The future of Japan (Wow x 4)
Will make the world jealous (Yeah x 4)
"Love Machine" (Morning Musume)
I had to think of Huis Ten Bosch while reading this book. It's always weird to see how 'outsiders' (people from other countries) view your own country.
Sam's stepmother Kazumi had only been part of his life for a short period, until a tragic traffic accident ended her life, but she had always remained a big influence on his life, sparking an interest in Kazumi's home country of Japan and its culture. Many years later, Sam finally hit a stop in his life, and he decides now might be the time to move to the country of his dreams. A letter to his stepuncle is answered with warm words of welcome, so Sam takes on his mother's family name, and makes the cross to Japan as Tokyo Sam. Arriving in Kannon City, a harbor city known for its gigantic statue of the Bodhisattva Kannon (which also serves as a lighthouse), Sam learns that while he might know a lot about Japan from his studies in the States, there are still many mysteries to be uncovered about the Japanese culture and its people. Yamaguchi Masaya's Nihon Satsujin Jiken ("The Japan Murder Case", 1998) chronicles three of Tokyo Sam's adventures.
The book starts with an introduction saying that author Yamaguchi discovered the original The Japan Murder Case novel in a second hand store and that the work made an impression on him. The book was set in Japan, but it was a very weird Japan, as it was written by "Samuel Heart", an American who got all his knowledge on Japan from books and stuff, but who had never visited the country itself. It was a Japan as envisioned by someone who simply threw all the 'cool Japanese stuff he knew' together, with a good dash of misunderstandings about the culture. For example, the book was set in modern times, but there were still samurai walking around, and everybody had weird names like Tokyo. Nihon Satsujin Jiken is supposed to be the Japanese translation of the book.
Okay, of course, this tale about Heart and The Japan Murder Case is just a framing device, but it's a fun one! It's basically making fun of how people outside Japan see Japanese culture, with people constantly spouting haiku, or talking about zen and samurai spirit. The book is set in a distinctly Orientalist portrayal of Japan, but it does that on purpose, which makes it quite hilarious at time. I have read other books which do the Orientalist angle seriously, so Nihon Satsujin Jiken was certainly recognizable.
The book starts with Bishou to Shi to ("With A Smile and Death"), which is about Tokyo Sam's trip to Japan and his first few days in Kannon City. During his boat trip from Tokyo to Kannon City, Sam became acquainted with a family of three. Later, Sam discovers that this family was staying in the same Traditional Japanese Inn, but tragedy had already struck by then: the father had commited harakiri (ritualistic suicide) to atone for the sin of offending his boss Lippert, but also to make his boss promise he wouldn't lay off the employees at the branch he managed. The harakiri ritual was held in the room at the inn, and people saw Lippert leaving the inn with the head (in a box). Lippert however disappears in the night, with the head. Sam however deduces something else happened and while the solution is not super surprising, this story is fairly well hinted, and what's more important, it actually makes great use of the setting.
The exaggeration of "Japanese Culture" in this novel isn't just for shows, it's actually an integral part of the plot. The theme of harakiri and the concept of honor is very idealistic, but it is used as a proper clue. In a way, Bishou to Shi to, like the whole book actually, is like one of those fantasy mystery novels I like so much, where you have supernatural settings that still work perfectly as fair-play mysteries, because the rules are clearly defined. Here too, everything is kinda set in a 'fantasy' setting (a highly romanticized Japan).
The wabi in Wabi no Misshitsu ("The Locked Room of Wabi") refers to the Japanese concept of 'seeing beauty in sorrow and sadness'. Tokyo Sam is invited to attend to a traditional tea ceremony. The person presiding the ceremony is in heavy struggle with his fellow disciple to inherit the clan name and tension can be felt throughout the ceremony. After the ceremony, Sam and his companion Ekubo remember they left something in the ceremony room, but find it locked from the inside. They eventually break the door open, and find the ceremony master dead, stabbed in his back. The room was locked from the inside, so how could this have happened? This story is a bit disappointing. The final solution is rather elementary, and even features elements that simply couldn't have happened. What sorta saves this story are the fake solutions Tokyo Sam and Ekubo think off: some of these 'fake' solutions would've been great real solutions actually. This story is also heavily steeped in (exaggerated) Japanese Culture, but overall not as satisfying as a mystery story compared to the first one.
Tokyo Sam visits Kuruwa Island, an island dedicated to providing adult entertainment in Fushigi no Kuni no Arinsu ("Arinsu in Wonderland"). He gets acquainted with Arisugawa, one of the more popular oiran (courtesans) in the district. The next morning, Tokyo Sam awakes to find his clothes gone and Arisugawa murdered in the room next to his. Her arms were cut off, and a folding screen had been laid down on her back, as if to make her look like a bird. Sam is suspected of murdering Arisugawa, but he manages to escape thanks to Ekubo, and tries to find out who killed Arisugawa during his sleep and why. This is the longest story in the book by far, and contains some interesting portrayals of the oiran culture, as well as some musing on the Japanese ideals of "beauty". Overall, my feelings about this story mirror those I have for Wabi no Misshitsu: the fake solutions were more entertaining than the actual solution. Though I have to say that the final solution in this story is actually quite decent, it's only not as a 'fancy' as the fake ones. It's also an awfully long story, more so than actually necessary. The book ends with a short chapter titled Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu ("Hail The Bodhisattva Kannon"), whch is not a mystery story, but more like an epilogue (even if it's titled "final chapter")
I know Yamaguchi Masaya mostly from his Ikeru Shikabane no Shi ("The Death of the Living Dead"), which was an excellent mystery story about zombies coming back to life. The zombie-angle was obviously a supernatural one, but by making use of this unique, but clearly definied setting with specific rules, this book turned out to be one of the better logic-based novels I've ever read. Nihon Satsujin Jiken never reaches the heights of Yamaguchi's debut novel, but it's definitely entertaining througout with its humorous portrayal of Japan As See By The Outsider, and the plots do make use of this somewhat fantasy-like settin (by the way, the other thing I know Yamaguchi from is the PSX game Cat the Ripper, which is batshit crazy).
So overall, I'd say that Nihon Satsujin Jiken is definitely an amusing mystery novel, that can be especially entertaining if you have an interest in Japanese culture. It takes elements from Japanese culture to the extreme, but it's not only for show, as the setitng is closely related to the mystery. There is a sequel to this book, and while this bookw as not bad, I do hope that the second book manages to get closer to the level of Ikeru Shikabane no Shi.
Original Japanese title(s): 山口雅也 『日本殺人事件』： 「第一話 微笑と死と」 / 「第二話 侘の密室」 / 「第三話 不思議の国のアリンス」 / 「終幕 南無観世音菩薩」