3 Tales of Ooka Tadasuke
Afterword & Commentary by Justin Hagen
OOKA THE MATCHMAKER
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.
A BRAGGART'S NARROW ESCAPE
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.
Monzo and the widow , of course, suffered the penalty of their crime on the scaffold at the Kozuka Field. As for Yaichi, the eminent magistrate, on releasing him, gave him a well-timed lecture on the folly of his habit of lying, and Yaichi’s thankfulness at his escape was such that for some time he was never known to change one tittle of the truth. But indeed the story of his danger was marvelous enough in itself to relieve him for a while from any temptation to invent. He was never tired of telling it with increasing embellishments, and among the neighbors and townspeople it became known ever after as “A Braggart’s Narrow Escape."
THE SOLOMON OF JAPAN
From The Green Bag by Arthur Weightman Spencer
Scene from the movie Shinban Ooka Seidan by Buntaro Futagawaiii
About a century and a half ago, a woman who was acting as a servant in the house of a certain Baron had a little girl born to her. Finding it difficult to attend to the child properly while in service, she put it out to nurse in a neighboring village, and paid a fixed sum per month for its maintenance.
When the child reached the age of ten, the mother, having finished the term of her service, left the Baron's mansion. Being now her own mistress, and naturally wishing to have the child with her, she informed the woman who had it that she wanted the child. But the woman was reluctant to part with her. The child was very intelligent, and the foster-mother thought that she might get some money by hiring her out. So she refused to give her up to the mother. This of course led to a quarrel. The disputants went to law about it; and the case came up before Ooka Tadasuke, then magistrate of Edo.
The woman to whom the child had been entrusted asserted that it was her own offspring, and that the other woman was a pretender. Ooka saw that the dispute was a difficult one to decide by ordinary methods. So he commanded the women to place the child between them, one to take hold of its right hand and the other of its left, and each to pull with all her might.
“The one who is victorious, ” said the Magistrate, “shall be declared the true mother..” The real mother did not relish this mode of settling the dispute; and though she did as she was bidden and took hold of the child's hand, she did what she could to prevent the child from being hurt, and slackened her hold as soon as the foster-mother began to pull, thus giving her an easy victory.
“There!” said the foster-mother, “the child , you see, is mine.”
But Ooka interposed: “ You are a deceiver. The real mother, I perceive, is the one who relaxed her grasp on the child , fearing to hurt her. But you thought only of winning in the struggle, and cared nothing for the feelings of the child. You are not the true mother;” and he ordered her to be bound. She immediately confessed her attempt to deceive, and begged for pardon. And the people who looked on said, “The judgment is indeed founded on a knowledge of human nature.”
Anecdotes from Legend in Japanese Art by Henri L. Joly
Ooka Tadasuke was civil governor of Edo under Yoshimune shogun. It is as a judge of great acumen and impartiality that he has become famous. The Ooka Seidan is a collection of some forty-three of his celebrated cases, some of which have been abstracted in Aston's Japanese Literature, amongst which the following:
A man had a golden pipe, which was stolen, and the detective force of the period failed to locate the thief, though a certain man was strongly suspected. Ooka watched the suspect and noticed that he was unable to prepare rapidly the pellets of tobacco of the proper size to fill his pipe. He then made the man confess his guilt.
A vegetable picker hoarded his gold in a tub of Daikon; once it was stolen, and Ooka convicted the thief by smelling his arms.
A baby girl was claimed by two women. Ooka commanded them to pull her by the arms, as if to tear her away from one another. One of the women gave way when the baby cried, and Ooka decided that she was the true mother.
A man suspected his wife of adultery, and accused a youth of being her lover. Ooka ordered him to bring his cat to the court on the hearing of the case. The cat let free in the room took no notice of any one except the man and his wife, until the suspected lover came in, when it went and rubbed itself against him. Further when the man was questioned by the judge, the cat nestled himself on his dress, and gave him away although he strenuously denied his guilt.
While not fullfleded revenge stories, I felt the necessity to include these short stories in order to illustrate an example of the Ooka Seiden tales surrounding magistrate Ooka Tadasuke. As discussed after our story of A Deep Laid Plot, Ooka Tadasuke (1677-1752) was a prominent magistrate in Edo. He won a reputation for being known as a wise magistrate through overseeing countless court cases, which gave rise to these cases becoming entwined with legend. A series of tales like the one discussed here developed surrounding his exploits titled the Ooka Seidan.1 As seen in the excerpt from The Solomon of Japan and Legends in Japanese Art, many of the stories associated with him are allegorical in relation to King Solomon from the Bible and hence has often yielded him the title of the “Solomon of Japan.” Further illustrating the tone of these stories is the tale of A Braggart’s Narrow Escape echoes Aesop's Fables stories of morality.
The particular tale of Ooka the Matchmaker seems quite illogical especially for Jinshiro's wife to have been unable to handle his business for the length of his business trip and so a great deal of other circumstances surrounding this case must have either been present, or the entire case was fabricated altogether. None the less, Ooka Tadasuke had a reputation for making unorthodox legal decisions and as such stories such as this one of his matchmaking suggestion arose as a resolution to this story. Many stories arose like this one here and Ooka's unorthodox legal methods became a trademark of stories told about him as he morphed into a legendary literary figure for Japanese rakugo stories. This was further seen in Ooka's elaborate trap laid in A Deep Laid Plot to trap Ten-ichibo in his lie through strewing articles of clothing Ten-ichibo had used to fake his death in order to throw off his resolve.2
Many other stories exist surrounding the bizarre court cases of Ooka Tadasuke. Another one of note involved one in which he heard an inn keeper accuse a student of stealing the flavor of his food through smelling it. Tadasuke thereby heard the case and told the student to put money from one hand to another stating that the price for smelling food was the sound of money, indicating that the shopkeeper was being greedy trying to get money out of the student and it was no crime to smell food. In another case, Tadasuke heard a case involving a carload of stolen cloth and ordered a Jizo statue to be clothed in cart and brought to court. When the spectators laughed, he ordered that as a fine for their disrespect they pay a token fine of donating a piece of cloth, and then the shopkeeper identified which piece of cloth had been stolen to find the culprit.3
Whether there is veracity to some of these more popular stories is harder to determine, however such tales have become legend and popularized in Japanese culture with Ooka Tadasuke appearing as a character in Japanese television shows and movies even today in the 21st century. Overall, Ooka can almost be seen as a Sherlock Holmes type character who also envelops many traits from Peter Falk's detective character in the 1960's-1970's American crime drama series Columbo.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sensei Justin Hagen, has been practicing martial arts since the age of 5 years old and is currently a martial arts instructor as well as an educator for the Pennsylvania public school system. In 2011 he received his Bachelor's degree in history with a minor in philosophy with emphasis on East Asian studies and religion from the University of Rhode Island. Continuing his education, Sensei Hagen also received his Masters degree from DeSales University in Education in 2018 with his final thesis exploring research on the effects martial arts programs have on behavior in the educational setting. Sensei Hagen now seeks to share the knowledge he has accrued through his experiences in life with the world. Currently he teaches Olympic style Tae Kwon Do at BucksMont Tae Kwon Do in Hatfield, PA as well as independently runs a Kyokushin Karate club under the direction of Shihan Roman Herman's KUSA organization. Sensei Hagen also has courses available on Udemy open to the public to take in order to learn more about martial arts philosophy and culture.
In conjunction to martial arts, Sensei Hagen is also a woodburning artist, the subject for his art often inspired by martial arts and Japanese culture.
To browse his catalog of Hannya Mask, Ukiyo-E & Kanji woodburns, please visit:
1) Baron Redesdale, Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford. Tales of Old Japan. United Kingdom, Macmillan and Company, 1871.
2) Dykstra, Yoshiko: Notable Tales Old and New. Tachibana Narisue's Kokon Chomonju
3) Hickman, Kennedy. “Learn About the Tokugawa Shogunate: the Shimabara Rebellion.” ThoughtCo, 17 Mar. 2017, www.thoughtco.com/tokugawa-shogunate-shimabara-rebellion- 2360804.
4) Joly, Henri L.. Legend in Japanese Art: A Description of Historical Episodes, Legendary Characters, Folk-lore, Myths, Religious Symbolism, Illustrated in the Arts of Old Japan. United Kingdom, J. Lane, 1908. pgs 265-266.
5) Kornicki, P. F. “Manuscript, Not Print: Scribal Culture in the Edo Period.”Journal of Japanese Studies, vol. 32, no. 1, 2006, pp. 23–52. JSTOR
6) Sansom, George (1963). A History of Japan: 1615–1867. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
7) Spencer, Arthur W., Horace Williams Fuller, Horace W., Wrightington, Syndey R., and Baldwin, Thomas T..The Green Bag. United States, Boston Book Company, 1892. pgs 480-481.
8) Wigmore, John H.. The Irish Law Times and Solicitors' Journal. Ireland, John Falconer, 1898.
1 Shiro, Hamao, and Jeffrey Angles. “The Execution of Ten'ichibo.” Critical Asian Studies, 2005, pp. 305–321., doi:10.1080/14672710500106424.
2 Murdoch, James. A History of Japan. Japan, Routledge, 1996. p. 334
3 “Ōoka Tadasuke.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 June 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%8Coka_Tadasuke.
i Chikashige, Kabuki actor Suketakaya Takasuke as Ooka Tadasuke, 1880. Source File: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ooka_Tadasuke.jpg
ii Futagawa, Buntaro, Reisaburō Yamamoto and Kanjūrō Arashi in Shinban Ōoka seidan, 1928. Source File: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shinban_%C5%8Coka_seidan_1928.jpg
iiiFutagawa, Buntaro, Reisaburō Yamamoto and Kanjūrō Arashi in Shinban Ōoka seidan, 1928. Source File: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shinban_%C5%8Coka_seidan_1928.jpg
iv Unknown Author, Ooka Tadasuke, National Diet Library, Unknown Year. Source File: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oooka_tadasuke.jpg