Without meaning to, I seem to have found a great deal of my recent reading taking place in a single setting, much like several of my recent posts. This time around I wound up in Japan, reading about very different times and across a spectrum of behaviors. To finish this week before Christmas on a light note, I’d like to share with you a collection of folk tales from 18th century Japan.
Ooka Tadasuke was a real magistrate, well respected for being incorruptible and for striving for justice despite the wealth and status of the parties before him. A body of folktales grew up around his rulings, so it is difficult to tell which, if any, are real stories that have been enshrined. One, “The Case of the Bound Jizo or Suspect Statue”, has what I think is the best claim. In it, Ooka arrests a statue for not properly guarding a man’s property, and during the trial arrives at the truth in a simple way. Since the statue still stands and is still visited for justice, maybe it is a relic of Ooka’s wisdom.
This collection of 17 tales all illustrate Ooka’s cleverness at using the fine points of human psychology to trick tricksters and reward the honest in his role as judge. But he also applies his thoughtful nature to problems that present themselves in daily life: cruel merchants, a precocious grandchild, ambitious nobles, and an impulsive ruler. In each, Ooka’s blend of quick thinking and precise wording combines with his desire to overlook the letter of the law in search of its spirit.
I’m also interested in folktales from around the world, and Ooka’s cases often have the same themes as stories about magistrates, tribal chiefs, rabbis, and respected elders who must decide on disputes between members of their communities. Some, especially the stories of the Mullah Nasruddin, can depict the judge as either wise or foolish, but in all cases the stories convey both cultural truths and entertainment. So why are they always shelved in the children’s area?
Anyway, the holiday season is a perfect one for sharing stories, whether your own or stories you’ve heard from others. Give it a try!
Check the WRL catalog for Ooka the Wise