Sherlock Holmes in Japan

I suppose that I hoped to find Sherlock Holmes in Japan, in a small way. I certainly did not expect to encounter him in all the ways that I did.

The odd combination of Holmes and Japan has actually been, on a modest scale, established for some time as a concept. A local community of Sherlockians funded a public statue of the great man in 1988. At least two non-canon books have dispatched Holmes to Japan; one, A Slight Trick of the Mind, has been made into a forthcoming film with Ian McKellan. These are stories, however (and arguably “imaginary stories” at that), and my own itinerary did not include Karuizawa.

The only incarnation of Holmes that I was truly confident of encountering was one that I brought with me. My travel reading included the lengthy anthology The Game’s Afoot, which I found entirely satisfactory. Beyond this, I entertained some hope of returning with an additional Holmes book; I like the idea of adding to my collection when I travel so that volumes gain additional interest as a souvenir. I had note of a couple of bookstores with English-language sections, and thought possibly I might get lucky.

I did not, in my wildest dreams of Tokyo oddity, expect that beginning with my very first train ride I would repeatedly encounter Holmes in this baffling, chibi form:

So kawai

This might be a good time to link to the Japan Disclaimer

There I was, horribly jet-lagged, hardly even commenced on culture shock let alone past it… and trying to make sense of a Fisher-Price version of Sherlock Holmes, smiling at me from a train-car advertisement of which I could comprehend maybe two words. The fact that one of these was “HOME’S,” and it nonetheless took me about three days to consider that this was probably a silly pun, underscores how slowly my comprehension was operating. (Two more examples here.)

Eventually, this relationship did occur to me; by searching the web I was also able to turn up, which provided the above graphic and seems to support my guess that this is some sort of real-estate search agency. Righto, why not. I suppose that makes as much sense as anything. For what it’s worth, though a purist in some ways I have no objection to this goofy caricature. It’s really something of a tribute to how far the Holmes legend has reached, so far that a Japanese business finds value in adapting him as a marketing avatar in 2015. Frankly, far from being annoyed by the HOME’S ads, I dearly wish I could have brought one back with me. I might honestly have torn one down from the metro, had I thought for one second I could have gotten away with it. As unoccupied subway cars are just a bit of a rarity in Tokyo, however, I restrained my collector’s avarice.

I was able to indulge said avarice anyway, as it turned out. One evening I made my way to the “bookseller neighborhood” of Jimbocho, and while its reputation as a significant concentration of bookstores seemed a bit exaggerated, the excellent Kitazawa did as promised have an entire second floor devoted to English-language books.

To my delight, they even had a small but very respectable section of Sherlock Holmes books. By which I mean maybe eight to ten volumes… but even with the stature of Holmes this does not seem something to dismiss in the middle of bleedin’ Tokyo, Japan. Better still, for my purposes, no more than a few were examples of the canon or other works that I already own. I ended up reducing the selection by one volume, Sherlock Holmes and the Eminent Thespian.

Sherlock Holmes and the Eminent Thespian, by Val Andrews

Hopefully a ‘don’t judge a book my its cover’ instance

Haven’t started this, yet, but novelty alone seems like it will adequately justify its acquisition. A Holmes pastiche of which I had never heard, part of an apparent series—of which two other examples were also present—released by an obscure minor publisher in Britain around 25 years ago. Discovered in a bookstore in Tokyo. Nerd bliss.

Even then, Holmes was not finished with me. Tokyo is a fantastic city for simply walking around and exploring, as it seems to offer endless small surprises wherever you go. As evidence:

'221B Baker Street' sign outside random Tokyo building

? ? ? ? ?

Strolling around one morning, I chanced upon this in front of what, so far as I could discern (disclaimer!), was an ordinary residence. What the fuck? I don’t know. Possibly the interweb could provide more context, but so far I haven’t even attempted. I’m not really sure that this could be adequately explained, or that any explanation is needed.

Taken all together, it seems that I simply walk in the footsteps of the master, wherever I go… even amid a very different culture on the other side of the world.

I’m good with that.

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