Posts Tagged ‘ Meiji Restoration ’

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).

Things About Japan

In front of Heian Shrine. Kyoto. November 2009.

A few updates in text and photos made, September 2011. 

It seems right to start off a New Year with a few basics.  While I believe that many who visit this site live in Japan or have lived or often visited Japan and know much about its culture and history, I think that many others are only at the beginning of their journey into learning about Japanese culture and history, etc.  Or perhaps they know one aspect of Japan rather well, but the rest is a blank slate to them.  So, then, I’m posting a page of facts, trivia and other stuff about Japan that you may or may not find interesting.  Well, here it is.  Enjoy.

うどん/Udon (noodles) Sign. Tokyo. 2007.

+ Japan is an archipelago nation situated off the east coast of the Asian Continent, consisting of four (4) main islands, (from North to South) Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. . . and hundreds, thousands, of smaller islands.  It’s total land mass is roughly the same as California’s.

+ Japan’s population:  around 128 million (a little more than 1/3 that of the United States).

Sept 2011 Update: Morning. My room. 3 Sisters Inn. Aug ’11.

+  This past November (2010) the Chiba Lotte Marines won The Japan Series (beating the Chunichi Dragons, over the course of 7 games).  They love their baseball in Japan.  Japan’s Pacific League roughly corresponds to the U.S. American League (well, they use designated hitters) and its Central League is sometimes compared to the National League.  In Japan if a game is tied after 9 innings they can play up to 3 more innings.  If it’s still tied after 12 innings, the game’s declared a draw and ends. September 2011 Update:  the Yakult Swallows (Tokyo) currently lead the Central League and the Softbank Hawks (Fukuoka) lead the Pacific League.

Orix Buffaloes v. Yakult Swallows. Osaka. May 2010.

+ Japan is the second largest producer of single malt whisky in the world.  Suntory’s whiskey is by far Japan’s largest whiskey company.  One of my client’s plants is next to Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery.  My client doesn’t make whiskey, though.  The Yamazaki Single Malt was the whiskey featured in “Lost in Translation.”

+ Japan’s National Anthem is Kimi ga Yo, which was composed in 1880 by Hiromori Hayashi, and put in its final musical form by a German bandmaster and composer, Franz Eckert.  I think it’s a very pretty tune.  Some in Japan think it sounds overly nationalistic, as it pays homage to the Emperor.  Hatsune Miku is a young girl manga/enetertainment character built around a synthesized voice.  Here’s “her” version of Kimi ga Yo.

+ Japan’s Emperor is Akihito.  Akihito Tenno’s (“Tenno” is Japanese for “Emperor” and looks like this:   天皇 in Japanese) father was Emperor Hirohito, now called Emperor Showa, as Japanese Emperors are given posthumous names to which they are thereafter referred.

+ More Imperial Information: In the modern era Japan’s Emperors have been Emperor Meiji (reign beginning 1868 – d. 1912), Emperor Taisho (reign 1913 – d. 1922), Emperor Showa (reign 1923 – d. 1990), and Emperor Akihito, whose reign begin in 1991, after his father’s passing.  Article I of Japan’s Constitution (which Gen. Douglas MacArthur‘s and the U.S. State Department’s team had a very heavy hand in drafting after World War II) provides that  “The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power,” thus officially de-deifying the Emperor.

* Here’s picture of my Uncle Bill with the then-Crown Prince, now Emperor, Akihito in 1959 at a reception at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.  Uncle Bill was with the U.S. government, stationed in Japan for a few years:

Then-Crown Prince Akihito in Foreground L. Uncle Bill Upper R. May 1959.

+ In front of and just down the street from Heian Shrine in Kyoto is Japan’s largest torii, or sacred gate.  It was constructed in 1929.  It’s 24.2 meters (79.39 feet) high.  The top rail is 33.9 meters (111.2 feet) long.  A photo of the Heian Shrine’s Dai Torii (Great Torii) is just below.  The Shinto Shrine with the most toriis in Japan is located just south of Kyoto at Fushi Inari Taisha (founded in 711 A.D.), where there are between 3,300-3,500 torii under which one can walk (and hundreds or thousands more smaller ones).

City Bus No 5. Between the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art & National Museum of Modern Art.

This is a diagram of a Kyoto City Bus:

+ In Japan three (3) writing systems are used:   hiragana (ひらがな), katakana (カタカナ) and kanji (漢字).  “Romaji” is used to write Japanese words using the 26 letters of the English alphabet. All — hiragana, katakana and kanji are used, are intertwined in any given Japanese sentence (though katakana, used to phonetically approximate foreign/borrowed words in Japanese, onomatopoeia and as italics, is used less frequently than hiragana and kanji).  The Japanese language has fewer sounds in it than English.  That’s one of the reasons why many Japanese can have a difficult time differentiating between the  r, l, and d sound, because in Japanese these sounds don’t exist in any kind of distinct way as they do in English.  On the other hand, native English speakers can have a tough time distinguishing between a few of the Japanese sounds and sometimes get vowels (like , sounds like the  ay in “stay” and , sounds like the i in “police”) mixed up.  I wrote a story about that. It’s short.  It’s a true story.

Morning along San-jo, Kyoto. August 2011.

+ Over the past 6 or so months Japan and China have been vying for the title of “World’s Second Largest Economy,” after the United States.  I was recently interviewed about the Japanese economy and business culture, trends and challenges.

+  On average every Japanese person consumes 34.1 pounds of chicken each year.  That’s 15.5 kilograms/year.  This is over 60% more than is consumed annually per person in China, but less than 1/4 of the chicken scarfed down by Kuwaitis each year.

From Dai Kichi Yakitori. Shirakawa St. Kyoto. Nov 2009.

+ JAXA is Japan’s NASA.  One of its recent premier projects (in which it leads the world) is “IKAROS,” a solar sail.  A solar sail “converts sunlight as a propulsion by means of a large membrane while a Solar ‘Power’ Sail gets electricity from thin film solar cells on the membrane in addition to acceleration by solar radiation.”

+  In Japan porcelain production started in the early 1600’s in Arita, Japan (on the Southern Island of Kyushu).  Kanagae Sanpei, from Korea, is generally credited as the founder of Japanese porcelain-making.  There are many different kinds and styles of Japanese porcelain, virtually all tracing back to those first kilns in Arita.  Imari, Kutani, Kakiemon, and Hirado, are just a few of the more famous types and styles of porcelain.  And within each of these classifications there are a multitude of classes based on era, kiln and artist.  I used to be in the porcelain / antiquities business.  I wrote a story about that, too.  Here it is.

+ Japan’s Innovation Network Corp (a public-private concern)  plans to invest US$1.6 Billion “in overseas environment-friendly projects involving Japanese companies.” (cite).   Note:Japan uses only one-ninth as much energy as China to create one unit of GDP.  It uses one-third as much energy as the United States to produce that same economic unit.” (cite).

Even on a Cloudy Day Kyoto’s a Beautiful Town.

+ The average annual snowfall for Sapporo, on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, is about 5 meters (15 feet).  Sapporo hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics.  The most incredible, mesmerizing, beautiful, mind-blowing, filmic commercials I’ve ever seen is for Sapporo Beer.  <-  Really.  Watch it.  My favorite Japanese beer, though, is Kirin.

Takoyaki Vendor. Nara. May 2010.

+ Takoyaki ( たこ焼き or  たこやき )  — see photo above — is octopus fritters.  Very tasty.  Very cheap.  Comfort food.

+ Life expectancy in Japan is over 86 for women and almost 80 for men.  In the U.S. it’s 81.4 and about 75.5, respectively.

+ The best vodka bar in Tokyo is called “The Bloody Doll.”

At Shoren-in Temple (present site dates from the 12th Century). Nov 2009.

+ In Japan the Pine (松), Bamboo (竹) & Plum (梅) trees — 「松竹梅」— are called (in translation) the “Three Friends of Winter.”

+ After a couple of interim moves (out of Nara to another site or two) Kyoto, formerly Heian-kyo (平安京), became the Emperor Kammu’s home in 794 The Emperor moved his capital out of Nara (so the story goes) to escape political and religious intrigues, priestly busybodies.  Kyoto remained the capital until 1868, when the Imperial court moved to Tokyo (Tokyo became the official new capital of Japan 2 years later) as part of the Meiji Restoration.  Kyoto’s Japan’s “Cultural Capital” and the locals will never let you forget that.  Kyoto’s home to more than 1,600 Buddhist temples and several hundred Shinto (Japan’s native religion) Shrines.

Shinkansen (新幹線), aka “Bullet Train” to Tokyo. 2007.

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