Shinjū is the first published work by Laura Joh Rowland and the first entry in the Sano Ichirō series. It was originally distributed on September 1st, 1994. It was followed by Bundori.

Official Synopsis Edit

"It is January 1689 in Edo, the city that would one day become Tokyo. The bodies of a beautiful noblewoman and a male commoner, bound together, are dragged from the murky Sumida River: a typical shinju, a ritual double suicide committed by a pair of star-crossed lovers. But when Sano Ichiro, a teacher, samurai, and reluctant police officer, begins a routine investigation, he comes to suspect murder. Disobeying direct orders to close the case discreetly, he pursues elusive answers from the ornate mansions of the highest born daimyos, to the gaudy pleasure quarters of the lowest classes, from a cloistered mountaintop convent to a horrid prison where death is a blessing. He risks his family's good name and his own life to solve a crime that nobody wants solved. As he unravels the twisted story behind the deaths, he stumbles upon a trail of deceit and assassination that threatens the very underpinnings of the shogun's Japan."[1]

Dedication Edit

"To my parents, Lena and Raymond Joh"

Acknowledgments Edit

"I would like to thank the following people, each of whom helped make this book possible: George Alec Effinger, friend, mentor, and master science fiction writer. My agent, Peter Grey Ahearn; my editor, David Rosenthal; my husband, Marty Rowland. And the members of my writer's workshop: Larry Barbe, Cary Bruton, Kim Campbell, O'Neil DeNoux, Debbie Hodgkinson, Jack Jernigan, Micheal Keane, Mark McCandless, Marian Moore, John Webre, and Fritz Ziegler."

Plot Edit

Prologue Edit

A man on horseback rides to the Sumida River. In tow, are two dead bodies, that of a man and women. Taking the bodies into a boat with him, he rides until he finds himself at a pier. Tying the bodies together, he places a small, flat lacquer case under the woman's sash. He pushes the bodies into the river and takes one of the ropes, lodging it in a crack in the wood. Once satisfied with his work, he starts to row upstream.

Chapter 1 Edit

Sano Ichiro rides into Nihonbashi on horseback, musing about his transformation from simple tutor to yoriki. He approaches the charred remains of around fifty houses, the aftermath of a large fire. His job is to find out whether or not if the fire was the result of arson and, if it was, to arrest the person responsible.

He spots a man trying to get an iron chest from the rubble and goes to interrogate him. Just then, a thin, ragged looking man runs and falls in front of Sano. A pair of burly men soon show up, as they had been chasing him. They start clubbing the thin man. Sano stops them and quickly figures out that the leader is a doshin. He introduces himself and demands an explanation for their attack. The doshin apologizes, saying they didn't recognize him, and the group bow, all the while barely concealing their contempt.

Sano bristles at their rudeness, but understands their disgust. He accepts their apology and repeats his question. The doshin says that the man they had been chasing was the one that set the fire, citing witnesses who saw the man fleeing the street after the fire had been set and the word of the man himself. Unconvinced, Sano interrogates the man, only to find the man can't understand what Sano is saying, nor himself. Sano berates the doshin, who counters back saying he couldn't have known.

While this had been taking place, a number of people stopped to watch. At the doshin's words, some of the bystanders accost the doshin. The doshin snaps at them to shut up then turns to Sano, saying that arson is a serious crime and that someone has to pay for it. Sano is appalled at the doshin's willingness to use a scapegoat instead of finding the real perpetrator. Before he can chastise the doshion, he notices the doshin reaching for his short sword. Knowing that the only thing keeping him from dueling the man is his rank, he hastily makes peace by offering to help search for the real arsonist. Before starting to question witnesses, he contemplates his new career as a yoriki; the fact that he was able to right a wrong and even save a man's life, and the possible rewards for finding out the truth. At the same time, he can't help but wonder about how many enemies he'll end up making.

Later that day, Sano returns to the administrative district in Hibiya. While on the way to police headquarters, a messenger intercepts him, telling him that Magistrate Ogyu would like to see him straight away. Quickly changing course, Sano eventually arrives at Magistrate Ogyu's mansion. After identifying himself to a pair of guards, he walks through the mansion's grounds, past people waiting to see the Magistrate or doshin with prisoners. Soon enough, he finds himself standing in front of the entrance to the Court of Justice. After a couple moments hesitation, he opens the heavy doors and steps inside.

Upon finding the Magistrate conducting a trial, he decides to wait at the back of the hall with some samurai courtroom attendants. At the far end, Magistrate Ogyu sits upon the dais, his current defendant, Blacksmith Goro, sitting opposite him on the shirasu. Magistrate Ogyu states that, after considering all of the evidence against Goro, he considers him guilty of murdering his father-in-law. Ogyu sentences Goro to death, with his family sharing his punishment via banishment. He nods to a nearby doshin who takes the struggling Goro out of the courtroom. The awaiting attendants escort the spectators of the trial away, one them dragging a weeping woman with them.

Ogyu calls Sano to him. Sano walks to the end of the room and kneels behind the shirasu, all the while a bit shaken by the whole affair. He wonders how Ogyu is still calm after doling out such harsh punishments, but then quickly reminds himself that Ogyu must be used to all of this by now. Bowing to Magistrate Ogyu, he politely inquires about why he was summoned. In a matter befitting that of the upper class, the Magistrate doesn't directly tell Sano the exact reason, but Sano still gets the message: it was disgraceful for a yoriki to do a doshin's job. Wanting to defend himself, Sano starts to tell Magistrate Ogyu about the injustice that could've occurred, only to be cut off by the Magistrate. Ogyu changes the subject by saying he met Katsuragawa Shundai yesterday, making any protests that Sano had formed leave him entirely.

At that moment, Sano remembered when his father had taken him to see Shundai. Knowing he didn't have much time left to live, Sano's father called in an old debt that the Katsuragawa owed to the Sanos. He asked Shundai to see if he could find a job for Sano, even though Sano didn't have any prospects or special talents to speak of. Shundai quickly looked Sano over and said he'd see what he could do. Secretly, Sano had hoped he wouldn't find anything, knowing he'd have to accept it no matter what it was. While he didn't mind getting an eventual post in the government bureaucracy, he couldn't entertain the thought of leaving his beloved profession behind.

Returning to the present, Sano understands his obligation to his father and to Shundai. Bushido took precedence to the individual and conformity was more important than the pursuit of justice and the truth. Disgraced by the implied criticism, he silently vows to never personally investigate any other case to cross his desk.

Anticipating a dismissal, he bows again, but none comes. Instead, Magistrate Ogyu tells Sano to do exactly as he says, saying the matter is of the utmost discretion. Curiosity piqued by Ogyu's unusual bluntness, he listens as the Magistrate tells him about a fisherman who found the bodies of a man and women who had apparently died from committing suicide together. Due to the common occurrence of these love suicides, Sano wonders why Ogyu would bring the matter to him. As if to answer his unspoken question, Ogyu hands over a folded letter that had been sitting on his desk. Standing up, Sano walks over and takes the letter from him.

On the letter is a passage from a popular Kabuki play and the names of two people: Noriyoshi and Niu Yukiko. Sano now understands the weight of this case: due to Yukiko's high birth, word getting out that she partook in a shinju would be a terrible disgrace. Ogyu gives Sano orders to hand Yukiko's body to her family while Noriyoshi's body will be left out for the public to see- the usual treatment for corpses resulting from shinjus. Ogyu then dismisses him.

Sano can't help but feel as though something is amiss. The Magistrate's emphasis on discretion only arouses his suspicion and instinct tells him that there's more to this shinju than a simple tale of star-crossed lovers. However, he remembers his pledge and simply bows, saying that he'll obey.

At police headquarters, Sano walks into the compound, passing by a barely populated inner reception chamber. Sano greets Yamaga and Hayashi, two men who represent the stereotype that yorikis are known for: proud and obsessed with wearing the latest trends. Hayashi speaks to Sano in a tone that makes his words an insult, making it all too clear that they don't approve of how Sano became a yoriki. The two men then walk away, saddening Sano. The fact that he, an outsider, slipped in so easily while all the other yoriki inherited their position from their fathers only serves to wound their professional pride and is an affront to their families.

Carrying their disapproval with him, he walks into his designated office only to be greeted by another source of unhappiness. Instead of working on filing reports, his personal secretary, Hamada Tsunehiko, is lazing about, reading a storybook. Seeing Sano, Tsunehiko quickly tries to hid the book, saying that he awaits his orders. While Tsunehiko is a constant source of irritation for Sano, he can't help but feel affectionate towards the adolescent.

Sitting behind his desk, he tells Tsunehiko to take a report. After many screw-ups on the young man's part, Sano reads over the report, cheeking for any errors. Once he confirms that there are none, he places his seal on it then hands it over to his secretary, telling him to take it to the chief clerk. Not a moment after Tsunehiko open's the office door, do Yamaga and Hayashi pass by, talking about how they plan to visit Yoshiwara. As bits of their conversation reach Sano's ear, he has a brief vission of what would happen to him should he simply obey Ogyu's orders; he'd turn into the average yoriki, one who cares more about appearances than actually doing a job well done.

Telling Tsunehiko to wait, he takes the report out of the boy's hands and rips it up. Walking back to his desk, he hurriedly writes a new report stating that Noriyoshi's and Yukiko's death warrant investigation. He hands this new report to Tsunehiko. Leaving his office, he walks down a corridor, affirming that he will find the truth behind this shinju.

Chapter 2 Edit

At Edo Jail, Sano introduces himself to the guards and tells them he wishes to speak to the men who handled the corpses. One of the guards take him to see the warden. The warden brings him out to the courtyard to meet the eta. Three of them– two of whom are teenagers, the other an elderly man– are brought to Sano. He asks them about the condition of the corpses, but the eta can't remember if they saw anything. Quickly figuring out that further questions will yield no useful answers, he tells the eta that they are free to leave. The two teenagers hurriedly run off. The older man, however, stays and tells Sano that he knows of a man who might help him. Intrigued by this show of confidence, Sano follows the eta, passing through passages lined with cells. The various noises and odors of the jail, plus the mistreatment of the prisoners, rattle Sano, who can't help but be horrified over the harsh penalties that the government he works for dishes out.

Thankfully, the eta and Sano soon arrive at the morgue. Hesitating for a moment, Sano steps inside and meets Ito Genboku. He asks Sano who he is and Sano introduces himself. Sano asks Ito if he noticed anything on the bodies, such as bruises or wounds, that would indicate that Yukiko or Noriyoshi had been murdered. Ito replies that he had been too busy with the victims of the fire to notice anything, and that Yukiko's body has already been sent to her family. Sano notes that Magistrate Ogyu hadn't trusted him to this simple task after all. Ito then says that they still have Noriyoshi and asks Sano if he would like to observe the body for himself. Quailing at the idea, he hesitates a bit, but decides that the truth is more important than any kind of spiritual pollution. He accepts Ito's invitation. Mura, the eta who lead Sano to Ito, retrieves Noriyoshi's body and items with the help of some other etas. Ito hands over Noriyoshi's paraphernalia and Sano notices that all of them indicate that the dead man was rather poor. The Niu's would've opposed a marriage between them for that reason alone.

The body all set for inspection, Sano surveys the corpse, only finding rope marks around his wrist. Sano says thank you and is about to leave, but Ito frowns and tells Mura to turn Noriyoshi so he's laying on his back. Taking a knife and razor, Mura cuts and shaves a part of Noriyoshi's hair off, revealing purple indentation on his head. Sano wonders what made it and Ito speculates a number of reasons before saying that the only way to make sure would be to cut Noriyoshi open. Sano stops to think about Magistrate Ogyu and his father, but the image of the beggar being beaten surfaces to the forefront of his mind. He gives Ito the go ahead to preform an autopsy.

Turning Noriyoshi back onto his back, Mura– guided by Ito– cuts into one of the dead man's lungs, revealing a lack of water. Ito confirms that Noriyoshi didn't die by drowning, only to notice Sano retching. Ito asks Sano if he's alright, but his concern falls on deaf ears as Sano bolts out of the jail. He stops at a canal to puke, then rides to the nearest bathhouse. He scrubs himself vigorously then submerges himself in the scorching hot water of the communal tub, trying his best to get rid of the spiritual contamination of the dissection. After a few minutes, he finally feels at peace, but then the results finally hit him: Noriyoshi was indeed murdered, which most likely meant that Yukiko was as well. However, no one can know of the investigation, so he'll have to figure out some other way of finding evidence that proves they were murdered.

Chapter 3 Edit

Sano wakes up in his bedchamer within the yoriki barracks. After a visit to the privies, he gets dressed then walks to the dining room, finding Yamaga, Hayashi, and four other yoriki already eating breakfast. The conversation stops when he walks in, only resuming when the senior yoriki, Hachiya Akira, makes a remark about his tardiness. Sano apologizes and sits next to Hayashi. Despite the other yoriki's disdain for him, he's still expected to show up for meals and in their rooms at night for drinks and talk.

Akira continues the conversation and the other yoriki join in. Eventually, Sano slips into the investigation as he ponders about what move he should make next, not realizing that Hayashi was talking to him. When he asks for him to repeat himself, Hayashi makes a veiled insult about his previous profession. Sano can only answer calmly, but Hyashi's smirk just makes Sano angerier. From this, Sano receives a burst of inspiration. He concludes that the best course of action to take next would be to interview anyone who knew Yukiko and Noriyoshi. He excuses himself, saying that he must pay the families of the dead his respect before leaving.

At the Niu mansion, one of the guards tells Sano that Lord Niu is not there, but his wife will see him. Surprised by this, he follows the guard to the reception chamber. Once there, he meets Lady Niu and Eii. Behind a screen are two of Lord Niu's daughters.

Sano tells Lady Niu that he has some questions regarding Yukiko that he needs to ask, to which she accepts. He asks if the way she died came as a surprise. Lady Niu says that is was, but she also admits that it wasn't unlike Yukiko to do something like this. She remarks that the theater influences many young girls, something he must have read on Magistrate Ogyu's note. Sano is taken aback by this sudden switch in topic, especially because many women of Lady Niu's station don't take any interest in politics.

A maid carrying a tray of refreshments steps in. After spilling green tea all over the tray, Lady Niu orders the maid– named O-hisa– to get another one. O-hisa bursts into sobs, her trembling making the tray's contents fall onto the floor. Lady Niu orders Eii to see to her. Eii picks up the spoiled food, tray, and maid in one swift movement and places them outside the door before quickly returning to his place by Lady Niu's side. Hearing sobbing from behind the screen, Lady Niu tells Midori and Keiko to leave. Once they've left, Lady Niu turns back Sano and asks him if there's anything else he'd like to know, when the door opens once again. A young man enters, saying that a priest would like to speak to Lady Niu about Yukiko's funeral.

Lady Niu introduces Sano to her son, Niu Masahito. She tells Masahito that maybe he should speak to the priest himself, but Masahito ignores her hint to leave and stays, saying that they can continue where they left off. Sano asks about Yukiko's character and her popularity. Lady Niu says that while Yukiko was secretive and kept to herself, she was also gentle and loving, and everyone within the estate loved her. Masahito counters this, hinting that not everyone liked her. At first, Sano was worried by Masahito's appearance, but now he realizes that his presence has an advantage. Sano inquires about this person, but Masahito only gives a vague smile.

Sano decides to switch subjects and subtly questions how Yukiko was able to meet her supposed lover for rendezvous. Lady Niu says that, with so many people living in such a big house, it's difficult to keep track of everyone. Compounding matters is the fact that Yukiko had apparently bribed one of the guards to let her out after dark. At Sano's inquiry as to whether or not she had been missed on the night of her murder, Lady Niu says that they were all attending a play that was being hosted by one of the nearby lords and that the show didn't end until it was rather late. Masahito laughs at this understatement, saying that the party lasted until dawn and that no one bothered to check if everyone had gotten home safely.

Quickly growing discouraged by the lack of information, Sano starts wondering what he should ask next. Suddenly, Masahito remarks that all of Sano's questions make it sound like he thinks Yukiko was murdered and that he's trying to find her killer. Alarmed that his attempts at concealing his real reason for visiting failed, Sano only holds Masahito's gaze. Masahito only reaffirms that Yukiko committed suicide before hinting that Sano should leave. Since he can't do otherwise, Sano says his farewells and follows a guard back to the entrance. Along the way, the guard stops to chat with another guard.

Sano starts to hear someone whistle the tune of a classical song. He looks to see where it's coming from, but doesn't find anyone until he sees a young girl dressed in a red kimono. Beckoning him to follow her, saying that she could help him, she quickly disappears through a doorway. Sano hesitates. If he gets caught with her, he could be demoted, exiled, or executed. However, the desire to solve the case gets him moving. He follows her until he reaches a garden.

The young girl, whose name is Midori, says that she knows that Yukiko didn't kill herself, that she wouldn't ever do something like that. Elated at this new bit of information but trying to stay objective, Sano asks her just how she knows about this. Midori is adamant in her belief and she insists that Yukiko was killed.

Just then, Lady Niu calls out to Midori from a nearby veranda, startling the both of them. Lady Niu orders Midori to her room. To the guards from earlier, she tells them to escort Sano out of the mansion.

Once outside, Sano regrets not hearing the whole story from Midori. Her evidence might have been just what he needed to convince Magistrate Ogyu that a thorough investigation of the shinju was necessary. He decides to come back and visit Midori later. For now, he'll look into Noriyoshi's background and family.

Chapter 4 Edit

Midori runs to Yukiko's bedchamber, thankful that her younger siblings are too busy to follow her. Knowing that she's trespassing into forbidden territory, she starts searching for her sister's dairies, doing her best to keep herself together. She finds some underneath a pile of kimonos. Snatching the one on the top, she hurries to a window and starts to read. After skimming through a few passages about past events that bring up fond memories, she finds the last entry, the one Yukiko wrote before her death. The words "destroy", "betray", and "sin" instantly pop out at her. By the sounds of it, Yukiko was keeping something a secret, but just how terrible was the secret that it would cause her to write such things? 

Unfortunately for Midori, she hears the click of the door stopping open. To her dismay, it's none other than Lady Niu. Lady Niu accosts her for overstepping clearly set boundaries, before closing her eyes and contemplating what the best punishment should be. Soon enough, she opens her eyes and tells Eii to bring Midori to her room and to make sure she doesn't leave. As Midori is escorted out of Yukiko's room, she sees Lady Niu rip up the dairy, placing the torn pages into the brazier. 

Chapter 5 Edit

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Chapter 6 Edit

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Chapter 7 Edit

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Chapter 8 Edit

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Chapter 9 Edit

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Chapter 10 Edit

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Chapter 11 Edit

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Chapter 12 Edit

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Chapter 13 Edit

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Chapter 14 Edit

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Chapter 15 Edit

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Chapter 16 Edit

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Chapter 17 Edit

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Chapter 18 Edit

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Chapter 19 Edit

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Chapter 20 Edit

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Chapter 21 Edit

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Chapter 22 Edit

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Chapter 23 Edit

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Chapter 24 Edit

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Chapter 25 Edit

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Chapter 26 Edit

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Chapter 27 Edit

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Chapter 28 Edit

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Chapter 29 Edit

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Chapter 30 Edit

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Character Appearances Edit

Debut Edit

  • Ichirō Sano
  • Magistrate Ogyu
  • Blacksmith Goro
  • Katsuragawa Shundai
  • Sano's Father
  • Etsuko Sano
  • Tokugawa Tsunayoshi
  • Eii
  • Lady Niu
  • Midori Niu
  • Niu Yukiko
  • Noriyoshi
  • Ito Genboku
  • Niu Masamune
  • Yamaga
  • Hayashi
  • Hamada Tsunehiko
  • Mura
  • Hachiya Akira
  • O-hisa
  • Niu Keiko
  • Niu Masahito
  • Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu
  • Kikunojo
  • Raiden
  • Okubata (Cherry Eater)
  • Healing Hands
  • Lady Wisteria
  • Aoki Koemon
  • Katsuragawa Shundai
  • Ikeda Akiko
  • More to be added...

Reoccurring Edit

  • None

Character Deaths Edit

Locations Edit

Glossary Edit

Cover Variations Edit

Trivia Edit

  • The blurb on the back of the HarperCollins print seems to confuse the term yoriki with the term sosakan. "...newly appointed yoriki Sano Ichirō. ... Despite the official verdict and warnings from his superiors, the shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People suspects..." The second part is referring to Sano. This implies that Sano is the shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People. This doesn't become true until the last chapter of the book.[2]

References Edit

  1. List of Sano Ichiro books
  2. HarperCollins

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