403 – Mystery Japan: Japanese Detective Fiction
Drawing on works from the Taisho Period (1912-1926) through the present, this class will examine the influential role crime/detective fiction has played during Japan’s rapid modernization and transformation into a city of the future. From Edogawa Rampo to Kirino Natsuo, students will explore the social, political, and historical connections in these works, as well as consider issues of class, gender, justice and equity in Japanese culture.
The detective is not always a cop and the best of the best are, more often than not, simply a private citizen with an ability to deduce the answers to impossible crimes through wits, keen intellect and personal style. In other words, every detective has their own way of doing things and rarely is a case solved “by the book.”. Through targeted engagements throughout the semester, and through maintaining a torimonocho, or casebook, students will solve mysteries and illustrate how their own set of personal skills/experiences contributes to their unique way of solving cases.
Why did you select this project? How does it relate to identity and purpose?
The project draws its influence from the practice of interwar period detective novel clubs, who solved mysteries printed in magazines and newspapers. The goal was always to solve the mystery before the solution was printed. The success of these clubs’ endeavors relied heavily on the abilities of each member of the group, as well as their ability to work together. As such, this project asked students to seriously consider who they are and what skills they have acquired in their lives that make them uniquely suited to solving such mysteries. Moreover, through self reflecti0n assignments throughout the semester, students considered their strengths and weaknesses. They also commented on each others’ casebooks and style of detection, providing positive feedback about techniques their classmates were using, as well as noting good ideas that might be added to their own styles. The project culminated with each student presenting on what kind of detective they are, what special skills they bring to the table, and who would be an ideal partner to balance out their skills. This information was used to create “super-groups” to solve the final mystery of the semester.
What advice do you have for other faculty who would like to implement a similar project?
A class was dedicated to “solving” the case and students only read up until a certain point in each book. They worked together to solve the case. As the instructor, I played the role of “Lestrade”- in other words, I was in charge, but too inept to solve the case. As such, students could not count on me for accurate information and had to work together to make sure they’d get their facts straight.
Throughout semester, I asked them to draw diagrams, make lists, and create timelines- all things a sleuth might do- to help them see the value of both visual and written expression.
Outline of semester long lesson plan
Items needed: Individual notebooks for students – I got colorful ones that they could decorate.