It is January, 1689, in Tokyo, and we have witnessed someone dumping two bodies in the Sumida River one night. Our murderer is clever; he has set the scene as though his victims had participated in shinju--a double love suicide, and Sano Ichiro, our intrepid samurai detective, has been ordered to "dispense with the matter as quickly and quietly as possible." Sano has promised the magistrate, Ogyu, that he will behave correctly and play by the rules, but we can be sure that Sano will be breaking that promise because he is a man who seeks the truth, and he will make enemies as he does so.
The picture above is a copy of the woodblock print [by the famous artist Hiroshige] of the Nihonbashi bridge [in approximately 1832], described so clearly at the start of chapter one. While you may be struggling with the Japanese names and words in this novel, its author has vividly brought medieval Tokyo to life with her descriptions of the city and the culture of the Japanese in this time period. What is your first impression of Sano? What details have you encountered which add to your "picture" of this man in this time and in this place?
Think about the setting of this novel. Do you think you are getting an accurate picture of Edo in 1689? What makes you say this? The closing of Japan to outside influences meant that the city remained, for the most part, unchanged for over 200 years, and that is obvious from the similarities of the description and the depiction. Note the fire towers in the print above; remember that arson is a huge concern in this time period because of all of the wooden buildings with interior sliding paper screens. What other elements are described in the novel and depicted in the print?
What about the city's people? How are the various classes [peasants/farmers, artisans and merchants, samurai and daimyo, foreigners and untouchables--eta] portrayed? What do we learn about each of these groups through the author's description of characteristics or actions? Will Sano disobey the magistrate and take on the challenge of solving the mystery of this shinju? Will he find the murderer, bring him to justice, and still adhere to the code of Bushido? Will he become more than just a pretty-faced fashion-plate of a yoriki who lets his doshin do all of his work?
Using the "clues" being given to you as you read, try to respond to these questions as specifically as possible. Of course, you may also raise some questions of your own for all of us, but do it before Thursday!
Teacher Barb :)