First, karate stands on the side of justice.
Hitotsu, karate wa, gi no tasuke
That’s nice for Karate and all, but what, exactly could Sensei Funakoshi mean by justice? And standing on the side of justice? This translation’s a little fuzzy so let’s look at the original characters. The character 義 (gi) means justice, righteousness. And 補 (tasu) means to nourish, supplement, or supply.
So is Karate nourished by justice, or is justice nourished by Karate-Do? Whatever we may find grammatically, the stands on the side of seems to work. It seems by finding this justice, we may find a lot more about Karate, and, as per usual with the niju kun, ourselves.
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What is justice?
What is justice exactly? Justice, according to the Oxford dictionary, means just behaviour or treatment, specifically, the quality of being fair and reasonable. Odd that they would use the word just to be the pivotal defining characteristic for the word justice. Circular? Or is just the root word for justice? If so, the Oxford definition for just is:
- Based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair
- (of treatment) deserved or appropriate in the circumstances
- (of an opinion or appraisal) well founded; justifiable
Morality, appropriateness, fairness and reasonableness are all, arguably, subjective. It smacks of the expression I know it when I see it. The expression is from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart on describing hard-core pornography, where he states:
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…
So it is with justice. One knows it when one sees it.
A very convenient, if not frustrating statement. What if I don’t know when I see it? How can I describe it to someone else? This is where certain types of folktales and moral parables do a great job delivering the aphorisms needed to ‘justify’ our knowing and seeing.
Which brings us, finally, to the illustrative example of Judge Ooka. Judge Ooka was a Japanese magistrate in the early 18th century. His stories always emphasize his compassion, fairness, appropriateness, and reasonableness. So appropriate! One of his most famous stories is The Case of the Stolen Smell. Below is the full story from I.G. Edmonds book, Ooka the Wise, with commentary!
Hopefully, just reading about the just justice will nudge us just a little closer to our own just justifications!
Judge Ooka and The Case of the Stolen Smell
Now it so happened in the days of old Yedo, as Tokyo was once called, that the storytellers told marvelous tales of the wit and wisdom of His Honorable Honor, Ooka Tadasuke, Echizen-no-Kami. This famous judge never refused to hear a complaint, even if it seemed strange or unreasonable. People sometimes came to his court with the most unusual cases, but Ooka always agreed to listen. And the strangest case of all was the famous Case of the Stolen Smell.
This is the classic once upon a time in every story where the narrator tells you everything you need to know. And, as mentioned above, Judge Ooka was a real person. Ooka Tadasuke was born in 1677 and served as a samurai before becoming the magistrate of Edo (i.e., Tokyo).
It all began when a poor student rented a room over a tempura shop—a shop where fried food could be bought. The student was a most likable young man, but the shopkeeper was a miser who suspected everyone of trying to get the better of him. One day he heard the student talking with one of his friends.
“It is sad to be so poor that one can only afford to eat plain rice,” the friend complained. “Oh,” said the student, “I have found a very satisfactory answer to the problem. I eat my rice each day while the shopkeeper downstairs fries his fish. The smell comes up, and my humble rice seems to have much more flavor. It is really the smell, you know, that makes things taste so good.”
First, this really is true about smell—the olfactory senses are much more complex than the taste buds. Second, what a great setup for the story! You have the polar opposites of the miserly shopkeeper and a likable, poor, young student.
The shopkeeper was furious. To think that someone was enjoying the smell of his fish for nothing! “Thief!” he shouted. “I demand that you pay me for the smells you have stolen.” ”A smell is a smell,” the young man replied. “Anyone can smell what he wants to. I will pay you nothing!”
And here we have the ubiquitous ‘whose property’ argument. It may sound ridiculous, but the shopkeeper did, in essence, create the smell (and pay for the tempura ingredients, the stove and cookware, and other various overhead costs).
Scarlet with rage, the shopkeeper rushed to Ooka’s court and charged the student with theft. Of course, everyone laughed at him, for how could anyone steal a smell? Ooka would surely send the man about his business. But to everyone’s astonishment, the judge agreed to hear the case.
“Every man is entitled to his hour in court,” he explained. “If this man feels strongly enough about his smells to make a complaint, it is only right that I, as city magistrate, should hear the case.” He frowned at the amused spectators.
Already, we see Judge Ooka’s reasonableness when he exclaims that every man is entitled to his hour in court. He takes his job and position seriously and if he is to maintain social order, that means hearing his constituents’ complains. On another level, if the judge makes a ruling now, it may nip future perseverating, or grudge-holding, in the bud.
Gravely Ooka sat on the dais and heard the evidence. Then he delivered his verdict. “The student is obviously guilty,” he said severely. “Taking another person’s property is theft, and I cannot see that a smell is different from any other property.” The shopkeeper was delighted, but the student was horrified. He was very poor, and he owed the shopkeeper for three months’ smelling. He would surely be thrown into prison.
“How much money have you?” Ooka asked him. “Only five mon, Honorable Honor,” the boy replied. “I need that to pay my rent or I will be thrown out into the street.”
“Let me see the money,” said the judge. The young man held out his hand. Ooka nodded and told him to drop the coins from one hand to the other. The judge listened to the pleasant clink of the money and said to the shopkeeper, “You have now been paid. If you have any other complaints in the future, please bring them to the court. It is our wish that all injustices be punished and all virtue rewarded.”
“But, most Honorable Honor” the shopkeeper protested, “I did not get the money! The thief dropped it from one hand to another. See! I have nothing.” He held up his empty hands to show the judge. Ooka stared at him gravely. “It is the court’s judgment that the punishment should fit the crime. I have decided that the price of the smell of food shall be the sound of money. Justice has prevailed as usual in my court.”
What is justice? Arguably, the smell is the shopkeeper’s property. However, realizing it would set an incredibly poor precedent to allow restaurants to charge any passers-by for smelling the smells of their food, Judge Ooka delivered a most unusual, yet appropriate and reasonable, solution.
Justice via harmony
It’s always more desirable to resolve conflicts via harmony rather than power. Judge Ooka had a reputation of resolving conflicts within his court with harmony. As evidenced by The Case of the Stolen Smell, where no one was harmed and future pains were avoided. Just Judge Ooka delivered just justice. And this is why the people of Edo loved and respected him. He navigated the mores of society with compassion; therefore, his justice was imbued with compassion.
In order for the harmonious resolution of conflict to occur, and Judge Ooka to exist, there has to be some sort of social order within a stable society (even if whack rules exist—e.g., in other stories, one sees Judge Ooka address gender, age, and social inequality issues). What is justice without harmony? Hmm…
Where social order has fallen (due to corruption, nepotism, fear, etc.) and social mores are no longer respected, you see a different type of justice. Judge Ooka is replaced by, you guessed it, Batman.
’nuff said. (Yes, geek out at the Stan Lee quote, after the Frank Miller reference… whoa!)
And, The Case of the Stolen Smell by I.G. Edmonds is available in lots of libraries. Check it out.
Stay tuned dear readers…
When next we discuss the dark side of justice, the dark knight, and justice via power.