Narrating the Law in Japan: Rakugo in the Meiji Law Reform Debate

Ian Douglas McArthur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 1895, the Chūō Shinbun serialised Sashimonoshi Meijin Chōji (Master Cabinetmaker Chōji) by noted oral storyteller (rakugoka) Sanyūtei Enchō. Adapted from de Maupassant's Un Parracide, it tells of Chōjis murder of his suspected parents. Chōji is declared innocent of patricide since the killing was, technically, retribution for the murder of his father. The alterations made to the original reflect engagement with debate over law reform and nostalgia for a neo-Confucian morality. In the same period, Australian-born rakugoka Henry Black, who affiliated with Enchōs Sanyū-ha guild of storytellers, also contributed to the Meiji law reform debate by adapting Western detective fiction to demonstrate European legal procedures. By examining references to legal practice in Blacks stories and in Enchōs Sashimonoshi Meijin Chōji, this paper illustrates the contribution by professional storytelling to debate over law reform in the Meiji period. The debate encapsulated themes found in current discussion about law reform in Japan. Examination of the context within which law reform took place in the Meiji era contributes to a more nuanced understanding of the complex origins of current debates over law reform as Japan continues to harmonise its domestic laws with those of the rest of the world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalElectronic journal of contemporary Japanese studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • reform
  • Henry Black
  • rakugo
  • Sanyūtei Enchō
  • Meiji period
  • sensation fiction


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