Sunday, May 31, 2020

Haiku Travels (6): Issa and Obuse

Haiku Travels

Obuse (Nagano)

nobody picks them up

these chestnuts

so splendid, so big

hirowarenu / kuri no migoto yo / okisa yo



[Kuri no komichi in Obuse. Photo from Wikipedia]

Obuse is a delightful small town in northern Nagano prefecture, just to the east of Nagano City. Thanks to rows of old warehouses, it preserves a classical atmosphere and is nice to wander around in - everything can be seen on foot from the station and there are also bikes for hire. There is enough to see here to warrant a day excursion from Nagano (or even Tokyo...).

Nowadays, Obuse is perhaps most famous for the Hokusai Museum, which displays about 40 scrolls and screens painted by the master (rather than his ukiyo-e) as well as two large festival floats he decorated. Hokusai's connection with Obuse came about late in his long life, when in 1843 (when Hokusai was already 83 years old) the prosperous Obuse-merchant Takai Kozan invited him to come and stay. Nearby the Hokusai Museum is also the house of Kozan, with Hokusai's studio and also paintings of demons on display by Kozan himzelf. A third museum in the town is the modern Obuse Museum, which has a wing dedicated to modern Japanese-style painter Nakajima Chinami, who is famous for his meticulous renderings of cherry blossoms and cherry trees. And, finally, a fourth one is the Japanese Lamp and Lightning Museum, which houses a fascinating collection of lighting devices from the past. And then there the temples: Saishoji, Genshoji, Jokoji and especially Ganshoin - that last temple boasts an impressive painting by Hokusai on the ceiling of its Main hall: called “Phoenix Glaring in All Directions,” the eyes of the mythical bird follow you no matter where you stand. By the way, an added pleasure of a walk through Obuse is the fact that its citizens are very interested in gardening and have created a townscape with beautiful flowers in all seasons.

[Chestnuts from Obuse. Photo from Wikipedia]

The other thing Obuse is famous for is rather sweet: its production of chestnuts, as well as chestnut confectioneries (when you only know the roasted variety, it will blow your mind to see how many types of sweets can be devised from just chestnuts!). You will find factories in old storehouses and shops and restaurants throughout the town. Two famous names are Chikufudo and Obusedo.

Chestnuts are intimately linked to Obuse's history, as it was the Muromachi-period warlord Ogino Jorin who 600 years ago brought chestnut tress from Tanba and planted them in the Mabukawa Delta, a place with acid soil and therefore perfectly suited for this purpose. Chestnut trees flower in June and the chestnuts are harvested from mid-September to mid-October. Obuse chestnuts are famous for their large size and great flavor. In fact, these chestnuts are so good that in the past they were sent as presents to the shogun.

And that is where Issa's haiku comes in. In the Edo period Obuse was administered by the nearby Matsushiro daimyo and this Lord had to take his pick first before anyone else in Obuse was allowed to touch the chestnut harvest. He apparently wanted to be sure that only the very best specimens would be sent to the shogun in Edo. This meant that in the meantime the inhabitants of Obuse were not allowed to eat chestnuts (a custom called "ban on chestnuts" or "otome kuri"). Large, splendid chestnuts are lying right in front of them, but the people of Obuse are not allowed to touch them until the ban is lifted - Issa clearly wrote this haiku with a satirizing intent!

Haiku poet Issa (1763-1827) was born in a farming family in Kashiwabara, not far from Obuse. At the young age of 14 he went to Edo where he studied haiku, before starting the life of a poet-priest. Issa traveled all over Japan, and especially visited places in the Kansai area. In 1801, after the death if his father, he decided to settle in Kashiwabara. Issa's haiku style is characterized by down-to-earth language, the introduction of images of small and insignificant animals, and an obsession with poverty - but also a stance of humility and togetherness with all creation inspired by his Buddhist belief. In Japan, he is the most popular haiku poet after Basho, coming even before Buson.

Obuse lies 15 km north of Nagano and can be reached in about 35 minutes from Nagano Station via the Nagano Dentetsu Railway. The delightful day I spent there several years ago is still a fond memory. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost the digital photos I took that day, so I had to borrow a few from Wikipedia...
The present haiku has been carved on a stone which stands in front of Obuse Station,

Haiku of Kobayashi Issa:

Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa (2004, Brill's Japanese Studies Library)


[Photo 1, Kuri no komichi: Tawashi2006, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 2, chestnuts:User: (WT-shared) 黒ユリ at wts wikivoyage, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Haiku Travels (5): Basho and Kiyosumi Garden (Tokyo)

Haiku Travels

Kiyosumi Garden (Tokyo)

Old pond

frog jumps in:

sound of water

furu-ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto



[Kiyosumi Garden]

Basho's frog haiku is so famous that it has almost become banal. It is the haiku of haiku. Even the greatest haiku haters have heard the 'plop' of this jumping frog. It has attracted so many translators that a book has appeared carrying more than 100 different translations. There is no dearth of haiku stones, either, three of them alone in the vicinity of the Basho Museum (including the one I visit, in the Kiyosumi Garden) and many more in various locations in Japan. There seems to exist some confusion about where this haiku was written. Basho's birthplace, Iga-Ueno, and a temple in Shiga Prefecture are both contenders, but there could be as many all over Japan as there are old ponds.

For me, however, there is no doubt about the location. It must have been near Basho's hut on the left bank of the Sumida River. There is clear evidence for it, as we will see below. Moreover, Basho was given the Sumida cottage by his disciple-cum-patron Sugiyama Sanpu, a fish dealer who owned stock ponds in the same area. So Basho's cottage was surrounded by ponds where fish were reared for Edo's hungry markets, and there must have been whole armies of frogs, too. Those fish ponds of course do not exist anymore, but there is a large pond in the Kiyosumi Garden not far from the Basho Museum.

[Pine and pond, Kiyosumi Garden]

The Kiyosumi Garden is relatively modern as Japanese gardens go. Although the site is formed by a daimyo estate with an older garden (but not old enough to incorporate anything from Basho's time), it was laid out in 1885 by Iwasaki Yataro, the founder of the Mitsubishi conglomerate. The garden is centered on a large pond (in the past fed by the Sumida River), which contains a few islands and a pavilion built for the visit of a high-ranking foreign guest in 1907. One could call it the Meiji period equivalent of the Edo daimyo gardens. In 1932 the garden was donated to the City of Tokyo.

Characteristics of the garden are the big artificial hill ('Fujimiyama') and the stone steps ('isowatari') along part of the pond's shore. These provide strollers with an expansive view of the water. The garden has been planted lavishly with black pines, azaleas, hydrangeas and irises. But Kiyosumi's most striking feature are in the many natural stones of various colors and shapes that the Iwasaki family collected from all over Japan - there are 55 large stones in all. This, too, is a 'daimyo custom:' rare stones were expensive and difficult to move, so it was a sign of sure power to fill a whole garden with them.

[The haiku stone in Kiyosumi Garden]

Basho wrote the frog haiku in 1686. The circumstances under which this took place were recorded by his disciple Kagami Shiko (1665-1731), in Kuzu no Matsubara ('Pine Forest of Kuzu,' 1692), a book written to elucidate Basho's idea of haikai. This seems to be a reliable indication that the haiku was indeed written while Basho lived in his hut on the River Sumida bank, although it was not Shiko himself who was present, but Kikaku, another disciple.

Basho was sitting in his riverside hut. It was spring ("frog" is a kigo for spring). A soft drizzle fell and the smell of blossoms was in the air. Mountain roses were blooming at the edge of a pond in the garden. Enomoto Kikaku (1661-1707) kept Basho company, but master and disciple were both sitting quietly. Suddenly a frog jumped into the old pond, breaking the stillness with a watery plop. In Basho's mind, two phrases formed, the last part of a hokku:

frog jumps in
sound of water

Kikaku suggested yamabuki ya, 'mountain roses' for the first five syllables. In traditional poetry, this plant was associated with frogs. Basho pondered for a while and then decided to use instead a phrase uncommon in poetry: 'the old pond,' furu ike ya. This was a nice literary twist which added 'newness' and 'lightness' to the poem. It was also the utmost of simplicity.

Basho's frog was an experimental one. It was the first silent frog in Japanese poetry, which so far had been regaled with quaking choruses. Instead of this night music, Basho's frog exits with a soft plop, after which rings of water expand and die out. It is a bit lonely, just like Basho.

By the way, the frog can also be plural, as the Japanese language normally does not make numerical distinctions. But to have a whole army of frogs jump into the pond seems just too noisy. It does not fit the atmosphere of the poem, which is one of yugen, of stillness, symbolized in the pond that after all is an ancient one. This is something almost all translators agree on.

The "mizo no oto" or 'sound of water' is another matter. Many translators cannot resist the temptation to enliven this phrase by translating it as 'Plop,' 'Splash,' or even 'Kdang.' That is strictly speaking not correct, for Basho himself could also have used an onomatopoeic word. The Japanese language is very rich in them, more so than English, but Basho purposefully selected 'sound of water,' perhaps to emphasize the progression from stillness (no sound) to movement (sound) to stillness again. Zen-master and graphic artist Sengai (1751-1837) wrote a parody of the frog haiku (yes, already in Edo-times it was so popular that it invited parodies!) in which he creates a comic effect by using the onomatopoeic "pon to," resulting in a very different poem:

old pond
something "plop"
jumped in

furuike ya | naniyara pon to | tobikonda

[Inari Shrine where the frog sculpture was found]

The frog has even haunted the 20th century. In 1917, after a big tsunami, in the grounds of what is now a small Inari shrine close to the Basho Museum in Fukagawa, a strange black object was found. Now in the possession of that museum, it appeared to be a stone frog, and - I do not know on what grounds - it was assumed to be an object that had originally belonged to Basho. At the same time it was seen as proof that the old pond had once been in the grounds of the said shrine. Basho's frog has petrified over the ages, it has become a rather ugly curiosity, now resting in a glass case in the museum.

But the real frog lives on in the world's most famous haiku and continues to entice us with its silent leap in that mysterious pond.

Kiyosumi Garden is 5 min. from Kiyosumi-Shirakawa Station on the Oedo line or 7 min. from Morishita Station on the Shinjuku Subway line.

The frogs congregate in One Hundred Frogs, From Matsuo Basho to Allen Ginsberg by Hiroaki Sato (Weatherhill, 1995)

Kagami Shiko's account about the writing of the frog haiku is cited by Makoto Ueda in Basho and his Interpreters (Stanford University Press, 1992)

Translations and Studies of Basho
Basho's Haiku, 2 vols,  by Toshiharu Oseko (1990 & 1996, Maruzen): Basho and his Interpreters, Selected Hokku with Commentary, by Makoto Ueda (1992, Stanford U.P.); Traces of Dreams, Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho, by Haruo Shirane (1998, Stanford U.P.); Basho's Narrow Road, by Hiroaki Sato (1996, Stone Bridge Press); Basho's Journey, The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho, by David Landis Bamhill (2005, State University of New York); Basho Yamatoji by Daiyasu Takashi considers Basho's travels in the Nara area and the haiku he wrote there (Izumi Shobo, 1994)

[The photos in this post are my own]

Friday, May 29, 2020

Haiku Travels (4): Buson and Hikone

Haiku Travels

Hikone (Shiga)

funazushi -

above Hikone Castle

appears a cloud

funazushi ya / hikone no jo ni / kumo kakaru

鮒ずしや 彦根の城に 雲かゝる


[Hikone Castle]

Hikone is a traditional town on the eastern shore of Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake, shaped like a biwa-lute. It developed as a market town on the Nakasendo route and in 1603 became the castle town of the Ii family, who ruled here until the end of the Edo period. It is one of the few original castles left in Japan and its three storied keep has a very elegant design. The approach to the castle is via a wooden bridge that could be easily destroyed in case of an attack. The keep can be entered, but the stairs inside are rather steep - those that make it to the top floor can enjoy a grand view over the castle grounds, the city and Lake Biwa. Next to the castle stands the Hikone Castle Museum with an exhibition of the many treasures of the Ii lords and at the foot of the castle lies the daimyo garden, Genkyuen.

Funazushi are a local specialty of the area around Lake Biwa and are in fact an ancient form of sushi called "narezushi." Narezushi was a way of preserving fish rather than a dish in itself so it is very different from modern sushi! In Shiga prefecture, narezushi are made with funa, the wild goldfish found in Lake Biwa, a fish which lives 10 to 15 years and reaches a length of 40 cm. To make narezushi, in spring and early summer funa, heavy with roe, are caught, gutted and salted. After 6 months the salt is soaked out and the fish are packed between layers of cooked rice in large barrels. The lids of the barrels are weighed down with pickling stones and the mixture is allowed to ferment for about one year. Before eating, the rice is removed and discarded, and the fermented fish is thinly sliced. It can eaten as a tsumamimono with sake. But it is an acquired taste, as the smell is quite strong and the taste very sour!

[Funazushi - photo from Wikipedia]

Yosa Buson (1716-1784) was both a haiku poet and a painter in the literati style, and in both fields he is counted among the very best. He was born in a village close to Osaka, studied poetry in Edo and then spent many years traveling throughout Japan. At age 42 he settled down in Kyoto, where he lived for the rest of his years. One could say that by practicing both poetry and painting he aspired to the ideals of the literati from China. One of his most famous paintings involved a collaboration with Ike no Taiga on a landscape series based on Chinese poems, Ten Conveniences and Ten Pleasures (1771), now a National Treasure. As a haiku poet Buson played a central role in the revival movement "Back to Basho," but in fact his poetry is very different: it is rich in imagery and boasts wide landscapes, and it also displays sensitivity to human affairs and their stories - one could say Buson's haiku style was influenced by the fact that he was a painter. Buson helped canonize Basho as the "Saint of Haiku" and with his poetry group in 1776 built a Basho Hut for regular gatherings at Konpukuji Temple in Kyoto.

[The drawbridge of Hikone Castle]

The season of the above haiku is summer, when sometimes suddenly white clouds appear in the blue sky. Buson is enjoying funazushi in a teahouse at the shore of Lake Biwa in Hikone - the sour taste was considered to be refreshing in the hot summer weather. When he happens to look up from his dish, in the blue sky one white cloud has appeared, standing right above the keep of Hikone Castle. This haiku is indeed close to a painting, as argued above. (My picture of the castle was taken on a cloudless winter day).

Hikone is about 45 min by JR Special Rapid Service from Kyoto, When coming by Shinkansen from the direction of Tokyo, Maibara is convenient, but note that only a limited number of Shinkansen trains stop there. For practical information, see the Visit Hikone travel guide.
Information about funazushi gleaned from A Dictionary of Japanese Food by Richard Hosking, Tuttle Publishing, 1995

[The photos of Hikone Castle are my own, the photo of funazushi is from Wikipedia: Kida Yasuo, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Haiku Travels (3): Hosai and Shodo Island

Haiku Travels

Shodo Island (Kagawa)

nothing to put it in

I receive with both hands

iremono ga nai / ryote de ukeru



[Angel Road, Shodoshima]

Shodoshima is a beautiful island of about 153 square kilometers (59 square miles) in the Seto Inland Sea, lying west of the larger Awaji Island and right between Kagawa prefecture on Shikoku and the eastern part of Okayama prefecture. It has a population of about 28,000 and is connected by ferries to Takamatsu, Himeji and Okayama, as well as (with lesser frequency) Osaka and Kobe.

Shodoshima is known as the setting for the novel Twenty-four Eyes (Nijuyon no hitomi) by Tsuboi Sakae - who was born on Shodoshima -, and its (more famous) film adaptation by director Kinoshita Keisuke. Set between 1928 and 1946, it is the chronicle of a teacher's dedication to her students, her profession and her values, which she tries to maintain in the face of an increasingly aggressive militaristic government. Free from a contrived plot, the film reflects life with great fidelity and shows how ideals are shattered and compromised. The film was shot on location and has Takamine Hideko in the main role of the teacher.. 

Something else the island is today well-known for are its olives, a tree not native to Japan. The first imported olive trees were planted in Kobe in 1878 for obtaining olive oil, but for various reasons (such as the expansion of the city) Kobe's Olive Garden which originally counted 3,000 trees, finally shut down in 1908. After that, olive trees were planted on several other locations in (mainly) western Japan, and from 1910 on Shodo Island became the major cultivation area - so much that it even has earned the name "Olive Island." Olives are now a popular tourist item, but Shodo Island also has a more traditional product in its soy sauce.

There is also a mini-course of the Shikoku Pilgrimage which attracts white-clad pilgrims and some great scenery at the coast (the Angel Road sandbar) as well as the famous Kankakei Gorge with its maple trees. And finally, Shodo Island was also where the haiku poet Hosai lived in the mid-1920s...

[Kankakei Gorge, Shodoshima]

Ozaki Hosai (1885-1926) was born in Tottori and although he first worked as an insurance executive (with a law degree from the University of Tokyo), at a young age became interested in haiku. His great example and later also mentor was the pioneer of free verse style haiku, Ogiwara Seisensui, who rejected the seventeen-syllable form and seasonal themes. Hosai worked in the insurance business in Tokyo and Osaka between 1911 and 1922, and then tried to find a job in the same field in Korea and Manchuria, but failed, also due to his heavy drinking. In 1923 he joined a nonsectarian religious commune in Kyoto, but could not cope with the monastic regime due to his physical frailty. After that he stayed at various Buddhist temples, as Sumadera in Kobe and Jokoin in Obama (Fukui prefecture). His last refuge was the Nangoan hermitage of Saikoji temple on Shodoshima - he was allowed to stay here thanks to the introduction of his haiku teacher Seisensui. Here he mainly composed haiku, besides reading the scriptures and offering candles to the Buddha. He lived extremely frugally on a diet of toasted rice and water, subsisting on the alms received from pilgrims, who mainly came by in the spring. He died in April 1926, only aged 41. His haiku and prose writings were posthumously published by Seisensui under the tile Daiku, "The Big Sky." Today, Hosai is regarded as one of the great free verse haiku poets and he is often coupled with Taneda Santoka, likewise a drinker and mendicant Zen priest. Hosai's colloquial haiku are permeated with loneliness, but also a sharp observation of everyday objects, which catches the essence of things.

The above haiku is extremely simple, but also a deep expression of Buddhist humility: lacking the customary begging bowl, the poet gratefully receives the alms offered to him in both hands. There is nothing that doesn't fit in your hands - even the world fits in them.

[Hosai's Nangoan hermitage now houses a small literature museum dedicated to him, the "Shodoshima Ozaki Hosai Kinenkan." In neighboring Saikoji is the poet's grave]

Information about Hosai gleaned from Right under the big sky, I don't wear a hat by Hiroaki Sato, Stone Bridge Press, 1993

[Photos in this post all via Wikipedia:
Photo 1, Angel Toad: 663highland, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 2, Kankakei Gorge: 663highland, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 3, Hosai's hermitage: 663highland, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Haiku Travels (2): Shiki and Dogo Onsen

Haiku Travels

Dogo Onsen (Matsuyama)

those ten years of sweat:

wash them away

in the hot springs of Dogo

junen no / ase wo Dogo no / yu ni arae



[Dogo Onsen]

Dogo Onsen, in the outskirts of Matsuyama City, is one of the oldest spas of Japan. The deity Okuninushi no Mikoto, in the far-away mythological age, is considered as one of the first bathers, as is the renowned but equally legendary Prince Shotoku. In historical times, the baths were visited by emperors and nobles and in the 17th c. the local daimyo, Matsudaira Sadayuki, remodeled Dogo and constructed all sorts of baths for various classes of people, such as samurai, priests, merchants and women. In more recent times, the baths knew literary dippers as Natsume Soseki (the baths figure in his famous novel Botchan) and Masaoka Shiki. The present Momoyama-style onsen building dates from the Meiji period and is rather impressive thanks to its layered, tiled roofs - note the heron sculpture on the pagoda-like turret, who was according to tradition the true discoverer of the spa, even before gods and emperors visited here. The baths consist of alkaline simple thermal water, which is good for stiff joints and obstinate nervous and digestive systems.

Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) in his short life single-handedly brought the genres of haiku and tanka into modern age. He wrote 20,000 haiku and is regarded is one of the Great Four, together with Basho, Buson and Issa. Shiki was born in Matsuyama, but later moved to Tokyo. Shiki turned haiku into a legitimate literary genre and stressed that it should be judged accordingly.

[Shiki Memorial Museum, Dogo Onsen, Matsuyama]

The above haiku was written in 1896, when Shiki was 29. The season is summer. Shiki wrote it for his kohai (junior) and fellow townsman Ogawa Naoyoshi, who had completed his studies in Tokyo and was now about to return to Matsuyama. It is a farewell poem in which Shiki expresses appreciation for Ogawa's hard study (Ogawa would later become famous as a linguist). At the same time, Shiki reveals his own wish to visit his hometown after his long sojourn in Tokyo. However, his TB had gotten worse and Shiki was even unable to walk. Shiki wrote the haiku on a tanzaku (oblong piece of paper) which he gave to Ogawa. The haiku can today also be found carved on the bath tub in the Annex of Dogo Onsen called Tsubaki no Yu (Camellia Bath).

While in Matsuyama, don't forget to visit the castle (one of the very few original ones left in Japan), Ishiteji Temple (on the Shikoku Circuit of 88 Temples), the Shiki Memorial Museum, the Shikido Hall (where Shiki was born and grew up), Issoan (the hermitage where haiku poet Santoka spent his last days) and - of course - Dogo Onsen. For practical information in English, see the official Matsuyama Tourism website. As a "haiku town," you'll find countless haiku stones and haiku posts in Matsuyama.

Information about Dogo Onsen gleaned from A Guide to Japanese Hot Springs by Anne Hotta and Yoko Ishiguro, Kodansha International, 1986.

See about Shiki: Masaoka Shiki, Selected Poems, by Burton Watson (Columbia U.P.); The Winter Sun Shines in: A Life of Masaoka Shiki, by Donald Keene (Columbia U.P.); Masaoka Shiki: His Life and Works, by Janine Beichman (Kodansha International); If Someone Asks..., Masaoka Shiki's Life and Haiku, Matsuyama Municipal Shiki-Kinen Museum.

[The photos in this post are my own]

Monday, May 25, 2020

Haiku Travels (1) - Kyotai and Nihonmatsu

Haiku Travels


the Black Mound -

around the traveler

a swarm of black flies

Kurozuka ya  / buto tabijin wo / oimawaru



[Kurozuka, the Black Mound, in Kanzeji Temple, Nihonmatsu]

Nihonmatsu is located in the central Nakadori section of Fukushima prefecture, between the cities of Fukushima and Koriyama. It is approximately 250 km from central Tokyo. Nihonmatsu's western border consists of the Adatara mountain range (1,728 m), one of Japan's "hyakumeizan" (100 famous mountains, as defined by mountaineer and author Fukuda Kyuya). The Abukuma River runs through the eastern part.

Nihonmatsu was part of ancient Mutsu Province and developed as a post station on the Oshu Kaido highway and as the castle town of the Niwa family, a 100,700 koku domain in the Edo period. Nihonmatsu Castle, also known as Kasumigajo Castle, is a historical site although the castle was destroyed during the Boshin Civil War of 1868. But the grounds are famous for cherry blossom viewing (as well as the Chrysanthemum Doll Festival in autumn) and the castle's main gate, Minowamon, has been rebuilt. There is a great panoramic view from the donjon on the top of the hill.

Nihonmatsu is a regional commercial center with a mixed economy. It is especially noted for sake brewing, with four companies (Daishichi, Okunomatsu, Ninki and Senkonari). It is not a great touristic center (happily), but a very nice place to visit after you have seen the big sights. Its Lantern Festival (Oct. 4 to 6) has a nice authentic atmosphere. 

[Nihonmatsu seen from the donjon of Kasumigajo castle]

Haiku poet Kato Kyotai (1732-92) was born in Nagoya and initially served the Owari-Tokugawa family. When he was 27 he resigned his post to concentrate on haiku. He is known as a latter-day follower of Basho (part of the Basho Revival Movement triggered by Buson in the 1760s which climaxed during the 1770s and 1780s) who tried to elevate haiku from the vulgarity of his day. He was a keen observer of the world around him.

Kurozuka, or the Black Mound, is a heap of rocks in the grounds of Kanzeji Temple, just outside the center of Nihonmatsu (near Adachi station). It is connected with the legend of the Onibaba goblin, an old man-eating woman, who lured travelers into her cave. Finally, she was subdued with the help of the Bodhisattva Kannon. The woman had lost her mind after by mistake and very cruelly killing her pregnant daughter.

The haiku is ironical: instead of being pursued by the legendary old crone, Onibaba, the poet is besieged by a swarm of flies!

Nihonmatsu is a small historical town which has the advantage of having been skipped so far by global tourism - so it is quiet and authentic. Nihonmatsu is 25 min by Tohoku Main Line from Koriyama, and the same distance from Fukushima. It is possible to walk from the station to Kasumigajo Castle (which has great cherry blossoms). For Kanzeji Temple, Adachi Station is more convenient. Nearby is also the Adachigahara Furusato Village. Interesting festivals are the Lantern Festival of early October and the Chrysanthemum Doll Festival in autumn. There are four sake breweries in the town (such as kimoto-brewer Daishichi) which may offer brewery tours or have shops selling their products. An interesting onsen is Dake Onsen on the flank of Mt Adatara. For practical information, see the Nihonmatsu Travel Guide hosted by the municipality.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Japanese Detective Novels (2): Hanshichi and Tanizaki

Taisho Period (1): The First Serial Detective & Detection in Literary Works


In I Am a Cat, Natsume Soseki has the protagonist, Kushami Sensei, give vent to his dislike of detectives. What is meant here is not a police detective, however (as in the stories of Kuroiwa Ruiko) but a private detective – showing that this profession existed already when he wrote the satirical novel.]

"Himitsu" (The Secret) by Tanizaki

Many translations of detective novels appear, by such authors as Maurice Leblanc, Austin Freeman, William Le Queux, and Gaston Leroux. Leblanc's stories about gentlemen-thief Arsène Lupin were most popular.


"Rashomon" by Akutagawa Ryunosuke

"Hanshichi Torimonocho" (The Casebook of Hanshichi) by Okamoto Kido – 68 short stories until 1937

“Two Letters” (Futatsu no tegami) by Akutagawa Rynosuke
"Robbery" (Chuto) by
Akutagawa Rynosuke
"Hassan Kan no Yojutsu" (The Magic of Hassan Khan) by Tanizaki Junichiro 

"Devils in Daylight" (Hakucho Kigo) by
Tanizaki Junichiro
"The Incident at the Yanagi Bathhouse" (Yanagiyu no Jiken, 1918) by
Tanizaki Junichiro"Gold and Silver" (Kin to Gin) by Tanizaki Junichiro
 “Kaika no satsujin” (The Enlightenment Murder) by Akutagawa Rynosuke
"Hokyonin no shi" (The Death of a Disciple) by Akutagawa Rynosuke
"Shimon" (The Fingerprint) by Sato Haruo


"Aru shonen no osore" (The Fear of a Certain Boy) by Tanizaki Junichiro
"Majutsu" (Sorcery) by Akutagawa Rynosuke

"While Walking" (Tojo) by Tanizaki Junichiro


"The Thief" (Watakushi) by Tanizaki Junichiro

"In a Bamboo Grove" (Yabu no Naka) by Akutagawa Ryunosuke 

"The Strange case of Tomoda and Matsunaga" (Tomoda to Matsunaga no Hanashi) by

Tanizaki Junichiro
"A Crippen Case in Japan" (Nihon ni okeru Kurippun Jiken) by Tanizaki Junichiro

"In Black and White" (Kokubyaku) by
Tanizaki Junichiro

Hanshichi, Japan's First Serial Detective

It is only in the early Taisho period (1912-1927) that we get serious, high-quality translations of Western literature (rather than free adaptations), including Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories. This is soon followed by the first true Japanese detective stories (discounting the one short novel by Kuroiwa Ruiko): Hanshichi Torimonocho ("The Casebook of Hanshichi") by Okamoto Kido.

Hanshichi, the detective created by Okamoto Kido in 69 stories written between 1917 and 1937, has the honor of being the first Japanese fictional serial investigator – appearing five years earlier than Edogawa Ranpo's Akechi Kogoro.

The Hanshichi stories are intrinsically Japanese. Perhaps Okamoto was indebted to Conan Doyle (read avidly in the original English by him) for the idea of writing detective stories in itself, but the model for Hanshichi are also Edo-period crime stories as those about the wise judge Ooka Echizen. So, interestingly, the first fictional detective of Japanese origin was not a copy of an imported ratiocinator, a "thinking machine" a la Holmes, but a trusted old Edo-period sleuth called Hanshichi. It seems right that Japan first delved into its own culture before wholeheartedly adapting the foreign detective story to its needs.

[Okamoto Kido]

Hanshichi was the creation of Okamoto Kido (1872-1939), the son of a former senior retainer of the Shogunate. Due to a decline in his family's fortunes, Okamoto could not attend university, but started working as a journalist. The stage was his real love and he wrote many plays himself – his breakthrough came in 1911 with Shuzenji Monogatari, which is still regularly staged. Okamoto considered his stage work as his main accomplishment, rather than the detective and other fiction he wrote.

Posterity has judged differently (as in the case of Conan Doyle, who also looked down on his Holmes stories): Okamoto's fame now rests in the first place on his Hanshichi stories, which have never gone out of print and are still available in various editions, from pocketbooks to ebooks (see here for those available via Aozora Bunko). Okamoto called his stories “torimonocho,” or “casebooks,” and this designation was adopted by several other (later) authors of historical detective fiction.

Of course, detectives in the modern sense did not yet exist in the Edo-period. Hanshichi is an "okappiki," a helper of the "machibugyo" (the magistrate, who also served as judge in trials), and someone who was hired in an unofficial capacity. It was the task of the okappiki to make arrests, but also do a certain amount of investigation to solve cases. In that sense the job was indeed somewhat comparable to that of a detective on the police force. Okamoto has wisely left out another aspect of the okappiki's job, that of torturing criminals to obtain a confession. On the contrary, Hanshichi is not violent at all, but rather a wise man like Okamoto's historical model, Ooka Echizen.

Hanshichi is also very Japanese. Culturally, Japan was not a country of logical reasoning, but rather of intuition, and that difference is clear when you compare Hanshichi to Auguste Dupin or Sherlock Holmes. Hanshichi does not use ratiocination, but rather his intuition plus his detailed knowledge of Edo, the city in which he lived.  Hanshichi is also not a law-enforcer in the Anglo-Saxon sense, where the law is abstractly upheld without regard for persons or circumstances. Hanshichi is humane and above all out to preserve the fabric of society. He may spare a criminal in order to save the reputation of a certain family, and he avoids creating waves that will upset society. By the way, this reminds me of Simenon's police commissioner Maigret, who also relied more on intuition and psychology, and under special circumstances spared the criminal as well (as in Chez les Flamands from 1932).

The Hanshichi stories belong to the sub-category of the historical mystery, which only took off in the West after the boost by Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose in 1980, while in Japan it stood at the head of detective fiction. One could say that besides Hanshichi, the city of Edo itself is also an important "character" in these stories, with its samurai mansions and its brothels, its teahouses and its bathhouses, and its colorful superstitions. The stories are full of interesting characters and events and the pace is fast. The mystery elements are limited and there is no menace or danger. Instead, there is a lot of good humored fun.

The stories have been written according to a fixed template but Okamoto's inspiration never flags. He also deftly uses a double time frame: the stories themselves take place somewhere in the middle of the 19th century (50s and 60s), but they always start with a "frame" placed in the Meiji-period (80s and 90s) in which the retired Hanshichi tells one of his experiences to the young Okamoto. The feeling of nostalgia for a past irrevocably ended is strong, but Okamoto does not idealize. Moreover, Edo nostalgia was popular at the time when he started writing his Hanshichi stories – think for example of Nagai Kafu's The River Sumida (1911).

But as Edogawa Rampo also noted, Okamoto Kido did not use the form of the detective story to celebrate the values of Western modernity and rationality (as embodied in the original Holmes stories) but subverted the form into a nostalgic and nativistic celebration of Japanese traditionalism, turning inward to the insular world of Japan's premodern past (Mark Silver).

Fourteen early Hanshichi stories have been expertly translated by Ian Macdonald in The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi: Detective Stories of Old Edo (University of Hawaii Press, 2006). This is a wonderful book. In contrast, in The Snake That Bowed (Printed Matter Press, 2006) famous translator Edward Seidensticker has retold three Hanshichi stories, but the result is unfortunately very dull, flat and inauthentic, and Seidensticker's book cannot be recommended.

Stories featuring detection by Tanizaki Junichiro and other literary authors

In the Taisho period, several literary authors showed interest in detective fiction (or in incorporating elements from such fiction in their novels). The foremost of these authors was Tanizaki Junichiro who wrote about a dozen stories dealing with crime and mystery, and incorporated such elements in many more works. This is all the more interesting as Tanizaki exerted a great influence on Edogawa Ranpo, the greatest mystery author in the interwar period, and even acted as his unofficial mentor. On top of that, Tanizaki not only introduced detective elements in literature, but was also the literary originator of the "erotic and grotesque" mode (already in his first story from 1910, "The Tattoer") which was further developed by Ranpo.

[Tanizaki Junichiro]

Of these stories, Tanizaki's novella Devils in Daylight (Hakucho Kigo, 1918; tr. Keith Vincent, New Directions, 2017) has the strongest element of detection, with the protagonist Sonomura going so far as to call himself a Sherlock Holmes and his friend Takahashi, a writer, a Dr. Watson. One day, Sonomura calls up his friend and claims he has cracked a secret cryptographic code based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Gold-Bug" so that he now knows exactly when and where a certain murder will take place. In fact, it will happen that very night and full of excitement both men stake out the secret location. Peeping through tiny holes in the knotted wood of a shuttered house, they become voyeurs at the scene of what seems to be a shocking crime, commited by a gorgeous woman. But in the end Sonomura's ingenious attempts at detection prove to be useless, as it appears that there has been no murder at all... the woman has shrewdly staged the whole event in order to attract the rich and leisured Sonomura. In other words, the entire story consists of a series of red herrings for the protagonist and his friend - as well as for the reader.

It can not be emphasized enough how much of this Edogawa Ranpo borrowed for his own first detective story called The Two-Sen Copper Coin of 1922 (see the next installment of this series): not only the idea of the secret code a la Poe, but also the fact that the detection is based on a hoax so that nothing is detected at all. And of course the peeping through holes in knotted wood will remind Ranpo fans of "The Stalker in the Attic"... Despite these similarities, Ranpo's stories are authentic enough. I don't want to accuse him of copying, but I just want to make clear how large the influence of Tanizaki initially was.

Another pure detective story by Tanizaki is "Tojo" ("While Walking," 1920, not yet translated). This story consists almost entirely of a dialogue between a detective and a company executive, whose first wife has died. Through the questions the detective asks during a walk together about the circumstances surrounding the death of that wife, it becomes gradually clear that the executive has murdered her. Tanizaki's narration is very clever, with not a word too much and with excellent pacing. Ranpo commented later that this story was unique in detective fiction.

"The Thief" (Watakushi, 1921, tr. Howard Hibbett in Seven Japanese Tales) is a short story told in the first person by the criminal himself, a student suspected of theft in a dormitory. Playing the innocent, he speaks in the first person but at the end unconsciously reveals that he himself is guilty. This was a clever story in which Tanizaki himself expressed pride.

In contrast, "The Secret" (Himitsu) (1911, tr. Anthony H. Chambers, Kodansha International, 2001) is not a straight detective story, but the protagonist, a hedonistic man who has hidden himself away from the world in a temple, while not actually desiring to commit a crime, has an urge to inhale the "fine and romantic perfume" of crime. Crossdressing as a woman he goes out and walks in public, seeking mysterious experiences. And indeed an adventure is waiting for him, for a woman takes him blindfolded in a carriage to her house. But once the mystery is solved, the spell is broken, and the hero must move on to some stronger stimulation, no longer satisfied with anything so insignificant as "secrets." Perhaps crime is waiting for him...

The Strange case of Tomoda and Matsunaga ("Tomoda to Matsunaga no hanashi," 1926, tr. Paul McCarthy, University of Michigan Press, 2016) is a novella in which a woman asks the author to help solve the mystery surrounding her husband, Matsunaga Gisuke, who vanishes every three years and then remains incommunicado, only to return to his family later without providing an explanation. As comes out, the husband is a sort of  Jekyll-and-Hyde character who has an alternate identity as Tomoda Ginzo - while Matsunaga is a thin, sickly traditionalist, Tomoda is a sensualist with large and exotic appetites, also as regards women - he is truly a man of the world who criticizes the smallness of Japan. Are Matsunaga and Tomoda really the same man? The story symbolizes an interesting intercultural split, which even goes so far as changing the appearance of the person suffering from this East-West dichotomy. By the way, Ranpo mentions Tanizaki's story and its detective elements in his essay "A Desire for Transformation" (tr. Seth Jacobowitz in The Edogawa Rampo Reader (Kurodahan Press, 2008).

There are many other Tanizaki stories featuring detection, such as "The Incident at the Yanagi Bathhouse" (Yanagiyu no Jiken, 1918), "A Crippen Case in Japan" (Nihon ni okeru Kurippun Jiken, 1927) and "Gold and Silver" (Kin to Gin, 1918), but I finally only want to say something about the "forgotten" novel In Black and White (Kokubyaku) (1928, tr. Phyllis I. Lyons, Columbia University Press, 2017), which was translated a few years ago. This is a psychological murder mystery, in which an author who has penned a story about the perfect murder, and has used an acquaintance, a fellow writer, as the model for the victim, becomes terrified that an actual murder will take place and that he will become the main suspect. So he goes to great lengths to establish an alibi but finds himself more and more entangled in his paranoid fantasies. It is also a meta-fiction in which a novel incriminates its own creator. In its central pages it contains an interesting ero-guro section (the highlight of the book) in which the alibi-seeking author becomes the prey of a femme fatale. The psychological element, the ero-guro part, and the metafictional aspect were all elements used by Japan's most important crime writer of the prewar years, Edogawa Ranpo, whom we will discuss in the next article.

Other writers

Tanizaki was the most important, but not the only writer to use detection elements in his fiction. Another one is Tanizaki's friend Sato Haruo, who wrote a few detective stories (plus in 1924 an interesting essay about detective fiction and its "romantic and erotic origins," which had a huge influence on later Japanese writers), the most famous one being “Shimon” (The Fingerprint) from 1918. Sato Haruo (1892-1964) was an important literary author whose career spanned fifty years and who wrote poetry, fiction, essays and drama. Known for his exploration of melancholy, his most famous novella is Melancholy in the Country (1919).

In “The Fingerprint” a paranoid protagonist takes on the role of detective as he struggles to solve a murder mystery. This narrator has an old friend, only indicated as “R. N,” who returns to Japan following his travels to the West. During his travels, he has become addicted to opium and on his way to Tokyo, stops by in the exotic port of Nagasaki where he visits a secret opium den. He then visits the narrator and confesses that he woke up one day in the opium den to find a corpse lying by his side. He however managed to bribe the owner of the opium den to conceal it. But R. N. believes that he is the murderer and continues to be haunted by nightmares. Then, one day, while watching a Western movie in a Tokyo cinema, he thinks that one of the characters in the film looks familiar. The film, a crime story, zooms in on a fingerprint (an essential plot device in the film) that this actor has left behind, and R. N. realizes that this fingerprint is identical to the one imprinted on a gold watch he accidentally picked up in the opium den on the night of the crime. Is the actor, who is called “William Wilson,” the real murderer (the actor's name is an obvious reference to Edgar Alan Poe’s eponymous story about doppelgangers)? Does this mean that he himself is innocent? The narrator first thinks this is just another opium-influenced hallucination, but gradually he also becomes fascinated by the world of fingerprints, reading many German books on the subject. Then three months later, the narrator reads in the newspaper that a dead body has been found in the cellar of the Nagasaki opium den in question. R. N. has by that time left and it is not clear to the narrator whether the body is William Wilson’s or perhaps R. N.’s... This is not just a straight detective story, but Sato expertly depicts the ambiguity in the minds of R. N. (as an opium addict), and also the narrator, who is confused by illusion and reality.

A second literary author who used detection elements in his fiction was Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927), one of the most interesting and skillful writers of short stories in Japan. Many of his stories reinterpreted classical works or historical incidents. Strong detection elements can be found in the following stories:
  • In the first place "In a Bamboo Grove" ("Yabu no Naka," 1922). A perfect demonstration of how humans all interpret events in different ways, and not coincidentally always to their own advantage in their pride and vanity . This also makes trials difficult as witnesses are basically unreliable (even if not on purpose). A samurai and his wife travel through a dense forest, they meet a robber, the samurai eventually dies, a passing-by woodcutter reports the crime. The woodcutter, a priest, the robber, the gentleman and his lady all have their own, self-serving versions of the same murder (or was it suicide?) - even the dead man speaking via a medium is still telling lies from over the grave... 
  • "Rashomon" (1915). A manservant who has lost his job must choose between honesty and crime. We see how he gradually decides to become a thief, when observing that an old hag on the attic of the Rashomon gate is tearing out the hair of dead bodies dumped there to make wigs. The old woman becomes his first victim, in good Dostoyevsky-style...
  • "The Death of a Disciple" (Hokyonin no shi, 1918). Story set in Christian Nagasaki. A young monk, Lorenzo, is accused of being the father of her baby by a girl of the town who is also a believer. He is ordered to leave the Church. When a fire breaks out in the house of the girl, he dashes inside the burning house to save the baby. Severely burned, Lorenzo then dies, and it is revealed when his tattered garment falls apart, that "he" was in fact a "she," and therefore unjustly accused. 

This article incorporates parts of my previous post, Hanshichi, Japan's First Fictional Detective.

Studies used as reference in writing this article:

Purloined Letters: Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature, 1868-1937, by Mark Silver (Univ of Hawaii Pr, 2008)

Murder Most Modern: Detective Fiction and Japanese Culture, by Sari Kawana (Univ of Minnesota Pr, 2008)

Mord in Japan, by Robert F. Wittkamp (Iudicium, 2002)
Monogatari Nihon Suiri Shosetsu Shi by Gohara Hiroshi (Kodansha, 2010)

The Evolution of Tanizaki Junichiro as a Narrative Artist, PH.D. Thesis by Kathleen Chisato Merken (University of British Columbia, 1979)

Culture and authenticity: the discursive space of Japanese detective fiction and the formation of the national imaginary, Ph.D. Thesis by Satomi Saito
(University of Iowa, 2007)

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Japanese Detective Novels (1): Ooka Echizen and Kuroiwa Ruiko

In the West, the term “crime fiction” is common today as a general name for a whole variety of novels which all concern narratives centering on serious criminal acts (usually murder) and especially on the investigation of those acts, either by an amateur or a professional detective. Crime fiction itself can be divided into various sub-genres, such as straight or "classical" detective fiction (the “whodunit”), police procedurals, hard-boiled fiction, courtroom drama, psychological thrillers, action thrillers, spy novels, and so on, but suspense and mystery are always key elements common to the genre.

In Japan, in contrast, the term crime fiction (“hanzai shosetsu”) is not in general use. The oldest term, popular in the 1920s and 1930s, is “tantei shosetsu,” literally “detective fiction.” That name has never completely disappeared, but was superseded after the war by “suiri shosetsu.” As “suiri” means “ratiocination, logical reasoning,” this new name points at the fact that "classical" whodunits had become the new trend in those years. A third term one sees nowadays is the more general “misteri shosetsu,” after the English “mystery,” which is a more  inclusive term, but not as common as "suiri shosetsu."

1600-1867: Crime and Punishment in the Edo-period

"Trials in the Shade of the Cherry Tree" (Honcho Oin Hiji) by Ihara Saikaku

1769 - 1850

"Ooka’s Rulings" (Ooka Seidan) by anonymous

In the Edo-period, Japan knew the genre of crime stories but these were very different from the modern Western crime novel. This was the genre of “kanzen choaku” or “virtue rewarded and vice punished” which was popular in the Kabuki theater and in Kodan storytelling. Popular folk heroes were for example criminals as Ishikawa Goemon (an outlaw who stole from the rich to give to the poor like Robin Hood and who ended his life by being boiled alive in 1594 in Kyoto) and Nezumi Kozo (an expert thief who burglarized 100 samurai estates in Edo before being publicly beheaded in 1831).

[Ichikawa Kodanji IV as Nezumi Kozo, ukiyo-e by Utagawa Toyokuni II]

We also find “kanzen choaku” in courtroom narratives such as Iharu Saikaku's Honcho Oin Hiji (“Trials in the Shade of a Cherry Tree,” 1689; based on the Chinese Tangyin Bishi) and the anonymous Ooka Seidan (“Ooka's Rulings”). These stories emphasized the authority of the state in the form of wise and infallible judges. The criminal would be known to the reader from the start and the suspense was wholly on the question how the judge would discover him. Forced confessions and torture were also part of the trial. Based on Chinese examples and thus strongly influenced by moralistic Confucianism, these stories also put a strong emphasis on the punishment of the victim, often described in gruesome detail. Punishment was important, because the balance of Heaven which had been upset by the crime, had to be restored.

[Ooka Tadasuke]

The above mentioned Ooka Tadasuke (1677-1752, also known as Ooka Echizen no Kami), famous for his acumen and fairness, was not a judge in the Western sense (these did not exist in premodern Japan), but a magistrate. He was “machibugyo” or civil governor of Edo under the shogun Yoshimune in the early part of the 18th c. One of the most famous stories in the Ooka Seidan is called "The Case of the Stolen Smell." An innkeeper accuses a poor student of stealing the smell of his cooking. As this was evidently a case of paranoia on the part of the innkeeper, everyone expected Oka to throw the case out as ridiculous. Instead, he came to the following judgment: he ordered the student to pass the money he had in one hand to his other hand, ruling that the price of the smell of food is the sound of money.

Ooka Seidan was also the inspiration for one of the longest running TV series in Japan, "Ooka Echizen," which between 1970 and 1999 ran for more than 400 episodes - it was only second in popularity to another famous television jidaigeki, "Mito Komon." The character of Ooka Tadasuke was in the whole series played by popular actor Kato Go (1938-2018). Kato Go was known for his clear-cut features and fine delivery of his lines, and he played in many TV dramas and films besides Ooka Echizen - an example is his starring role in the 1974 movie "Suna no Utsuwa" - based on a crime novel by Matsumoto Seicho - as an egoistic genius pianist who commits murder.

On a side note, this type of fiction originated in Chinese Gongan fiction (“case records”) about famous administrators/judges as Judge Bao and Judge Di, in plays and stories mainly written in the Ming and Qing periods. The 18th c. novel Di Gongan was translated into English as Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee by the Dutch Sinologist and diplomat Robert Van Gulik, who then used the style and characters to write his original (and still popular) Judge Dee series – see my article about Judge Dee.

[The first Judge Dee novel (1951), which originally appeared in Japanese, Chinese and English]

And another side note: some of the tales about Ooka Tadasuke were in 1965 adapted into English by L.G. Edwards (Solomon in Kimono: Tales of Ooka, a Wise Judge of Old Yedo) and this in turn inspired the Dutch writer/poet Bertus Aafjes to write his own original Ooka stories. The first collection (of five) was A Ladder Against a Cloud (Een Ladder tegen een Wolk, 1969) and is quite interesting, although the stories are imbued with a mellow, romantic atmosphere rather than suspense.

To conclude: these Edo period “kanzen choaku” stories are fundamentally different from the modern crime story, as there is no suspense and no detective work. They were written in a climate of authoritarian legal thought, glorifying the state's authority in the form of wise judges who were presented as unfailingly clear-sighted men. The modern crime story originated much later, after Western models were introduced into Japan in the Meiji period.

1868-1912: Adaptations of Western Crime Fiction in the Meiji period


"Waran Seiden" by Kanda Takahiro, translation of Dutch collection true stories about trials

"The Story of Otsune the Female Thief" (Onna Tozoku Otsune no Den) by Kanagaki Robun (a so-called "shiranamimono")

"The Tale of Takahashi Oden the She-Devil" (Takahashi Oden Yasha Monogatari) by Kanagaki Robun
(a so-called "dokufumono")
"XYZ A Detective Story" (Nisegane tsukai), a mystery novel by Anne Katherine Green, translated by Tsubouchi Shoyo
Edgar Allen Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" partially translated by Aeba Koson

Kuroiwa Ruiko adapts High Conway's "Dark Days" as "Hotei ni Bijin" (The Beauty of the Law Court)
Ruiko adapts Emile Gaboriau's "L'Affaire Lerouge" as "Hito ka Oni ka" (Man or Devil?)

Ruiko adapts Anne Katherine Green's "The Leavenworth Case" as "Makkura" (Pitch-Dark)

Ruiko adapts Fortuné du Boisgobey's "Continuations of a Duel" as "Ketto no Hate" (Beyond the Duel)
Ruiko writes his original novella, "Muzan" (Merciless)

Ruiko adapts Fortuné du Boisgobey's "La Vieillesse de Monsieur Lecoq" as "Shibijin" (The Dead Beauty)

Ruiko adapts Fortuné du Boisgobey's "Les Deux Merles de M. de Saint-ars" as "Tetsu Kamen" (The Iron Mask)

Ruiko adapts Marie Corelli's "Vendetta, A Story of One Forgotten" as "Hyakuhatsuki" (The White-haired Demon)

Ruiko adapts Elizabeth Braddon's "Lady Audley's Secret" as "Hito no Un" (People's Luck)

The very first translation of a Holmes story appears in the magazine Nihonjin under the title "Kojiki doraku" (Indulgence of Begging). The translator is anonymous, but it is on the whole a faithful literal rendering of "The Man with the Twisted Lip."

Ruiko writes his original novella, "Rokunin no Shigai" (Six Dead Bodies)

A translation of the Holmes story "The Speckled Band" appears in an anthology of English literature annotated by the scholar Inoue Jukichi (who also had a taste for detective fiction and promoted the magazine Shin Seinen in the 1920s, which contained many foreign detective stories of great quality).


Ruiko adapts A.M. Williamson's "A Woman in gray" as "Yureito" (Tower of Ghosts).

Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet" is translated as "A Bloodstained Wall" (Chizome no
and "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" as "The Wondrous Detective" (Fushigi no Tantei). Both are examples of "domestication" and Japanization of foreign literature for a large Japanese public. In the Japanese version of "A Study in Scarlet" Dr Watson (called Wada Shinichi) has not been wounded in Afghanistan, but in Taiwan, and the Mormons of Utah have been replaced by settlers in Hokkaido! In "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" the names of characters and places are Japanized, but all the stories are situated in Berlin.

Ruiko adapts Alexandre Dumas' "The Count of Monte Christo" as "Gankutsu-o" (The King of the Cave")


Ruiko adapts Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" as "Aa Mujo
" (How Heartless)

More literary translations of Conan  Doyle appear in 1901 and 1902: three short stories in the Keio University Bulletin (Keio Gijuku Gakuho) and "A Study in Scarlet" under the
title of "The Strange Tale of Mormons" (Mormon Kitan) published serially in Jiji Shinpo Newspaper. 


That replacement did not happen immediately. In the beginning of the Meiji-period we find another precursor of the detective story in the form of the “criminal biography.” These were sensational stories published in the tabloid press, and they were either about famous robbers (shiranamimono) or about criminal women (dokufumono): entertainers who stole money from their customers, concubines who plotted to kill their masters and kill their heirs, and notorious poisoners (“dokufu”) as the sensational case of Takahashi Oden, who was executed in 1879 (the criminality of women seems to have been one of the Meiji period gender anxieties). The most famous author of such sensational stories was Kanagaki Robun (1829-1894), who had been trained in the Edo-style gesaku tradition: humorous and often satirical fiction, written from a not very serious point of view for pure entertainment (in Kanagaki's case this generally meant that he satirized the peculiarities of Japanese society in the process of modernization, such as the eating of meat).

But these shiranamimono and dokufumono, although incorporating court documents and the like, were different from modern detective stories as they made no mystery of the identities of the criminals concerned. In fact, they continued the kanzen choaku mode of the Edo period. However, they also demonstrate that there had been important administrative changes since the Edo period: the gathering and interpretation of physical evidence for trials superseded the previous emphasis on forced confessions and this helped the popular acceptance of the detective story.

By the way, Japan does not differ from either Britain or France in that such real-life accounts of criminal activities initially attracted an increasingly literate populace prone to be dazzled by sensational articles. In Britain there was The Newgate Calender, containing biographies of condemned criminals, published by the prison authorities (!), and in France we find the roman feuilleton serialized in newspapers. In France we also have the autobiography of Eugène-François Vidocq (1775-1857), a criminal turned criminalist whose life story inspired several writers, including Victor Hugo, Edgar Allan Poe, and Honoré de Balzac. The former criminal became the founder and first director of the crime-detection Sûreté nationale as well as the head of the first known private detective agency.

And again on a side note: in 1863 a Dutch book originally written in 1819 by Jan Bastijaan Christemeijer and with the long title Important scenes from the history of corporal punishmental judicature and curious peculiarities of the lives of secret criminals (Belangrijke Tafereelen uit de Geschiedenis der Lijfstraffelijke Regtsplegling) was translated into Japanese by Rangaku scholar Kanda Takahira (click here for the Dutch original). This is in fact a series of stories about real criminal cases, written with the purpose to demonstrate that detailed evidence gathering and interviewing of suspects was necessary in order to prevent miscarriages of justice. The translator's intention was to introduce “an exemplary account that demonstrates the virtues of Dutch politics equipped with a police system.” In short, a serious purpose that fitted completely to the ideas of Kuroiwa Ruiko! Part of the book was republished in 1886 under the new title of Yongeru Kidan (a book Mori Ogai mentions in his novella The Wild Goose) - see the article mentioned below by Tsutsumibayashi Megumi.

The detective story was introduced from the West (where it was also a relatively new genre, having originated in Edgar Allan Poe’s works such as "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" from 1841) in the year 1887 when the first partial translations of Poe and a mystery novel by the American author Anna Katherine Green appeared.

This unleashed a wave of adaptations, rather than faithful translations: the most prolific maker of such stories, newspaper editor and publisher Kuroiwa Ruiko (1862-1920), picked ideas from French, English and American detective novels on which he grafted his own elaborations (while greatly shortening the originals at the same time) – there existed no international copyright agreements yet. The adaptations usually shifted the locations of the novels to Japan and the names used were all normal Japanese names, instead of writing Western names in katakana. Such adaptations were called honan-mono. A good example is Ruiko's adaptation of Emile Gaboriau’s L’Affair Lerouge as "Hito ka Oni ka" (Man or Devil?) in 1888. But Ruiko was not just a simplistic hack writer: like most Meiji personalities he had a serious purpose. That was a critique of the Meiji period justice system and thus a pushing for “enlightenment.” As Mark Silver says, the agenda of political reform that Ruiko carried our through his translations (the abolishment of the death penalty and exposing the corruption of the Meiji establishment) was inspired by Western ideals of liberalism. But in contrary to the generation of Edogawa Ranpo in the 1920s, who created true detective stories, he had no ambition to insert himself into the Western tradition of detective writing.

Ruiko did write two original stories (the best one is Muzan or "Merciless," written in 1889), but the intention remained a moralistic one, not so remote from the confessional narratives of criminals appearing in the other pages of his mass publications.

[Kuroiwa Ruiko]

By the way, in Muzan Ruiko presents two different detectives, one who relies on intuition and another one who adheres to just the facts – of course, it is the scientific method of this second detective by which the crime is solved. In this way, Ruiko promoted progress and modernization. Muzan has been called the first Japanese detective novel. It is still written in the semi-classical writing style of the 19th century and not yet in the modern vernacular which became the norm after around 1905.

In the 1880s and 1890s Ruiko made about 100 adaptations of Western novels of mystery, adventure and detection (in the timeline above I have only included a few of them purely as examples) - showing how huge the craving for information about the West was in Meiji Japan. Ruiko was a journalist, not a literary author. That is also the light in which we should see his adaptations: as a journalist he wanted to  provide information about Western literature (and via that, about Europe and America) to his readers (and at the same time point at elements in Meiji society that should be improved), by making digests and adaptations of scores and scores of novels. Ruiko's adaptations were very influential - many later writers as Edogawa Ranpo grew up with them and retained fond memories.

In these same years, many of the Holmes stories and novels by Arthur Conan Doyle were also translated. Some were adapted and aimed at a lowbrow mass public as pure entertainment, but many others were literally translated (the quality of translations gradually improved, and became quite high from the Taisho period on) and meant to educate more sophisticated readers in the importance of science and logical thinking in the service of the state. So Sherlock Holmes lost his complex, darker features and at the same time acquired two faces: education of the elite and entertainment of the populace. Sherlock Holmes came to symbolize Western values that drove Japan towards modernization (see the article by Tsutsumibayashi Megumi mentioned below).

Concluding: detective fiction in the Meiji period consisted almost completely of translated works. Popular were the mystery stories of Edgar Allen Poe, the Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and the sensational mystery novels of the late 19th century, with an emphasis on now forgotten French writers as Emile Gaboriau and Fortuné du Boisgobey, but also Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Braddon. Translations gradually improved in quality, and finally shed the character of rather wild adaptations.

1900-: Adventure stories of the Meiji period - Oshikawa Shunro (1876-1914)

Kaitei Nimanryu (tr. Inoue Tsutomu); translation of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (1870)


Kaitei Gunkan (Undersea Warship) by Oshikawa Shunro (followed by 5 sequels during the years of the war with Russia).

Oshikawa Shunro co-editor of magazine Boken Sekai (Adventiure World), in which he also published his own stories.

Oshikawa Shunro starts own magazine Bukyo Sekai (World of Heroism)

We should not forget to mention another writer who next to Ruiko was popular in the Meiji period: Oshikawa Shunro (1876-1914). Shunro worked as journalist and editor, and became known as a pioneer of science fiction. Shunro had read Jules Verne in translation, and inspired by Verne’s stories of submarine warfare, in 1900 he wrote the novel Kaitei Gunkan (Undersea Warship). The shipwrecked narrator finds himself on a remote island in the Indian Ocean where Captain Sakuragi, inventor and military man, is building a ram-armed submarine called "Denkosen" (Lightning Ship) with superior Japanese technology. Captain Sakuragi saves the narrator when, on his way back to Japan, he is attached by pirates. Five sequels would follow, in which the submarine plays a heroic role during the war between Japan and Russian (1904-05). Shunro was a nationalistic author and his books reflect the imperialist "flag-planting" ambitions of Japan at the time. After the Russians, also other Western nations were battled for dominance of the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Shunro was the earliest non-Western author of scientific romances. He also contributed to the development of detective fiction by incorporating elements of ratiocination, sleuthing, mystery and crime in his adventure stories. In 1908 he became co-editor of a magazine, Boken Sekai (Adventure World) that was popular among boys, and that is how he is best remembered: as a nationalistic author who developed adventurous tales of military glory, scientific inventions and the colonizing of "primitive" cultures into an independent genre of children's fiction. Boken Sekai often contained “true” stories of adventure, exploration and military prowess, set in primitive lands as an expression of Japan’s  colonial ambitions. But the magazine also published mysteries, including translations of Western detective stories, as well as ghost stories. Clearly, adventure stories (boken shosetsu), tales of ghosts and the bizarre (kaiki shosetsu) and detective fiction (tantei shosetsu) were mixed and still had to develop into separate genres. After a conflict with the publisher, Hakubunkan, in 1911 Oshikawa founded his own magazine along similar lines, called Bukyo Sekai (World of Heroism).

Other science fiction stories by Shunro were for example Ogon no Wankan (The Golden Bracelet. 1907), set in Britain, and Gessekai Kyoso Tanken (The Race to Explore the Moon, also 1907), in which the Japanese inventor uses an airship with moveable wings.

Edogawa Ranpo mentions in his autobiography (Tantei Shosetsu Yonjunen) that in his youth he was an avid fan of the stories of Shunro. Shunro’s work remained limited to Japan as it was never translated. However, it did reach Western audiences in the 1960s via a detour: the Toho tokusatsu film Atragon which was based on Kaitei Gunkan. In fact, the first film based on Shunro's novels had already been made in 1913!

For those interested in sampling Shunro in Japanese: Aozora Bunka has some of his stories online, including Kaitei Gunkan.

This article incorporates parts of my previous post, Hanshichi, Japan's First Fictional Detective.

Studies used as reference in writing this article:

Purloined Letters: Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature, 1868-1937, by Mark Silver (Univ of Hawaii Pr, 2008)

Murder Most Modern: Detective Fiction and Japanese Culture, by Sari Kawana (Univ of Minnesota Pr, 2008)

Mord in Japan, by Robert F. Wittkamp (Iudicium, 2002)

Monogatari Nihon Suiri Shosetsu Shi by Gohara Hiroshi (Kodansha, 2010)

“There’s a west wind coming: Sherlock Holmes in Meiji Japan" by Tsutsumibayashi Megumi (Keio Communication Review No.37, 2015)

Writing the Love of Boys by Jeffrey Angles (University of Minnesota Press, 2011)

Oshikawa Shunro in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction