Researching Japan Present to Relive 16th Century in Mystery Novel: Susan Spann

In the last few weeks, I’ve reviewed The Ninja’s Daughter by one of my favorite people, and historical mystery authors, Susan Spann. I also had a really interesting interview with her too, in which we talked about her books and the Japanese culture. Today, I have a guest article she wrote in which she talks about traveling to Japan for her research and shares some of her personal photos with us. Enjoy!

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In the Footsteps of Samurai: A Research Trip to Japan

by Susan Spann, author of The Ninja’s Daughter

Last summer I took a trip to Japan to research the locations and historical details that appear in my newest mystery, The Ninja’s Daughter, and the 2017 sequel, Betrayal at Iga. When writing my Hiro Hattori novels, I normally do the book-based research early—before I write the initial outline—and then conduct on-site research to ensure the geography and other details match my plans for the plot.

For The Ninja’s Daughter, that meant a trip to Kyoto and visits to the major historical sites that feature in the novel. Although my books are set in the 16th century, many of the major sites I mention still exist (some in original condition, and others as historically accurate reconstructions). Japanese museums and cultural sites also display a wealth of artifacts from that period—everything from teapots and kimono to entire houses—allowing me to experience many of the places and objects I mention in my novels.

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Caption: Traditional homes in Kyoto

The Ninja’s Daughter opens with the victim’s body lying on the banks of Kyoto’s Kamo River, and my detectives often walk along the river while traveling from place to place, so I spent some time photographing the river and its bridges from different locations.

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Caption: Bridge over Kamo River

Emi, the victim, is the daughter of an actor who is also secretly a ninja spy. The acting troupe to which they belong performs both nō, a form of traditional Japanese drama, and also kyogen, which was used as a comedic interlude between nō plays in the 16th century. During my trip to Kyoto, I spent an evening watching performances of traditional Japanese drama, including this kyogen:

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Caption: Kyogen Performance in Japan

In addition to walking where my characters walked, I use my research trips to experience as much traditional Japanese culture as possible. To that end, I spent the night in a ryokan (a traditional inn) on Miyajima Island, across the strait from Hiroshima. Although The Ninja’s Daughter takes place entirely in Kyoto, Ryokan Iwaso was constructed in 1854 and offers a highly traditional experience, including tatami-floored rooms and futon, rather than beds, for sleeping.

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Caption: Futons for sleeping at Iwaso (above) and bedroom (below)

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It’s also a breathtakingly beautiful place to visit (this photo shows Itsukushima Jinja at high tide, when the water surrounds the shrine):

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Experiences like this make it easier for me to understand my characters and to describe their lives in a more realistic way. The fusion of book research, consulting experts, and visiting the locations in person helps me infuse my books with details that enable readers to experience the beauty and vibrant culture of 16th century Japan—and, hopefully, to love it as much as I do.

02_The Ninja%27s DaughterThe Ninja’s Daughter: A Hiro Hattori Novel by Susan Spann

Publication Date: August 2, 2016
Seventh Street Books
eBook & Paperback; 230 Pages

Series: Hiro Hattori Novels/Shinobi Mysteries
Genre: Historical Mystery

Autumn, 1565: When an actor’s daughter is murdered on the banks of Kyoto’s Kamo River, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo are the victim’s only hope for justice.

As political tensions rise in the wake of the shogun’s recent death, and rival warlords threaten war, the Kyoto police forbid an investigation of the killing, to keep the peace–but Hiro has a personal connection to the girl, and must avenge her. The secret investigation leads Hiro and Father Mateo deep into the exclusive world of Kyoto’s theater guilds, where they quickly learn that nothing, and no one, is as it seems. With only a mysterious golden coin to guide them, the investigators uncover a forbidden love affair, a missing mask, and a dangerous link to corruption within the Kyoto police department that leaves Hiro and Father Mateo running for their lives.

In The Ninja’s Daughter, Susan Spann’s poetic voice brilliantly captures the societal disparities, political intrigues, and martial conflicts of sixteenth-century Japan through the persevering efforts of ninja detective Hiro Hattori to solve a murder authorities consider of no consequence.” -JEFFREY SIGER, International Bestselling Author

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | iTunes | Indiebound | Kobo

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About the Author: Susan Spann

For more information please visit Susan Spann’s website. You can also follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Susan Spann is the author of three previous novels in the Shinobi Mystery series: Claws of the Cat, Blade of the Samurai, and Flask of the Drunken Master.

She has a degree in Asian Studies and a lifelong love of Japanese history and culture. When not writing, she works as a transactional attorney focusing on publishing and business law, and raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.

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