Tag Archives: ronin

Christian Thoughts on the Movie and Tale of the 47 Ronin

My family rarely goes to the theater to see movies. Therefore it was only a few weeks ago that I finally got a chance to the 2013 movie 47 Ronin from Redbox.

While I have written a book on lessons for Christians from samurai warriors, this was my introduction to the national legend of the vengeance of the 47 samurai of Asano Naganori.

Despite the modern, Americanized treatment of the story, including witches, demons, and the insertion of an underdog with Anglo-Saxon blood, the gist of the story of the 47 samurai remains the same. When their lord is disgraced before the Imperial Shogun, and forced to commit ritual suicide, the 47 plan their revenge over the course of a year and execute it.

The story is centuries old; it is a little hard to expect not to have it spoiled for you. But as a fair warning, here be spoilers.

While the story of the 47 ronin is considered an great example of the samurai code, bushido, it has some merit for Christians as well, which can either serve as personal example, or as discussion points with your fellow Christians.

Death begets death. There is a saying that he who seeks revenge digs two graves. The ronin know this as they plot their revenge. They know that disobeying an order not to seek revenge, as well as assassination of another lord, is forbidden and they will face the death penalty for their action. Even in this noble (to their principles) example, the wage of sin is death, and the price for their sin must be paid, regardless of the noble intention.

Some Things are More Important Than Death. Understanding the fact that their was no chance of forgiveness for what they were about to do, the 47 ronin set out on their mission regardless.  Honor for their former lord and the house they served was more important than their own lives. They were willing to sacrifice themselves to honor their lord.

Now, how many of us Christians are willing to avoid sin, in which we dishonor God, even to the point of death! Rather, we continually fall and have to amend our lives. Seldom is death on the line – we sacrifice our principles for reputation, work, money, pleasure or some other trivial thing. These samurai traded their lives for honor, and for a fallen human lord. Why do we not sacrifice lesser things for our perfect Lord?

Their is Shame in Being Leaderless. As Americans, we pride ourselves on independence. But as Christians we are called to dependence on God. The samurai understood that there was not shame in dependence, and in this way bushido can illustrate some concepts that are foreign to us. In fact, in the introduction to the 2013 movie it states that while samurai were very highly regarded, to be ronin, or masterless, was to be lower than all other classes. I’m not certain as to the veracity of the statement, but being ronin was a thing greatly feared by a samurai. I have just the smallest hunch this will be a big part of the upcoming film Masterless.

Seven Times Down, Eight Times Up


There is a Japanese proverb that simply states “Seven times down, eight times up.” The source, as far as I can tell, is in the ancient book of samurai wisdom, the Hagakure:

If one has not been a ronin at least seven times, he will not be a true retainer. Seven times down, eight times up.’ Men like Narutomi Hyogo have been ronin seven times. One should understand that it is something like being a self- righting doll. The master is also apt to give such orders as a test.

Samurai were servant-mercenaries. Their entire livelihood depended on a master to provide food, housing, and their wages. Totally dependent upon a lord, as we Christians ought to be upon our Lord.

At times, the samurai were ordered to be ronin, or masterless. Or their master would die, or they would be dishonorably discharged. The name ronin meant “wave man,” and in such a state a samurai – no longer “one who serves” would drift about as a wave in the ocean.

We all have times like this, when we feel like we are drifting helplessly in life. Unemployment, a spiritual dry spell, a stubborn temptation, or a personal tragedy are all ways we can feel like we are cast down by God.

In these times, the advice for us is just as it was for the samurai – get back up. Be like a self-righting doll. Cast down seven times, raised up eight times.

There are other interpretations of the phrase. There is even a Christian band called 7th Time Down that cites II Kings 5:14 as the source of their name – the 7 times that Naaman went down into the Jordan to be healed. Other people cite it as being knocked down seven times, and getting back up.

So whether you feel that God has somehow withheld sustenance from you, or you get knocked down by sin, the devil or a practice sword, get back on your feet – seven times down, eight times up.

Special thanks for Craig Shimahara, currently working on the Christian samurai film Masterless, for inspiring this post today by a post on his Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of David Howard via Flickr.