Oöka and the Pickpockets of Edo

Ooka and the Pickpockets of Edo

As it often happens with men of the highest stature, certain colleagues and rivals of Oöka in the Royal City were jealous of his close relationship and friendship with Yoshimune, the Shogun, and conspired to shame him in front of Yoshimune. At that time, the city of Edo was afflicted with a terrible group of pickpockets and thieves, so much that the citizens and merchants of that great city had fallen into despair. Said one conspirator to the others, “The theivery in Edo is so deeply rooted that, if we were to charge him with finding a solution to this problem, Oöka will certainly fail and lose his honor.”

And so the conspirators composed an elegant letter, appealing to the Shogun, which read:

O Highest Shogun!

We beg of you to hear our problem! Edo, the greatest city of this Kingdom has long suffered under the work of evil men. The League of Thieves and Pickpockets, who take what they do not deserve from honest, respectful people, has grown in number and boldness, to a degree that our police officers alone can no longer keep them under control. We beg you, in your infinite wisdom, to use your own wisest administrator to completely destroy this most vulgar group of thieves and pickpockets.

Respectfully submitted for your highest consideration.

As the conspirators had hoped, Yoshimune took the case to Oöka, his most trusted advisor. Oöka read the petition carefully, then said, “The punishment for such crimes is not severe enough. If a pickpocket risked his own execution with each reach into the purse and pocket, he would soon give up his profession.”

Yoshimune was shocked. “How can I cut off a man’s head for stealing a few silver coins?”

Oöka bowed his head, and answered, “Your Illustriousness, if you place this problem in my hands, I can solve it.” Yoshimune then gave Oöka permission to solve the problem in his own way, and left him to begin his work.

Immediately Oöka posted signs throughout the Royal City that read:

To All the Pickpockets and Thieves of Edo:

It has been brought to the attention of His Honor the Shogun that members of your group have been operating without paying their taxes to the Government of the Shogun. It is therefore decreed:

1) Every pickpocket who desires to follow his trade will be required to carry a license.
2) The license must be purchased for two gold coins, and thereafter renewed each year for 3 silver coins.
3) The possession of this license allows any pickpocket to perform his duties freely, and without fear from prosecution.
4) Any pickpocket caught in the act of stealing without a license in his possession will be executed.

Application may be made for these licenses at the Office of the High Court at noon on the fifth day of the following moon.

Oöka Tadasuke, Machi-Bugyo

When the people of Edo heard of this proclamation, they cried and screamed, fearing that their problems had just begun. The conspirators rejoiced, thinking that Oöka had lost his mind. Even Yoshimune heard of the craziness, but said, “I have given Oöka permission to solve this problem as he may. I must allow him to finish it.”

The reactions seemed to make the The League of Thieves and Pickpockets stronger, so much that a representative of the pickpockets went without fear to visit Oöka. “There has never been a tax on pickpockets and thieves, and instituting one now would be outrageous!”

Said Oöka, calmly, “Is your profession not an old one? Does it not require skill, practice, and daring? If the Shogun’s Law cannot stop the pickpocket, it can in the least call him to account!”

The pickpocket returned to his league, where a group of the league’s elders met to discuss their situation. “This is a trick!” said one. “As soon as we appear to apply for a license, they will grab us and we will be jailed!” The elders talked and argued, until an upraised hand from the eldest among them brought them to silence.

“Oöka would not employ such trickery,” he said. “Subterfuge is beneath his dignity, and to publish a lie is beneath his honor. We will go to the Office of the High Court on the appointed day.”

And so the day came, and finally the hour, and the Office of the High Court was filled with members of the Pickpockets’ League. Oöka’s officers distributed the applications, on which the pickpockets wrote their names and their residences. They took from each of the pickpockets the payment of two gold coins, and swore the pickpockets to an oath that they would always carry their licenses while pickpocketing, or else lose their lives. Once all the pickpockets had completed their applications and sworn their oathes, Oöka had the official licenses brought out into view.

Each license was a square of pine wood, as tall as a man, and each had written, in large red letters, the words “Licensed Pickpocket”.

The thieves and pickpockets saw the licenses, and realized that to carry one would make them as noticeable as a three-headed dragon. They knew at once that they had been beaten, and every last one of them left Edo that same day for other provinces. None even claimed their licenses.

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