From Dec. 2, The Japan Times is serializing one of Japan’s early detective novels, “The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi: Detective Stories of Old Edo,” in which author Kido Okamoto (1872-1939), offers entertaining and thrilling stories set in Edo Period Japan.
Although widely read in Japan since its publishing in the years between 1917 and 1937, it wasn’t until 2007 that the book was translated into English. The book was published by the University of Hawai’i Press, with support from the Japanese Literature Publishing Project.
Starting Dec. 2, 2008, consecutive installations from the book will appear in The Japan Times every week, from Tuesday to Saturday. For context and background of the book’s setting, as well as the time in which Kido wrote his work, we offer the introduction of “The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi,” written by the book’s translator Ian MacDonald.
We hope you enjoy reading all 14 chapters of this book, chronicling the adventures of Inspector Hanshichi.
The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi (Hanshichi torimonocho) must certainly be one of the last great, and beloved, works of early-twentieth-century popular Japanese fiction to find its way into English translation. This fact, however, in no way reflects any neglect of the work in Japan, where today, nine decades after the first stories in the series were published, it remains in print — in multiple editions, both hard cover and paperback, no less. 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 — when writers such as Akutagawa, Tanizaki, and Kawabata began experimenting with psychological realism —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. In short, it is a work widely read in Japan that is crucial to our understanding of the Japanese during their nation’s ascendancy to the ranks of world powers, and of their aspirations toward a literature that steps outside the shadow of the West to stand on its own.