Japanese print of Kira Yoshinaka.

Kira Yoshinaka Villain or Not

Kira Yoshinaka (Yoshihisa) had been serving matters of ceremony for the Shogunate for about 40 years as a part of a group of koke (‘high families’). They had been assigned the responsibility since the Tokugawa period. Despite Lord Kira’s high status and being awarded with lower 4th court rank by the Emperor, his income was low.

Depiction of Kira Yoshinaka's hiding place as ronin searched for him.

The charge against Lord Kira

The charges made by the 47 ronin supporters after the Akō Vendetta, include that Lord Kira had poisoned Uesugi Tsunakatsu (Kira’s brother-in-law), who had died without producing an heir. There is no historical evidence to support this claim.

Depiction of Kira Yoshinaka’s hiding place as ronin searched for him.

Furthermore, it did not appear to have been a matter of contention at the time. Probably the biggest accusation against Lord Kira was that he regarded not receiving expensive gifts from Asano as a reason to belittle the man. There exists no contemporary evidence that suggests this, nor is there any evidence that Asano failed to present Kira with a gift in the first place.

The claim of Kira Yoshinaka receiving bribes first surfaces in the philosopher Muro Kyuso’s Gijin Roku where he writes about a fictional encounter between Kira and Asano where Kira refers to the Lors Asano as a ‘country bumpkin’.

Depiction of Kira Yoshinaka's hiding place as ronin searched for him.

Japanese scholars have in facts called the Gijin Roku “filled with inaccuracies” and that “the information he (Muro) was able to obtain already consisted of fictional elements”.

Japanese print of Kira Yoshinaka.

The stories in Gijin Roku were used as basis for playwrights and novelists at the time and became accepted as facts over the course of time. The Tokugawa Jikki (“True Record of Tokugawa”), also known simply as Ojikki (“The Record”), compiled by Narushima Motonao, is an extensive compilation of records of the reigns of the first ten Tokugawa shoguns. The Ojikki, written over a century after the incident between Asano Naganori and Kira Yoshinaka, was the primary source material in defining Kira’s ‘evil’ conduct.

Consider this…

Lord Kira indeed accepted gifts, and gift giving to gain favor is an accepted part of Tokugawa society as it still remains in Japanese culture in modern times. Lord Kira was not a rich man and had a modest income, being less than 10% of Asano’s. It was an important way for a samurai to accept gifts to supplement his modest income. Unlike modern times, Lord Kira could not set a fee for his role as Asano’s teacher, rather it would be up to Asano to show his appreciation by giving him gifts. If Asano indeed did not give Kira a gift, it would be implied as an insult as would be deemed by any other samurai.

Sakai Clan emblem.

Lord Kira was scorned and deemed a coward after failing to defend himself against Asano. He was shunned and his own family mocked him. He was later sent away by his son in embarrassment. Kira was unable to afford suitable security with his scant income, having only about three to five armed guards at the time of the attack, including his stepson who was gravely injured during the attack.

Sakai clan emblem. | Kamon up

Lord Kira Yoshinaka, it appears, was no different from the other Edo bureaucrats who expected their traditional due. He was not the lustful, evil, corrupt villain he is purported to be. Perhaps his biggest misfortune was being assigned the boorish Asano as a student.