Wednesday, 4 November 2015

My Town

NONAMI Asa (乃南アサ, born 1960) is probably best known for her books with police detective OTOMICHI Takako (音道 貴子). The first of those, 凍える牙 (kogoeru kiba, Frozen Fang, 1996) even has an English translation (The Hunter, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, 2006). ボクの町 (boku no machi, My Town, 1998) is less well known. It's not a detective story, not even a crime novel really, though the narrative includes several crimes. It's the account of one trainee policeman's first apprentice year in a local police mini station (a kouban) in Tokyo.

The young policeman TAKAGI Seidai (高木聖大) is a bit of a misfit in the police world. He has no great natural enthusiasm for the job and would rather be chasing girls. He had left university with no clear idea what he wanted to do and joined the force almost randomly. Even on his first roll call he gets marked out by his superior officers for having a sticker with a photo of his last girlfriend stuck in the back of his police notebook. He still has an ear piercing, and his speech is mostly casual and slangy. (It sounds like the dialect typical of thoughtless slapdash young men in television dramas, the 'su style, you could say; I've never heard this in real life, and don't know if it's a convention or a real thing.) Through his post training apprentice year he gets experience of what the work really demands, often failing to live up to expectations and questioning whether he has made the right choice in joining the police.

The uniformed police don't get much attention in fiction in Japan or the English speaking world, so it's interesting to read a bit about them for a change. The mini police stations in particular are a very Japanese institution. Tourist guides to Japan often advise you to ask for directions there. There aren't enough of them for that to be actually practical for a tourist; but from the novel it seems that giving directions really is a major part of the work. There are crimes too; but they aren't necessarily resolved. As policemen on the beat, the characters have less control over how things work out than a detective. Mostly they can only patrol or wait and hope to run into the criminal. Towards the end, though, a serial arsonist changes the narrative expectations, as Takagi joins the all out hunt to catch the culprit.

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