Posts Tagged ‘ Meiji Era ’

Recommending Three Recently-Published Books.

This is a first for LetsJapan.Wordpress.Com  I have books, new books on Japan, to recommend (plus a “Bonus Book”).  They’re friends’ books, in fact, so besides the treat you’d be giving yourself, you’d be doing me a great favor by checking out what my friends have done.  Also, I have a personal connection with each book, even if that connection’s a little tangential.  I bet you will, too.  .  .

1.  Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage:  900 Miles to Enlightenment.


Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage:  900 Miles to Enlightenment, by Amy Chavez.

“I had always wanted to do the Shikoku Pilgrimage ever since I heard about it when I first came to Japan in 1994. There are, of course, many ways to do the journey. If you do it on foot, it takes 5-6 weeks to complete. By bicycle, you’ll need about 10 days. You can also visit the temples by bus or car. To cover all 88 temples, it will take at least a week, even by car. Most foreigners are interested in walking it. It’s a great physical challenge as well as an opportunity to feel the countryside and Japan’s ancient culture. You’ll miss a lot of that if you do the pilgrimage by car. . . .”  Amy Chavez, in this interview on  Femina Intrepida.

Personal:  I’ve not yet done the 88 temple pilgrimage on Shikoku.  However, I’ve been to Mount Koya, where Kobo Daishi — founder of Shikoku’s temples (not all of them, but he started the whole shebang) — set up a vast, and mysterious, temple complex.  More than that, I’ve been many times, more than a dozen I estimate, to Kobo Daishi’s home temple, To-ji, in Kyoto.  At one of To-ji’s main building’s 88 scrolls — one for each of the Shikoku 88 — are unfurled around it, stones set in the ground below each scroll.  Any one can do a “Mini Pilgrimage” by going round the building, stepping from stone to stone, and making a reverent, sincere, bow before each scroll and offering-up a prayer.  Here’s a photo I took on May 21, 2008, of people doing just that:

1 of 88 Prayers. Toji Temple. May 21, 2008.

1 of 88 Prayers. Toji Temple. May 21, 2008. Link, reviews.


2.  The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn.


The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn

By (his wife), Setsuko Koizumi.  Edited & Illustrated by my friend, Hayato Tokugawa.

“There was no one who did more in the late 19th and early 20th centuries than Lafcadio Hearn to bring the inner thoughts and ideals of Japan, its religions, its superstitions, its art, its way of thought, all that animates its people, to the West. He lived in Meiji Era Japan and became one of its citizens, linking East and West, but received no public recognition, no decorations; yet, the world places a crown of laurel upon his head.Todai moto kurashi.”The foot of the beacon is dark.”In Reminiscences of Lafcadio Hearn, Setsuko Koizumi, Mrs. Hearn, has written wonderful, affectionate recollections of her life with Lafcadio Hearn in a book that is simply written, almost naive at times, sometimes funny yet at other times almost tragic, providing insights into herself, her family, and her husband and his wonderful writings on Old Japan.”  From The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn.

Personal:  LafCadio Hearn arrived in Japan in 1890 to begin a new life as a school teacher in Matsue, a town in Southern Japan situated on its western coast, on the Sea of Japan.  The first Hearn I read was a slim book of diaries.  I read it in 1990, 100 years after Hearn landed, not many months after I landed in Japan and began teaching in a Middle School, not too far from Matsue and Japan’s western coast.  I was amazed to find that much of what Hearn had written — impressions and insights about his students, the school system, his life as a teacher, etc. — were things that I could have written 100 years later. Link, reviews.


3.  Crossing on the Paris.

This one, Crossing on the Paris, is different.  It’s a historical novel.  It is not set in Japan, but rather, on the great (and very real) Trans-Atlantic Ship, The Paris, in 1921.  It was written by my friend Dana Gynther.  It’s her debut novel.  Dana and I have known each other since we were both undergrads at the University of Alabama in the early-to-mid 1980s.  Dana lives with her husband and two daughters (one whom I understand is simply nuts about Japan) in Valencia, Spain.  This book is a wonderful read and is No. 2 on’s “Downton Abbey Reading List.”


Crossing on the Paris, by Dana Gynther.

Being confined to a relatively small space—an ocean liner is an enormous boat, but a boat nonetheless—for almost a week does open a door to many possibilities. While doing research, I found that most people who made crossings back then claimed that time passed differently on board, that days felt like weeks. In this short time span, it was not uncommon for life-long friendships to form, for deep, dark secrets to be revealed to other travelers, for near-strangers to get engaged. In this book, all three women are travelling alone; reaching out to others is part of our very human willingness—or desire—to make friends, to share, to feel connected.  Dana Gynther, in this interview.

Personal:  I mention my personal connection with Dana at the beginning of this section.  Beyond that, Dana and I correspond occasionally, reminiscing about days gone by in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Dana giving me sage writer’s advice as I complete a first-draft manuscript on my Japan adventures over the years, and so on.  Moreover, I’m just honored and humbled to know such an incredible writer, one who can put the reader into the scene, into the moment. Link, Reviews.

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Mystery and Detective Week, Pt 2: Inspector Hanshichi & Detective Akechi

This is the second of three Mystery Week posts.  Earlier this week we went to China with Judge Dee.  Now on to two Detectives in Japan whose authors brought them to life between the World Wars and whose exploits live on to this day in books, manga, film and television.  Coming up this weekend, an old friend will solve crimes and unravel mysteries in India and Tibet.  Until then, enjoy.

JAPAN: Inspector Hanshichi

“The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi”  (半七捕物帳 – The Hanshichi Detective Stories).  Link to Amazon site.   Inspector Hanshichi was the creation of Kido Okamoto (1872-1939), whose life and work spanned three historical and tumultuous epochs of modern Japanese history, the Meiji Era (1868-1912), the  Taisho Era (1912-1926) and the Showa Era (1926-1989), marked by the reins of the Emperors whose names they became known by (as per Japanese custom — Westerners should note that Emperors take on posthumous names, thus Emperor Hirohito became known as Emperor Showa after he passed away in 1989).  A few years ago The Japan Times serialized (in English) “The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi.”  Unfortunately, I can’t find an online version of that.  Nevertheless, the Times published a wonderful, multi-part piece on the background of Inspector Hanshichi, his creator, Kido Okamoto, the times in which Kido lived and wrote, and the times (the late Edo Period) in which he places Inspector Hanshichi.  The Times piece provides a very readable and informative history lesson of 19th and early 20th Century Japan.

Although widely read in Japan since its publishing in the years between 1917 and 1937, it wasn’t until 2007 that [The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi] was translated into English. The book was published by the University of Hawai’i Press .  .  .                                                                                                                                                    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.  Although it is a product of the early period of Japanese modernism  .  .  .   Hanshichi does not seek to challenge literary conventions.  Instead it aims to entertain and thrill its readers with well-crafted prose, realistic dialogue, and compelling plots, enabling them to escape into a world both strange and familiar.  Strange, in that the customs of mid-nineteenth century Japan must have seemed antiquated, even quaint, to readers of the late 1910s and early 1920s. Familiar, in that Hanshichi was not an imitation of Western fiction — as was much crime writing of the time — but boasted characters and settings uniquely Japanese.  Full article.


And, a couple more quotes from the well-written Japan Times background piece on Hanshichi and its author:

Kido’s fictional hero, Inspector Hanshichi — an old man in the 1890s when the narration of the series is set — represents many Japanese at the turn of the century who had not entirely adjusted to the changes of two to three decades earlier.  Hanshichi [ ] still thinks of the seasons and the weather in terms of the old lunar calendar. . .   Unable to adjust completely, he feels himself somewhat out of tune with the modern world.  Likewise, many traditional customs and practices persisted in Japan amid the onslaught of modernity.  Western democracy and industry were embraced as more “advanced” and “enlightened” than Japanese institutions, but the feudal order proved surprisingly durable.  Kido’s coming-of-age in the early years of Meiji also sheds light on his efforts to adapt Western artistic forms to Japanese tastes.  The trajectory of his career illustrates the diffi culties many Japanese experienced in adapting to the new social order, as well as the opportunities it afforded.  .  .  .  Source.


When Hanshichi was launched in 1917, very few of Kido’s readers would have had firsthand knowledge of Edo (Tokyo) in the 1840s to 1860s, the period when the adventures are set.  As the series progressed and more and more of the old city vanished (most notably after the Great Earthquake of 1923), decreasing numbers of his readers could have recalled what Tokyo had been like in the time before Japan’s overseas wars with China and Russia in 1894 and 1904, respectively.  .  .        Hanshichi’s Edo is populated not only by fl esh-and-blood men and women but also by ghosts, spirits, and monsters of various descriptions, whose existence, while never actually proven, is frequently hinted at. They take the form of human specters, fox spirits, shape-changing cats, and other mischief makers such as the goblin-like tengu and watery kappa that lurk in rivers and on desolate moors, liminal spaces where the relative safety afforded by the city and the presence of other human beings gives way to the unfathomable and forbidding natural world. As the opening sentence of the very first adventure suggests, the Edo period was a time when the supernatural exerted a strong grip on the Japanese imagination. It was used to explain any strange and troubling event, and was as readily accepted by most samurai as by the less well-educated townspeople. Even Hanshichi, the wise and worldly expert on human nature, is never willing completely to rule out the supernatural as a plausible explanation. In recounting his adventures, he defers to his young interlocutor on all matters of modern science and empiricism, modestly professing that such things are beyond his ken.  .  .  . Source.


Detective Kogoro Akechi

Detective Kogoro Akechi was the brainchild of Edogawa Rampo (1894-1965), pen name for Hirai Tarō.  Here’s a wonderful write-up on Rampo and his works of mystery and fantasmagoria.  And here’s a Rampo fansite.  From the Wiki, regarding Akechi:

“Like [Sherlock] Holmes, Akechi is a brilliant but eccentric detective who consults with the police on especially difficult cases. He is a master of disguise and a judo expert whose genius  lets him solve seemingly impossible cases.  Also like Holmes, Akechi makes use of a group of young boys — the Baker Street Irregulars — to gather information.  Akechi’s version is known as the Boy Detective Club. Akechi smokes Egyptian cigarettes when he is thinking about a case.

“Akechi is a tall, handsome man with heavy eyebrows who dresses well. He is married to a woman named Fumiyo and has an adopted son, Yoshio Kobayashi, the leader of the boy detectives club.  Kobayashi often plays an important part in solving cases.  Like his mentor, he is an expert at disguise and is especially adept at posing as a young woman.  Aside from these relationships little is known of the detective’s personal life, which always takes a back seat to the mystery in his adventures.

“Detective Akechi’s most frequent foe is the infamous Kaijin Nijū Mensō (the ‘Fiend with Twenty Faces’) <-2002 made-for-T.V. film poster.  The fiend is a master criminal whose infallible gift for disguise may have been inspired by Hamilton Creek, Thomas W. Hanshew’s heroic but amoral “Man of Forty Faces.” The Fiend is a non-violent criminal who steals to demonstrate his brilliance rather than out of need for money. He and Akechi have a mutual respect in the stories.”  From here

Masakazu Tamura as Detective Akechi in the 2002 made-for-tv film, "Kogoro Akechi vs. the Fiend with 20 Faces."

Regarding that 2002 TV version of Kogoro Akechi vs. the Fiend with Twenty Faces, here’s a link to the full film (sorry, with only Chinese subtitles; it’s a Chinese site):  Link to Film.  It’s rather hokey but visually interesting and even if you don’t understand Japanese (or Chinese), you can “get” what’s going on in at least the first 20 minutes, which I recommend.  Historical/Cultural Note:  the very beginning, Prologue portion, of the film is set in China during WWII, in the fictitious “Unit 634” (bio-warfare).  There actually was an infamous Japanese biological warfare program in China during the war, “Unit 731.”

An even more recent “Detective Akechi vs. the Fiend with Twenty Faces” movie was released in theaters in 2008.  It’s set in an alternate history, 1949 Japan where  WWII never happened and Tokyo is called “Teito.”   Here’s the trailer to “K-20,” which looks pretty hokey and unwatchable to me, but it is interesting to see what other filmmakers are doing (which, here, looks not too different from what American and British studios are doing, which is not a compliment).