thecheen (thecheen) wrote,

The Accidental Killing and Other Stories - story notes

Notes and Glossary for The Accidental Killing and Other Stories, written for the Heroes and Villains issue of bb_shousetsu


Another SSBB story done! I was – and still am – pretty nervous about the whole historical fiction thing, and apologise in advance for any errors or mistakes I might have made.

And here I go into a bit of a ramble about the story in general, as well as some of the books and resources I used:

The premise of the story is heavily inspired by an excellent Hong Kong film called Wu Xia, which was in turn a take on David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, but past the fact that the protagonists are both Papermakers with Pasts, there are plenty of divergences. For one thing, I don't think I really found the heart of the story until Shuzo the rakugo storyteller entered the picture. Rakugo: Performing Comedy and Cultural Heritage in Contemporary Tokyo by Lorie Brau (2008 Lexington Books) was an invaluable resource while I was writing this, and is also a wonderfully written book and very engaging. For a sense of the rhythms of rakugo itself, I went back and re-watched Kudo Kankuro's excellent drama Tiger and Dragon, which, in addition to showing how koten rakugo can interweave so well with real life, is utterly hilarious. If you're in the least bit curious about rakugo, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I started this story because I wanted to write a story about papermaking. There are plenty of videos on youtube (just search 'washi'), but this video, in particular, captures the beauty of Mino city, which is a heritage town for papermaking. I would also recommend taking a look at how Chinese Xuan paper and Korean Hanji are made – the materials are similar, but the techniques are different. They are all beautiful to watch. The two main books I consulted for this were Timothy Barrett's Japanese Papermaking: Traditions, Tools and Techniques (2005 Floating World Editions) and Washi, the World of Japanese Paper by Sukey Hughes (1978 Kodansha International). Again, these are both extremely readable books. Both go beyond just describing the technique of papermaking to explore the philosophy of it and the lives of the people practicing this craft.

In the process of writing this, a lot of my legal theory geekery managed to slip into the story. A trial was not a trial in the Western legal sense during the Tokugawa era; instead, the system was similar to the Chinese system, where the magistrate investigated the facts, and the defendants' confession (at times by legal torture) was admissible as evidence. There was no tradition of advocacy by a legal professional at that time, nor was the penal section of the code available to most of the public. In a sense, Shuzo in this story functioned very much as Hitoshi's advocate. I consulted three books for more information about the legal system during the period: A History of Law in Japan Until 1868 by Charles Steenstrup (1991 E. J. Brill) provided excellent background on the criminal system and procedure, while Japanese Law by Hiroshi Oda (2003 Oxford University Press) gave a brief overview on the theoretical underpinnings of the legal system in the Edo period. Finally, Law and Justice in Tokugawa Japan (Vol 1): Materials for the History of Japanese Law and Justice Under the Tokugawa Shogunate by John Henry Wigmore and the Japan Foundation (1985 University of Tokyo Press) went into excellent detail about the administrative structure in both urban and rural contexts.

And finally, for the rest of the details about life in the Edo period, my primary resources were Tokugawa Japan: The Social and Economic Antecedents of Modern Japan edited by Chie Nakane and Shinzaburo Oishi (1990 University of Tokyo Press), Everyday Life in Traditional Japan by Charles J Dunn (1985 The Charles E. Tuttle Company), and William E. Deal's Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan (2006 Oxford University Press). And if you want to find out more about what they used for lube in the Edo period, among many other things, Cartographies of Desire: Male-Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse by Gregory M Pflugfelder (1999 University of California Press) is the book you want to check out.

This was perhaps the hardest thing I've ever written, and so many thanks are in order:

I'm infinitely grateful to beili for agreeing to collaborate on this story, and for being absolutely wonderful throughout the entire process. Quite honestly, I probably wouldn't have finished this story if not for her. Her illustrations are the loveliest and utterly gorgeous, and I'm just thrilled to have worked with her, because I don't think there could be anyone more perfect for this story.

All the hearts go to C, who for years has read everything I have written and was an incredible support through this entire process. I don't think this story would even exist if she didn't stick around to read it, or talk through half-formed plots in the middle of the night. And also to point out ridiculous errors and stop me from including phrases like 'shining world around them'.

And to my beta (also) C, who literally swept in like a caped crusader and went through my entire story in less than a day. I am really grateful that she reined in my excesses and eliminated unnecessary commas left and right. And suffered through the second-hand embarrassment of reading porn written by someone you know IRL. She is the best, and a lifesaver.

And I'm really grateful to the SSBB editors as well, with their encouraging words and their excellent suggestions as to how to improve the story.

Finally, there are a bunch of people in my life who might not actually read this (or the story) but who indulged me when I talked about writing it. K, who stood in the kitchen listening to me ramble on about it; G, who said go for it!! and also told me not to start writing during my finals; T, who offered to beta for me, and F, who lived in our house during the last few days and had to put up with all the hysterics.


Rakugo – a form of one-person theatre, usually about humorous/satirical topics. There are subgenres of rakugo such as ninjoubanashi (sentimental discourse) which are meant to be more moralistic/sentimental
Yose – Japanese vaudeville-style theatre where rakugo or manzai (two-person comedy) acts perform
Shisho – in this context, a master storyteller, usually the headlining act
Zenza – apprentice storyteller, usually lower-ranked than the rest and tasked with things like cleaning the house and assisting the others
Yoriki – assistant to the magistrate; I'm afraid I didn't manage to find out as much about yoriki outside of the big cities like Edo and Kyoto, so the scope of Kijima's powers might not entirely be accurate. The magistrate does, however, have more power and greater jurisdiction than the deputy.
Tengu – 'heavenly dog'; a Shinto supernatural being that typically has a long nose and a red face. The story that Shuzo tells to Kijima and the villagers is based initially on a folk tale called Tengu no Kakuremino (link is to an animated version, sadly without English subs).

And finally, just a note on their names for any kanji geeks out there:
The character for Hitoshi's name is 仁 (benevolence/humanity), which can also be read as Jin. I do think that as a child his name had been 仁 read as 'Jin', but after running away with his brother, they decided to change the way it was written to 刃, which means 'blade'.

As a commoner (technically as a performer he falls outside of the class system), Shuzo has no surname and only a first name, written like this: 省三 – it indicates that he was the third son, which might explain why he left his family to become an apprentice with Hayaseya Enshou in the first place, since it was unlikely that he could inherit. As for his stage name, Hayaseya Taiheraku is written like this: 瀬屋 太平楽 – the surname Hayaseya indicates the 'artistic family' that Shuzo is part of (the last names of artistic families often ended with 'ya' or 'tei'), and Taiheiraku can be taken to mean 'happy-go-lucky' or 'carefree'.
Tags: ssbb, story notes

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