Who is Edogawa Rampo?

Rampo in 1954

Edogawa Rampo (江戸川 乱歩; also romanized as Edogawa Ranpo; 1894-1965) is the pen name of Hirai Tarō (平井 太郎), one of the most prominent figures in the early formation of Japanese detective fiction. Rampo had been active both before and after WWII. He took this pen name to pay tribute to Edgar Allan Poe, This name, Edogawa Rampo, in fact is the phonetic renderings of Poe’s name in Japanese (Edoga=Edgar; wa Ram=Allan; po=Poe), and literally means “randomly walking along the Edo River.” Having grown up reading foreign detective fiction of Poe and Sir Conan Doyle alike in the translation by Kuroiwa Ruikō (黒岩 涙香), he gained interest in this genre since childhood.

In 1923, Rampo made his debut with Nisen dōka (「二銭銅貨」; English: “The Two-Sen Copper Coin”) as a prize-winner story published on one trending magazine called Shinseinen (『新青年』). The editors highly acclaimed Rampo’s effort to apply western tradition to a unique Japanese setting, and insisted that this was the first story that is “no inferior to the foreign ones.” This issue became a huge hit and triggered a fervent response from the reader. Rampo quickly gained fame and started to publish more detective stories on Shinseinen. His success inspired many writers to create their own detective fiction, and he was celebrated as a pioneer in the early development of Japanese detective fiction.

Like many detective fiction practitioners, Rampo also created a series based on one detective figure: Akechi Kogorō. This detective which has enjoyed long-lasting popularity up until now.

In 1930s, Rampo largely incorporated elements of horror, bizarre and grotesque into his works, which greatly influenced the ero-guro-nansensu (エロ・グロ・ナンセンス) literary movement. Instead of following the well-established tradition of delineating investigation process and logical ratiocination, his works placed more emphasis on nonnormative sexuality, macabre violence, as well as other fetishisms. Because of this, Rampo’s localization of the genre was frequently criticized for deviating from a healthy (kenzen; 健全) course of development thereby producing “unhealthy” (fukenzen; 不健全) Japanese literature (Saito, 14). While acclaimed as having a potential to truly master the genre, Rampo was at the same time caught in the dichotomy of a grotesque premodern and an “authentic” modern (Saito, 52).

When the WWII broke out, the detective fiction had gradually undergone censorship accompanied by the total mobilization of war. Like many other writers, Rampo refrained from writing, as he was heavily affected by the imposed bans on the detective fiction genre. After Japan was defeated and the government restrictions were lifted, most detective fiction writers were promising of reviving the detective fiction genre (Satomi Saito, 129). The revival praised Western-style classic detective fiction as the dominant form. Amidst this atmosphere, Rampo also embraced this authentic or orthodox detective fiction (honkaku tantei shōsetsu) and left his ero-guro-nansensu stories behind. Instead of creating more adult-oriented detective stories, much of his attention was directed to writing juvenile literature (the Boy Detective Club series), engaging in literary critic realm, and promoting detective fiction to both domestic and overseas public.

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