The Phantom Doctor by Ranpo Edogawa: Interview with the Translator, Overview

The Phantom Doctor is now available!

Kate: In prior interviews, we discussed the impact of the stories of Sherlock Holmes on Edogawa's Boy Detectives Club novels. Any more thoughts on that relationship?

Eugene: According to Kimie Itakura, “While a student at Waseda University, Edogawa became engrossed in mysteries from Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and others, which he read in the original English.” 

Regarding Arthur Conan Doyle, a search on Amazon-Japan yields 366 translated works with Conan Doyle credited as the author. The online bookseller Honto yields 836 hits, but that includes contemporary light novel/manga/anime spinoffs like Moriarty the Patriot and Holmes of Kyoto.

Kate: The Phantom Doctor has a faint sadomasochistic element that haunts Dracula and Robert Louis Stevenson’s texts. Is this an adoption from western literature or an element that appears in Japanese literature?  

Eugene: I think it has more to do with Edogawa’s own predilections and the literary avant-garde that grew out of the short-lived “Taisho Democracy” (1912–1926). Notes Edogawa scholar Takumi Ishikawa,

Ranpo became an author when Freudianism and other forms of psychoanalysis were entering Japan. Influenced by a science that scrutinized human mentality, he took people’s dark side and their desires and fears as material for his writing.

Edogawa’s famous early (non-YA) works often reflect a “bizarre, perverted, or eroguro (erotic and grotesque)” worldview. Though Ishikawa also notes that later on, Edogawa “struggled with the long form [literary novel],” and today is mostly remembered for his shorter genre mysteries.

Kate: The text often mentions European fairy tales. Were the images of European witches and such adopted by the Japanese, in the same way Walt Disney borrowed from Gustave Dore and other European artists to create Snow White? Have European images been assimilated into Japanese art and literature? Do they reflect similar ideas in Japanese folklore? (Japanese mermaids are certainly different in appearance though equally ruthless.)  

Eugene: The wild embrace of European culture during the early Meiji period established a baseline that continues to influence popular culture, much in the way that Chinese culture and Buddhism shaped every aspect of Japanese life beginning over a thousand years before.

A good example of how this works is the syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism. “The local religion and foreign Buddhism never quite fused, but remained inextricably linked to the present day through interaction.”

This is on full display in a series like Noragami, which has the Buddhist and Shinto pantheons all hanging out together and getting along about as well as the Greek gods.

The same can be said of Japanese and European culture and Christianity, which first came into contact and conflict with each other in the mid-sixteenth century. There’s a whole horror sub-genre based on the Christian samurai Shiro Amakusa, who led the Shimabara Rebellion in 1638.

The relationship was reinvigorated following the Meiji Restoration in 1968, and then again during the postwar Occupation.

As can be seen in the adoption of holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and even “Christian” weddings, Japanese are happy to embrace any compelling aspect of a foreign culture and make it their own. As with classical art and music, you’ll often find more respect for these traditions in Japan than in Europe and North America. 

Kate: The end of the novel is reminiscent of Jules Verne. It moves very quickly and is very exciting (I reviewed the final chapters several times since initially, I read them far too fast!). Did Edogawa read Verne? Was/is Verne popular in Japan?  

Eugene: According to Wikipedia (Japan), Around the World in Eighty Days was the first Verne book translated (in two parts) into Japanese in 1878 and 1880, less than a decade after it was published in France. I think it's a safe assumption that Edogawa read Verne.  

Kate: The idea of a letter/document hidden in plain sight appears in Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.” In American horror/suspense, Poe-Lovecraft-King are often presented along a metaphorical family line.

Edogawa was influenced by Poe, who was accepted outside the United States during his lifetime. What about Lovecraft? King came later, but is King known/popular in Japan? Lovecraft and King seemed quite insistently New Englander American. Do they translate?  

Eugene: Lovecraft and Edogawa were contemporaries, so I’m sure Edogawa would have read him at some point. But I don’t know for sure. Horror has been a popular genre in Japan going well back to the Edo period. The haunted house is a staple of summer festivals. Obon, Japan’s Halloween, takes place in July or August, depending on which calendar you use (the national holiday is in August).

Based on Stephen King’s Amazon-Japan author’s page, it looks like just about everything he’s written has been translated. 

Fuyumi Ono wrote The Demon Child as a standalone horror novel before integrating it into the Twelve Kingdoms. Since then, she has divided her efforts between the two genres. The most prominent in the horror genre are her Evil Spirit/Ghost Hunt and Shiki novels. She credited Salem’s Lot by Stephen King as the inspiration for Shiki.   

1 comment:

Matthew said...

About King and Japan, I've seen reference to King in various manga and anime. He was referenced in Urasawa's 20th Century Boys. The Dark Tower is referenced in Black Lagoon. I've seen references to Lovecraft as well.

I need to read more Edogawa. I've read one of your brother's translations and several other translations as well.