Ranpo’s story “The Two-Sen Copper Coin” is one of the most well-known pieces of detective fiction of the period preceding World War II. Being a fan of Edgar Allan Poe’s writing, Ranpo tried his luck in creating pieces full of suspense and mystery. It is impossible not to agree that he reached considerable success in his endeavors. “The Two-Sen Copper Coin” is a shining example of Ranpo’s ability to tell a story in an exciting and intriguing way, intermingling the Western and the Japanese elements in it, and keeping the reader interested till the very end.
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The story covers several crucial aspects: poverty, people’s ability to adapt to harsh life circumstances, wit and wisdom, and the desire to obtain others’ property. The narrator of the story is one of the two poor young men living on the periphery of Tokyo (Ranpo, 2008).
The first sentence of the narration immediately draws the audience’s attention. When the narrator’s friend, Matsumura Takeshi, says “that thief makes me jealous!” the reader understands that the young men are in a miserable financial situation (Ranpo, 2008, p. 271). The narrator describes an occurrence of some notorious robbery and explains that it has something to do with his and his friend’s lives. In the course of the narration, the detective story becomes more and more intriguing up until the end when it becomes clear that what Matsumura considered as luck appeared to be nothing more than a joke.
In his story, Ranpo managed to revolutionize the Japanese detective genre by mixing the concepts of a traditional Western detective with the features pertaining to his national culture. The coin, the code, and other elements of the story make it more Japanese, thereby increasing the interest of the reader. Moreover, the author employs subtle irony when talking about poverty, which makes the audience sympathetic to the two young men. When describing the despair of their situation, Ranpo (2008) mentions that “even in the midst of misery,” they “managed to be happy” (p. 276). He goes on to say that “such happiness is a secret known only to the poor” (Ranpo, 2008, p. 276).
Thus, the author creates an atmosphere that is sad and comic at the same time. Moreover, the lads are constantly arguing and trying to show who of them “is smarter in the pair” (Ranpo, 2008, p. 280). Their desire to outwit one another is the main source of mystery in the story.
Probably the major reason why this story became so popular was that it incorporated the logic and rationality of a conventional detective genre in combination with traditional Japanese settings. The “Gentleman Burglar” was definitely an interesting character, but not more interesting than the story that followed his triumphant robbery (Ranpo, 2008, p. 273). The description of old Japanese codes, the way in which the narrator created the riddle and the approach with which his friend solved it, the portrayal of traditional clothes, professions, and style of living – all of these elements made Ranpo’s story successful.
The suspense lasts till the final paragraph, and even there, the narrator leaves one thing unrevealed, which makes the audience come up with their own ideas of where and under what circumstances he obtained the coin. Since there is no final answer as to whether their assumptions are right or wrong, every reader may feel that his or her answer is the correct one.
Ranpo, E. (2008). The two-sen copper coin. In W. J. Tyler (Ed.), Modanizumu: Modernist fiction from Japan, 1913-1938 (pp. 270-289). Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press.