Judge Ooka: A Real Meitantei

Judge Ooka (Ooka Echizen), like the Chinese Judge Dee, was a real person. Ooka Echizen no Kami Tadasuke was born in Mikawa, lived from 1677-1751, was magistrate of Yamada, and ended his career as magistrate of Edo (Tokyo). In fact, he started the famous Edo fire brigade. But he is best known in story (the Ooka Seidan) for innovative ways of finding the truth of a case, fairness to the poor, and bizarre ways of making the punishment fit the crime. And his cherry blossom tattoo. Yes, during his misspent youth among lowlifes, Ooka went and got a tattoo (which no high class person would do). In later life, this helped his disguises. On his TV show, whenever anyone protested that they were innocent because they thought there were no witnesses, he’d bare his tattoo again and the criminals would confess abjectly.

The major source in English for Judge Ooka stories are J.C. Edmonds’ collections: Solomon in Kimono, Ooka: More Tales of Solomon in Kimono, the children’s book Ooka the Wise aka The Case of the Marble Monster, and Tricksters’ Tales, which includes at least one Ooka story. There’s also a collection of Japanese folktales about Ooka from a lady named Hrdlickova, but it’s well out of print, too.

There are some webbed handouts which include Ooka stories, although you’ll have to scroll on down a bit. The Concept of Wa I includes the story of the tatami-maker vs. the cabinetmaker; The Concept of Wa II includes the story of Hanshichi the Carpenter.

Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler currently have a series of young adult mysteries starring Judge Ooka: The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn, The Demon in the Teahouse, and In Darkness, Death. Dutch author Bertus Aafjes wrote a series of Ooka mystery stories, based both on Edmonds and on original translations made by a friend. There’s also a German collection which is noted in this bibliography.

Kabuki and movies (from the silents on) have both celebrated Judge Ooka. There was also a long-running (1970-1998) TV series, Ooka Echizen based on his character. Here are some short non-Japanese plays about the judge. Oh, and manga too. Here’s Judge Ooka as drawn by “the god of manga”, Tezuka Osamu.

Finally, there’s even an Ooka Echizen Festival in late April, in Chigasaki city, Kanagawa prefecture. He is also remembered in Katsushika-ku, the site of the story of the bound Jizo (told in this article — scroll down).

Stories of wise judges tell us that the law and justice are for everyone. I find them inspirational, and clearly their popularity shows I’m not the only one. Check out the bio of Judge Bill Rhea!

1 Comment

Filed under Cartoons/Animation/Video, History

One response to “Judge Ooka: A Real Meitantei

  1. Kinshiro Toyama

    Sorry, but you seem to have mixed Judge Ooka (18th century) with Judge Toyama (19th century). It was the latter who was later romanticized on TV as “Toyama no Kin-san,” who would flash his “sakura no fubuki” tattoo at villains in the court. Not even in some of the more extreme legends are there accounts of Ooka going out incognito and engaging in sword fights. Please do some research on Wikipedia, there’s plenty of material in English.

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