Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination

BOOK: Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination
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Japanese Tales of
Mystery &

Edogawa Rampo
(Hirai Taro, 1894-1965) is widely regarded as the father of Japanese mystery writing. Born in Mie Prefecture, he graduated in 1916 from Waseda University and took on a series of odd jobs, working as an accountant, clerk, salesman, and peddler of
noodles from a cart, before discovering his vocation as a writer. The first modern writer of mysteries in Japan, and long-time president of the Japan Mystery Writers' Club, Rampo derived his pen name from the Japanese pronunciation of Edgar Allan Poe, under whose spell he fell early in his career.

Published by Tuttle Publishing, an imprint of Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd.


© 1956 by Charles E. Tuttle Company
First edition, 1956

All rights reserved

LCC Card No. 56006809
ISBN 978-0-8048-0319-9
ISBN 978-4-8053-0940-7 (for sale in Japan only)

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of Japanese mystery stories, who is making his debut in the English language with the publication of this book, enjoys wide popularity in Japan. Although the same cannot yet be said of him among mystery readers in America and Europe, he has already been frequently mentioned in American book reviews and commentaries as being, without question, the dean of Japanese mystery writers. In the words of Ina Telberg, who wrote of Edogawa Rampo in her article 'The Japanese State of Mind" in the
Saturday Review of Literature
, "One of the most able exponents of the detective story in Japan is Edogawa Rampo, who heads the Japan Mystery Writers' Club. It is not improbable that if he is translated into English he may well enjoy here some of the popularity that the French Georges Simenon has had."

Ellery Queen, writing in his
Queens Quorum
(1951) introduced Edogawa Rampo and his works as belonging to the period between Agatha Christie and Edgar Wallace in his listing of the world's most famous writers of short mystery stories. Queen also remarked that, "If you say the name Edogawa Rampo aloud, and keep repeating it, the name will seem to grow more and more familiar; and it should, because it is a verbal translation of the Japanese pronunciation of Edgar Allan Poe."

David Dempsey, in his column "In and Out of Books," run regularly in the
New York Times Book Review,
also commented on Rampo as follows: "Japan's most famous mystery story writer is named Edogawa Rampo. Rampo took this name because he is a great admirer of Poe. When a visiting American asked Kanji Hatano (a noted Japanese psychologist) if the Japanese reading public didn't confuse Rampo with the real Edgar Allan Poe, he replied, Oh, no. . .Edogawa Rampo is much more famous.'"

In the section devoted to pseudonyms in the introduction to Dashiell Hammett's
Woman in the Dark,
published by the Jonathan Press Mystery, Rampo was classified as belonging to the Vocal Method group, with the explanation that "When Hirai Taro (Edogawa Rampo's real name) decided to write under a nom de plume, he went back, with reverence and relevance, to the origin of the species. . .to the Father of the Detective Story. . . ."

Edogawa Rampo was born October 21, 1894, in Nabari Town, Mie Prefecture, the son of a merchant who also practiced law. Most of his childhood was spent in Nagoya, but at the age of seventeen he went to Tokyo for higher studies. Entering Waseda University in 1912, he majored in economics and graduated with high honors four years later. During the next six years, Rampo tried his hand at diverse occupations, working successively as clerk for an import-export house, accountant at a shipbuilding yard, assistant editor of a newspaper, advertising solicitor, etc., etc. Frequently, between jobs, he followed the menial trade of peddling
, or Japanese noodles, pulling the cart and blowing the eerie-sounding flute of the
peddler, thus just managing to keep body and soul together.

It was not until 1923, the year of the great earthquake which devastated the whole of the Tokyo-Yokohama area, that Rampo discovered his real calling, i.e., writing mysteries. Until that time, no Japanese writer had attempted a modern detective story, although there did exist numerous translations of the works of Western writers.

In those days, only a single mystery magazine was in existence in the whole of Japan. This was the
Shin Seinen
which featured Japanese translations of the works of such Western mystery writers as Poe, Doyle, Chesterton, Freeman, and others.

Rampo, who had been an avid reader of American and European mysteries since his high school days, being jobless in Osaka at the time, mailed in to
Shin Seinen
a short mystery entitled "Nisen Doka" (The Two-Sen Copper Coin). Much to his surprise, the story was snapped up, and published by
Shin Seinen
side by side with the works of world-famous writers. Invited by the publishers to write more stories, Rampo readily complied, and as his reputation continued to grow by leaps and bounds as Japans first spinner of modern mystery yarns, he finally went to Tokyo to pursue his new vocation in earnest.

During the thirty-one years up to the present, Rampo has written a total of twenty full-length books, fifty-three short stories and novelettes, ten full-length books for juveniles, and six volumes of essays devoted to the mystery story. The stories contained in this book are the best selections from Rampo's stock of short stories.

In introducing this noted Japanese mystery writer to the Western public a brief résumé of the mystery story in Japan is also in order. Old tales of court trials imported from China were the very first detective stories read in Japan. However, it was not until the year 1660 that a Japanese writer came under the spell of these Chinese classics and began to write stories of a similar nature.

During the next two centuries, various other writers turned out works along the same lines, the most famous of them being Saikaku Ihara's
Records of Trials Held Beneath a Cherry Tree
, published in the year 1689.

The next turning point came in the Meiji Period (1868-1912), when the Chinese-patterned detective story began to lose its popularity, and a new era of crime literature came into being with the rapid importation, translation, and sale of American, English, and French mystery classics. One of the earliest translators of these Western works into Japanese was Ruiko Kuroiwa, who from 1887 until the close of the century translated dozens of detective novels, thus introducing the modern Western crime story to Japanese readers. Among the many works which he translated into the Japanese language those of French writers predominated. Some fifteen or sixteen novels by Du Boisgobey, four novels by Gaboriau, as well as works by Wilkie Collins, A. K. Green, and others were translated by him and serialized in Japanese newspapers.

Subsequently, many other translators turned out numerous works by American and English writers, until finally, in the year 1923, the first original Japanese mystery story, Edogawa Rampo's "The Two-Sen Copper Coin," was born.

With the ice thus finally broken, a purely Japanese school of modern mystery fiction rapidly began to take shape, with the majority of the writers striving to give expression to their own original themes and ideas and adopting diverse styles rather than merely copying their Western predecessors and contemporaries. Thus, today, the Japan Mystery Writers' Club, which was founded by Edogawa Rampo, consists of a select membership of over one hundred professional writers of the purely Japanese school, who assiduously keep the Japanese mystery addicts supplied with an unlimited flow of mystery tales of every description.

A brief description of the manner in which this book was translated may also prove to be of interest to the reader, for it was undertaken under unique conditions. Edogawa Rampo, while fully capable of reading and understanding English, lacks the ability to write or speak it. On the other hand, the translator, a Eurasian of English-Japanese parentage, while completely fluent in spoken Japanese, is quite unable to read or write the language, as he was educated solely in English schools. Hence, for each line translated, the two collaborators, meeting once a week for a period of five years, were forced to overcome manifold difficulties in getting every line just right, the author reading each line in Japanese several times and painstakingly explaining the correct meaning and nuance, and the translator sweating over his typewriter having to experiment with sentence after sentence until the author was fully satisfied with what had been set down in English.

Whether or not this book will find a permanent place on the world's bookshelf of great mystery classics is a question that still remains to be answered, and the Occidental "whodunit" reader, currently flooded with large doses of jet-paced Mickey Spillane, may find Edogawa Rampo's typically Oriental tempo somewhat slow.

But whatever the reaction, it is Rampo's fervent hope that the publication of this book—the very first volume of collected Japanese tales of mystery and imagination ever to be published in the English language—may serve as the initial step towards placing original Japanese works on the list of the most popular mystery classics of the world.


Tokyo, February 5, 1956


BOOK: Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination
11.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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