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Showing posts by: Ho-Ling Wong click to see Ho-Ling Wong's profile
Sep 21 2011 9:30am

Traveling Japan In Mysterious Fashion

The Mystery Tray Disappears by Nishimura KyotaroGo to a random bookstore in Japan and you’ll quickly find the section with travel guides. Domestic travel guides. From the southern islands of Okinawa to the northern Hokkaido, every area in Japan is covered. Because domestic tourism in Japan is big. Really big. Not so surprising, really, as there are big geographical and cultural differences all across Japan. In fact, only 200 years ago, Japan consisted of many separate domains with a mostly decentralized government.  A teacher from Tokyo once even told me that Fukuoka felt to her like some foreign country where they just happened to speak Japanese!

But with such differences, it’s not strange that domestic tourism is so popular. For example, people go on two-day trips to hot springs, or on trips to try out local culinary specialties. The word kuidaore, a word strongly associated with the city of Osaka, literally meaning “eating till you drop”, is often used when talking about these gourmet trips.

[Wow, that’s some vacation!]

Sep 9 2011 9:30am

Judge Ooka in the East and West

Judge Ooka by Bertus Aafjes, historical Japanese crime written by a modern-day DutchmanI’ll admit it right away: I don’t read Dutch crime fiction. But that’s certainly not because there is none to be found. In fact, as evidenced by Leslie Elman’s 
A Touch of Dutch” article, there is quite a bit.  It’s just that I try to focus mainly on Japanese crime fiction. However, I had to make an exception for Bertus Aafjes’ Judge Ooka series. A Dutch series set in Japan about a historical Japanese judge? I was sold!

Ooka Tadasuke (1677-1752), also known as Ooka Echizen, was a samurai during the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate. He served as the magistrate of the city of Edo, nowadays known as Tokyo. Ooka showed himself to be an exceptional man in many ways. For example, he established the first fire brigade made up of commoners in Edo as well as a city hospital. But Ooka was especially known for his wisdom. As the highest authority in Edo, he was chief of police, judge and jury combined. In the movies, a person wielding so much power would definitely go over to the dark side, but as I said, Ooka was an exceptional man.

[What does an ancient judge have to offer to the modern reader?]

Aug 12 2011 1:00pm

Japanese Fictional Crimes and Criminal Fictions

japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa RampoIt is commonly said that truth is stranger than fiction, and while I won’t go quite that far, I have to admit that the truth can be quite strange at times. Criminals can be extremely creative, with the most creative often being the most successful. As G.K. Chesterton wrote in his Father Brown story “The Blue Cross:” “The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic.” It is frankly  amazing what real-life criminals come up with—and get away with.

Today I present a set of Japanese true crime stories that are used in fiction and vice versa.

[The line between truth and fiction becomes thinner...]

Jul 31 2011 11:00am

Poirot and Holmes on Holiday in Japan

Katsura Hoshino’s Cover for Sherlock HolmesI had only been in Japan for a couple of days, but I had already perfected my answer to the constant question: why are you studying Japanese? My answer: because I like Japanese detective fiction. Which always leads to discussions about how I got to know about Japanese detective fiction, etc. But one day, I was sitting in front of the university, when a friend came to me with a story about Western detective fiction. It didn’t hit me until much later, but it must have been a strange sight: Me, a Chinese-Dutch, sitting there talking with a Korean girl, in Japanese, in Japan about famous Western detective fiction like the Poirot and Arsène Lupin novels. It doesn’t get more international than this, I thought. Until then, I had actually never thought about how Western detective fiction was seen in Japan (or Asia in general for that matter). Or how people get to know them.

But of course, as the modern crime fiction did start in the Western world, it is no big surprise that names like Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are well known there, just like they are here. But still, I did wonder how people in Asia perceive the Western detectives.

[Could such greatness get ’lost in translation?’]

Jul 16 2011 11:00am

Crimes in Writing and Writings in Crime

Languages can be fun, but they usually take a lot of time and effort to learn. Even if you put in the hours, some seem impossible to master. I for one can’t even make it past basic-level Korean, it seems, and my efforts to try to teach foreign friends to pronounce the Dutch ‘G’ have been hilarious, but also a bit painful to hear.

The Japanese script is one of the more complex ones in existence. In the ancient past, Japan did not have its own script and therefore Japanese scholars wrote in Chinese. At the same time, a lot of Chinese loanwords entered the Japanese language. Based on the Chinese ideographs, however, the Japanese also developed its own two syllabaries, two sets of written symbols which allowed them to write ‘real’ Japanese (as it was spoken) as opposed to Chinese (which was only a written language in Japan).

Forest in three texts

Even now, the Japanese script consists of three elements: Kanji (Chinese ideographs), hiragana (syllabary for Japanese words) and katakana (syllabary for foreign words). A lot of words can actually be written with any of these scripts: for example,  the word hayashi (forest) can written in any of these scripts. In addition, the ideograph of hayashi can also be pronounced as rin!

[Getting lost in the forest of language can lead to murder...]

Jun 28 2011 2:00pm

World’s Longest Detective Story: The Terror of Werewolf Castle

The Terror of Werewolf Castle by Nikaido Reito

I am not making a habit of discussing books that aren’t available outside of Japan. Really. I myself am very aware that it is frustrating to read articles on oh-so-interesting books that aren’t available in a language you can read. But some books need the promotion. Some books must be made known to the outside world, in the hopes that some publisher will take note of it and publish a translated version. Nikaido Reito’s (Nikaidō Reito) The Terror of Werewolf Castle (Jinrōjō no Kyōfu) is surely one of those books.

But why? Well, at the time of its release (1996 -1998), it was the world’s longest classic detective novel and I am pretty sure it is still the record-holder, spanning four massive volumes, each around 650 pages long!

[Guinness and Ripley are listening. . .]

Jun 15 2011 10:00am

Detective Conan: Smartest Modern Detective in Asia?

Detective ConanWe all have to start somewhere. My first encounter with Japanese detective fiction was through the Japanese animated movie Detective Conan: The Fourteenth Target. It changed my life. I started to read through all of the Detective Conan comics. Through the comics, I started to learn about other Japanese writers and series. I changed my major (and university!)  to study Japanese studies, getting more into Japanese detective fiction and now I’m here, blogging about it. The ways life can change.

The same holds for the protagonist of Detective Conan. High-school student detective Shinichi Kudō had it all: by the age of 16, he had already acquired the nickname “savior of the Japanese police,” as he assisted with one strange case after another. He was bit too smart for his own good though. One day while on a date with his childhood friend Ran in an amusement park, Shinichi witnesses a shady deal by some men dressed completely in black, but he is discovered and is forced to take an experimental drug meant to kill him.

[*grabs popcorn* I’m in!  What happens?]

May 28 2011 2:00pm

Ellery Queen is Alive and Well and Living in Japan

Ellery Queen dynamic duo: Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay

Crime novel critic Kiyoshi Kasai focuses in his books on “orthodox” detective novels, which refer to the Golden Age detective novels in the Christie-Queen-Carr tradition. He identifies three distinct “waves” in the development of the orthodox detective novels in Japan , the first (1920-1940s) being the one represented by Edogawa Rampo, while the second is the post-war period represented by writers like Seishi Yokomizo. That brings us to the third wave, the new-old, or the New Orthodox School.

[Where everything Old is New again, and vice-versa. . .]

May 8 2011 11:00am

Chaotic Steps in Japanese Crime Fiction: A Brief History From the 1920s-1940s

Discussions of Japanese detective fiction, especially those concerning the pre-World War II period, will inevitably mention the name Edogawa Rampo. Essayists will mention how he was the first full-time modern crime writer in Japan, and how he’s considered the father of the Japanese detective story. They will also mention how Hirai Tarō’spen name, Edogawa Rampo, which literally means “chaotic steps along the river Edo”, is actually a clever Japanese play on Edgar Allan Poe (try reading it out loud!) Writers will, in short, emphasize the long shadow he casts over the period, and that is well-deserved praise. The tale of early detective fiction in Japan is very much the tale of Edogawa Rampo.

Cover of Edogawa Rampo debuted in 1923 with a short story “The Two-Sen Copper Coin” (“Nisen Doka”), which involves the cracking of a code and leads to a surprise ending. The story was hailed in Japan for being distinctly Japanese, while building on the rational, logical, Western model of the detective novel. Placing the Western detective novel in a typical Japanese setting, and tying it into Japanese culture was something Edogawa repeated with success in the following years, and many of these stories are now considered classics. 1925’s “The Murder on D-Slope” (“D-Zaka no Satsujin”) featured the very first Japanese locked-room mystery, a feat many first thought impossible due to the way houses were built in Japan. “The Psychological Test” (“Shinri Shiken”) and “The Stalker in the Attic” (“Yaneura no Sanposha”) from the same year are inverted detective stories, published in a time when this particular sub-genre was still a rarity all over the world.

[Bloodied footprints. . .]

Apr 25 2011 4:30am

Exploring Japanese Detective Stories: A Primer

Why should you care about the Japanese detective story? Well, Japan has a long and rich tradition in the genre, and even today, the detective novel holds a vital place in Japanese fiction.  From light-hearted travel-mysteries to Golden Age–styled novels, from the ‘social detective’ with his cultural commentary to the grotesque mystery, the Japanese detective can be seen everywhere in books, comics, television dramas, cartoons, movies and who-knows-what-else. The yearly output of material every year is immense, and it would be foolish of a fan of the genre to ignore the gems that are released in Japan. Even though these are occasionally translated into English, all the translations combined don’t compare to what’s released every single month in Japan. These really are the treasure islands of detective fiction.

Bookshelf of Japanese detective fiction

Ellery Queen IS the American detective story,” Anthony Boucher once famously said. As I was thinking about how to write this introductory post on the Japanese detective story, I glanced over my bookshelves. What do I think it is? Is there an author, a single piece of work I could present to the readers with the words: “Read this, and you’ll know what the Japanese detective story is”? Was there some characteristic I could point to?

[X marks the spot for treasure. . .Let's see some bling, baby!]