March 29, 1683: Yaoya Oshichi dies. She was the daughter of a greengrocer Tarobei and her name literally means simply greengrocer Oshichi. The family lived in the Hongō neighborhood of Edo. Edo, which translates to English as “bay-entrance” or “estuary” was the former name of Tokyo. Edo was the seat of power for the Tokugawa shogunate which ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868. In December 1682, Yaoya met and fell in love with Ikuta Shōnosuke, a temple page, during the great fire in the Tenna Era. They met at Shōsen-in, the family temple. Hoping to meet the young man again, Yaoya attempted to start another fire, thinking it would bring him close again. Instead she was arrested.
Although the magistrate at the trial understood how old the young girl was, he asked if she was fifteen. She truthfully answered she was sixteen. The judge understood the consequences of such an answer. At the time, meticulous records were not kept and so it was possible to just ask and have the age confirmed by a local bureaucrat. The magistrate tried again and Yaoya, misunderstanding his intention which was to try her as a minor, again answered that she was sixteen. In accordance to the law, she was tried as an adult. The punishment for arson was to be burned at the stake and she died in that manner on this date.
Three years later, her story was incorporated into Ihara Saikaku’s book, Kōshoku Gonin Onna (English translation, Five Women Who Loved Love). In 1703, Ki no Kaion, using the story as a basis for his work, created a traditional puppet performance entitled Yaoya Ohichi. Seventy years after that, three playwrights took liberties with revising Kaion’s work. In 1773, two plays had Yaoya climbing a fire tower to ring a fire bell and call to her lover, rather than being an arsonist. The penalty for falsely ringing the bell was still death. In the plays, Oshichi is treated as a noble character of selfless devotion rather than an impetuous and foolish girl.
The calendar then in use in Japan had each year known by one of five element and one of twelve animals so that there was a series of sixty years. Oshichi was said to have been born in 1666, the year of the fire horse (Hinoe Uma [Japanese] or Bingwu [Chinese]). Every sixty years since this date, fewer children are born in such a year since it proved to be so unlucky. It is the 43rd combination possible in the cycle. The risk of having a child born with such a bad personality makes the birth rate drop during the year in East Asian countries. This is true even now, with the last such year having been in 1966. The next fire horse year will take place in 2026.
The professional arsonist builds vacant lots for money. – Jimmy Breslin
Men will confess to treason, murder, arson, false teeth, or a wig. How many of them will own up to a lack of humor? – Frank Moore Colby
Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable. – Jane Austen
Even the wisest men make fools of themselves about women, and even the most foolish women are wise about men. – Theodor Reik
Also on this day: Rationing – In 1948, rationing of items increased to include more food products.
Ice Jam – In 1848, the Falls at Niagara stopped flowing.
Vesta – In 1807, Vesta was discovered.
New Sweden – In 1638, the first Swedish colony was established in the New World.
Knights – In 1882, the Knights of Columbus was formed.