Robin Hoods of the World: Japan's Jirokichi the Rat
|A rat - Nezumi-Kozo was nicknamed
Jirokichi the Rat because of the bag of rats he is said to have
carried around with him whilst on the rob
||Japan's Jirokichi the Rat robbed
the rich and gave to the poor - sound familiar? We take a closer look
at Japan's Robin Hood.
Article by Joseph Sinclair
A Nottinghamian in Saitama, Japan
Japan has its very own Robin Hood character who is
thought to have stolen from the rich to give to the poor. His name
was Jirokichi the Rat, alias Nezumi-Kozo, which translates into English
as "The Kid Rat".
He lived in Edo, now Tokyo, at the beginning of the 19th century,
some 500 years after Robin Hood is thought to have been stalking the
forests of Sherwood.
By day Nezumi-Kozo was a common labourer and a part-time volunteer
in the local fire brigade. But he lived a mysterious double life.
By night he was Japans most prolific thief, carrying out daring
robberies from the estates of Tokyos feudal lords and their
There is some debate over the origins of his nickname.
Some say he was a small man with rat-like features.
Others say he broke into the wealthy estates through the roof, creeping
through the attic like a rat and dropping down into the house at night
But perhaps the best explanation of his name is that he always carried
a bag of rats with him.
When he entered the wealthy mansions he would let the rats loose,
deceiving any wakened sleepers that they were just hearing the sound
of scurrying rats.
In 1832, at the age of 36, Nezumi-Kozo was caught by a passing police
officer as he left the scene of another crime.
Ten years earlier he had been caught, tattooed with a stripe across
his arm and banished from Edo. There were no second chances. He was
bound to a horse, paraded before a large crowd and then beheaded.
His head was then displayed on a stake throughout the city.
Before his death he admitted to the burglary of almost 100 samurai
estates. At a time when one ryo could support an ordinary family for
a year and the theft of 10 ryo could earn the death sentence, Nezumi-Kozo
claimed that over a period of 15 years he had stolen in excess of
Nezumi-Kozo had become a legend in his own lifetime, immensely popular
with everyday people who were stuck at the bottom of a rigid and oppressive
They were delighted to see their despotic feudal overlords humiliated
by the daring thief.
In fact, many of the thefts went unreported because it was an embarrassment
for the samurai and their poor security.
Popular stories of Nezumi-Kozo spread amongst the people. It came
to be believed that he was a master of ninjutsu the art of
making oneself invisible and that he shared his bounty with
Some historians suggest that these were just popular myths, that in
fact he lavished his money on women and gambling. 1868 brought political
revolution and the downfall of the feudal government.
Nezumi-Kozo`s life has since been celebrated in kabuki-plays, folk
songs, short stories and films.
He remains a symbol of the small man`s victory over his oppressors
- much like Nottinghamshire's Robin Hood.