January wrap up

January was all about detective series! First of all, I started the Kogoro Akechi series as part of my reading challenge for 2021. I also continued two of my favourite series: the Ikagawa series and the Galileo series.

Kogoro Akechi Book I: 『D坂の殺人事件|幽霊|黒手組|心理試験|屋根裏の散歩者』 by Edogawa Rampo

We follow the adventures of private detective Kogoro Akechi in 5 short stories that take place in the early 20s. First a connoisseur of crime, Akechi soon becomes a “detective amateur” and finally, a “famous detective”.

As a fan of classic detective novel, this book has been a fantastic read for me. I have already posted my book review, so I will mainly talk about the language level of the book and the things that I found difficult.

I had never Edogawa Rampo in Japanese before, so I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought that the book would be more difficult than contemporary detective novels. It was surprisingly easy to read. I am not saying that it is an easy book to read in Japanese, but if you are used to reading contemporary mystery novels, the language level of this one does not differ much.

This being said, some passages were a little difficult, especially long sentences. This one, for example, was not the easiest:

やしきのまわりに高いコンクリート塀をめぐらしたのも、その塀の上にガラスの破片を植えつけたのも、門長屋を殆どただの様な屋賃で巡査の一家に貸したのも、屈竟くっきょうな二人の書生を置いたのも、夜分は勿論、昼間でも、止むを得ない用事の外はなるべく外出しないことにしていたのも、若し外出する場合には必ず書生を伴う様にしていたのも、それもこれも皆ただ一人の辻堂が怖いからであった。(幽霊)

This is the kind of sentence that I need to read twice, because the meaning of the whole sentence becomes clear in the last proposition: it describes all the measures taken by our character to protect himself from his enemy. At first read, I found it quite difficult, but when I re-read it, I realised that I could understand it without trouble.

This is interesting because it shows that vocabulary is not always the problem when you don’t understand something. When I did not know what we were talking about, I could not make sense of the sentence. But once I read the last portion and understood what it was all about – and re-read the whole sentence -, it all became clear and easy.

Apart from that, the most difficult parts of the whole book were descriptions of rooms:

部屋は一間切りの六畳で、奥の方は、右一間は幅の狭い縁側をへだてて、二坪許りの庭と便所があり、庭の向うは板塀になっている。――夏のことで、開けぱなしだから、すっかり、見通しなのだ、――左半間は開き戸で、その奥に二畳敷程の板の間があり裏口に接して狭い流し場が見え、そこの腰高障子は閉っている。向って右側は、四枚の襖が閉っていて、中は二階への階段と物入場になっているらしい。ごくありふれた安長屋の間取だ。(D坂の殺人事件)

I tried to draw a plan of this room, but I am still not sure I got it right. This is the kind of description that you don’t really need to bother with, as long as you understand that we are talking about a ごくありふれた安長屋の間取. But I do want to understand everything in Kogoro Akechi, so I did spend a lot of time studying this passage and looking up picture of 長屋 online to see what a typical one would look like.

In the same short story, there is also a passage about the wood panels on the shoji:

私はふと店と奥の間との境に閉めてある障子の格子戸がピッシャリ閉るのを見つけた。――その障子は、専門家の方では無窓むそうと称するもので、普通、紙をはるべき中央の部分が、こまかい縦の二重の格子になっていて、それが開閉出来るのだ――ハテ変なこともあるものだ。(D坂の殺人事件)

The description is clear enough, but looking at pictures online also helped me understand how the wood panels work and how the whole thing looks like. (I copy-pasted these extracts from Aozora where むそう is written 無窓. In my book however, it was written 無双.)

Finally, here is another description that includes knowledge of traditional Japanese architecture:

彼の部屋には、――それは二階にあったのですが――安っぽいとこの傍に、一間の押入がついていて、その内部は、鴨居かもいと敷居との丁度中程に、押入れ一杯の巌丈がんじょうな棚があって、上下二段に分れているのです。(屋根裏の散歩者)

This description is funny, because if you ask me to imagine a closet in a Japanese room, this is exactly how I would picture it, but somehow this description seems very precise.

I also needed to get used to some unexpected words. For example “corpse” was always 死骸 (しがい) instead of 遺体 (いたい), a suspect was a 嫌疑者 (けんぎしゃ) instead of a 容疑者 (ようぎしゃ).

The excerpts I quoted are the ones that I found difficult, but overall, the book was not a difficult read. I also hope that the time I spent looking up words and getting familiar with this kind of descriptions will be useful for the rest of the series, given that I plan on reading 11 more books.

All the stories are available for free on Aozora, if you are interested in reading them!

Ikagawa city series Book II: 『密室に向かって撃て!』by Tokuya Higashigawa

We meet our protagonist Ryuhei again, from the first book of the series, and private detective Ukai. They find themselves in the middle of an unconventional “locked-room” (so to speak) mystery… Many characters from book I reappear in this story, and humour is more present than ever.

In terms of Japanese level, I must say that I found this second book slightly more difficult than the first one, but it might be just me…

There are a lot of comical effects in this book, and it is always rewarding to understand humour in a foreign language, though I would not be surprised if I had missed puns or funny references.

Personally, there are passages that I found very funny, but others that I found more annoying than anything, and I wished that the story would focus more on the case rather than going from one comical scene to the other.

Galileo series book V: 『聖女の救済』 by Keigo Higashino

When Yoshitaka Mashiba is found dead at home, detective Kusanagi and his assistant Kaoru Utsumi each follow their lead, but in this murder case, knowing how the crime was executed can lead to the murderer… as usual, professor Yukawa will add his expertise to the investigation.

I found this book quite easy to read (the easiest of the three already mentioned here) and very engrossing. Starting this year, I am keeping track of my readings, so I know that I read it over a period of 7 days, and that it took me 7 days to read, meaning that I read it every single day. This means that I have read an average of 60 pages a day. To me, this is the definition of a page-turner, especially in Japanese where I don’t usually read more than 40/50 pages a day.

『インプット大全』 by Shion Kabasawa

Following the best-seller 『アウトプット大全』, the “Input” volume focuses on how to make the most of what we read, listen to, watch etc. From filtering information to using output to boost our memory, this book gives great tips to actually make good use of all the information we have access to.

This book is so agreeable to read and has such a great layout. Almost each chapter is two pages long, with illustrations to sum up the main idea of each chapter. It makes it so easy to read and flip through if you need to find some information later.

I do think that this book is great for language learners. You will find a lot of recurring vocabulary related to productivity, so looking up words is rewarding as you will certainly encounter these words later in the book. The short chapters are perfect for a study session and again, the illustrations greatly help with comprehension. Key sentences are highlighted in blue, and each chapter is devoted to a precise topic, clearly defined by its title. Finally, reading this book is a good way to boost your motivation to study, take notes and learn things, and a lot of tips that are given for general self-improvement can be more specifically applied to language learning.

That’s it for January! I have decided to re-focus more on detective novels and mysteries in 2021, and I had a great reading start in the year 🙂