top of page

Jitsuroku Ku: Ooka Seidan

3 Tales of Ooka Tadasuke

Afterword & Commentary by Justin Hagen


Original Story from Don C. Seit's Monogatari Tales from Old & New Japan

A fancy goods dealer named Jinshiro lived at Gorobei-cho, in the Kyobashi district of Edo. He was not well off, but thrifty, and he and his wife having no children, were able to make ends meet; further, they were liked by all who knew them.

With the object of laying in a new stock of goods, Jinshiro started on a long journey to Kamigata, as the Osaka and Kyoto district is called even today by Tokyo people. On his way along the Tokaido, he reached the Hakone mountains, where he met a man stark naked, shivering with cold, his strength quite exhausted. He explained that he had come from Edo to enjoy the hot springs of Hakone, and was taking a walk when some highwaymen appeared and stripped him of his clothes and money . His name (he told Jinshiro) was Shirobei; he was a fancy goods dealer, and lived in Bizen-cho, of the Sakurada district in Edo

A proverb says that two men of a trade can never be on good terms, and that even a beggar is envied by another beggar. Shirobei and Jinshiro were of the same trade, but under the circumstances all rivalries were forgotten. Jinshiro took some warm clothing from the pack that he was carrying on his back, and opening his purse gave the unfortunate wayfarer three bu, which is a small amount today, but at that time was a considerable sum and quite sufficient to meet Shirobei's pressing needs.

Shirobei felt as though his life had been saved, and promised to meet his benefactor in Edo and return his favor Then Shirobei asked for Jinshiro's address, and the latter taking out a writing brush from his yatate, or pen and ink case, wrote it out. Seeing that Jinshiro had a very large money bag and that his own, which the robbers had left behind on the highway was in better condition than that of his new found friend, Shirobei offered it as a slight token of his thanks. Jinshiro gladly accepted the gift, and handed over his old purse, in which he had written his address, which read: “Jinshiro, Gorobei-cho, Kyobashi, Edo, the landlord being Kichibei.”

So Jinshiro went on his way, and Shirobei returned to his inn. A few days after his encounter with the highwaymen he fell ill, probably from the exposure, and died suddenly. The innkeeper was at a loss how to identify his departed guest since he had not registered upon his arrival. But on examination of his clothing the supposed address was found in his purse.

A messenger was sent to Edo, and Jinshiro's wife received a great shock when told that her husband was dead. She went at once to Kichibei, their land lord, and asked him what to do. Kichibei decided that he and one Hompachi should go to Hakone. When they arrived at the place, the man had been dead for some time, and it was difficult to identify him, although they both thought the body was larger than Jinshiro's ought to be. They were also surprised to find that his money bag contained only three bu, for they knew he was going to Osaka and Kyoto on business, and should have had a larger amount on his person. But Jinshiro's purse was considered a certain clue. The body was therefore cremated and the ashes carried back to Edo Funeral services were held, and a tablet to the dead was placed in the butsudan of Jinshiro's household.

The work of carrying on her late husband's business was too much for the widow. Kichibei advised her to marry again, and picked out Jinshiro's cousin, Tsunekichi. He was well trained in the fancy goods business. The widow hesitated to accept this advice since she was afraid of the gossips of the neighborhood. She was also afraid that a hasty marriage would not please the spirit of the late Jinshiro, and asked them to wait until the customary hundred days had passed; until the period of mourning was at an end.

But Kichibei persisted. He told her that the best way to please the soul of the departed was to keep the business running smoothly. She admitted that Tsunekichi would make an ideal husband, and had a strong affection for him, but she still hesitated. The more she demurred the more they urged Tsunekichi's suit, until their advice grew into a kind of persecution.

The widow was at last obliged to yield; the marriage ceremony was duly performed, and the household went on as before. The days passed rapidly, and the hundredth day anniversary came around. The wife of Tsunekichi observed the customary service for the dead with all due respect. After the ceremony Tsunekichi left home on business, and at the close of the day she waited for the return of her new husband.

Footsteps were heard and a happy voice exclaimed,“Here I am at last! How do you do, my dear!” The door opened, and there stood Jinshiro. With a shriek the terrified woman dashed out of the house by the back door. To Jinshiro this was indeed a strange welcome after his long absence from home. Taking off his straw sandals, he entered his house and found many changes.

The wife, now possessed of two husbands, ran to Kichibei's house. Almost fainting from the fright and barefooted, she ran screaming to Kichibei, “A ghost! A ghost!” Kichibei was not alarmed at a little thing like a ghost, and reproved her, saying that as it was a hundred days since her first husband's death she must have been thinking of him, and the ghost was nothing but her own imagination at work.

She entreated him to return with her, saying that Jinshiro had a pack on his shoulder and straw sandals on his feet. At last he was persuaded to go.

Jinshiro, sitting by a hibachi smoking a pipe, caught sight of Kichibei and addressed him, and soon explanations were made on both sides that cleared up the mystery.

As it was Jinshiro's disposition to think of others' misfortunes before his own, he suddenly thought of the family of Shirobei and hurried off to Bizen-cho in Sakurada. He found a large and prosperous shop, and was spoken to by two clerks. He found Shirobei's wife was beautiful and young. He informed her of her husband's death; how he had met him in the mountains, and she was overwhelmed by the tragic news, as she had been growing more and more anxious as the days lengthened out and he did not return.

While they were thus engaged, the wife's brother joined them. He took Jinshiro for an impostor and secretly informed the rough gentry of the neighborhood so that a crowd surrounded him when he left the shop. Jinshiro was arrested on the charge of trying to pose as Shirobei.

The learned Judge Ooka (Ooka Tadasuke from A Deep Laid Plot) held a brief preliminary examination and Jinshiro was sent to prison. Ooka had given orders for the capture of a highwayman in the Hakone district who had proved a terror to travelers He was at last taken, and proved to be Rokuzo, the shampooer, born in Yanagi-cho, Ichigaya, another district of Edo He had long infested the Tokaido robbing travelers, and Jinshiro's innocence was soon established.

At last Jinshiro was a free man, but homeless, for he was forsaken by nearest and dearest. After his acquittal, he had no place to rest his head. He was a ruined man. But the wise judge made a very good proposal. He told the widow of Shirobei that as she had no husband and that as Jinshiro had also no wife, they would make a good couple. She was not averse. Not long after Ooka was informed that his matchmaking had been crowned with success. By the marriage of Jinshiro with Shirobei's widow, the business became more prosperous, and the couple lived a happy life together.


From The Irish Law Times and Solicitors' Journal By John H. Wigmore

Scene from the movie Shinban Ooka Seidan by Buntaro Futagawaii

In the district of Edo, known as Shitaya, there lived in the middle of the last century an old furniture-dealer named Yaichi. He was a but he bore the unfortunate reputation of being an inveterate liar; and like most liars he was a coward. He had always a tale to tell of his own wonderful acuteness or ingenuity or good luck; but his powers of invention had been so often proved that no one believed his stories any longer. But such persons are never cured by rebuffs and Yaichi went on spinning his yarns, year after year until his characteristic failing brought him into a peck of trouble.

He was returning late one night from a call on a friend in the Honcha ward, not particularly pleased with the journey before him, when suddenly he heard a rush from behind and felt a sharp pain in his leg. In a convulsive jump of fear, he drew his sword , turned and made a sweep at the air and there at his feet fell a dead wandering dog, which had darted out at him from behind a neighboring tree. Yaichi was immediately relieved at discovering the nature of the assailant, and started again for home. His teeth chattered from his terrible fright, but as it wore off he thought he saw a good chance at last to make his friends believe in his physical powers.

There was a great outcry when he arrived at the house; for his legs were covered with the blood of the dog, and his sword and belt bore similar stains. Some of the neighbors were roused, and soon Yaichi had the supreme satisfaction of recounting to the awe-struck group a tale of astonishing valor, how a robber of extraordinary stature came upon him in a dark passage, how he first trembled, then grew bold, and with the villain manfully, how he parried every attack of the robber, and finally killed him with a single blow, The proofs he offered were more than enough to convince the usually doubting friends, his pale face, his bloodstained garments, and above all, the reddened sword was clear evidence of a severe struggle, and Yaichi's bodily presence was proof enough that he was not the defeated one. This time he had admiration enough to eradicate for the present all memory of the incredulous sneers of the past; Yaichi's happiness was complete.

The sun was high when he woke the next day; but it was a rough waking and it put and end to his brief happiness. Two policemen were binding him with cords and his wife sat by in tears. His treaties for an explanation were made to deaf ears, and he found himself without much ado on his way to the Town Magistrate's court, and kneeling before Ooka, Lord of Echizen, the famous judge, the terror of evil doers and the support of all good citizens.

“So you are the fellow,” said Ooka, “that murdered Sannosuke last night in the Honcha ward and took his money? Well, we found you sooner than expected.”

Then the fatuity of his conduct revealed itself to Yaichi. In his foolish desire to tell a big story he had given an account of himself which now threatened to put an end to all his storytelling for ever. But it was not too late to set himself right, it would be easy to tell just what had happened , and they would find the dog's carcass there to prove what he said.

“Oh, no,” he cried, “it was all a mistake, your Honor; that story of mine was a foolish invention, a mere boast; what really happened was that a dog came up and attacked me, and I killed him on the spot; that is how the blood came on my clothes and sword. I know nothing at all about this Sannosuke that you speak of.”

“Well,” said Ooka, “how are we to know that the dog story is not another invention? It seems you are well kn own for your inventions.”

“You will surely find the dog's carcass, your Honor, if only you will order a search in the Honcha ward,” asserted the terrified Yaichi, now quite beside himself. So the prisoner was remanded until the next day.

Now Ooka, during his colloquy with the unfortunate braggart, had made up his mind that the guilty person was not before him. The coward and the good natured fellow, as well as the braggart, were revealed in Yaichi's face, in his tones, in his gestures, by marks which were almost unmistakable to one who owed his fame and his position to an unexampled genius for character-reading; and Yaichi was immediately set down, in Ooka's mind, for an innocent fool. But this did not mean that he could be released; for the dead man's family had accused Yaichi, and Ooka must in some way show reasonable ground for discharging him; moreover, the proofs, though circumstantial, were strong, and what added to their strength was that in the course of the day the detectives returned without finding any trace of the dog which Yaichi asserted he had killed.

So during the day Ooka addressed himself to the examination of the deceased man's wife, who had been the first in the morning to bring the news of the murder.

“Tell me now,” he said, speaking with tones of sympathy and consolation, “why your husband left his home last night, and how you learned of his death?”

“My husband," she replied, “has for some time been in the habit of depositing his savings in a bank in the Honcha ward, and yesterday afternoon he went out to draw the full amount and pay a pressing debt. He probably stayed to supper with some friend and started home late in the evening. He did not return last night, and this morning early I told the neighbors. The news spread , and one of my intimate friends, named Monzo, came and told me that my husband had been murdered, and that a man named Yaichi had done it. This Yaichi had come home last night with a bloody sword, and said that he had killed a man in the Honcha ward.”

“Let me see,” said Ooka, “how old a man is this neighbor of yours, Monzo, and is he married?”

“ He is a very worthy man, sir,” replied the widow, “he is about fifty-five years old, and has a wife and three children; I said he was my intimate friend, but of course I mean that he was a great friend of my dear husband also.” She added this, for the woman fancied that she perceived a subtle insinuation in the inquiry of Ooka regarding the age and condition of her friend Monzo.

Ooka sat for several moments without speaking. Then, “I am sorry for your affliction," he said, in a kind voice, “and I shall set aside a small sum of money for your support during the trial. It is not at hand now; so you will have to send for it tomorrow by some messenger. And let the messenger ask for me personally." The grateful widow thanked him with tears in her eyes, and little suspecting Ooka's train of thought, withdrew to her home.

On the morrow her messenger presented himself in due time, and was shown into Ooka's presence as soon as the latter was at leisure. He was a good-looking man, not yet in the prime of life,and gave the name of Monzo.

When Ooka heard this name,his heart beat triumphantly within him , for now he knew that his intelligence had not erred and that the author of the crime was before him. But he blandly said: “You are the widow's messenger, are you? Well, it is certainly very kind in you to take so much trouble on her account, and she is to be congratulated on having such a faithful friend. By the way, what is your age?"

"I am just thirty-five years old," answered the widow's friend, who wondered why the judge cared to be informed on this point.

“And are you married?" continued Ooka, twining the net of interrogation still tighter about the unsuspecting Monzo.

“I was married several years ago,” he replied, “but my wife died, and I have no children.”

“Now, as to this robber who murdered Sannosuke," went on Ooka, going suddenly to the subject of the crime, “As you knew the deceased intimately, you doubtless have some information as to the identity of the assailant; have you not ?”

“I, your Honor?" exclaimed Monzo indignantly, "how should I know who murdered Sannosuke ? I was an intimate friend of his, but I was not his keeper.”

Then the Lord of Echizen leaned back and laughed loud and long. Three times had Monzo directly contradicted the story of the dead man's widow. The miserable man turned pale, for the magistrate's laughter boded ill. “Why," said the magistrate, "were you such a wretch as to murder one who was your friend?

“You are mistaken, sir,” protested Monzo; “I am no murderer! What proof have you that I killed Sannosuke?”

“Proof you villain? Do you ask me for proof? Well, you shall hear. When the widow came here yesterday, she told me that an intimate friend had brought her information of the death of Sannosuke, and that you were this intimate friend. She was particular to state, in order to dispel the suspicion which her guilty mind foresaw, that you were over fifty years old, which you are not, and that you had a family, which you have not. This eagerness of yours to tell the news, this sole possession of it by yourself, seemed worth inquiring into; and the result of my men's search in your house was this purse of Sannosuke, which I now hold,” showing it, “and the bloody sword of yours, which you see over there. The law forbids me to condemn you without a confession; but your guilt is clear, and you mayas well own to your villainy.”

At this sudden turn of affairs Monzo was confounded; his heart failed him, and he made a complete confession. It seemed that he and Sannosuke's wife, already too intimate, had plotted to put Sannosuke out of the way at an early opportunity. His errand at the bank had furnished a good chance to give to the crime the appearance of an ordinary highway robbery, and the affair was further assisted by the accident of Yaichi's midnight adventure in the same ward , and by Yaichi's foolish fabrication.