Osaka, the Merchant's Capital of Early Modern Japan

By James L. McClain; Wakita Osamu | Go to book overview

C H A P T E R S I X
The Five Men of Naniwa:
Gang Violence and Popular
Culture in Genroku Osaka

Gary P. Leupp

The criminal produces an impression, partly moral and partly
tragic, as the case may be, and in this way renders a "service"
by arousing the moral and aesthetic feelings of the public.He
produces not only compendia on Criminal Law, but also ...
art, belles-lettres, novels, and even tragedies.... The criminal
breaks the monotony and everyday security of bourgeois life.
In this way he keeps it from stagnation.

— KARL MARX

Outlaws are productive people indeed. The crimes they commit keep police forces busy, justify large budgets for criminal justice bureaucracies, and nourish the academic discipline of criminology. More important, those who violate the system's rules stimulate a popular fascination with their transgressions and inspire the creation and marketing of countless novels, plays, films, and television shows. Apparently people everywhere share a fascination with crime and its perpetrators, but few have glorified outlaws as conspicuously as did urban commoners in Japan during the Tokugawa period—and residents of few cities have adulated criminals as enthusiastically as the merchants, artisans, and laborers of early modern Osaka valorized the "Five Men of Naniwa" (Naniwa gonin otoko).

At the end of the seventeenth century and beginning of the eighteenth, Karigane Bunshichi, Gokuin no Sen'emon, An no Heibei, Hote no Ichiemon, and Kaminari Shōkurō haunted the streets of Osaka, robbing, beating, and even killing fellow residents.In the summer of 1701 the police caught up with the violent young men, and, after an investigation, authorities publicly exe

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