Saturday, 15 November 2014

Boy Science Detective

I’ve not been posting much this year. That was due to pressure of work, which may let up a little soon. At any rate I hope to get back to posting at least once a week. For the moment, let me just try and get your interest for a coming translation, which I mean to put up shortly. The short story I’ve translated is a juvenile detective story by KOSAKAI Fuboku (小酒井 不木, 1890-1929), the first of his 少年科学探偵 (shounen kagaku tantei, Boy Science Detective ) stories. Here is Kosakai’s foreword to the stories (translated from the Japanese on Aozora Bunko): 

The six detective stories collected in this book were first published in Science for Children. They were written for boys from the fifth or sixth year of elementary school [10-12 years old] to the second or third year of middle school [13-15 years old].
We are living in a world of science now, and without science a person cannot pass one day with enjoyment; but since, to gain scientific knowledge, the most important thing is to know first of all that science is interesting, I have written these stories to get children to know just how interesting science is.
Next, scientific knowledge is something gained by reading books and at the same time properly ‘thinking’ about them. For this reason, as the German proverb has it, ‘A person can profit much from what they read, but they can profit more from what they think.’
Still, the detective story is a story you read and a story you think about while you are reading it. That is why I wrote these stories, thinking that I would like to get my young readers to develop the habit of thinking about things.
 This is not the end of the stories in which Boy Science Detective Toshio Tsukahara makes an appearance. In the future I hope to add more stories bit by bit. So I hope you will make it part of your favourite reading for a long time.
 Let me finish by expressing my profound gratitude to Kanda bookshop owner and friend Shigeru Fukano, who assisted me in many ways in publishing the book, and also to the artist Hisashi Morita, who provided illustrations back when the stories were serialized and also contibuted his beautiful artwork to the book. December Taishou Year 15 (1926)
This seems like a great idea for a series to me. Nowadays, it would probably be Girl Science Detective, and actually that would be pretty cool too. I was really hoping that the stories would be good. The first one at least seems pretty good to me (the second is so so and I haven't yet finished the third)

The main characters are genius boy detective TSUKAHARA Toshio (塚原俊夫) and the narrator, his bodyguard OONO (大野), a young judo expert. Twelve year old Toshio comes from a very wealthy background and his parents have set him up with his own little laboratory and hired Oono to protect him from criminals that might threaten him because of his investigations. Once you get to know Toshio a little better it may occur to you that this is not the only reason he might need a bodyguard. While Toshio's position in the world is distinctly unrealistic (adults constantly defer to his recognised detective genius), his character has a realistic childishness to it too. When you think about it, the great detective of the Sherlock Holmes mould often has a distinctly childish side to their character, pointlessly mystifying and misleading those around them. Toshio takes this kind of misbehaviour a little further than most.

Since the English Wikipedia doesn't have a page on Kosakai, I'll put a couple of notes about him here, mostly from the Japanese Wikipedia page. He was born in the Ama distict of Aichi prefecture in 1890, studied Medicine at the Imperial University in Tokyo from 1911, taught hygiene at Touhoku University from 1917, travelled for research to America, Britain and France. Returning to Japan in 1920, he started writing essays, translations and short stories. At first he did this along side his university work, but in 1922 he gave up his post at Touhoku University to devote himself to writing. Several times throughout his adult life he suffered from pneumonia, from which he died in 1929. Both his own stories and his criticism were very influential in the detective story world and beyond.


  1. I happened to have read 「深夜の電話」 just a couple of days ago. It was a strange story though and had me sometimes wondering whether it was really aimed at children (though that might be my modern POV talking). I thought it interesting as a precursor to Rampo's boys detective and Conan though.

    1. I haven't read that one yet. I see it's from after the six stories in 'Boy Science Detective'. The first story ('The Scarlet Diamond') is very definitely a children's story. That's probably why the solution is far too obvious. It's still a pretty amusing story though, with a nice code-breaking element.