Wednesday, September 18, 2013

HFVBT: The Shogun's Daughter by Laura Joh Rowland--Guest Post #ShogunsDaughterTour

True Adventures in Research

by Laura Joh Rowland
For the writer of historical fiction, research is a fascinating, sometimes vexing, and inescapable fact of life. Here are three stories that illustrate how I’ve researched my historical Japanese mystery series.

Story #1: February 1992. It’s a Saturday morning in New Orleans. Mardi Gras season is kicking off. Parades are rolling through the streets on weekends. Drunken revelers are staggering through the French Quarter. I’m heading to the library to do research for my first historical novel, a mystery set in feudal Japan, about a samurai detective named Sano Ichiro. With a day job in the aerospace industry, I squeeze my writing into whatever spare time I have. At the library, I trawl through books about Japan. My eyes ache from reading old-style type on yellowed, moldy pages. I come up with two gems. One is The History of Japan by Engelbert Kaempfer, a Dutch physician who traveled to Japan during the seventeenth century. The other is Tokyo Now and Then by Paul Waley. It’s about places in and around Tokyo, what’s there now, and what they were like during the period when Tokyo was known as Edo. With these great resources I begin building my fictional world.

Story #2: September 1997. My first two books have been published. I have a new book contract. I quit my day job the previous year. I finally have the right combination of time and money for my first research trip. My husband Marty and I head to Japan. 

Here’s a typical day in Tokyo. We eat breakfast at a restaurant that has a display of plastic food in the window, so we can point to what we want. Then we get on the subway. It has “pushers.” They’re not drug dealers. They’re men in uniforms and white gloves, who push the passengers into the crowded trains. (We don’t need pushers here in the U.S. We do our own pushing.) In Japan, nobody looks at anybody else. The Japanese especially don’t look at Marty, who’s the only white person around. Here we are at the Imperial Palace, the home of the Emperor. It was once known as Edo Castle, home of the shoguns. The part that’s open to the public has some restored buildings and relics from the old days. I ignore the other tourists and imagine the place overrun with the ghosts of samurai troops and court officials. Afterward, I need a restroom. I find one designated for handicapped people, right on the street. It’s built like a bank vault, with heavy steel walls and a serious lock. What do the Japanese think is going to happen to handicapped people using the restroom, that they need so much security? 

On to the temples. Outside the beautiful buildings, people drink from a spring whose waters have spiritual healing powers. They use metal cups that are sanitized with a machine that gives off ultraviolet rays. Lunch is a bowl of noodles in a vast, subterranean city that makes the New York subway system look like a hole in the ground. While we explore the city, I spot the only fat person I’ve seen in Japan. He’s also the only man wearing a kimono and a samurai-style topknot. A sumo wrestler! I follow him for a couple of blocks and stare. On the way back to our hotel for a nap, we stop at a department store food court and buy cheesecake. The clerk shows us a card, printed in English, that asks how long before we’ll be eating the food. She gives us a calibrated amount of dry ice to keep our cheesecake cold. At the hotel, Marty has fun dropping the dry ice in the toilet. It makes neat, vapor-filled bubbles.

That night we head to baseball game. Baseball in Japan is like Kabuki theater. The audience beats inflated clappers and does synchronized cheers. There’s one American player on each team, the official quota. We immediately spot them: They’re the only black players. Food is sushi, eaten with chopsticks. Refreshment vendors sell beer and hard liquor from tanks they carry on their backs. They stop selling after the seventh inning, so people don’t go home too drunk. We go back to the hotel to sleep. Jet lag wakes us up at 3 a.m. 

Story #3: Fast-forward to 2013. I’m writing the seventeenth book in my series, The Shogun’s Daughter. It occurs to me that after twenty years of writing about old Japan, I don’t know how the men put on those white loincloths they wore under their kimonos. I turn on my laptop, Google “Japanese loincloth,” and find a link to a You-Tube video of two Japanese men putting on their loincloths. The complicated procedure involves twisting, wrapping, and knotting a strip of white fabric that looks about ten feet long. One man finishes in a few minutes. Then he instructs his friend, who’s apparently not used to traditional Japanese costume. It takes ages. (Here’s the link: Modern men, be thankful for underpants! 

Things I’ve learned from my adventures: When doing on-site research for a historical novel, it’s hard to escape the modern world. The Internet has dramatically changed the process of researching. And although research is crucial to historical fiction, a good story is what I aim for, because it’s what readers want. My books are about my characters’ lives, not just the facts about their world. Research is at the foundation of the series, but the characters are at the heart.

Publication Date: September 17, 2013
Minotaur Books
Hardcover; 336p
ISBN-10: 1250028612

Japan, 1704. In an elegant mansion a young woman named Tsuruhime lies on her deathbed, attended by her nurse. Smallpox pustules cover her face. Incense burns, to banish the evil spirits of disease. After Tsuruhime takes her last breath, the old woman watching from the doorway says, “Who’s going to tell the Shogun his daughter is dead?”

The death of the Shogun's daughter has immediate consequences on his regime. There will be no grandchild to leave the kingdom. Faced with his own mortality and beset by troubles caused by the recent earthquake, he names as his heir Yoshisato, the seventeen-year-old son he only recently discovered was his. Until five months ago, Yoshisato was raised as the illegitimate son of Yanagisawa, the shogun's favorite advisor. Yanagisawa is also the longtime enemy of Sano Ichiro.

Sano doubts that Yoshisato is really the Shogun's son, believing it's more likely a power-play by Yanagisawa. When Sano learns that Tsuruhime's death may have been a murder, he sets off on a dangerous investigation that leads to more death and destruction as he struggles to keep his pregnant wife, Reiko, and his son safe. Instead, he and his family become the accused. And this time, they may not survive the day.

Laura Joh Rowland's thrilling series set in Feudal Japan is as gripping and entertaining as ever.

Praise for Laura Joh Rowland

Author of The Fire Kimono, “one of the five best historical mystery novels”—The Wall Street Journal

“Rowland has a painter’s eye for the minutiae of court life, as well as a politician’s ear for intrigue.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Sano may carry a sword and wear a kimono, but you’ll immediately recognize him as an ancestor of Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade.”—The Denver Post

About the Author
Laura Joh Rowland is the author of a mystery series set in medieval Japan, featuring samurai detective Sano Ichiro. The Shogun’s Daughter is the seventeenth book in the series. Her work has been published in 13 foreign countries, nominated for the Anthony Award and the Hammett Prize, and won the RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Historical Mystery. Laura lives in New York City.

For more information please visit Laura's website. You can also follow her on Facebook.

Visit other blogs on the tour--Tour Schedule
Twitter Hashtag: #ShogunsDaughterTour

Be sure to come back for my review on Friday!


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1 comment:

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  1. Sounds like a fantastic book, but I like your journey researching Edo. Thanks for sharing, it was very personal and connected me to your story and the books'.

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