(Senju Gakuen Shonen Tanteidan)
by 金子 ユミ (Yumi Kaneko)
Author: 金子 ユミ (Yumi Kaneko)
Genre: novel, Taisho Period, mystery, high school
Great for: Advanced (JLPT N1+)
Length: 306 pages
あらすじ ・ Japanese Synopsis (from Bookwalker)
English Synopsis (translated by Japanese Talk Online)
It’s the Taisho Period in Tokyo and Nagato, the son of the Minister of Finance Ichirota Higaki’s mistress, is flung into the prestigious private Senju Gakuen, taking his place as his father’s heir after his elder brother’s mysterious disappearance. The academy, however, is overrun with strange curses and rumors, and Nagato and his unexpected new friends must solve them. Can they expose the school’s numerous mysteries as well as the strange disappearance of Nagato’s older brother!? An original school mystery rich with the strong flavor of the Taisho Period!
Why You Should Read 千手學園少年探偵團 (Senju Gakuen Shonen Tanteidan)
If you like mysteries without murder, mind games, clever tricks and clues, as well as an interest in Japanese history then you’ll like Senju Gakuen!
There are four chapters, each with their own mystery, or “curse,” to solve. These mysteries are scattered with clues and hints but not enough to make it too easy. Wild rumors and student conflicts drag Nagato into them, giving him a reputation as a detective (although he denies it.)
All the characters are likeable a surprisingly complex. The protagonist, Nagato, doesn’t want to be at the school and he makes that evident with his demeanor and attitude. But his attitude slowly and subtly shifts thanks to the people who decide to stick with him, such as the twins Kei and Kou. The twin also slowly grow throughout the book thanks to their interactions with Nagato and the fourth member of their group, the son on the school’s cleaner, Norio.
Why Japanese Learners Should Read 千手學園少年探偵團 (Senju Gakuen Shonen Tanteidan)
Although a fun story, this book has a number of challenges which is why I recommend people who have studied JLPT N1+ material read it.
1. The Taisho Setting
The setting is the Taisho Period around the 1910s-1920s about the sons of the elite. There are a number of references to earlier events such as the First World War, and to the general socio-economic state of Japan. You have to already have an idea that Asakusa in Tokyo was the red light district, that shamisen were often played by prostitutes’, and the different kinds of puppetry plays.
To be honest I didn’t know any of that. I looked up a few things while I was reading but mostly guessed through context. This left a few things unclear and confusing and I wish I had researched references to things as I read this book.
2. Taisho Kanji and Vocabulary
As the setting is the Taisho Period, kanji, vocabulary, phrases, and grammar are a little archaic. (Just look at the title 學園 instead of 学園!) They add to the vibrant world setting and gives the story a rich flavor, but makes this an even more challenging read.
I made a note of about 90 new vocabulary and kanji, and lamented on Twitter how frustrating it was to need to look up every other word (especially at the beginning of the book.)
However, once I got past the initial bump of information dumps at the beginning of each chapter, this was a much easier read! Conversations between characters flowed well and the mysteries unravelling were very engaging.
There was just one other hiccup that made this a challenging read…
I highly recommend you write down the kanji and readings for all new characters when you come across them. Once their readings have been shown once, you won’t see them again.
This made it a little annoying when seemingly unimportant side characters popped up again and again. I knew their kanji but had quickly forgotten how to read them, and finding them again in the book was impossible. (There is a list of characters at the start of the book but not for all characters.)
This novel took me a lot longer to read than normal because of the challenges it had, however, it was also one of the best novels I read in 2020. I found the mysteries and characters a lot of fun and really enjoyed the writing.
Other Japanese Novels for Advanced Learners