Story of Japan - R. Van Bergen

A Shrewd Judge

A money lender of Osaka at one time missed a sum of money amounting to over three thousand dollars. Aghast at this discovery, and almost in despair at his great loss, he tried to remember the names of his customers and visitors since he had counted his hoard, but could attach suspicion to no one. He now began to watch his servants and at last felt convinced that one of them, if not the actual thief, was aware of what had become of his gold. This servant, Tsuji, (tsoo-jee)  was taken by the money lender into his private room, and accused of the theft, which, however, he emphatically denied. His master tried to obtain a clue to the whereabouts of the lost money, first by promises of pardon and even of reward, and, when these proved of no avail, by threats of speedy punishment. But it was all in vain. Tsuji protested that he was innocent, and had no knowledge whatever of his master's gold. The money lender then had him arrested for the theft.

Osaka, the second city of the empire in population, is now and has been for many centuries the wealthiest city of Japan. It is situated in the south-central part of the island of Hondo, accessible to junks, which, on account of the many canals intersecting the city, can load and unload in almost any quarter. Being close to the Inland Sea, and only a short distance from Kiushiu, and Shikoku, it almost controls the trade of these three islands. To protect the commercial interests of its enterprising merchants, the regents in Yedo took care to send able and good men as governors, who were at the same time judges in civil and criminal cases. At the time we are speaking of, the governor judge was Matsura (mah-tsoo-rah), a good, able, and shrewd, man.

A judge in court


Tsuji was brought before this judge and examined by him. After hearing all the circumstances, the judge was inclined to believe in the man's guilt, but in answer to the questions put to him, the servant replied simply: "I do not know!" or "I did not do it!" At last the judge threatened to have him tortured, but Tsuji said: "You may do your worst; but no amount of torture will make me confess a crime of which I am not guilty." The quiet, firm way in which the prisoner uttered these words and his fearless bearing had their effect upon the judge. Nevertheless he gave a signal, and Tsuji was led to prison.

The governor now sent for the money lender and his other servants, and examined one after the other. Each one declared that no one but Tsuji could have stolen the money. But when asked for proofs, they were obliged to confess that they had none.

The money lender was very angry with his former servant, and implored the judge to have him put to death. Matsura sat for some time in deep thought. At last he seemed to make up his mind. He ordered the other servants to be brought before him and asked master and servants if they were ready to declare in writing and over their hand and seal that Tsuji was guilty of the theft, and demand his execution. All agreed to this. "Very well," said the judge, "let each of you sign this!" And he gave them a paper on which was written:—

"Tsuji, servant of our master, has robbed him of five thousand dollars. This we attest hereby, and demand that he be punished with death, as a warning to others. We, the kinsmen and servants of our master, affix to this our signatures and seals."

After they had signed this paper and put their seals to it, they returned it to the judge, who said: "This paper relieves me of all responsibility. Is it your desire that Tsuji be put to death?" "It is," they replied. "So be it!" said Matsura. The money lender then withdrew with his servants, after thanking the judge for complying with his request.

Not long afterwards, a robber was arrested in the act of stealing, and brought before Judge Matsura, who ordered him to be put to torture. This man was a daring criminal and he confessed stealing the money lender's hoard, besides many other crimes. There was no doubt of his guilt, since he entered into details of how he had secured and spent this money. As soon as this confession had been written down and signed, Matsura sent for the money lender and his servants, and, addressing the former, said sternly:—

"You accused Tsuji of stealing, without proof of his guilt. You demanded the death of an innocent man, and I, who should have insisted upon proofs before granting your request, condemned him. The dead cannot be brought back, but justice can and must be done. You, your wife, kindred, and servants, shall die. And I, who am also guilty, will commit hara-kiri."

The money lender and his servants, knowing the character of the judge, felt that there was no escape. They were overwhelmed with despair, wrung their hands, wept, and begged for mercy. But the judge sternly refused to listen to their piteous cries. The officers of the court also interceded with the judge for his own life, telling him that he had done no wrong by pronouncing sentence after receiving the written statement of the plaintiff. But the judge replied only: "No, if these men are guilty, I cannot be innocent."

When all were convinced that nothing could move the judge, he spoke again to the despairing money lender:

"You know now how hard it is to die, but you had no pity when you demanded the blood of a man who had served you honestly and well. I should not be worthy of the trust placed in me if I had listened to your demand, and had condemned the prisoner without convincing proof. Tsuji is alive, and therefore your life shall be spared. But for the long imprisonment he has undergone, and the agony and suspense which he has suffered, you shall compensate him. My judgment is that you shall pay him the amount you accused him of stealing; and that it be made known in public that he is innocent of all crime."

The money lender, overjoyed at having his own life saved, gladly agreed to this. Tsuji was brought into court and informed that his innocence was established and that he would be a rich man. Japanese writers tell this story with pride, as showing that, even if they had no written laws, their judges were quite able to see that justice was done.