Japan boasts an impressively large and growing body of native-grown mystery fiction that dates back to the 1920s. A widespread perception exists that this genre developed as an offshoot of imports from the West, but this is not quite the case. When it comes to Japan’s crime-related literature, China can claim introduction rights.

The chronicle “Honcho Oin Hiji” (Parallel Cases From Under the Cherry Tree), published in 1689 by popular writer Ihara Saikaku (1642-93) — and published in English by The Univeristy of Haiwaii Press in 1980 under the title “Tales of Japanese Justice” — contains accounts of several dozen historical court cases heard by the shoshidai, the shogun’s regional deputy in Kyoto. Most cases involved the exploits of a famous judge named Itakura Shigemune (1586-1657) — although Ihara never refers to Itakura by name, but simply uses the general term gozen, or “His Lordship.”

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