appearing in Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 58, No. 2 (Summer, 2003), pp. 149-170, Sophia University, p. 149,  Stable URL:

[2] while the website of Chūō Gishikai cites 1908 as when Nichinan held the Society's first meeting, Henry Smith II gives 1916 as the year Nichinan founded the Society ["The Trouble with Terasaka: The Forty-Seventh Rōnin and the Chūshingura Imagination", Henry D. Smith II, appearing in Japan Review , 2004, No. 16 (2004), pp. 3-65, International Research Centre for Japanese Studies, National Institute for the Humanities Stable URL:  

[3] "Singing Tales of the Gishi: 'Naniwabushi' and the Forty-Seven Rōnin in Late Meiji Japan", Hyōdō Hiromi and Henry D. Smith II, appearing in Monumenta Nipponica 61:4, p. 492]

[4] website of Chūō Gishikai]

[5] The Dog Shogun: The Personality and Policies of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey, University of Hawai’i Press, 2006, p. 163.

[6] For the complete text of Genroku kaikyoroku click on the following: 元禄快挙録(上)  元禄快挙録(中) 元禄快挙録 (下)

[7] “The Media and Politics of Japanese Popular History: The Case of the Akō Gishi”, Henry Smith II, appearing in Historical Consciousness, Historiography, and Modern Japanese Values, James C. Baxter (ed.), Kyoto: International Research Center for Japanese Studies, 2006, p. 86.

[8] The Vendetta in History, John A. Tucker, Cambridge University Press, 2018, p. 253.

[9] “The Capacity of Chūshingura: Three Hundred Years of Chūshingura” by Henry D.  Smith II, Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 58, no. 1, Sophia University, 2003, p. 35,


On the fifth day of the eleventh month of 1868, the first year of the Meiji period, the Meiji Emperor dispatched his envoy to the temple of Sengakuji with his message praising Ōishi Yoshio for his righteousness in following his lord and carrying out revenge, thereby sanctifying the Gishi.

The government started to include detailed accounts of the Akō incident in school history textbooks around 1880. In the 1890s the trend was reversed and by 1902 accounts of the Akō incident completely disappeared from textbooks. However, a gishi boom started after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905 with the explosive popularity of Gishi-den (the story of the gishi) by Tōchūken Kumoemon 桃中軒雲右衛門 (1873-1916), a rōkyokushi (rōkyoku performer)[1] and the publication of Genroku kaikyoroku 元禄快挙録 written by Fukumoto Nichinan 福本日南 in 1909. In 1920, the revised elementary school textbooks included the story of the gishi under the title of Ōishi Yoshio 大石良雄, Lord Asano's chief retainer and the leader of the Forty-seven Samurai. The gishi‘s actions were praised as having enhanced the public morality which was seen by officials as degenerating during the Genroku era (1688-1704). Many saw their actions as models of behavior that could counter the upheaval brought on in the late Taishō era by a depression, the Rice Riots of late 1918 and early 1919 and the illness of Emperor Taishō, effectively removing him from official duties. The Akō incident was not a simple vendetta story of loyal samurai any longer; Ōishi became an ethical model for students. Gradually, loyalty of the Akō rōnin to their lord came to be regarded as loyalty to the nation.[2] Credited with spurring this revival of the Akō incident is the aforementioned Fukumoto Nichinan and his Righteous Samurai Society.[3]

Demonstrators burning a rice store building as a protest over government regulation of high rice prices.


 Emperor Taishō (1912-1926)

During World War II the story was used to inspire patriotic spirit through its lessons of heroism and self-sacrifice.  After the war the U.S. Occupation censored the popular story in all its cultural forms ( theatrical, cinematic, literary), its public discussion and direct and indirect references in textbooks. But, in November of 1947, Faubion Bowers, aide-de-camp to Gen. MacArthur and lover of kabuki, lifted restrictions and allowed an all-star cast to perform Chūshingura, two years after the first prohibition. This was followed by film and television adaptations of the story and "the ritualization of Chūshingura productions as part of annual New Year celebrations" resulting in "a certain de-politicization, by which the story has become little more than a national habit."[4] Today, there is little mention in textbooks of the exploits of the Righteous Samurai, and the story is rarely told in anime and manga. In the words of historian Henry Smith II, "the Akō Gishi seem to have no appeal to the youngest generation in Japan, so they may in time become no more than hollow shells."[5]

[1]  genre of traditional Japanese narrative singing usually accompanied by shamisen

[2] "The Truth in the Fictions: The Exploration of the Chūshingura World" by Yuriko Katsumata B.A., Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, 1972 A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of MASTER OF ARTS in the Department of Pacific and Asian Studies, Yuriko Katsumata, 2011 University of Victoria, p. 36.

[3] The Forty-Seven Rōnin: The Vendetta in History, John A. Tucker, Cambridge University Press, 2018, p. 272.

[4]  “The Media and Politics of Japanese Popular History: The Case of the Akō Gishi”, Henry Smith II, appearing in Historical Consciousness, Historiography, and Modern Japanese Values, James C. Baxter (ed.), Kyoto: International Research Center for Japanese Studies, 2006, p. 89. 

[5] ibid. 

Prints in the Collection

Note: In the Description section for each print in this collection, which can be found by clicking on a print's thumbnail below, I have primarily relied on three sources - my translations of parts of the commentary accompanying the prints appearing in the ARC database, as referenced above; my translations of certain sections of Fukumoto Nichinan's Genroku kaikyoroku 元禄快挙録 as referenced above; and John A. Tucker's fascinating and eminently readable The Forty-Seven Rōnin: The Vendetta in History, which draws upon primary sources, recognized as "credible and reliable" including Kajikawa's Diary, (Kajikawa nikki), an eye-witness account written shortly after Asano's attack on Kira, Hakumyō's Memoir (Hakumyō waroku), a monk's account of meeting the rōnin at Sengakuji and Accounts of Things Seen and Heard in Edo and Akō (Kōseki kenmonki), an account by a chamberlain to Asasno Naganori's wife.

The bracketed information accompanying the catalog number of each print below refers to the volume number and print order of each print as they appear in the four volumes in the ARC database, referenced above.

IHL Cat. #2591 [v1p1]

click on image for details

Chiyoda Castle


from the Righteous Samurai Collection 義士大觀, 1920

by Kawai Gyokudō 

川合玉堂  (1873-1957)

IHL Cat. #2592 [v1p2]

click on image for details

The Imperial Envoy Leaves the Capital


from the Righteous Samurai Collection 義士大觀, 1920

by Yamanaka Kodō 山中古洞 (1869-1945)

IHL Cat. #2593 [v1p6]

click on image for details

Bereft at a Lifelong Separation 


from the Righteous Samurai Collection 義士大觀, 1920

by Masuda Gyokujō 

益田玉城 (1881-1955)

IHL Cat. #2305 [v1p8] 

click on image for details

Yamaga Sokō's Inspiration


from the Righteous Samurai Collection 義士大觀, 1920

by Tomita Keisen 

富田渓仙 (1879-1936)

IHL Cat. #2375 [v1p10]

click on image for details

A Scroll of Caricatures


from the Righteous Samurai Collection 義士大觀, 1920

by Kikkawa Reika

吉川霊華 (1875-1929)

IHL Cat. #2302 [v1p14]

click on image for details