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The judge who tied up a god to catch a thief

Mukashi-mukashi, once upon a time, there lived a kimono maker in Edo. One day, after he had bought a beautiful bolt of blue fabric at the market place, he stopped at the local temple to rest in the shade of a tree. When he woke up, his cart was gone. Somebody had stolen it!

There was only one solution: ask the most famous judge in the land, Ōoka Tadasuke, for his help. Tadasuke called all the villagers to his court. "Who stole the cart?" he demanded, but everybody remained quiet. "Then," Tadasuke decided, "it must be the god Jizō's fault. Jizō is supposed to protect us all, but he didn't. Go to the temple, arrest a statue of Jizō, tie him up and bring him to the court." 

Bound Jizō at Nanzō-in

His bewildered guards obeyed. When they brought the statue into court, bundled up in ropes, everybody burst out laughing. "Silence!" thundered Tadasuke. "How dare you laugh in the presence of a god? I will fine you for contempt!" The frightened villagers wailed that they had no money. "Then I will accept a token fine," said Tadasuke. "Each person must bring a swatch of cloth."

You know what happened next, don't you? One villager brought a swatch of blue kimono fabric and could be identified as the thief. The judge personally removed the ropes from the Jizō statue, apologized to the deity and had him returned to the temple.

Ōoka Tadasuke (大岡 忠相), also known as Ōoka Echizen (大岡越前), was a real character who had a reputation as one of the wisest and most incorruptible officials of the Tokugawa era. It can't be proved that this particular incident of the stolen kimono cloth actually happened – perhaps it's just a folk tale – but we do know for a fact that a Jizō statue at a temple in present-day Kanamachi in Katsushika-ku has been swaddled in ropes for several centuries.

The temple's full name is Narihira-san Tōsen-ji Nanzō-in (業平山東泉寺南蔵院), but it's often referred to as simply Tōsen-ji or Nanzō-in. The Jizō statue is called Shibarare Jizō (縛られ地蔵) or Bound Jizō. You can still offer prayers for stolen or missing items at this temple: buy a rope, tie it around the statue and ask the deity for his help. The ropes are removed in a ceremony at the end of the year.

Bound Jizō at Nanzō-in. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

Cool story, huh?

It gets better, because … there's another one! The second Bound Jizō stands at Rinsen-ji (林泉) near Myōgodani Station in Bunkyō-ku. The original temple was built in 1602, and it's said that the statue was donated by its founder, Ito Hanbei, in memory of his parents. It's not clear when Rinsen-ji's statue became a Bound Jizō, but the statue played a role in Zenigata Heijia detective story set in the Edo era, written by Nomura Kodō (1882-1963).

Bound Jizō at Rinsen-ji

The hero of the story, Heiji, used old coins with a hole, called kan'eitsūhō, to catch criminals, and it's interesting to note that modern 5 yen and 50 yen coins, which both have holes, are threaded into the ropes tied around Rinsen-ji's statue.

Bound Jizō at Rinsen-ji

So there you go. If you're missing anything, you know where to go. Hmm. I wonder if I could tie a rope for my missing short-term memory?

Notes:

1) I recommend the book Ōoka the Wise: Tales of Old Japan by I.G. Edmonds. It's a children's book, but hey, it's never too late to have a second childhood. The book is available on Amazon.com.

2) The judge was the main character in two TV dramas, Abarenbo Shogun (暴れん坊将軍) and Ōoka Echizen (大岡越前).


3) If you want to know more about Jizō and his dozens of manifestations, I recommend Mark Schumacher's website.

4) A special thanks to Minor for telling me about this statue!


The entrance to Nanzō-in. You can see the Bound Jizō in the background.

Bound Jizō at Nanzō-in

Close-up of Bound Jizō at Nanzō-in




Main temple at Nanzō-in

A Mizuko Jizō (水子地蔵), in other words, a Jizō for aborted or miscarried babies, at Nanzō-in.

Memories of unborn babies



I don't know why there's a Rilakkuma ema at Nanzō-in, but never mind, it's cute!

The incense burner at Nanzō-in has interesting feet.

Bound Jizō at Rinsen-ji

Bound Jizō at Rinsen-ji

Coins weaved into the ropes

Bound Jizō at Rinsen-ji, and below are two smaller Jizō statues at the temple.


Drinks on a grave: making sure the deceased won't get thirsty.

We talked about the proximity of graveyards to houses in the comments section of another post. Here's a good example. I wouldn't mind living in one of these houses, since this cemetery at Rinsen-ji is tranquil and well maintained. 

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