Yosha Bunko

Tokyo nichinichi shinbun
No. 1054 (6)
   1875-6-29 (No seal)
Confessions of evil

Story translation

As for the nature of people [human nature], it is good, yet. [In the] rouge trade, which does not leak [is not exempt] from the [graphically] proverb ([phonetically] allegory), when mixing [associating] with vermilion [one] becomes red. As for [a woman] called Onaka, the wife of an Asakusa rouge shop [proprietor] in Asakusa [= shallow grass] where feelings [hearts] are shallow. With Yasukawa Minosuke, an employee, while her husband was sick, [she] secretly consorted. And dropped the child [they] conceived. And in time [they] poisoned and killed [her] husband and attempted to become openly [clearly, legally] wife and husband, but. By relatives of both [they] were impeded, and Minosuke, whose scheme had gone wrong. In the dusk of last year [he] loosed fire on [set fire to] the rouge shop in Suwachō and [it] burned away [burned to the ground] the neighboring blocks [surrounding buildings]. Because after that from Onaka's side [she] had had a change of heart. Minosuke was greatly angry and [decided] he would poison and kill Onaka. The rat-taker [he] put in the sushi. When he fed [her] the hell-faller. Beginning with Onaka those who were present together at the place. Immediately felt intestinal pain and vomitted. From [due to] the commotion when [they] greatly suffered and called a doctor and needed treatment and medicine. When [police] investigated Minosuke [and] Onaka. Husband killing and. Master killing. Fire setting. Adultery. To child dropping. As for [when] upon [their] confession of numerous accumulated evil deeds [they] were seized and bound. [It was] in the 7th month of the 8th year of Meiji [July 1875].

Writer of minor stories
Tentendō Shujin

[Translated by William Wetherall]


The narrative style is common to a number of nishikie stories by Tentendō. While some lead with a date, in the manner of their newspaper version, this one saves the date until last, and does so with phrasing reminiscent of TNS-1036a Man nets thief. Regarding this style of closing, see also TNS-9001 Jilted shizoku runs amok.

Colorful metaphors

The graph 諺 would usually be read ことわざ (kotowaza) in Japanese and mean proverb -- but here is marked to be read たとへ (tatohe > tatoe) meaning allegory (metaphor, simile, comparison).

Proverb (allegory) is modified by 朱(しゆ)に交(まぢ)ハれバ赤(あか)くなる (shiyu ni madjihareba akaku naru) -- which today would be written 朱に交われば赤くなる (Shu ni majiwareba akaku naru) -- meaning "when mixing (mingling, associating) with vermilion, one becomes red" -- in other words, one is inspired to be good or evil according to the friends or company one keeps.

The Japanese proverb reflects part of the the Chinese expression 近朱者赤、近墨者黒 (jìn zhū zhĕ chì, jìn mò zhĕ hēi) -- meaning "those tho get close to cinnabar [China] ink become red, [while] those who get close to soot [India] ink become black" -- attributed to the poet Fu Hsuan (傅玄, Fu Xuan, 217-278) -- among other expressions, like 近墨必緇、近朱必赤.


The rouge trade (紅渡世 beni tosei) includes rouge dealers (紅屋 beniya), meaning shops or tradesmen who made and/or sold products using reddish pigments called "beni" (紅), which were made from the petals of safflowers (紅花 benibana). trade reflects the Sino-Japanese expression "tosei" (渡世), the graphs of which would be read "yowatari" (世渡り) in Japanese -- meaning the way in which one "crosses" or "treks" or "migrates" (渡る wataru) through this "life" or "world" (世 yo) -- i.e., the way in which one makes or earns a living -- one's livelihood, occupation, or vocation.

The products were mostly cosmetic creams and powders used to make the mouth (口 kuchi) or cheeks (頬 hoo > hō) look rosy -- namely 口紅 (kuchibeni) and 頬紅 (hoobeni > hōbeni). The pigment was also in medicinal ointments and compounds, and of course in dyes and inks.

The common Japanese word today for "lipstick" is "kuchibeni" when not "rippusutikku" (リップスティック) or, more technically, "bō-kuchibeni" (棒口紅) or "stick-lip-rouge". Cheeks that are beautifully rosy because of makeup, or rosy because of youthful health or exposure to cold, are charactericed as "kōgan" (紅顔) kōgan), literally "rouge face".


vermilion reflects 朱 (shu, aka, ake), the yellowish-red (orangish) pigment customarily made with cinnabar. The pigment is mixed with lacquer but also in pastes used for impressing seals, and in inks used to emphasize a word or figure or to make corrections.


red reflects 赤 (aka), the more generic word for the color. Other Sino-Japanese terms closely related to "red" are 丹 (tan, ni, aka), a rustier more earthy red, and 緋 (hi, ake), a brighter red or scarlet.

The various "red" graphs can refer to different hues and shades depending on where, when, and how they are used. Red flag, red cross, and red ink are 赤旗, 赤十字, and 赤字 in Japanese but 紅旗, 紅十字, and 紅字 in Chinese.

The metaphorical range of meanings of the words associated with the graphs also vary. "Vermilion lips" (朱唇 shushin) is a more erotic description of red lips that "rouge lips" (口唇 kōshin).

"Shu" is the Sino-Japanese reading of 朱, which is also used to represent "aka" and "ake" in Japanese. The expression 朱に染まる (ake ni somaru) -- meaning "stained vermillion [scarlet]" -- is used to characterize a bloody crime scene that would more literally be described as 血で赤く染まる (chi de akaku somaru) or "stained red with blood" or 血まみれになる (chimamere ni naru) or "become blood-covered [blood-soaked]".

Since "shu" (朱) ink is used to correct texts and figures, the color is also associated with errors, and as such is a metaphor -- as here -- for erroneous ways. Script (字 ji) written in such ink is descibed as "shuji" (朱字), while "akaji" (赤字) is translationese for "redink" meaning deficit -- in contrast with "kuroji" (黒字), which are pressumed to be "correct" or "in the black".

In the world of drama, including kabuki, "noribeni" (血紅) graphically refers to "blood rouge" but phonetically means "paste rouge" -- i.e., paste smeared on the body to represent blood. For a news nishikie story of how one man used such a paste, see TNS-913b Man feigns suicide.


drops a child [they] had conceived reflects 設(まふけ)たる子を堕胎(おろし)て (mofuketaru ko wo oroshite). This act is later described as child dropping or 堕胎(こをろし) (koworoshi). Read in Sino-Japanese, 堕胎 would be "datai" or "causing a fetus to drop".

The graphs 堕胎 -- read "datai" ("dropping-fetus") as a Sino-Japanese expression, or "ko-oroshi" (子堕し "child-dropping) in Japanese -- thus referred to "abortion" as a proscribed "deed" or "act" (業 gō waza) or "crime" or "offense" (罪 zai, tsumi). Note that 罪業 (zaigō) refers to "offensive [sinful] deeds" -- specifically those referred to in Buddhist beliefs as the "three deeds" (三業) -- as classifications of wrongdoings in daily life, which involve the "body, mouth, and intent" (身口意) -- namely "behavior, speech, and will" -- and engender bad consquences as a karmic effect of the wrongdoing.

Abortion has always been contrary to Buddhist teachings about the wrongfulness of taking life or potential life. Yet teachings about regard for the dead have provided ways for those who lose a fetus to placate the soul of the unborn child, while teachings about repentence for wrongdoings have allowed those who induce the loss of a fetus to lighten their burden of guilt by doing penance -- through the same rites of kuyō (供養) or "offering care" for a mizuko (水子) or "water child".

mizuko kuyo

Rites of "mizuko kuyō" (水子供養) typically involve making period offerings of food and drink, and prayers, to a miscarried or aborted child for the sustenance and repose of its unborn body and soul -- or the paying of fees to a temple for the performance of like rites in proxy. Cynics argue that some temples aid and abet abortion for the same reasons they encourage expensive funerals and memorial rites for those who die after having been born.

Tokugawa proscriptions

During periods of famine or other hardships, some families, to reduce the number of mouths they had to feed, resorted to killing newborn babies, in what was called "mabiki" (間引き) -- "thinning" or "culling" -- in which smaller or weaker trees or plants were cut or pulled from between others, which would then have more sun, nutrition, and room to grow. This practice was also called "kogaeshi" (子返し), literally "child returning" -- meaning that a child would be returned to the world of the unliving, where it would be better off.

During the Tokugawa period, there were a number of local ordinances prohibitting such acts of infanticide but also abortion. "Doing child-dropping as a deed [act]" (子堕しを業とすること kooroshi o waza to suru koto) was prohibited by the shogunate on Kanbun 寛文7-5-2 (23 June 1667). The prohibition is referred to as the "Drop-fetus-deed prohibition order" (堕胎業禁止令 Dataigō kinshi rei). People who committed such acts were banished.

Early Meiji proscriptions

During the Meiji era, dropping a fetus as a volitional act came to be called an "offense" (罪 tsumi, zai) rather than a "deed" (業 waza, gō). Offenses or crimes related to abortion continue today to be categorized in law as "Dazai no tsumi" (堕胎の罪) or "Dataizai" (堕胎罪).

Fetus-dropping was explicitly prohibited by the "Drop-fetus prohibition order" (堕胎禁止令 Datai kinshi rei) of Meiji 2 (1869) -- six years before this story.

The Old Penal Code of 1880 (Great Coucil of State Proclamation No. 36 of 17 July 1880) covered "Crimes of abortion" (堕胎ノ罪 Datai no tsumi) under Articles 330-335.

In the current Penal Code -- Law No. 45 of 1907, promugated on 24 April 1907 but enforced from 1 October 1908 by Imperial Ordinance No. 163 of 1908 -- "Crimes of Abortion" (堕胎の罪 Datai no tsumi) are covered by Articles 212-216.

Pregnancy termination

So-called "pregnancy termination" (妊娠中絶 ninshin chūzetzu) and "induced [artifical termination" (人工中絶 jinkō chūzetzu) are medical descriptions of acts which are not, as thus described, crimes. Categorical "pregnancy termination", first permitted under very limited and strict conditions by the 1941 National Eugenics Law, became more liberally permitted by the 1948 Eugenics Protection Law, and has been entirely free of eugenic considerations since the 1996 Maternal Body Protection Law.

Since 1948, and even more readily since 1996, a woman in Japan has been able to have a pregnancy terminated by any qualified doctor who is willing to perform a termination procedure, with the nominal consent of her spouse or the presumed father if not with only her consent. However, categorical "abortion" (堕胎 datai) remains a crime.

Rats in heaven and hell

rat-taker (鼠取り nedzumi-tori) is a general term for any thing -- device or poison -- used to kill or catch rats. A hell-faller (地獄おとし dzigoku-otoshi) is a type of trap which causes a board (hell) to fall on and kill a rat the moment it tries to eat the bait. A heaven-faller (極楽落し gokuraku-otoshi) is a cage with a gate that closes behind a rat that enters it to eat the bait, thus trapping the rat alive. "otoshi" (落とし) is a general metaphor for any device used to catch, trap, or snare a bird or animal, including of course an "otoshi-ana" (落とし穴) -- literally a "fall pit" -- or "pit" in which prey is supposed to "fall" -- a "pitfall" or "game pit" or "deadfall".

Here the idea is that the "rat-taker" (poison) is put in the sushi, and then the "hell-faller" (poisoned sushi) is fed to the people at the gathering beginning with Onaka.

Multitude of crimes

husband killing and master killing reflect 良夫(ていしゆ)(ころ)し (teishu-koroshi) and 主弑(しゆうごろ)し (shiyuu-goroshi > shū-goroshi).

"Teishu" is ordinarily graphed 亭主 and means "master" or "propritor" of a house. Here it is metaphorically used as the reading of 良夫, which graphically means "good husband" and would be read "ryōfu" in Sino-Japanese. Earlier 良夫 was marked to read "otto", the Japanese term for "husband", referring to Onaka's spouse.

Note that he "koroshi" of "teishu-koroshish" is 殺し -- since 殺 is the graph for killing or taking a life, whether of others or one's one, generally. Whereas the "koroshi" of "shū-goroshi" is 弑し -- 弑 being the graph specifically used for the killing of a lord or master by a retainer or servant, or of a parent (especially father) by a child. Whereas earlier in the story it is only implied that Minosuke was an accomplice to the killing of Onaka's husband by poison, here it is clear that both were involved.

Adultery reflects 姦通, read "kantsū" as a Sino-Japanese expression, but marked to read "maotoko" (まをとこ mawotoko). The graphs refer more generally to illicit relations between men and women, though they are commonly used to refer a sexual relationship between a married woman with a man other than her husband. The term "maotoko" (間男) is also used to refer such an illicit relationship, again especially by or with a married woman, but as it implies both graphically and phonetically, it may also refer to the "man between" -- i.e., the secret lover or paramour.

Here, the effect of writing 姦通 and reading it "maotoko" is to clarify the nature of the "illicit relationship" -- as one of "adultery" between the two confessors.

Minor stories

Writer of minor stories reflects 小説の作者. Though there are no furigana, the graphs 小説 would most likely have been marked to be read せうせつ (seusetsu), though しょうせつ (shōsetsu), the reading today, would also have been possible at the time.

Tentendō Shujin was one of several pen names used by the gesaku writer Takabatake Ransen. He also styled himself as a "writer of minor stories" on TNS-101 and TNS-1046.

For more about the "minor story" he wrote in 1874 and published in 1875, see TNS-876 Mysterious incidents. For a closer look at changes in the meaning of "minor story" at the time, see "Minor stories" and style: The essence of "shōsetsu" and news nishikie.