In 1701, daimyo Asano Takumi-no-kami Naganori was appointed ambassador of envoys from the Imperial Court in Kyoto. His job was to receive official guests from Kyoto at Edo Castle on behalf of the then ruling shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. To help him in this task, Tokugawa also appointed Kira Kozuke-no-suke Yoshinaka as protocol official. Unfortunately, the relationship between Asano and Kira soon soured. On a day when Asano was scheduled to meet guests, he drew his sword on Kira in an attempt to kill him, following a spate of verbal insults directed at the daimyo. For this act of unsanctioned aggression, Asano was sentenced to commit suicide. Kira was permitted to go free without punishment. All of Asano’s lands were seized and the samurai he retained were dismissed, making them ronin–masterless swordsmen. Of these ronin, Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshi gathered forty-seven of his compatriots and withdrew to Kyoto to plot their revenge. The plot took two years to manifest. Conscious of the increased scrutiny that would be laid upon them after their master had been wronged, Oishi feigned repose at Ichiriki Chaya, a tea and geisha house in central Kyoto. There he drank, gambled and caroused until Kira let his guard down in 1703 enough for the forty-seven ronin to finally avenge Asano. Following their code of ethics, they turned themselves in for their crime shortly after, and were all sentenced to commit suicide on the same day.
Over three hundred years later, Ichiriki Chaya still stands in the Gion district of Kyoto. Its access is extremely exclusive however, and guests must have close ties to the house already established before being permitted to enter. For a limited time in 2006, at the request of the Kyoto City Tourist Association, a small number of foreign guests were permitted to enter without being chaperoned by established patrons. Entertainment at Ichiriki can be as much as $8,000 USD per night, making the tea house both economically and socially closed to most visitors.
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