April 13, 2024


Making the most of her unique ability to speak to remnants of the dead, Donna Howard researches the provenance of art and antiques. This time, her investigation into a colonial-era portrait delves into the dark history of her adopted niece, SarahAnn, uncovering a kidnapping and a murderer who got away scot-free.

The journey to uncover that history takes the Howards and the Gregersons from Maine to upstate New York, from wedding venues to house museums. Facing a past she never knew, SarahAnn questions what constitutes a person's "real" heritage and whether breaking the law is justified in preventing a more heinous crime.

There are times when honestly confronting the past may leave our descendants with no choice but to choose their own ancestors.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Read an excerpt

Donna Howard Mysteries

Silver Spoon

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April 10, 2024

Christianity is cool

In Japan, that is. All the more surprising considering that Christians constitute at best one percent of the population. Or perhaps that simply makes it more exotic.

Catholicism has the deepest roots, having arrived in Japan in the mid-16th century. So the aesthetics associated with Catholic culture and architecture are the first things Japanese think about when Christianity is mentioned. After that comes the ecclesiastical structure, extrapolated from the Roman Curia.

Anime like Witch Hunter Robin and Hellsing (Catholics versus Anglicans) play off the supposed existence of an all-powerful Catholic Church that shows up in movies like Constantine, Stigmata, and The Da Vinci Code. The Catholic Church is just too cool an institution not to imagine it running a global conspiracy.

Although in A Certain Magical Index, that role is also shared by the English Puritan Church (also translated as the Church of England).

And as with the spy agencies of any country, in the paranormal action world, the Catholic Church is also a good source of skilled agents, operators, and intelligence networks. Ghost Hunt is an ecumenical paranormal actioner, so it naturally features a Catholic priest as one of the ghost hunters.

At the same time, in terms of theology, the suggestively Catholic Haibane Renmei can stand beside any of C.S. Lewis's work as an accessible Christian parable. The same is true of anime such as Madoka Magica and Scrapped Princess, though you may have to look harder to see the metaphors.

Along with Camille Paglia, Japanese writers have discovered that "medieval theology is far more complex and challenging than anything offered by the pretentious post-structuralist hucksters."

They eagerly pilfer Christian eschatology for interesting characters and conflicts (another good reason to study religion!). Kaori Yuki's Miltonesque Angel Sanctuary turns Paradise Lost into a Gothic romance, with a war in heaven and a descent to the underworld to reclaim a lost love.

At the other extreme, the quite clever The Devil is a Part-Timer (stranded in Japan, the devil gets a job at McDonald's to make ends meet) features both Satan and Lucifer as separate characters.

The only overtly religious aspect of The Devil is a Part-Timer is an institutional church roughly analogous to the medieval Catholic Church (under the Medici popes). The state religion in Scrapped Princess is largely the same.

Then there's the offbeat syncretism of Saint Young Men, about Jesus and Buddha hanging out in modern-day Tokyo. Manga artist Hikaru Nakamura approaches the subject with a goofy but respectful touch. Unless you find the concept itself heretical, there's nothing at all blasphemous about it.

Saint Young Men is hugely popular in Japan (a staggering 10 million copies sold). It won the 2009 Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize and is still in print. An anime series and movie were released in 2012 and 2013.

Most Christians react to this type of thing the same way most Mormons do to The Book of Mormon by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone: "Hey, at least they spelled the names right!" What is far more insulting is ignorance hiding behind a smug mask of condescending self-righteousness.

There's none of that here. Whether the Shinto gods in Natsume's Book of Friends or the traditional folklore of Northern Europe in The Ancient Magus' Bride, these writers have done their homework. They honestly respect the source material.

What gives manga publishers pause when it comes to the Norther American audience is the fear that somebody will whine and stamp their feet and the bad publicity will kill sales. Nobody's going to get killed. But the suits understandably get skittish about the fringe elements that breath such threats.

During the localization of Saint Tail (which features a Catholic basilica as the "Bat Cave") for the North American market, references to God were

removed from the first two volumes in a possible anticipation of a TV broadcast. Considering that Seira Mimori [the protagonist's sidekick] spends half of the time in a nun's habit, one wonders why they thought they could do Saint Tail without references to God.

Common sense finally prevailed and the censoring stopped with the third volume.

This is rarely a problem in Japan, where the whining and foot stamping mostly comes from the political right. They're strident secularists, except when the emperor enters the picture. Then they turn into strident Shintoists. Until they die, that is, at which point Buddhism kicks in with a vengeance.

"Buddhism for the dead, Shinto for the living," so the saying goes. In everyday life, Japanese move back and forth between Shinto rites and Buddhist beliefs and Christian-style wedding ceremonies. It's not that the adherents are blurring the lines. The lines were never firmly drawn in the first place.

You might expect this sort of fuzzy wuzziness to lead to the kind of apathy and neglect that emptied out the churches in secularized Europe. But in Japan, people not getting worked up about stuff can motivate the curious to mix and match belief systems in ways nobody else would have dreamed of.

And in the process, scrub the dust off of old, worn-out tropes to reveal the shining gems buried beneath.

Related posts

Pop culture Catholicism
Pop culture Buddhism
Pop culture Shinto

The Ancient Magus' Bride
Haibane Renmei
Madoka Magica
Scrapped Princess

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April 06, 2024


It's 1995 and Donna Howard is living an ordinary life in Portland, Maine. She works as a hairdresser, has a boring boyfriend, two opinionated brothers, and two exhaustively energetic parents. As far as she's concerned, she's an ordinary person and proud of it.

Except she can see the past. Walk down any street in the old part of the city and four centuries of its inhabitants walk right along with her. She can observe them, hear them, smell them. And, frankly, she'd rather not. She'd prefer to leave the past in the past.

Until a customer "accidentally" leaves an ancient Roman coin at the hair salon. A coin worth an awful lot of money. Then the woman appraising the coin for the Portland Museum of Art "accidentally" ends up dead. And now the past won't leave her alone.

Not even the man who's visage was molded into the metal 2000 years ago, a man who wreaked mayhem then and may have witnessed murder now. Quite unwittingly, Donna uncovers family secrets, confronts historical controversies, and closes in on a very contemporary crime.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Read an excerpt

Donna Howard Mysteries

Silver Spoon

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April 03, 2024

The Real Darcy

Besides the badness of the writing, Kate argues that the biggest problem with Pride and Prejudice fan fiction (commercially published or otherwise) is that it inevitably makes Darcy out to be the stereotypical alpha male of Regency romances.

Austen simply wasn't capable of being that simple and obvious, and nothing in the text justifies it. As Kate explains, she concurs with

Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer's argument in So Odd a Mixture that Darcy is borderline autistic. Her delineation of Darcy's character is one of the most accurate and delightful on record. She recognizes what few interpretations do, namely that Darcy is accused of pride in Hertfordshire for reasons that have nothing to do with familial or class pride.

Most tributes to Pride and Prejudice fail to acknowledge that all of Darcy's problems in Hertfordshire stem from his behavior, not from his beliefs about himself. He is perceived as proud because he won't dance or talk, not because he boasts about his position or even because he gives anyone the "cut direct." He doesn't even cut poor Mr. Collins.

To correct this, she penned A Man of Few Words, an addendum to Pride and Prejudice that relates Darcy's perspective on the important events in the novel.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Read an excerpt

The Gentleman and the Rake is the omnibus edition of Mr. B Speaks! and A Man of Few Words.

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March 30, 2024

Angel Beats

Jun Maeda turned the visual novel game studio Key VisualArts into a synonym for true-to-life melodramas infused with a large dollop of magical realism. In Angel Beats, his latest anime series, he skips right past the realism and goes straight for the magical. Or rather, straight for the eschatological.

In the first scene, Yuzuru Otonashi wakes up in the afterlife and promptly gets killed again. He doesn't die because he's already dead. Which is a good thing, because he's fallen in with a gang of like-minded teenagers who have decided they do not want to "go gentle into that good night," and have armed themselves accordingly.

That means fighting Angel, who's gotten very good at killing them in turn (getting killed here is like a painful time-out in the penalty box). Angel's ungentle job it is to see that they do go gentle into that good night. And that means being good students instead of a bunch of delinquents.

You see, Angel is the student council president. Purgatory is a Japanese high school. And Angel has appointed herself Charon, the ferryman.

Refreshingly, these rebels really are a bunch of delinquents, and despite all the scheming by Yuri, their bad girl leader, they're not good at being bad. Otonashi admits he would have joined whatever group approached him first. All they know is the current status quo, so that is what they defend—to their repeated deaths.

Though following Jun Maeda's reliable formula, this is executed with a good deal of dark humor that at times is quite funny.

Helped along by the fact that Angel isn't a mindless antagonist, and this hapless gang—who admit they don't really know what they're rebelling against (to quote Marlon Brando: "Whaddya got?")—aren't necessarily the protagonists. Because the only true enemy is the self.

Yeah, I know, that's about as trite as truisms get, but stick with it. It pays off.

There's an element of The Matrix here. The red pill students know they're dead but alive in an unreal world, while the blue pill students remain completely oblivious. Except here Maeda fills in the gaps that The Matrix misses, by giving all parties compelling, even moral, reasons for their opposing choices.

Though in substance and message, Angel Beats! reminds me more of Haibane Renmei, Yoshitoshi ABe's subtle and sublime meditation on grace and redemption. ABe's protagonist is Rakka, who is reborn into an afterlife that resembles a semi-rural village in mid-20th century Eastern Europe.

In the pastoral world of Haibane Renmei, there is no god to rail against, no highway to heaven, no sign posts pointing the way. Their only job is to live out their afterlives in the community while "working out their salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).

While Haibane Renmei is quiet and meditative, Angel Beats! is loud and obvious. It's the garage band version, with the volume turned up to eleven. Literally, as one of the gang's tools of subversion is a student rock band that stages illegal concerts to distract Angel's minions during their ammo resupply raids.

Angel Beats! also has a distinctly Buddhist slant. ABe created a purposely Catholic version of purgatory for Haibane Renmei. In Angel Beats! Christian salvation isn't in the cards. Whether you move onto the next world is purely a product of self-realization or satori, and only you can hold yourself back.

On this score, Joseph Smith would agree.

For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence (Alma 12:14).

Everybody in this purgatory is terrified of resurrecting the memories of who they were before they died, and instead are obsessed with what could have been versus what actually was. As Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." So the dead stay dead until they face that examination directly.

Still, it wouldn't hurt if someone could figure out these eschatalogical truths first and then point the way to everybody else. Eventually joining forces, that is what Angel and Otonashi end up striving to do, until the only job left to them is to save themselves.

Related posts

The catechism of Angel Beats!
Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry
Set Apart
Angel Beats! (Crunchyroll)

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March 27, 2024

That's Edutainment!

"Is Japanese Television a Tool for Establishing Social Order?" asks Erik Luebs. Yes, but he mostly avoids the sort of academic navel-gazing you'd expect from a thesis question like that (until the last paragraph), and instead wonders aloud what can be read into the television habits of the average Japanese.

Japanese and Americans watch about the same amount of television. Except the slow penetration of cable in Japan means that for half of the population, their viewing choices are confined to a handful of networks. Japan's "Golden Age" of television hasn't ended, which makes those habit easier to generalize.

Luebs compares at the top-rated television shows in the United States and Japan for the week of May 4, 2015 (the article was published on June 11, 2015).

Despite the data being almost a decade old, NCIS is still on the air, and according to The Hollywood Reporter, as of December 2023, "only 44 percent of households in Japan have at least one subscription video service," compared to 86 percent in the United States. So I think the comparison is still relevant.

NCIS (crime drama)
The Big Bang Theory (sitcom)
NCIS: New Orleans (crime drama)
Dancing with the Stars (contest/dancing)
The Voice (contest/singing)

Mare (family drama about cooking),
Shoten (sketch comedy)
Pittan Kokan (variety/talk show)
Jinsei ga Kawaru (variety/talk show)
Himitsu no Kenmin (variety/talk show)

To clarify: Shoten resembles a haiku version of the original Whose Line Is It Anyway? The host sets up a scenario and feeds lines to the (seated) panelists, who improvise responses with an emphasis on verbal wordplay. It's a clever and entertaining show, and has been on the air since 1966.

Neither is the variety/talk show strictly analogous to its American counterpart. There are celebrity-of-the-day chat shows (NHK's Studio Park, for example), but these are not that. They are "talk" shows in that people talk, and "variety" shows in that a variety of topics are discussed. But the topics take precedence.

These celebrity panels chat and share anecdotes about various topics—tear-jerking stories about family reconciliation, first loves, travel, and maybe the most popular topic: food. Their chats are interspersed with short documentaries and dramatizations, in which the viewer can watch each celebrity's emotional reaction to the content through a "picture in picture" embedded at the side of the screen.

Despite the reputation Japanese reality shows have earned overseas for being weird, wacky, and dumb, these programs can get pretty brainy on the edutainment scale. I think Luebs is onto something when he observes that the reality television format popular in North America is far more fictional.

These [Hollywood productions] are not concerned with attempting to directly address the identities and concerns of the viewer. Rather, they are a playful engagement of thoughts and ideas in which we, the viewer, interact within a fictional world. They are a form of escapism.

The Hollywood version of reality television has been increasingly infiltrating the airwaves in Japan (thanks in no small part to Netflix), but the well-nigh ubiquitous home grown version still follows the formula described above, with experts educating the tarento, who function as stand-ins for the viewer.

A tarento ("talent") is a professional TV personality. To be sure, a tarento may be an actor or singer or Nobel laureate but is a tarento when acting as such. His job is to always have something witty or insightful to say, regardless of the subject. For the viewer, explains Luebs, they become real-life Walter Mittys:

Popular Japanese television looks inwards, into its own society. The variety TV show concept is based on the viewer personally relating to specific individuals who represent various tropes of Japanese-ness. Whether intentional or not, watching these celebrities chat with one another serves as an instructional guide for what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in society. They give the viewer a clue into how to participate in any number of conversations, and how to react in any number of situations. These programs are just as much a form of entertainment as they are a framework for establishing social order.

My only caveat here is that I read "social order" in the most benign sense: lessons on how to play the game of life (specifically ordinary Japanese life).

Still, Luebs can't help slewing back to the comfortable confines of scholarly cant. No, he concludes, it's not "indoctrination," but "without the cultural synergy created by diversity, homogeneous cultural ideas are refined and concentrated, and the TV is the medium that projects these values onto the individual."

As if these cultural ideas didn't exist before television, and only sprang into being around 1950 in the smoke-filled room of a producer's office.

I think it more likely that this hallowed "diversity" in mass media instead reinforces our individual silos: with cable and streaming, we only have to watch what we want to see. But old-school Japanese broadcasters must attract the largest audience possible. They do that by giving the audience what it wants.

Or at least by not broadcasting what the audience doesn't want to see.

If anything is being projected onto the individual, well, the individual is holding up a mirror reflecting it right back at the set. This is readily apparent to somebody who prefers the Japanese approach to "reality" to the American brand.

An awful lot of travel shows on Japanese television focus on traveling in Japan. And then there are the travel shows about going to foreign countries in order to find a Japanese person living there, an ongoing attempt to address the mystery of why any Japanese would choose to live anywhere but in Japan.

But note that the host and audience are always impressed, even awed, by these daring explorers of the World Outside Japan. They serve as proxies for the audience, not cautionary tales. It's not that complicated. All you have to do is stipulate a more introverted and nerdier population and it all makes sense.

They're doing it so we don't have to. For that, I thank them very much.

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March 23, 2024

Jme TV (NHK World Premium)

In its announcement for the Jme TV streaming service, NHK Cosmomedia said that "We are planning to add new features [starting in] April." The Roku app arrived at the beginning of March, though it is little more than a remake of the dLibrary Japan app it replaced.

The big new feature is the addition of NHK World Premium as a replacement for TV Japan.

The rollout actually began on March 19. March 20 was the official start date for transitioning legacy TV Japan customers to the new service, with a 30-day free trial period tossed in for current Jme TV and TV Japan subscribers. So I'll stick around for at least another month.

The only noticeable change to Jme is the addition of the three (grossly oversized) buttons pictured above.

Jme Select
NHK World Premium
NHK World Japan

Jme Select is the existing VOD service (the button only plays promos). The NHK World Japan button simply mirrors the live stream available at the NHK World Japan website. I guess the advantage of this bundle is that you don't need to install the NHK World Japan app too.

The NHK World Premium content is the same live stream used in Europe since NHK shut down its European satellite service (JSTV) at the end of October 2023.

A Schedule link has been added to the Jme website and app, though the program guides at the NHK World Japan and NHK World Premium websites are easier to follow. For the latter, plug in your time zone at the top and you're good to go.

I am baffled why NHK Cosmomedia didn't repurpose the NHK World Premium website since the programming is the same. The NHK World Japan and NHK World Premium sites are better designed and far more functional. The Jme website and app have the same lousy user interface.

I have to hope that once everything is up and running, NHK Cosmomedia will rebuild the TV Japan website as the new home page. Though at the current prices, I won't be sticking around to use it in any case.

NHK Cosmomedia grandfathered in a two-tiered subscription plan for dLibrary Japan subscribers, with the VOD tier at $15/month. I might have been tempted at the original $9.99/month rate. That temptation evaporates at $15/month. At $25/month, I don't have to give it a second thought.

So I'm gone after the trial period ends. But I'll still give it a month and a half to see how the whole thing works. The video quality so far is certainly satisfactory.

Related posts

Jme TV
NHK World Japan program schedule
NHK World Premium program schedule

Whither TV Japan
The end of TV Japan
Jme TV (grumpy old man edition)

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March 20, 2024

The show business panda

This Wikipedia article about the tarento (タレント) and talent agency system in Japan includes a smart quote by the gaijin tarento (外人タレント) David Spector about what it means to be in the entertainment business. It means you are getting paid to entertain.
I'm doing things like the lowest bozo, circus kind of stuff. But it doesn't bother me at all. Foreigners on television [in Japan] are often compared to pandas because they're cuddly, you can have fun with them, throw them a marshmallow, and that's about it. You don't get involved any deeper than that. But since I'm making half a million dollars a year, I'm very happy to be a panda.
This strikes me as a healthy attitude to have about being a celebrity in general. And perhaps the kind of variety talk shows that earn David Spector a generous living aren't quite as silly as they might seem. Erik Luebs argues that beyond the entertainment value, variety talk shows in Japan serve utilitarian ends.
Whether intentional or not, watching these celebrities chat with one another serves as an instructional guide for what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in society. They give the viewer a clue into how to participate in any number of conversations, and how to react in any number of situations. These programs are just as much a form of entertainment as they are a framework for establishing social order.
My only caveat here is that I read "social order" in the most benign sense: lessons on how to play the game of living an ordinary Japanese life.

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March 16, 2024

Big Gold Bullion

During the last days of the Shogunate, the paranoid patriarch of the Miyase clan, once one of the five wealthiest men in old Edo, sold all of his possessions, bought a hoard of precious metals, and buried the stash somewhere far beyond the borders of Tokyo.

The hiding place of what came to be known in family lore as the "Big Gold Bullion" was entrusted to Fujio Miyase's equally eccentric uncle. But succumbing to a sudden illness, the only clue he left behind was a secret message with no decryption key.

Now it is up to Detective Kogoro Akechi and Yoshio Kobayashi, his able young assistant, to crack the code and recover the treasure before small army of cutthroat villains gets there first. They are going to have a fight literally worth millions on their hands.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Read an excerpt

The Boy Detectives Club

The Phantom Doctor
Big Gold Bullion
The Bronze Devil
The Space Alien

Big Gold Bullion was the last Boy Detectives Club novel published before the war. The series resumed a decade later with The Bronze Devil in 1949, after which Edogawa wrote an average of two installments a year until 1962.

This time around, the Fiend with Twenty Faces is still in the slammer after getting arrested at the end of The Phantom Doctor. The Fiend would also have to bide his time for a ten long years before returning in The Bronze Devil.

Family names follow Western convention, the surname given last. Long vowels have been shortened to a single character with no diacritics.

Visit Peaks Island Press for more information about the series and the author.

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March 13, 2024

The Space Alien

The year is 1953. The Korean War is winding down. The Cold War is heating up. The United States detonated the first hydrogen bomb the year before. Godzilla will stomp into the theaters a year later. UFOs are making appearances all over the world. And in Ranpo Edogawa's latest novel, flying saucers zoom across the skies of Tokyo.

A day after that alarming incident, a woodsman stumbles out of the forest and reports the landing of an alien spacecraft in the mountains southwest of Tokyo. A month later, Ichiro Hirano's neighbor goes missing. And then reappears as abruptly as he vanished, claiming he was kidnapped by a mysterious winged lizard creature.

That same lizard creature is now stalking Ichiro's own sister. Where did the space aliens come from? What do they hope to accomplish? These are the kind of questions that only master sleuth Kogoro Akechi and the Boy Detectives Club can hope to answer.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Read an excerpt

The Boy Detectives Club

The Phantom Doctor
Big Gold Bullion
The Bronze Devil
The Space Alien

The Space Alien takes place in the year following the end of the Occupation (1945–1952). Stark reminders of the war remained, such as a concrete storehouse standing alone in a city block that was once home to a neighborhood of wood-frame houses.

Rice paddies could still be found throughout Setagaya Ward, located in the southwest corner of Tokyo proper. No longer "sparsely populated," this mostly residential ward has since grown to a population of nine-hundred thousand, the largest in the city.

Family names follow Western convention, the surname given last. Long vowels have been shortened to a single character with no diacritics.

Check out Kate's interview with me about the translation process (also here, here, and here).

Visit Peaks Island Press for more information about the series and the author.

Related posts

The magic mirror
Last storehouse standing

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March 06, 2024

The Bronze Devil

A thief is on the loose in Tokyo, a smash and grab artist that targets high-end jewelry stores and steals only rare and valuable watches and timepieces. The identity of the burglar is no mystery. It's a metal robot, dubbed the "Bronze Devil" by the press.

Now it has set its sights on the estate of Ryunosuke Tezuka and the "Royal Luminous Watch." The police know the Bronze Devil's next victim because the robot brazenly told them the time and the place.

Except with its magical ability to appear and disappear out of nowhere, the police are powerless to stop one theft after the other. That can only mean it's time to put master sleuth Kogoro Akechi and the Boy Detectives Club on the case.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Read an excerpt

The Boy Detectives Club

The Phantom Doctor
Big Gold Bullion
The Bronze Devil
The Space Alien

Ranpo Edogawa's first Boy Detectives Club novel since 1939 features the debut of the "Street Gang Irregulars," a motley crew of war orphans inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle's Baker Street Irregulars. Against such a formidable foe, these clever kids will have their work cut out for them.

But let there be no doubt that Edogawa's new and improved crime-fighting crew will come through in the end.

Family names follow Western convention, the surname given last. Long vowels have been shortened to a single character with no diacritics.

Check out Kate's interview with me about the translation process (also here, here, and here).

Visit Peaks Island Press for more information about the series and the author.

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February 28, 2024

The Phantom Doctor

The evil mastermind known as the Fiend with Twenty Faces is fed up with Kogoro Akechi and those meddling kids from the Boy Detectives Club. Determined to exact his revenge, the Fiend embarks on a crime spree, stealing top secret documents and a priceless work of art, while kidnapping and tormenting anyone who stands in his way.

The ingenuity of this archvillain knows no bounds. Living up to his nickname, the Fiend dons one disguise after the other. He soon has the police chasing their tails, and even shows up to investigate his own crime! Obsessed with his vendetta, he pursues his quarry through haunted houses and limestone caverns inhabited by giant bats.

The Fiend won't be satisfied until he finally confronts Detective Akechi and the members of the Boy Detectives Club in a life-or-death struggle deep underground in the dark.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Read an excerpt

The Boy Detectives Club

The Phantom Doctor
Big Gold Bullion
The Bronze Devil
The Space Alien

Family names follow Western convention, the surname given last. Long vowels have been shortened to a single character with no diacritics.

The Phantom Doctor was edited by Katherine Woodbury. Check out her interviews with me here, here, and here about the translation process.

Visit Peaks Island Press for more information about the series and the author.

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February 24, 2024

Big Gold Bullion (excerpt)

Chapter 1

A Night of Terror

Sixth grader Fujio Miyase was home alone.

The house sat on a lonely hill in Ogikubo, to the northwest of Tokyo proper. Fujio’s uncle designed and built the house. But he died with no wife or children so Fujio’s father inherited the place. The Miyase family moved in the year before and had lived there ever since.

Fujio’s uncle was an eccentric man, to say the least. A confirmed bachelor, he had no social life to speak of. When not antique hunting, he holed up in the big house, a house constructed in an odd and outmoded style that mirrored the mind of the architect himself.

Altogether, it was a twelve room, two-story, western-style structure with concrete as the primary building material. The shape of the red tile roof only added to the already curious appearance of the place, lending it the aura of a castle. Unusual in that day and age, the rectangular chimneys of the coal-burning fireplaces poked haphazardly here and there through the roof, giving it an even more peculiar look.

The floorplan of the house was equally unconventional. The hallways twisted and turned much like a maze. The rooms themselves were furnished with fine pieces of furniture and objets d’art that reflected the tastes of Fujio’s antiques-loving uncle.

Of all the rooms, the spacious downstairs parlor, filled floor to ceiling with valuable works of art, bore more than a passing resemblance to an exhibition hall in a museum. Masterpieces by European artists lined the walls. Among the furnishings were handmade tables and chairs by noted craftsmen that had been custom ordered from abroad, along with ornamental cabinets and Persian rugs. Every last one of these items was an incomparable luxury of the most exacting quality.

Fujio had just turned in for the night.

With his father away on business, he was the only member of the family at home, and thus had the house-sitting chores to himself. To be sure, the maids and the houseboy occupied rooms in one of the far-flung wings. But as the hired help, their presence hardly provided the same sense of security as when Fujio’s father was on the premises.

Fujio’s kind and gentle mother had died four years before. The Miyase family currently consisted of Fujio’s father and himself.

The hour that evening in spring grew late, past ten according to the table clock next to Fujio’s pillow. On any other day, he would have dozed off already. But he was having difficulty falling asleep that night. Even though it wasn’t cold outside, a shiver ran down his spine. He couldn’t help feeling a bit forlorn and even a little afraid of the dark.

Such feelings should be quite beyond the pale for a boy of his age. He was in the sixth grade, after all. But no matter how brave a front he put on, as he timidly trained his ears on the sounds outside the window, his spirits inevitably failed him.

He shouldn’t have read that book before getting into bed, a western novel featuring a formidable and frightening thief. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t put the illustrations of that unearthly brigand out of his mind. Merely imagining that such a dreadful outlaw might come sneaking in through the window at any moment was enough to make his blood run cold.

The window overlooked a large yard and a dense grove of trees. The thick curtains made it impossible for Fujio to see outside the window. Perhaps even now, a suspicious shadow was lurking beneath those trees and creeping closer to the house. With such scary thoughts haunting his mind, Fujio curled up beneath the blankets.

The big house felt like an abandoned building, the silence interrupted only by the ticking of the second hand of the clock on the nightstand next to the bed. The clock took on an eerie presence. With all his senses concentrated on that rhythmic melody, Fujio began to feel like it was talking to him.

Fujio did his best to fall asleep. No matter how many times and how tightly he closed his eyes, his mind remained awake and alert and filled with all manner of thoughts.

“Ah, I remember now. That part in the book where the terrifying letter from the thief appears out of nowhere in the middle of a locked room. The girl in the story was asleep in bed like me. And then, out of the blue, a fluttering sheet of paper landed on the blanket next to her pillow.”

Fujio couldn’t help wondering if the same thing was going to happen to him too. The thought made him shiver. Was it just his imagination or did he sense a subtle shift in the air, as if something was dancing down from the ceiling?

“Don’t be silly,” he scolded himself. “As if something like that could happen here!” Hoping all the more to mock his own fears, Fujio abruptly opened his eyes. “Oh, look!” he laughed, doing his best to convince himself. “There’s nothing falling on me at all!”

No sooner had he focused his attention on the ceiling than an alarming sight had him smothering a startled shout.

The scene from that book was playing out before his very eyes! As Fujio lay there on the bed, a white sheet of paper drifted in lazy circles from the ceiling. He wondered at first if he was dreaming. Here was the exact same thing he was thinking about. Could events so strange and unsettling really be taking place?

What was happening at that moment wasn’t a dream or an illusion. A faint draft caught the sheet of paper and sent it swooping over his face before dropping softly onto the blankets.

Fujio reflexively recoiled and froze for a long moment. He stared at the piece of paper. But confronted by such an eerie series of events, he could not relax until he’d confirmed for himself the exact nature of what was going on.

“It certainly can’t be an extortion letter like in the story.”

Simply voicing the thought aloud scared him so much he broke out in a cold sweat. Except the more he avoided such thoughts, the worse his fears became. Gritting his teeth in resolve, he reached out from beneath the blanket and grabbed hold of the paper. Bringing it beneath the glow of the nightstand lamp, he realized it bore a message written with a pencil or some other similar writing instrument.

Fujio didn’t want to read it, too scared to find out what it had to say. But as if possessing a will of their own, his eyes traversed the columns of characters. Before he knew it, he had digested the sentences and comprehended the letter’s contents. And having done so, his face grew a shade paler.

An altogether reasonable reaction, considering the threatening message it contained.

Dear Fujio,

No matter what happens next, do not leave your bed until morning. Do not raise your voice. Close your eyes and go back to sleep. Raise a fuss and there is no telling what punishments might await you. If you find these instructions frightening, practice a little patience and you will remain safe and sound. Again, to be perfectly clear, if you value your life, stay right where you are.

Reading those words so startled Fujio that his mind went blank for a moment. When his nerves finally calmed down, more unsettling questions popped into his head about the creepy contents of the message.

“What does this even mean? Why is it so important for me to stay put right here? If I don’t, then something bad is going to happen. What are these awful consequences I am being threatened with? All that aside, where did this letter come from anyway? There aren’t any gaps or holes in the ceiling. I wonder if the window is shut and secured.”

Turning these thoughts over in his mind, he suddenly became aware of a cold draft blowing through the room.

“Oh. The window must be open.”

He turned his attention toward the window. As soon as Fujio glanced at the thick curtains, his big brown eyes opened so wide they practically popped out of his head. His features contorted almost on the verge of tears.

Wasn’t that the muzzle of a pistol jutting from between the curtains and aimed straight at him? And weren’t those the tips of a pair of big shoes peeking out from beneath the hem of the long curtains?

The bad guy. The bad guy snuck in through the window, hid behind the curtains, and now threatened Fujio to stop him from raising any alarm bells. That same bad guy must have tossed the letter at him.

The bad guy muffled his breath, kept his mouth shut, and didn’t budge an inch. Fujio couldn’t make out his face or frame either. Only the pistol, the slight swell in the curtains left by his body, and the tips of his shoes.

Not being able to make out his features made his presence all the more intimidating. Fujio would have preferred having a concrete idea of who this man was. Without the slightest inkling about his true form, Fujio was left to imagine a monster too frightening for words, sporting a visage that would surely chill him to the core.

In the story he’d been reading, the young woman threatened by the villain was so scared, her teeth chattered with fear. When Fujio read that, he had to wonder if anything similar ever happened in real life. But now he totally understood the feeling. He was shaking so much that his teeth really did rattle. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t clamp his mouth shut.

Fujio regretfully could do nothing but retreat beneath the blankets and not budge an inch. He did not consider disobeying the villain’s orders and crying for help or bolting from the room. Doing so would bring his life to an end with a flash of fire from the muzzle of the gun.

He shared the bedroom with his father. He could see his father’s empty bed on the other side of the room. There was a button next to the bed that would ring a bell to summon the houseboy or a maid. He only had to dash two or three yards and press it to call for help.

And yet Fujio couldn’t get close enough to that button to ring the bell. To do so, he’d first have to get off the bed and cross the floor. As soon as he took the first step, the villain was sure to open fire.

Eyes shut, heart in his mouth, and trembling all over, Fujio soon heard strange noises from somewhere in the house—the kind of rumbling sounds made by dragging a table or chair across the floor, the sound of something hitting the walls, the sense of people walking about.

“Oh, those are coming from the parlor, aren’t they? The thief must have snuck into the parlor and is stealing all the paintings and furniture.”

The bedroom shared a wall with the resplendent parlor. As described above, the room contained a rich miscellany of beautiful artwork and furniture and other ornate objects. Any thief who targeted the house would certainly do so with an eye on those luxurious paintings and fine home furnishings.

The ruckus on the other side of the wall grew louder, as if the invaders were undertaking a major cleaning or moving operation. The rooms for the houseboy and maid were at the far end of the house, and Fujio had a gun trained on him, so they must not be too concerned about being noticed. They stomped around like they were ransacking an abandoned building.

The volume of noise they were raising suggested two or three men at the minimum, and they weren’t going to stop with the paintings and other masterpieces. They intended to cart off anything of any value, down to and including the tables and the chairs and the rugs they were walking on. The thieves must have a big truck waiting right outside the gate.

Given all that was going on, Fujio couldn’t help feeling sorry for his father. But however anxious and worried he was, there was nothing he could do. The menacing gunman glaring at him in uncanny silence made sure he couldn’t leave the room, not with that pistol trained on him from behind the curtains.

Chapter 2

Strange and Bizarre

Ah, what a long night it was. Fujio felt like an entire month had passed. The cumulative effect of everything that happened pushed his emotions beyond ordinary dread and apprehension. His mind and body grew so numb that he feared he might collapse into a state of stupefaction.

Throughout the night, the mysterious man brandishing the pistol did not move from behind the curtains. With all of his attention focused on the weapon, the unfortunate Fujio could not get a wink of sleep.

The new day finally dawned. A faint white glow filled the room. The sound of the milkman driving his delivery truck down the road out front reached Fujio’s ears, along with the hails of the natto seller, carrying tubs of fermented soybeans on a bamboo pole hoisted over his shoulders.

“What a relief! Morning at last! The thieves must have carted off every last thing in the parlor. If only I wasn’t such a little kid! I couldn’t do a single thing to stop them!”

Such regrets were indeed regrettable but Fujio couldn’t help feeling relieved. Until he turned his attention to the window. Ah, with a persistence that could only be described as perverse in the extreme, that brazen and vindictive villain had not budged. Pistol leveled, shoes poking out from beneath the curtains, he stood there in silence.

Fujio froze, then once again scrunched down beneath the covers.

What was this intruder attempting to accomplish? The accomplices that raised such a commotion in the adjoining parlor had long since fled the premises. Why had he alone remained behind?

The world outside grew brighter. A faint band of white shone into the room through the gap between the top of the curtains and the ceiling. Due to the thick fabric of the curtains and the shade from the trees outside, the translucent silhouette of the villain remained indistinct, the bulk of his presence making itself known by the swell in the pleats of the curtain.

The clock on the nightstand read ten minutes before six o’clock. It was about time for Kitamura to arrive to wake up Fujio. Kitamura was a college student who worked on the Miyase estate as the houseboy.

The brisk pace of footsteps from the hallway told him they must belong to Kitamura. Except more than a sense of relief, Fujio felt a sudden surge of anxiety.

If Kitamura burst into the room, the shadow behind the curtain would hardly keep standing there like a statue. Fujio had to hope the man would make a run for it but couldn’t rule out the possibility he’d aim the gun at Kitamura and pull the trigger. An infinitely worse outcome.

These thoughts had him on pins and needles.

Knowing none of this, the houseboy arrived at the door to Fujio’s room, knocked, and bustled inside without waiting for a reply.

“Kitamura, stop!” Fujio cried out. In hopes of staving off a tragic turn of events, he completely forgot about his own predicament. “You can’t come in here!”

“Eh? What’s wrong?” said the startled Kitamura. Standing in the doorway, his sharp eyes at once spotted the figure behind the curtains. “Hoh. Who’s that over there?”

Far from fleeing the scene, Kitamura bolted toward the villain. Fujio had good reason to fear for Kitamura’s safety. Kitamura thought nothing of putting himself in the line of fire, focusing only on the threat to Fujio’s welfare.

“Kitamura, watch out!”

Fujio jumped out of bed and grabbed Kitamura’s hand from behind and tried to pull him to a halt. Paying the menacing barrel of the gun no mind, the determined Kitamura charged forward. This brave young man held a first dan black belt in judo. He was not without skills when it came to hand-to-hand fighting.

“Hey, you got nothing to say for yourself?” roared the enraged Kitamura. “Do you think you can just waltz in here and rob the place? Think I’m gonna let you make a clean getaway, huh?”

Showing the same spirit as those famous guard dogs of Tosa Prefecture, Kitamura reached out and grabbed hold of the curtains.

“Careful! That man has a gun!”

Fujio held his breath, sure a gunshot would be the next sound he heard, followed by Kitamura falling to the ground, his body gushing blood, his final breaths silently escaping from his lungs.

But instead of the report from a gun, what followed was a sharp crunching sound as Kitamura barreled through the curtains and collided with the window and tumbled to the floor.

For a moment, having no idea what had just happened, Kitamura and Fujio looked around the room with wide eyes. Gathering their wits about them at last, they took in the torn edges of the curtains, ripped apart in all the confusion. And then the gun dangling back and forth at the end of a length of twine. And lastly, the large pair of shoes lying askew beneath the bottom hem of the curtains.

Taking in the scene, Fujio’s face flushed red with indignation. He’d been paralyzed with fear the whole night long by a gun hanging from a piece of rope and an empty pair of shoes. The simple facts of the matter were unbearably embarrassing.

Kitamura said, “What’s going on? Just a pair of shoes? I would have sworn a guy was standing there. Sure had me fooled! Fujio-chan, are you playing a prank on me?”

Kitamura scowled at Fujio. He’d nicked himself during his headlong plunge into the curtains and stuck his finger in his mouth.

“I wasn’t playing a trick on anybody! There really was a thief here!”

His face flushed, a wretched look in his eyes, Fujio recounted the events of the previous night.

“Really? You’re saying they were even moving the furniture around in the parlor?”

“They were! They raised a big racket in the process! They must have hauled every last item out of there!”

“Well, then. We’ll see for ourselves. C’mon, Fujio-chan, let’s go.”

With Kitamura dressed in his workaday university garb and Fujio still in his pajamas, they dashed down the dimly lit hallway to the parlor.

The big engraved parlor doors opened to the right and left. The doors were closed at the moment. Quailing at the thought of opening those doors, the boys exchanged a long look. Finally, Kitamura made up his mind. He quietly cracked open the doors and peeked into the room. After a couple of quick glances, he turned to Fujio with a startled look on his face.

“Hey, Fujio-chan. Are you sure you weren’t just having a bad dream last night?”

“What are you talking about? I heard them as clear as day! Why the funny expression?”

“Hmm, stranger still. Well, take a look for yourself. Shouldn’t you check to see if anything is missing from the parlor?”

“Oh, you’re right.”

The two of them rushed into the parlor, drew back the curtains, and examined the room.

The only strange thing about the room was how normal it looked. The oil paintings hanging on the wall, the vases on the display shelf over the fireplace, the silver table clock, the tables and chairs—everything was lined up and as neatly arranged as always. The carpets showed no wear and tear nor was there any evidence of the windows being forcibly opened.

Fujio was completely taken aback. All that hubbub suggested everything inside the room getting boxed up and shipped away. That nothing in the room appeared to have been moved at all made Fujio feel like he’d been fooled by a fox.

Perhaps the thieves hadn’t targeted the parlor at all but had focused their efforts on another room. The two of them inspected the house room by room and found nothing out of order. They returned to the parlor and slumped into a pair of armchairs. Now even more perplexed than before, all they could do was sit there and exchange baffled expressions.

“There’s no way this was just a dream,” Fujio said. “Look at the note that ended up on my bed. I didn’t imagine it. Here is solid evidence that a bunch of bad guys snuck into the house last night.”

Realizing that it might become useful evidence of the crime at a later date, Fujio had placed the threatening letter in the pocket of his pajamas. Now he took it out and showed it to Kitamura.

“You’re right. That’s why I can’t help thinking how strange this is. Something out of the ordinary happened last night, the kind of inexplicable event you read about in detective novels. A most mysterious case at that.”

Fujio folded his arms and muttered to himself, “You know, I’ve been mulling this idea over for a while. Speaking of cases, it’s exactly the kind of crime that only a great detective like Kogoro Akechi could hope to solve.”

Fujio was familiar with the name of the famed detective and had some personal knowledge of him as well.

Well, then, Gentle Reader. What might be the meaning of these inexplicable events, that more resemble a ghost story than a crime? There can be no doubt that a large number of thieves broke into the house. And yet not a single item went missing. It strains belief that a band of criminals would go to so much effort for no reward. Perhaps something precious was indeed carried off and Fujio and Kitamura had simply overlooked it. If so, it must be an irreplaceable painting or sculpture with an importance and value that neither one of them could begin to imagine.

Read the rest

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February 17, 2024

The end of TV Japan

Based on pretty good evidence, namely that TV Japan had disappeared from the international lineups of every single cable and satellite service in North America, I concluded that NHK Cosmomedia had pulled the plug on its TV Japan contracts. It also followed that the reason the TV Japan website hadn't been updated was because it was going away by April 2024.

Well, now it is official. TV Japan will expire in six weeks.

After more than three decades of broadcasting Japanese television programming to audiences across North America, we regret to inform you that TV JAPAN will cease its broadcast on March 31 [and] will no longer be accessible [as a cable or satellite service] as of April 1, 2024.

And what will replace it? Jme TV, of course.

With Jme, you'll have access to live NHK news, the latest dramas, popular movies, and much more—all conveniently accessible on internet-connected devices. With Jme, you’ll have the flexibility to enjoy your favorite Japanese programs from the comfort of your home or on the go.

I also speculated that the current Jme TV website may be a placeholder. After all, the TV Japan URL is going to be available pretty soon. A simple redirect would take care of that. But we'll find out in April. Morbid curiosity remains my main motivation now. If NHK Cosmomedia persists with the TV Japan pricing model, that's when my subscription ends as well.

Related posts

Jme TV
Whither TV Japan
Jme TV (grumpy old man edition)

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