Detective Stories of Old Edo

Dec 5th, 2008 | By | Category: Reading Room

Ginza 1870 Follow the adventures of one of Japan’s first literary detectives, as he solves a variety of intriguing crimes committed in old Edo.  Featuring uniquely Japanese characters and compelling plots, “The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi” written by Kido Okamoto (1872-1939) presents readers with a number of intriguing crimes committed in old Edo (now Tokyo).  The novel was translated into English in in 2007 but was first serialized monthly in the popular magazine Bungei Kurabu (Literature Club) from 1917 to 1937 and become so popular that it remains in print today.

“Hanshichi” is that rare example of Japanese detective fiction that provides both a view of life in feudal Japan from the perspective of the period between the First and Second World Wars and an insight into the development of the fledging Japanese crime novel.From The Japan Times, “Prewar detective classic looks back at the mean streets of feudal Japan

Inspector Hanshichi’s crime solving adventures are set in the 1890’s, a time when many older Japanese people had not entirely adjusted to the great changes that occurred in the previous decades with the restoration of the emperor and the increasing interest in western culture that resulted.  Like his character, Kido Okamoto, the son of a samurai, struggled to adjust to the changes taking place in modern Japan.

Inspector Hanshichi solved crime in many areas of Edo but spent most of his time Shitaya, an area north of the Kanda River and south of Ueno’s Shinobazu Pond, near the Myojin Shrine, Nihonbashi, Kyobashi (in the heart of today’s Ginza) and Hatchobori.

Each installment consists of a brief prelude in which the young narrator visits old Hanshichi at his home in Akasaka (often on some special occasion such as a festival), whereupon the latter launches into a story of one of his past exploits; this is followed by a conclusion in which old Hanshichi sums things up and makes a brief pronouncement on how times have changed.

From The Japan Times, “A Tale of Two Cities

Okamoto wrote a total of sixty-nine stories and he brings the past to life with vivid characters including lecherous monks, shady con men, murderous ronin (masterless samurai), greedy merchants, and the threat posed by foreign “barbarians” that faced the city’s residents.

Starting December 2, 2008, consecutive installations from the book will appear in The Japan Times every week, from Tuesday to Saturday.  At the time of writing I have yet to see any of the stories online so assume that they are only available in the print version of The Japan Times.  However, the English translation of “The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi” is available through Amazon by clicking on the link below.

To learn more about Kido Okamoto and the history and setting of “The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi” you will enjoy reading the detailed introduction to the serialization of ‘Inspector Hanschichi’ prepared by The Japan Times.

If you are looking for more Japan related reading material, be sure to visit the Japan Reading Room where you will find great fiction, non-fiction and guidebooks covering Japan that are all recommended by the readers and writers of The Nihon Sun.

Image Credit:  Wikimeida, edohakub-ginza

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