The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi

The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi: Detective Stories of Old Edo

Okamoto Kidō
Ian MacDonald translator
Copyright Date: 2007
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  • Book Info
    The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi
    Book Description:

    "That year, quite a shocking incident occurred. . . ." So reminisces old Hanshichi in a story from one of Japan’s most beloved works of popular literature, Hanshichi torimonochô. Told through the eyes of a street-smart detective, Okamoto Kidô’s best-known work inaugurated the historical detective genre in Japan, spawning stage, radio, movie, and television adaptations as well as countless imitations. This selection of fourteen stories, translated into English for the first time, provides a fascinating glimpse of life in feudal Edo (later Tokyo) and rare insight into the development of the fledgling Japanese crime novel. Once viewed as an exclusively modern genre derivative of Western fiction, crime fiction and its place in the Japanese popular imagination were forever changed by Kidô’s "unsung Sherlock Holmes." These stories—still widely read today—are crucial to our understanding of modern Japan and its aspirations toward a literature that steps outside the shadow of the West to stand on its own.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6466-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-2)

    The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi (Hanshichi torimonochō)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 hardcover and paperback, no less.Hanshichiis 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...

  6. The Ghost of Ofumi OFUMI NO TAMASHII
    (pp. 3-28)

    My uncle was born at the end of the Edo era¹ and was a great authority on the various bizarre and gruesome legends that were so popular in those days: tales of haunted houses with rooms no one dared enter; tales of the souls of scorned women, still living, tormenting an unfaithful lover; tales of ghosts unable to relinquish an attachment to their former lives…. Yet he took great pains to deny there was any truth to these legends, repeating the lesson of his samurai education that “a true warrior does not believe in ghosts.” Even after the Meiji Restoration,²...

  7. The Stone Lantern ISHI-DŌRŌ
    (pp. 29-53)

    Old Hanshichi was once kind enough to give me a detailed account of his standing in that long-ago world. Thinking it might prove useful to people today unfamiliar with Edo-period detective fiction, I have decided to pass on to the reader part of what he said.

    “What’s atorimonochō, you ask?” said Hanshichi by way of introduction. “Well, after hearing a report from one of us detectives, the chief inspector or assistant magistrate in charge of the case would relay the information to the City Magistrate’s Office,¹ where a secretary wrote it all down in a ledger. That’s what we...

  8. The Death of Kampei KAMPEI NO SHI
    (pp. 54-77)

    One day, I went to call on T—one of our great literary figures and a master of the Japanese historical novel¹—at his home in Akasaka. After hearing all he had to say about life in Edo long ago, I felt an urge to see old Hanshichi once again. It was three in the afternoon when I left T’s house. All along Akasaka’s main thoroughfare, men were setting up pine-branch decorations for the New Year outside gateways and shop fronts. A group of seven or eight people crowded outside a confectionery shop. All the sights and sounds of Tokyo...

  9. The Room over the Bathhouse YŪYA NO NIKAI
    (pp. 78-102)

    On another occasion, I again paid old Hanshichi a visit around New Year’s.

    “Happy New Year!” I sang out unceremoniously.

    “New Year’s felicitations to you, too, my good fellow, and best wishes for health and happiness.”

    The formality of Hanshichi’s greeting took me, as a young student, slightly aback. But then he produced the customary bottle of New Year’s mulled saké. Since the old man had a low tolerance for alcohol, and I was a virtual teetotaler, it was not long before both our faces had taken on a springlike flush, and the conversation grew more and more animated.


  10. The Dancer’s Curse OBAKE SHISHŌ
    (pp. 103-127)

    My work had kept me busy since February, and I’d neglected to call on Hanshichi for the better part of half a year. Feeling rather guilty, I sent off a letter at the end of May apologizing for my remissness. I immediately received a reply inviting me to visit Hanshichi the following month during the festival at the Hikawa Shrine,¹ when he would be serving the customary festivekowameshi.² Filled with anticipation at the thought of seeing the old man again, I set out for Akasaka on the day of the festival. Along the way a light, misty rain began...

  11. The Mystery of the Fire Bell HANSHŌ NO KAI
    (pp. 128-151)

    It was a rainy day in early November when I went to pay old Hanshichi a long overdue visit. He had just returned from the Hatsutori Festival in Yotsuya,¹ he said, and was holding a small rake, roughly the size and shape of a woman’s ornamental comb, that he’d brought from the shrine for good luck.²

    “If I’d been any later I’d have missed you,” he said, “Anyway, won’t you come in?”

    The old man reverently placed the rake on the household Shinto altar, then took me into the usual six-mat room. He was talking about how much the festival...

  12. The Daimyo’s Maidservant OKU JOCHŪ
    (pp. 152-175)

    I returned to Tokyo in the dog days of August after spending a fortnight in the countryside away from the heat. Bearing a small souvenir of my vacation, I went to Hanshichi’s house and found him just back from his evening visit to the bathhouse. He was seated on a straw mat on the veranda, energetically fanning himself. A cool breeze blew through the tiny garden, and a caged grasshopper could be heard chirping from the window of a neighbor’s house.

    “As far as keeping insects is concerned, it’s grasshoppers that always make me think of Edo,” the old man...

  13. The Haunted Sash Pond OBI-TORI NO IKE
    (pp. 176-197)

    It’s been filled in and there’s nothing left now, but long ago this used to be the ‘Haunted Sash Pond.’ It was still there during the Edo period. Take a look. Here—”

    Old Hanshichi opened a map of Edo printed in 1860 and showed it to me. There, west of Gekkei Temple in Ichigaya and just below the secondary estate of the Owari¹ clan was a large blue area labeled “Haunted Sash Pond.”

    “I’ve heard that there’s a pond with the same name in Kyoto, but if you need proof that one existed in Edo, just look at this...

  14. Snow Melting in Spring HARU NO YUKI-DOKE
    (pp. 198-220)

    Since you’re a fan of kabuki, you’re no doubt familiar with that scene fromKōchiyama¹ where the courtesan Michitose goes to a convalescent home in Iriya² to recover her health, and her lover, the samurai Naojirō, sneaks in to see her. Now, what was the name of the Kiyomoto³ ballad performed during that scene? Ah, that’s right—Snow Melting in Spring: A Secret Rendezvous.⁴ Every time I see that play, I’m reminded of something that happened a long time ago. Of course,” old Hanshichi added, launching into another of his stories, “the plot is completely different, but the setting’s the...

  15. Hiroshige and the River Otter HIROSHIGE TO KAWAUSO
    (pp. 221-246)

    If I were to write this story in the style of an old kabuki script, it might begin something like this.

    [A platform sits atop the main stage. The set consists of a vermilion temple gate with guardian deities on either side. Through it, in the distance, one can see the precincts of the temple of Kannon in Asakusa with a large, well-placed ginkgo tree. Inside the gate, the Nakamise shopping street leading up to the temple is lined on either side with stalls selling various wares. Music of the kind heard in the local vaudeville theaters plays as the...

  16. The Mansion of Morning Glories ASAGAO YASHIKI
    (pp. 247-270)

    It was 1856—the sixteenth day of the eleventh month, if I’m not mistaken. A fire broke out in the Yanagiwara section of Kanda at about four in the morning. Four or five houses burned down before it was brought under control. Since I had an acquaintance in the neighborhood, I made my way through the dim light of early morning to see if he was safe, and stayed and chatted for a while before wending my way home. Then I took my morning dip at the bathhouse and ate breakfast, by which time it must have been nearly eight...

  17. A Cacophony of Cats NEKO SŌDŌ
    (pp. 271-293)

    Old Hanshichi had a small tortoiseshell cat. One warm February day I happened to stop by his house and found him outside on the south-facing verandah, stroking the small, furry creature curled up on his lap.

    “What an adorable cat,” I remarked.

    “You say that because he’s still just a kitten,” Hanshichi replied smiling. “He hasn’t even learned to kill mice yet.”

    The bright midday sun shone on the old roof tiles of the house next door; from somewhere there arose the clamor of a cat-fight. The old man looked up in the direction of the sound and smiled.


  18. Benten’s Daughter BENTEN MUSUME
    (pp. 294-319)

    It was the eighteenth day of the third month of 1854, the first year of the new Ansei era. Hanshichi was just thinking about having some lunch before popping out to see the Sanja Festival at the Asakusa Shrine,¹ when a man of thirty-five or -six came calling. He was a clerk named Rihei who worked at the Yamashiroya, a pawnbroker’s on the street below Kanda’s Myōjin Shrine. Hanshichi knew him to be one of his master’s most trusted employees.

    “I wish the weather would clear up,” Rihei said. “Trust it to go and rain yesterday, on the opening night...

  19. The Mountain Party YAMA IWAI NO YO
    (pp. 320-336)

    Hakone was an entirely different place in those days.”

    Old Hanshichi opened a small volume from the 1830s entitledThe Traveler’s Illustrated Pocket Treasureand showed it to me.

    “Here, take a look—nothing but thatched houses in these pictures of Yumoto and Miyanoshita, is there? That gives you an idea of how much things have changed. In those days, going to take the waters at Hakone was a big deal—a once-in-a-lifetime event. No matter how rich you were, it was a difficult journey. You’d usually set out from Shinagawa in the morning and spend the first night in...

  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 337-338)