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THE NEAREST that Sherlock Holmes ever got to Japan was his hiatus in Tibet, but this didn’t keep him from becoming one of Japan’s most popular folk heroes. Watson’s first story in the U.K. appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. By early 1894, his commentaries were appearing, albeit in abridged form, in Tokyo’s Nihon-Jin literary journal. Today, the Japan Sherlock Holmes Club has more than 1000 members. The exploits of Holmes and Watson invariably score first among kids in their English classes. A full-size statue of Holmes, only the world’s second to be erected, stands in a park near Karuizawa, about an hour Shinkansen ride northwest of Tokyo.
The statue’s residence in this resort town commemorates work done there by Ken Nobuhara, Japan’s definitive Holmes interpreter. It was Nobuhara who in 1952 completed a thirty-year project of translating the Canon into Japanese.
Other interpretations exist, several reflecting the special relationship that Holmes has with the Japanese people. His cocaine habit, for instance, was considered a bit too much; in one edition, this was changed to an addiction to coffee. Another editor, confronted with The Red-Headed League, transformed the story into The Bald-Headed League for his Japanese readers.
A Japanese young adults’ book in my collection carries the title “Rorisuton Ga–den,” though in katakana characters reserved for foreign words. Japanese readers would be comfortable in identifying this as Lauriston Gardens, the crime scene early in A Study in Scarlet.
I came upon another prize bit of Sherlockiana in browsing through Tokyo’s upmarket Ginza district. There, “Baker St., men’s comfortable furnishings,” was celebrating its tenth anniversary with this wonderful poster in its window.
I offered to buy the poster, and the proprietor kindly gave it to me the next day when the sale ended.
An excellent source on the subject is Sherlock Holmes in Japan, by Keith E. Webb, NextChurch Resources, 1998. Another, written by Japanese Sherlockians, not about Japan, is Sherlock Holmes’s London: Following the Footsteps of London’s Master Detective, by Tsukasa Kobayashi, Akane Higashiyama and Masaharu Uemura, Chronicle Books, 1984. Both Amazon.com and AbeBooks.com offer them along with other Japanese Sherlockiana. ds