Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Line to Strain


Maru Take Ebisu Ni Oshi Oike
Ane San Rokkaku Tako Nishiki
Shi Aya Bu Taka Matsu Man Gojo
Seta Ring Ring Uo no Tana
Past Rokujo Santetsu
After Shichijo it's Hachijo and Kujo
And then it ends at Jujo Toji
Whenever I think of Kyoto, I think of the little song I quoted just above this. It's a mnemonic song of all the large roads that go from east to west in Kyoto, and you wouldn't believe how often I had to sing the song to figure out where I was and how far I still needed to go when I was living in Kyoto.

Nishijin refers both to a geographical area in the city of Kyoto, as well as the textile that has traditionally been manufactured there. A visit of Catherine Turner (magazine editor, daughter of a former US vice-president and amateur sleuth) to Kobayashi Souzaemon (owner of one of the oldest textile manufacturers in Nishijin) ends in a little treat in a traditional Gion tea house, where Catherine learns about a geigi-cum-mistress sponsored by Kobayashi. The following day, the mistress is found murdered in her room, and Catherine and her boyfriend Hamaguchi Ichirou suspect the murder might be connected to the Kobayashi family, which has the "usual" problems of second wives who can't seem to give birth to a new heir, sons of first wives who are afraid for their inheritance and pregnant mistresses. Luckily for Cathy and Ichirou, the police detective in charge of the case is an old acquaintance of them, and so the two have a new murder investigation adventure in the old capital of Japan in Yamamura Misa's Kyouto Nishijin Satsujin Jiken ("The Kyoto Nishijin Murder Case", 1987)

The words "Yamamura Misa Suspense" are an institution in Japan. When people think of The Stereotypical Two-Hour TV Drama Mystery, they think of either Nishimura Kyoutarou or Yamamura Misa. Both writers are known for having provided countless of original plots for TV detective productions, often featuring mystery plots that require little thinking, some romance subplot and set in touristic destinations (=anywhere but Tokyo). Yamamura Misa's father's academic work had brought him to Korea during its colonization by Japan and she was born in Keijou (Seoul). They moved back to the ancient capital Kyoto afterwards though and Kyoto features heavily in Yamamura Misa's work.

The Catherine Turner series is probably Yamamura's best known series, as it's been adapted into TV productions and even videogames. Catherine is a journalist and wealthy heiress, who has a great interest in Japanese culture and speaks it fluently (For some reason, she still uses "yes" and "no", even though she knows a lot of complex Japanese phrases...). For TV productions, the character of Catherine is often changed so she's Japanese, or switched out with other Yamamura Misa creations.

I have to admit, I was expecting pretty much nothing of Kyouto Nishijin Satsujin Jiken. I've read a couple of Yamamura's books and seen some TV specials, and they were always very predictable, stereotypical stuff. You've seen one of them, you've seen all of them. Kyouto Nishijin Satsujin Jiken did absolutely nothing to help this image sadly enough. There are some murders. There's a bit of amateur sleuthing. There's a bit of a romance subplot. And there is basically nothing that is really appealing. This is a by-the-numbers book. The Stereotypical Yamamura Misa Plot. Nothing more than that. I don't even feel like going much deeper into it, as anyone familiar with the Two-Hour TV Mystery Drama knows what to they can expect from this story.

The only things that interested me a little where the bits that delve into Kyoto culture, like Nishijin and the local ordinance that regulates building heights to preserve the traditional cityscape (which is why Kyoto is relatively 'lowly' built), but that's basically just trivia (and I've seen them used better in other detective stories too).

Kyouto Nishijin Satsujin Jiken is what you'd expect from a Yamamura Misa novel with Catherine Turner. Just that. Would I recommend it? No. Only interesting if you want to know how the Japanese Stereotypical Mystery Story goes. As a lesson in stereotypes across cultures, it's s certainly educative.

Original Japanese title(s): 山村美沙 『京都西陣殺人事件』

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