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One of the more cynical dictums in Japanese goes “Shōjikimono ga baka o miru” (“Honesty doesn’t pay”). In pre-modern times, neither did crime. The Osadamegaki Hyakkajo — the criminal code enforced by the Tokugawa rulers — prescribed an extensive list of severe punishments for those found guilty of fraud and trickery.

Currency counterfeiters were dispatched by haritsuke (public execution by perforation with spears). The penalty for use of fraudulent scales or measures of volume was decapitation, with the head displayed on a gibbet for three days. Forgery of an official seal on a document earned the offender confiscation of his property and banishment. Merchants caught dealing in fake goods were tattooed to mark them as criminals and banished. And habitual con men lost their heads irrespective of the amount they swindled.

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