Wednesday, September 18, 2013

You Have the Right to Remain Silent--Not! by Laura Joh Rowland ~ Blog Tour Guest Post: The Shogun's Daughter

Please join me in welcoming author Laura Joh Rowland to Let Them Read Books! Laura writes a mystery series in medieval Japan, and her newest novel, The Shogun's Daughter, was my fiction introduction to this fascinating historical era. (Click here to read my review.) Laura is touring the blogosphere to celebrate the release of the seventeenth novel in her series, and she's here today with an article on "justice" in medieval Japan and a giveaway! Without further ado, here's Laura!

You Have the Right to Remain Silent--Not!
by Laura Joh Rowland

Watch any contemporary American TV crime drama, either real or fictional, and you’ll see some familiar elements: A murder is committed. Police arrest a suspect and read him his Miranda rights. He gets a lawyer. He’s charged with the murder and goes to jail until his trial unless he’s let out on bail. At his trial a judge presides; the prosecutor and the defense lawyer present their arguments and witnesses. The case may be thrown out due to technicalities. A jury decides the verdict. If the verdict is “Not Guilty,” the defendant walks. If it’s “Guilty,” he may do jail time and then be released, or he may be executed. Or he may be paroled or pardoned.

That’s not how it went in medieval Japan, the world I write about in my mystery series.

Back then they had crimes and police, but otherwise, it was a different world. There was no such thing as civil rights. Let’s say you lived in 17th century Japan and you were suspected of committing a murder. Police could do whatever they wanted—break into your home and do a search without a warrant, beat you up while arresting you, and take you to prison tied up in a cage made out of ladders. (They had civilian assistants who carried rope and ladders, in case they needed to arrest somebody.)

Bail was nonexistent. Ditto, lawyers. Once you were arrested, you were on your own. While you were in prison for the short time before your trial, the jailers would try to speed things up by torturing a confession out of you. The right to remain silent? They never heard of it. If you were a man, you might be flogged, tied up in a contorted position, or forced to kneel with heavy stone slabs laid across your lap until you talked. If you were a woman, the jailers had special techniques for you. You might be tickled mercilessly, dangled naked from a tree in the snow, or thrown in a pit with live snakes.

If you held out and didn’t confess, you went to trial. The local magistrate was the judge and jury.
Juries of one’s peers were nonexistent. The police provided the witnesses. You could bring in your own, but that was hard to do from the snake pit. After the evidence against you was presented, you were allowed to speak in your own defense. But why bother? Nothing you said could save you. Forget technicalities. Virtually all trials ended in a verdict of “Guilty.” After that, you were taken to the public execution ground, where the executioner cut off your head. Your head would be mounted on a post as a warning to other would-be criminals. Your body would be used by sword-makers to test new swords. If your crime was deemed serious enough—say, you killed an important person—your family would be put to death, too. Obviously, there was no chance of parole or pardon.

Here’s something that medieval Japan did have in common with contemporary America: Rank had its privileges. If you were a samurai (member of the ruling warrior class), you might not be tried or punished for the murder at all. Samurai were allowed to kill commoners and get away with it (e.g., if you wanted to test your new sword and no corpses were handy). If you killed too many commoners, that was considered an atrocity, and you would be punished. You would also be punished for killing a samurai, especially if he were somebody important. But you wouldn’t go to jail. You would live at home, under house arrest, until your trial. And if you were convicted, you would be ordered to commit seppuku—ritual suicide. Seppuku went like this: You plunged your sword into your gut. A samurai friend immediately cut off your head with his sword, to put you out of your misery. I’m not sure that seppuku was easier for the criminal than execution, but it was considered more honorable.

So why do I write about a world where justice was so cruel?

Because it’s not the same, too-familiar world portrayed in hundreds of Law and Order episodes. Because my samurai detective, Sano Ichiro, has to work hard to seek the truth about the crimes he investigates, hunt down criminals who would do anything to avoid the dire consequences of getting caught, and uphold his honor in an often corrupt political system. Because I love to write about the fascinating world of medieval Japan, even though I wouldn’t want to live there.

I hope you’ll join me there while you read (and enjoy, I hope) The Shogun’s Daughter.

Wow! That's an eye-opening guest post!
Seventeenth-century Japanese "justice" is in full effect in The Shogun's Daughter. Enter below to win a copy!

One lucky reader will will a copy of
The Shogun's Daughter!
Simply leave a comment on this post with your email address and you're entered!

This giveaway is open to US residents only and closes at 11:59pm Tuesday, October 1, 2013. Winner will be selected at random.
Thanks, and good luck!

This giveaway is closed and the winner has been selected.
Check my sidebar for more great giveaways!

About the Author:

Laura Joh Rowland is the author of a mystery series set in medieval Japan, featuring samurai detective Sano Ichiro. The Shogun’s Daughter is the seventeenth book in the series. Her work has been published in 13 foreign countries, nominated for the Anthony Award and the Hammett Prize, and won the RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Historical Mystery. Laura lives in New York City. For more information please visit Laura's website. You can also follow her on Facebook.

The Shogun's Daughter is on a blog tour! Click here to view the full schedule.


  1. Thanks for the wonderful post, so packed with information and amazing images. I've been waiting for The Shogun's Daughter for quite a while. Thanks for hosting a giveaway, I'd love to win a copy of Laura's latest book. carlscott(at)prodigy(dot)net(dot)mx

  2. I would love to read this book! Thank you for the giveaway!

  3. Sounds like a great book and time period!

  4. I wouldn't want to live there, but I would like to read the novel. Thanks for the giveaway.

  5. Great blog post... I've yet to read anything from this time period.

  6. A wonderful and fascinating giveaway. Thanks for this giveaway and the great review. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  7. I am captivated with this historical and your excellent review. Many thanks. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  8. This looks awesome! I love historical fiction.
    Thanks for the giveaway!
    mestith at gmail dot com

  9. I've seen a few stops on this tour and this one looks really good.


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