Once upon a time, long ago in the city known as Edo, a place we now call Tokyo, there lived a quiet man, a talented kimono maker who was regarded as an artist with a needle. His kimonos were of the finest quality; his silks and brocades were exquisite, and his workmanship was unequaled.

Once upon a time, long ago in the city known as Edo, a place we now call Tokyo, there lived a quiet man, a talented kimono maker who was regarded as an artist with a needle. His kimonos were of the finest quality; his silks and brocades were exquisite, and his workmanship was unequaled.

One day the kimono maker was in the market where he purchased material for his beautiful kimonos. He was looking for special fabrics to make a "uchikake" for a bride-to-be, the kimono that she would wear over her special white bridal kimono. He had searched long and hard for the most beautiful fabrics, and now he spotted another, a silk brocade of sea green.

After he had purchased the beautiful brocade and placed it in his cart, he continued to search among the wares of other merchants. Finding another fabric to his liking, he turned to place it in his cart, but discovered that the cart was gone!

"Who has seen my fabric?" he asked the other vendors, and when they shook their heads, he ran to others and asked the same question. "Someone has stolen my cart!" he cried.

Word of the theft spread throughout the market and into the city. Everyone spoke of the theft, appalled that someone must have stolen the kimono maker's goods.

"Who could it be?" they asked. "We must find the thief." But not knowing what to do, several of the merchants went to see the most famous judge in the land, Ooka Echizen.

Ooka was renowned as a fair man, but he was more than that. He was, almost miraculously, able to find the truth in every case he heard, though people whispered of his peculiar ways, for he was unusual. Still, Judge Ooka seemed the perfect man to solve this case.

Judge Ooka called the kimono maker to the court and asked him to tell his whole story. "Where were you when your cart was stolen?"

"I turned my back for one moment," the man said, "and suddenly my cart was gone — and my fabric, too!"

Ooka listened attentively. He carefully studied all the people in his courtroom. "Are all the merchants of the city here?" he asked, and everyone looked around.

"Yes," one answered. "No one is missing."

The crowd fell silent, for they understood Judge Ooka was thinking. As he thought, he observed the faces of the bakers and butchers, the tailors and tinkers, trying to determine who might be responsible, but in these faces he saw only innocence and concern.

"Someone is a deceiver," he thought, but he did not say this aloud. He simply called to the courtroom guards and announced his plan — but only to them. He sent them to the temple in Edo known as the Narihira Santosen. There, he said, they would find one of the statues of the beloved divinity Jizo. "Jizo is meant to protect all sorts of people," he said, "but he has not done his duty, and so he must be punished."

The guards stared dumbfounded at the judge. "But sir," they argued, "you are asking us to arrest a stone statue."

"I am," said the judge. "Now do your job."

The guards departed the courthouse and went to the temple, just as they had been ordered. There they lifted the heavy stone Jizo from his pedestal and bound him in ropes, just as the judge had demanded. Then the guards carried the bound stone statue back to the courthouse.

When the people saw their Jizo bound in ropes, they were, for one moment, amazed. But then, one by one, they burst out laughing. The whispers came soon after. "The judge is mad." "It's only a statue!" "What's come over Ooka? He's lost his mind." "How could anyone blame a stone?"

The courtroom rumbled with laughter. Once they had begun, the people could not stop — not even the kimono maker who, though stunned and sad, had to laugh. "The judge is indeed mad," he thought.

For a few moments Ooka said nothing. He watched the people laughing and whispering, but then he stood up and said, in his loudest, most commanding voice, "Silence! This court will now come to order!"

The people saw that their judge was serious, and, after nervously tittering for a moment, they fell completely silent.

"Every one of you is in contempt of court," the judge roared. "And every one of you shall be fined!"

Now no one wanted to laugh. Rather, they all bowed their heads, awaiting their sentence.

"The fine," Ooka announced, "will be one small swatch of cloth from each of you. Guards, collect the fines."

Now each person in the courthouse breathed a sigh of relief, for to give up only a tiny piece of cloth would be no great hardship.

The guards walked through the courtroom, gathering cloth from each person, and at the judge's command, the kimono maker accompanied them. One by one people offered up the tiniest bits of cloth — some snipping bits from their clothing, others offering handkerchiefs and other small pieces.

The kimono maker watched carefully, not quite sure of what was occurring, but then, suddenly, as one man offered up a tiny piece, the kimono maker's eyes lighted up. "That's mine!" he cried, for sure enough, there was the evidence — a tiny sliver of that beautiful sea-green silk brocade the kimono maker so cherished.

"This is my cloth!" he repeated as the man who offered up the piece bowed his head.

"And so we have found our thief," the judge announced, and he called the man up to the stand. "You are guilty, sir," he said. "We shall set the statue free to guard others from such culprits as you." And with these words he sent the guards to return the statue to its rightful place in Narihira Santosen Temple. Still, to this day, it is bound with many ropes.

Readers who want to hear their favorite story on the second audiobook CD for "Tell Me a Story," soon to begin production, should send their suggestions by e-mail to kellsmom@ca.rr.com. Those selected will receive a free copy of the first CD, "Tell Me a Story: Timeless Folktales" (www.mythsandtales.com).