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Japanese Language

Solving unrealistic murder mysteries in Japanese

So you’re a mystery writer, or a private detective, and you’ve been called to Japan to solve the harrowing, grisly, impossible murder of a rich and powerful politician, Yamaguchi-san, during a party at his home. But where do you begin?

So you’re a mystery writer, or a private detective, and you’ve been called to Japan to solve the harrowing, grisly, impossible murder of a rich and powerful politician, Yamaguchi-san, during a party at his home. But where do you begin?

You begin, of course, by learning all the important mystery and forensics terminology.

First, you have to know how to introduce yourself. You’re not a “mystery writer”; you’re a 推理筆者 (すいりひっしゃ). Or, rather than a private detective, you’re a 私立探偵 (しりつたんてい) who works for (or perhaps operates) a 探偵事務所 (たんていじむしょ, detective agency or consulting firm). Maybe you’re even a 名探偵 (めいたんてい, great detective), your exploits known throughout the world, but it would be impolite for you to say so.

The 警察 (けいさつ, police) have called you because of the 怪しい (あやしい, suspicious) nature of the death. The 事件 (じけん, incident) was, as far as anyone can tell, a 密室殺人 (みっしつさつじん, “locked room murder”)–a 不可能犯罪 (ふかのうはんざい, impossible crime). It would have been ruled a 自殺 (じさつ, suicide) if not for an apparent ダイイングメッセージ (“dying message”) left by the 被害者 (ひがいしゃ, victim). Unfortunately, the message is unclear–it may be some sort of 暗号 (あんごう, code), or it may be some other sort of indirect reference to the 殺人犯 (さつじんはん, murderer).

Now it’s up to you to double-check the work the police have done. Assemble all the 手がかり (てがかり, clues) they’ve noted so far, and start keeping track of your own. Talk with the 客人 (きゃくじん, guests) of the パーティー (party) and analyze their アリバイ (alibis). Go over the 犯罪現場 (はんざいげんば, crime scene) for clues that may have been missed. Talk with 鑑識 (かんしき, forensics) about the tests they’ve done and order more if necessary. Based on what you’ve learned, you may want to order a ルミノール (luminol) test somewhere on the scene…the killer may have cleaned up some 血液 (けつえき, blood), but you’ll still be able to get a reaction if you know where to look.

Once you’ve figured out what really happened, it’s time for your 推理ショー(すいりショー, literally “deduction show”, where you present your findings). Have the police help you set up a demonstration of how the 殺人 (さつじん, murder) went down. There may be a grumpy inspector who complains a little about this, but you’ll also usually find at least one very willing detective to be your errand boy. He’ll also sit in as your victim if you want! Just try not to bump him off in your excitement to reveal the killer’s トリック (trick).

Make a big show of demonstrating the trick first. Once you’ve impressed everyone with your reasoning skills, start eliminating suspects. Ticking them off one by one adds to the サスペンス (suspense). Finally, lower your head, close your eyes dramatically, lay out your best 証拠 (しょうこ, evidence), and then say the following line:

山口さんを殺したのは… (“The one who killed Yamaguchi-san…”)

Then snap your head up, point straight at the killer, and say:

…Xさん、あなただ! (“…was you, X-san!”)

And with that, you’re ready to be a 名探偵 in 日本. (Just watch out for 黒ずくめの男達 [men in black] with 実験的な薬 [experimental drugs]!)

I wrote this in 2012 and never posted it. It is, rather obviously, inspired by Detective Conan.