Tosuke’s Tax

The Philippines have been hit with a terrible storm. I hope they can recover quickly. Our prayers go to each and every one of them. That reminds me of my short story / poem,  I wrote about the aftermath of a fictional typhoon. From the Musea Vaults.


There are many tales in Japanese literature that have sprung up
about the wise old judge of ancient Japan – OOKA. This one
is my verse version based on the story by I. G. Edmonds.

A churning typhoon arose from the sea
And staggered up the beach ripping a path
Like knives in the wind. The land cowed
As the dark biting air destroyed and moved on!

The morning came. The clouds broke apart.
The bending grasses straightened back up,
But the buildings which resisted lay in ruins.
People who had heard of the tragedy came to see.
Were neighbors and family safe and protected?
The news was good except for the orphanage.
The children were safe but their home was lost.
“Flew like a kite!” said a frightened child.
Up and away into the smoky night.

“Time to rebuld,”said Ooka the Judge.
So to raise the funds he levied a tax
On everyone in the village who owned a home.
The people agreed saying, “We were spared.
Now it’s our duty to help the children.”
All agreed …. that is except
A crafty tea merchant named Tosuke.

“Why should a man who has no children
Pay a tax to help build an orphanage?”
Said Tosuke to his wife in their home.
“That monstrous judge has set the tax
At one gold ryo for every door in my house.
That means my bill is 6 ryos?
I won’t pay!”
“But husband you must
Or you’ll go to prison.”
“I didn’t say I’d refuse.
Instead I’ll outfox him. I’m as clever as he.”

So Tosuke joined the line of taxpayers.
When his turn came he at first protested.
Ooka said, “It’s a necessary tax.
And levied fairly so a poor man’s house
With only 1 door is only 1 ryo,
While rich men with mansions and many doors
Pay a larger share. Now no more discussion.”
“I still say it’s wrong,” said Tosuke ungratiously
As he handed Ooka a single ryo.
“You have 6 doors. You are 5 ryo’s short.”

Tosuke paused to draw more attention
From the other taxpayers standing around him.
“Lord Ooka before coming here
I sealed up all but one single door.
A house with one door is only 1 ryo.

The judge was perplexed. His ears turned red –
a sure sign that he had been embarrased.
Tosuke had followed the letter of the law
But if Ooka allowed it others would play the same trick.
“Tosuke you’re rich. It wouldn’t hurt you to pay.
Or even …,” (Ooka paused thinking to himself)
“To care for these 12 orphans yourself.”

“My lord what I earned I earned by being frugal.
I see no reason to throw it away.”
Ooka pulled his beard and looked at the children
Huddled together in the back of the courtroom,
Frightened worried children, harried and stunned,
With patched Kimonos, and sad expressions.
“Look at the children,” Ooka said to Tosuke.
Can you look in these faces and still refuse?”
“I do,” said Tosuke without an ounce of guilt.
“Why should I help someone outside my family?
It’s an INJUSTICE to pay even 1 ryo!”

Ooka’s eyes shifted but looked within
Scanning for a solution to this puzzlement.
“I cannot have an INJUSTICE blamed on my court.
Perhaps I can think of some special way
That you won’t have to pay any tax at all.”
“That would be great my Lord Ooka.
You are truely the just judge that people say you are.
I never before noticed this. But now I see.”

“I hope you continue to think so,” said Ooka.
With a sly smile he returned the gold coin.
“You pay no tax. Do you accept my decision?”
“I do,” cried Tosuke. “Then he bowed on his knees,
His head reverentially touching the ground.
Before he rose up Ooka matter-of-factly
Called for a carpenter to go nail up shut
The remaining door in Tosuke’s house.

The startled tea merchant snapped to attention.
“What is this?”
“Since you are paying no door tax
You can’t very well have any doors.”
“But how will I get in?”
“That’s not my concern.
You didn’t want to pay and I solved your problem.
You should be happy – you got what you wanted!”
“But I live in my tea shop. I sell my tea there.
How can I get in to eat or sleep?”

“And,” whispering in a low voice,” my money’s hidden there.”
“My judgement is final. I NEVER change it.
Who would respect a shilly-shallying official?
You are dismissed. Next? Make way! Who’s next?”

Tosuke stunned, walked out of the courtroom.
He went to his neighbors and asked them for help
But they were angry at his greed and refused him.
So that night he and his wife slept in the street,
Huddled together to try to keep warm
As the last of the clouds from the devastating storm
Drizzeld rain on the shivering couple.

The next day Tosuke wet and miserable,
(And smelling from day old clothes and no bath)
Pleaded at the closed door of Ooka’s home.
“You must help me,”
“No tax, no door.
I never change my mind.”
“I’ll pay the whole tax,
All six ryo’s!” Tosuke cried,
Heaving a sigh of relief that it was over.

“Impossible!” said Ooka. “I can’t change my decision.”
“But illustrious judge you are known far and wide
For helping the poor. Now I am the poor!
The poorest man in all Japan.
Please help me.” Then a pause …

“There is one way.”
“What sir? What?”
“Take all 12 children into your house.
Then the building would be an orphanage
And orphanages as you know aren’t taxed.
You would owe nothing, my decision could stand,
The children would have a home, and all your neighbors
Would get a refund of the taxes they paid.
Everybody in the town would then be happy.
Now that’s the way justice should be!”

“Take in 12 children? That is impossible.
Do you know how much rice 12 children will eat?
And the tea they would drink and the washing and ironing…”
“I know how big your house is – six doors
And this will not bankrupt you!” Ooka said severly!
“Well perhaps not, but it still costs too much.”
“You are wasting my time. Either take the children
Or be content with my decision – No tax, No door!”

Tosuke was stubborn but not a fool!
He took the children and brought them home.

They ran screaming up and down the stairs.
At first his life was indeed miserable.
He was disturbed by the noise and furious at their appetites.
But time went on and he grew to LIKE them.
And then to LOVE them as if they were his own.
And then to weep days along with his wife
When they dared grow up, marry, and LEAVE!
And so it happened that his taxless house
Was soon the happiest in all Japan.

(The end)


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