Advanced Japanese Book Club // Now reading: 海辺のカフカ・Next: 狼と香辛料

As a wise person once said…

Quick heads-up for everybody: Our next pick starts on Saturday:

(I can’t update the thread title here though)

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Thanks for the reminder! I’ve updated the title.

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本陣殺人事件

Author : 横溝正史 (Seishi Yokomizo)

Summary

Japanese

江戸時代からの宿場本陣の旧家、一柳家。その婚礼の夜に響き渡った、ただならぬ人の悲鳴と琴の音。離れ座敷では新郎新婦が血まみれになって、惨殺されていた。枕元には、家宝の名琴と三本指の血痕のついた金屏風が残され、一面に降り積もった雪は、離れ座敷を完全な密室にしていた……。アメリカから帰国した金田一耕助の、初登場作品となる表題作ほか、「車井戸はなぜ軋る」「黒猫亭事件」の二編を収録。

English

Story:
On 25 November 1937, at a former honjin in Okayama, the wedding of Kenzou Ichiyanagi and Katsuko Kubo is held. The celebrants include the mother Itoko, the third son Saburo, the second daughter Suzuko, the cousin Ryousuke, and Ginzo Kubo, Katsuko’s uncle. During the ceremony, Suzuko plays the koto, and everything ends without incident.

Later that night, the wild sound of the koto is heard across the mansion. Ginzo rushes to the newly wedded couple’s bedroom, only to find the couple killed in a brutal fashion. A Japanese sword is later found thrust into the ground in the middle of the garden, with no footprints on the surrounding thick snow, creating a perfect locked room mystery.

Background:
The novel introduces Kosuke Kindaichi, a popular fictional detective who featured in seventy-seven Yokomizo mysteries. In it, he solves a locked-room mystery murder that takes place in an isolated mansion (honjin) blanketed in snow. Yokomizo had read classic Western detective novels extensively, and the novel makes allusions to John Dickson Carr, Gaston Leroux, and others, with several mentions of Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room as an emblematic locked-room mystery. Though writing a noir and sometimes graphic murder mystery, Yokomizo worked within the tradition of literary Japanese aesthetics. He frequently paused to include lyrical descriptions of nature, the mansion, and the characters. The novel provides a detailed sense of place, including repeated references to cardinal directions and a detailed sketch of the murder scene. Koto music, instruments, and implements play a recurring role in the case.

In addition to the central mystery, Yokomizo uses the story to illuminate the traditions, customs, and agrarian rhythm of rural Japan in the early twentieth century as well as anxieties about changing class distinctions. The omniscient narrator, in an aside to the “Gentle reader,” explains that the word “lineage, which has all but fallen out of usage in the city, is even today alive and well in rural villages like this one,” and the killer’s motive is revealed to relate to an obsession with traditional concepts of honor and family bloodlines.

Length : 407 pages in 3 stories; the main story is 199 pages
Category : Fast/Hard

Availability

Amazon paperback
Amazon Kindle
Bookwalker

Personal Opinion

Wikipedia claims that many people regard this story as one of the best Japanese detective novels. I find it very appealing that the story also seems to include lots of information about the lives of the people at that time. The story was written in 1946, when Japan was on the cusp of groundbreaking reforms (kanji reform, land reform) and I’m curious to see how much of that spirit is already reflected in the story.

Pros and Cons for the Book Club

Pros

  • Decorated book (won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1948)
  • Said to be one of the best Japanese detective novels
  • Not only the story but also lots of background information
  • If we find it too hard to read at a fast pace (see the cons below) we can decide to only read the main story at a slower pace.

Cons

  • Written in 1946, so the language might still be a little bit old-fashioned
  • Not only the story but also lots of background information (might feel long-winding?)
    • @rodan explained: “Yokomizo is just very precise and dense with detail and spends a lot of time explaining situations with very specialized vocabulary” (which might make it harder to read for many of us, I guess)
  • Yet Another Detective Story™ :innocent:

Pictures

First Three Pages of Chapter One

Additional Pages

Difficulty Poll

How much effort would you need to read this book?

  • No effort at all
  • Minimal effort
  • Moderate effort
  • Significant effort
  • So much effort my head might explode
  • I don’t know

0 voters

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For those of you who are spontaneously interested in that book, there is a 60% (!) coin cashback on Bookwalker until 2021-10-31T14:59:00Z.

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For me Kindle version shows as available, but is it supposed to be book 2 of 18?
(doubts because you said that “novel introduces Kosuke Kindaichi”)

Oh, that’s weird! (I was actually wondering whether it might be a regional thing…)

For me (based in Germany) it looks like this:

I am actually very confused about this myself. Looking at the author’s Wikipedia page, it is the first novel of the series:

but if you look at the numbering of this series, it is somewhat all over the place:

Series #1 is the 3rd book,
Series #2 is the first book,
Series #3 is the second book,
Series #4 is the 6th book,
and so on.

:woman_shrugging:

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Oh! I definitely recommend that book heartily, and I would maybe have nominated it myself if I hadn’t read it already, but I also assumed it was maybe too long, since personally I wouldn’t describe it as “fast” necessarily - I would have called it harder than Panorama Island so far. Not so much because of grammar or word forms, Yokomizo is just very precise and dense with detail and spends a lot of time explaining situations with very specialized vocabulary, meaning there’s lots and lots of dictionary lookups, for me at least (but it is very interesting).
I may be exaggerating it in my memory though!

Correction though - it’s not 407 pages. That edition has multiple stories and 本陣殺人事件 ends at 199 (which might make it more workable if I’m right about the difficulty).

It’s the kind of thing where they’re loosely connected enough that various editions put out different Yokomizo/Kindaichi sets with different orders.
It might also be complicated because the dates the stories were first serialized seemes to be different from when they were first published, according to Wikipedia. Like while 本陣殺人事件 was first serialized in 1946, it was apparently first published in collected form in 1973, after a bunch of others including the more famous 犬神家の一族.
(correction/sidenote: I realized I’m not really confident those 1970s dates are when they were FIRST compiled and looked into it a little bit more. Still not exactly sure on the details, but it sounds like those dates refer to when Kadokawa went through and republished and reorganized Yokomizo’s works in the 70s during the “横溝ブーム” (which is also referenced in the about the author pages of my 本陣 copy, though that makes it sound like it came later in the 70s with the Inugami Clan movie). I guess that was just an important enough published set for Wikipedia editors to put the dates from it in the summary box at the top of the articles?)

So 本陣殺人事件 is 100% the story that introduces Kindaichi to the world (both in our timeline and his), but in practice most readers may have been introduced to him in other stories, and publishers might pick other ones to use first.
I’d recommend starting with it!

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Oh, thanks for the heads up, that was not clear from the first few pages (where I encountered way fewer unknown words than even in Ogawa Mimei’s children’s stories :sweat_smile:).

Oh I see! Totally skipped over the table of contents when looking at the preview :woman_facepalming:

OK great, then I suggested the right volume after all.

Thanks for all the information, will incorporate it into my proposal!

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I suspect the usual issue with “Japanese-looking address needed”, but it’s very much not your first nomination, so I’m not sure. :woman_shrugging:t2:

Hm, not really sure either, but I thought that I had successfully looked at lots of Japanese Kindle books before. :thinking:
But if it’s only a problem at my end, then I’m totally relieved. (Not planning to buy any Kindle books so I don’t really care in general, it would just be annoying for the nomination.)

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Yeah… It opens with him just visiting the scene, so it might not be representative of him explaining things in full force.

I’m not sure if these are helpful or readable, but I took a couple of pictures from a little later when he starts introducing the family at the heart of the case:

Maybe denser sample


Reading that and keeping in mind he’s going to continue and introduce several other family members might illustrate better what I mean. Looking back, it’s nothing that horribly intense, at least to me now having just read another long Kindaichi mystery, but the combination of a ton of detail to take in + very particular setting in place and time that I didn’t know much about before reading made it pretty slow-going, I think.

If you know a lot going in about kotos or Japanese architecture that would probably speed things up significantly, though.

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I also read this one earlier this year and echo everything @rodan said. I spent a bit more time than usual researching related terminology and images since I wasn’t that familiar with the setting and had a hard time picturing some of the items and scenarios described. Definitely recommended though and personally I’m all for the mystery picks.

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Thx for the heads up I took it. Seem so interesting

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Quick heads-up that we will run our next poll next week - so if you have this interesting book that you always wanted to nominate, now is the time :hugs:

(no, I am not looking at you @Belerith :joy_cat:)

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:eyes:
I think I decided against nominating it because I’m not sure if there’s graphic elements in there.

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In fact the title somehow made me wonder along the same lines :eyes:

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It doesn’t really beat the previous coinback promotion, but there’s a discount on the newest nominee (and plenty of other Yokomizo like half off 犬神家の一族) in this sale of Kadokawa books that were adapted into Kadokawa Pictures. So it’s kind of fun to browse as both things to read and things to watch…

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It’s that time of the year again… :santa: :sled: :snowman:

No no no, what are you talking about!

It’s time to have a Poll!

Have a look at the List of Proposed Books section in the first post for details on each book. Every book has a difficulty associated with it (based on the book club members’ votes, thus subjective) out of 5, where 1 means “no effort at all” and 5 means “impossible, even with everyone’s help”. The difficulty is annotated in the poll in square brackets after the book’s name.

Do not rely solely on difficulty when making a choice. Please have a look at the nomination posts and text samples if you haven’t already.

Expected reading pace: The proposals fall into two categories, Fast and Hard. We aim to read fast books at 30-50 pages per week and hard books at ~15 pages per week (that number might vary a bit throughout, depending on the book’s breaks and chapters). For manga, depending on difficulty and chapter length, we will probably read one to several chapters per week. The pick’s exact reading schedule will be negotiated before the book club kicks off.

Start of Book Club: We will start the next book on January 1st, 2022 (so get ready for your New Year’s Resolutions! :wink:).

Poll duration: The poll will be closed within a week (and most likely before that), whenever it looks like voting has dried up. You can choose up to 5 options.

  • Fast: 86―エイティシックス― [2.67]
  • Fast: クォンタムデビルサーガ アバタールチューナーⅠ [3.29]
  • Fast: 狼と香辛料 [2.67]
  • Fast: マスカレード・ホテル [1.89]
  • Fast: 風の谷のナウシカ [3.13]
  • Fast: 海辺のカフカ (上) [2.36]
  • Fast: 化物語(上) [2.8]
  • Fast: 虐殺器官 - Genocidal Organ [3]
  • Fast/Hard: 薬屋のひとりごと [3.5]
  • Fast/Hard: 本陣殺人事件 [2.86]
  • Hard: 檸檬 [3.6]
  • Hard: 風立ちぬ [3]
  • Hard: 午後の曳航 [3]
  • Hard: 文字渦 [3.86]

0 voters

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The art of tie breaking (and how to fail at it).

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Welp, I guess we’ve got our books decided for the next six months, then. :slightly_smiling_face:

In the real-world book club I’m in, we’re so good at getting ties even in tie-breaker votes that we’ve sometimes had to resort to drawing M&Ms out of a bag in order to decide.

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