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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Japan In Books

Perhaps this isn't what you are expecting...but I thought i would do a little look  - one book per blog, when I feel like it - about how the Japanese were thought of by others.

Let's start with the mysterious Charlie Chan, a Chinese detective living in the Hawaii of 1925.

From the first novel - long out of print - called The House Without A Key, written by Chan man creator Earl Derr Biggers (you can't make up a name like that!), we find Charlie having lunch in the All American Restaurant, and joined by the young rich and snobby Bostonian John Quincy Winterslip.

I should point out that although in Hawaii where there are lot of true Hawaiians and Japanese doing low-level work, the Bostonian and other Americans who visit always seem a little surprised to see a Chinese man - whom they immediately recognize as Chinese - working as a policeman.It's like how could a Chinese dude get into the Hawaiian police force?

Anyhow... at the restaurant:

'Quite overwhelmed,' bobbed Charlie. He resumed his seat and scowled at something on the plate before him. 'Waiter,' he said. 'Be kind enough to summon the proprietor of this establishment.'
The proprietor, a suave little Japanese man, came gliding. He bowed from the waist.
'Is it that you serve here insanitary food?' enquired Chan.
'Please deign to state your complaint,' said the Jap.
'This piece of pie is covered in finger-marks,' rebuked Chan. 'The sight is most disgusting. kindly remove it and bring me a more hygienic sector.'
The Japanese man picked up the offending pastry and carried it away.
'Japanese,' remarked Chan, spreading his hands in an elaborate gesture.  

There's conversation pertinent to the case, and then the new piece of pie arrives:

The waiter set a fresh piece of pie before the Chinaman.
"Ah,' remarked Chan, 'this has a more perfect appearance.' He tasted it. 'Appearance,' he added with a grimace, 'are a hellish liar.'

Despite Charlie Chan's poor syntax (insanitary food), he still has a low opinion of the Japanese proprietor, as he submits for your approval that the Japanese are not quite civilized.

An interesting take. I wonder, though... while I know the writer has been to Hawaii (where he met the real life policeman - Detective Chang Apana of the Honolulu police force - who would inspire him to create Charlie Chan), did Biggers also have a low opinion of the Japanese? It seems likely, as the Japanese entry above is presented to the reader solely for comedic purposes.

That's all for now.
Andrew 'most humble servant' Joseph     

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