A Mirror of Society

Japanese Crime Fiction

Wendy Jones Nakanishi Shikoku Gakuin University [About | Email]

Volume 14, Issue 3 (Discussion paper 9 in 2014). First published in ejcjs on 23 December 2014.


This paper offers a brief historical view of the development of detective fiction in early-modern and postwar Japanese writing, in order to situate women within this particular genre—both as characters reflecting particular social conditions, and as authors commenting critically on those conditions. The paper discusses the influential work of three authors: Matsumoto Seichō, Miyabi Miyuki, Kirino Natsuo.

Keywords: crime fiction, detective, tantei shôsetsu, modern Japan .

The detective novel or, in Japanese, tantei shōsetsu, is one of the most popular literary genres in modern Japan. Its lineage can be traced back four hundred years to a book entitled Trials in the Shade of a Cherry Tree, published in 1689, a work said to be based on fact rather than fiction. Its author, Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693), presented his book as the record of actual court proceedings, basing it on the 13th-century Chinese classic Trials in the Shade of a Pear Tree by Kuei Wang-jung.1

While all literature mirrors the society in which it is produced, perhaps the most striking feature of the Japanese detective story is the extent to which it has always reflected the mores of Japanese society current at the time of its composition. Just as Japanese history traditionally is demarcated into chronological eras, beginning with the Jomon period in approximately 14,000 BC, the country’s crime fiction can be distinguished by those historical periods in which it appeared and which influenced its form and function.

The Japanese detective story first appeared in the Tokugawa era (1600–1868), when the genre was dominated by courtroom narratives such as Saikaku’s Trials in the Shade of a Cherry Tree. Like their Chinese precedents, these stories revolved around the notion of the wise judge. They glorified and upheld the state’s authority in the form of omniscient administrators who delivered infallible judgments.2 Although suspects’ confessions often had been wrung from them by torture, this fact was conveniently ignored or suppressed.

In the Meiji Era (1868-1912), when the country had opened up to foreign influences, with the monolithic, hierarchical nature of the state diminished and the notion of the individual accorded new importance, the focus of detective stories shifted to genuine mysteries in which a culprit must be identified. The Japanese, isolated from the outside world for centuries, in thrall to an authoritarian society, lacking even the individuation of personal surnames, had to begin a process of learning “to acquire self-identity through means other than the state;” their new identities were provided by such groupings as gender, class, race, sexual preference, ideology and literary interests.3

At this time, the ‘puzzle’ aspect of the traditional detective story as it manifested in other countries was allowed to come to the fore. In the late 1800s, translated western texts flooded the Japanese market. The appearance of such stories as “Murders in the Rue Morgue” spurred renewed interest in the form as part and parcel of “the more general influx of Western ideas and texts”.4 One of the most influential proponents of the detective story at this time was Kuroiwa Ruiko (1862-1920), who saw in such stories the chance to educate the newly literate masses. Japanese writers’ indebtedness to Poe in particular is illustrated by the decision of Taro Hirai (1894-1965), widely acknowledged as the ‘father’ of modern Japanese crime fiction, to choose to publish his works under the pen-name of Edogawa Rampo—a phonetic reading of Edgar Allen Poe.

The optimism of the Meiji Era darkened with the subsequent Taisho (1912-26) and early Showa (1926-89) periods, with Japan’s venture into militarism and its attempt at colonial expansion. Ruiko gave up writing detective fiction in the late 1890s, when Japan fought and won three international wars within a decade, concentrating instead on political journalism and, with his departure, the production of detective fiction “virtually halted for three decades”.5

What has been described as the “blind worship of civilisation and progress” characterising the Meiji Era gave way to ambivalence at western ideals of progress when Japan learned that modernisation was a ‘double-edged sword’:

They discovered that rapid urbanisation and industrialisation came at a steep price: an increase in crime, the disappearance of traditional neighborhoods, unjustified violence against the socially weak, as well as the legitimisation of brutality against the human body in the name of science and total war.6

In 1941, detective novels of Anglo-American origin were banned in Japan, and writers of such fiction turned to adventure or to spy stories.7 Eventually, writers of any type found themselves expected to frame narratives that would publicly support the war and inspire their readers. A chronic shortage of paper during the war years meant that publishing was sublimated to the war effort: printed material needed to have as its goal the country’s ultimate victory.

Japan’s defeat was followed by a renaissance of the popularity of detective fiction. In the latter half of the Showa Era, the period of Japan’s dramatic postwar recovery, police procedurals such as Matsumoto Seichō’s classic Inspector Imanishi Investigates (1961) reflected a society whose economic success could be attributed to the long hours and hard work of its citizens.

In the Heisei Era, beginning in 1989, female writers have dominated the field of Japanese crime fiction, and their books often take as their theme the country’s persisting gender inequality. Such authors as Miyabi Miyuki, in her 1992 bestseller All She Was Worth and Kirino Natsuo in the 1995 novel Out (1995) have produced works that are not so much ‘who-dunnits’ as ‘why-dunnits’: analyses of a society which can drive its women to the most extreme of acts: murder.

The boom in Japanese women writing so-called misuterii novels in the 1990s has been described as being characterised by these writers using the “narrative and conceptual resources of the detective genre to depict and critique contemporary Japanese society” and especially the situation of the women within it.8 This paper will compare and contrast three works: Inspector Imanishi Investigates, All She Was Worth, and Out.

Matsumoto Seichō (1909-1992) was Japan’s bestselling, highest earning writer in the 1960s and one of its most prolific, publishing over 450 books of detective and mystery novels as well as historical fiction. Reviews of Inspector Imanishi Investigates place it firmly within the context of the old-fashioned detective novel, likening its author to Georges Simenon and P.D. James and its protagonist to Simenon’s Inspector Maigret of Paris and P.D. James’s Chief Inspector Dalgleish in England. Matsumoto has also been favourably compared to Agatha Christie and Elmore Leonard.

Thirty years before Miyabi and Kirino began penning crime fiction that would serve as a critique of Japanese society, Matsumoto’s work also was characterised as belonging to what is known in Japanese as the shakai-ha or social school of the detective genre.9 It has been said that despite the stature of Edogawa Rampo in Japanese literature, it was Matsumoto, who wrote as a “cultural critic and activist… about true-life crime and other historical and political events,” who had the greatest influence upon Japanese women writers of the late twentieth century.10

The eponymous hero of Inspector Imanishi Investigates is a police detective in Tokyo who inhabits a tiny apartment in Tokyo with his wife Yoshiko and young son Tarō. Matsumoto’s story describes Imanishi’s absorption in a mysterious case. A body is found early one morning on railway tracks in the city, a victim carrying no personal effects, and his face so badly battered that identification of the corpse proves initially impossible.

Matsumoto’s 1960s detective novel faithfully reflects its contemporary background. The Imanishi household is one in which the father is conspicuous by his absence and the mother is responsible for all household chores and for bringing up children. Men like Inspector Imanishi were required to “exhibit loyalty to the organisation first and to the family second;” it was an age when Japanese men were supposed to “dedicate energy and self-development to the arena of work” and who, as a result, accomplished the country’s astonishing post-war economic recovery.11

After the discovery of the body, Imanishi spends all day questioning people resident or working in the vicinity of the crime, returning home at midnight. A few days later, Imanishi is sent to the north of Japan, to investigate leads and, in the months that follow, until he finally identifies the culprit, he rarely has the chance to spend any time with his wife or son.

In other words, Imanishi’s household is one typical of 1960s Japan, in which the husband dedicated himself to work in his function as the principal breadwinner and the wife stayed at home. In the 1960s and 1970s, although “a number of housewives were used as a cheap labour force to support the Japanese economy, the ideal image of the married woman… was the full-time housewife,” with “prevailing social attitudes” attaching a “high value to the status of the full-time housewife” who did not need to work to contribute to the family finances.12

The Imanishi household also reflects the Japanese cultural notion of amae. It has been argued that amae, the noun form of amaeru, an intransitive verb that means “to depend and presume upon another’s benevolence,” pervades and influences Japanese society at every level.13 It first manifests itself as a child’s feeling for his mother, but extends to the connection between friends, between a husband and wife, and between co-workers. According to Doi Takeo, it is a “mutual dependency” that is “strongly present in all formal relationships, including those between teacher and student and between doctor and patient”.14 At home, Imanishi is the object of Yoshiko’s amae; he reverts to child-like behaviour, obeying Japanese custom in depending on his wife for “housekeeping, cooking and child rearing… [and] for taking care of his personal needs, such as helping him change his clothes after work”.15

The roles are clearly delineated within the family. Yoshiko takes care of all household matters and assumes full responsibility for the son while accepting her husband’s frequent absences without complaint, as a matter of course. For his part, it is as though Imanishi is one person at work and another at home, switching from role to role with ease. Contrasting with the willed helplessness he exhibits at home, at work, he takes initiative and even risks.

Imanishi carefully observes the distinction between home and work. He takes care, for example, not to confide in his wife about his job. On the night he returns home late, after the corpse is discovered on a railway line, he refuses to satisfy Yoshiko’s curiosity:

He had no desire to talk over his work with his family. Yoshiko had once pressed him about a case he was working on. Imanishi had scolded her, saying she shouldn’t pry into cases under investigation. Since then, she had been more reserved.16

The rigid division between the sexes extends to the workplace. None of Imanishi’s colleagues in the Tokyo police station is a woman. There are few female characters in Inspector Imanishi Investigates, and they are all relegated to subordinate or peripheral roles in the action. They include not only Imanishi’s quiet, obedient wife as well as his sister, but also unnamed, undifferentiated individuals Imanishi encounters in the course of his investigation: waitresses in restaurants, maids at an inn, the madam of a bar and the hostesses under her employ. Three young women figure briefly in the action, but they are accorded importance only because of their relations to male figures. Todokoro Sachiko’s father is a former cabinet minister and her fiancé, a famous composer named Waga Eiryo. Emiko Miura is the girlfriend of art critic Shigeo Sekigawa, Waga’s friend. Naruse Rieko a clerk at the Avant Garde Theatre, is Waga’s secret lover.

Inspector Imanishi Investigates also illustrates a concept of paramount importance in Japanese culture: the dichotomy of tatamae and honne, terms referring to the concepts of the public and private face—that face one shows to the world and that exhibited only to family and close friends. In Japan, what one truly desires or feels must be concealed beneath a façade, by the behaviour expected or even required of a person, determined by his social circumstances. While Waga is keen to advertise his engagement to the daughter of a prominent politican, he naturally goes to great lengths to conceal his affair with Naruse. Similarly, Sekigawa is obsessively secretive about his affair with the bar hostess Emiko although it has gone on for more than a year. Sekigawa swears her to secrecy and insists that Emiko move flats if there’s any possibility someone might have seen him visit her. Emiko frets at the furtiveness but is helpless to change her boyfriend’s mind, even after falling pregnant with his child.

The women in Inspector Imanishi Investigates face a life of dependency, vulnerability, self-sacrifice and danger. Although Rieko has managed to hide her affair with Waga for three years and gone so far as to act as her lover’s accomplice in murder by disposing of his bloodstained clothing, her efforts on his behalf go unrewarded and, in despair at the life of loneliness she feels condemned to, Reiko commits suicide. Desperate for Emiko to abort their child, Sekigawa arranges for Emiko to undergo a treatment at Waga’s hands that ends in killing her.

That Rieko decides to kill herself is another respect in which Inspector Imanishi Investigates is not only a murder mystery but also acts as a reflection of Japanese society. Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the industrialised world. In 2003, for example, suicides surged to an all-time high, “topping 34,000 deaths in a trend fueled by health and financial troubles,” with a Health Ministry report issued at that time reporting that suicide in Japan was the “sixth leading cause of death after cancer, heart disease and other illnesses”.17 Inspector Imanishi believes that Rieko committed suicide because she despaired of her secret lover, who had murdered a childhood friend and made her an accessory to his crime. Her self-destruction was a very Japanese type of suicide; that is, one committed by those who “conform meticulously to society’s rules” throughout their lives, who feel “guilty about even minor infractions,” and who “blame themselves and turn their aggression upon themselves rather than against others”.18

Similarly, in a collection of twelve short Japanese detective stories published in 1978 as Ellery Queen’s Japanese Golden Dozen, the number of people killed by being knifed, strangled, or having their throats cut is nearly eclipsed by the number of those who decide to kill themselves. In the dozen stories, suicide is suspected in as many as seven of the deaths. In five of the stories, deaths initially are attributed by the investigating officers to suicide and only subsequently found to be murders.19

Over thirty years after Matsumoto published Inspector Imanishi Investigates, Miyabe Miyuki’s Kasha or ‘cart of fire’ (translated into English as All She Was Worth) appeared to wide acclaim. It was a prizewinning detective story that “solidified Miyabe’s reputation as one of Japan’s top mystery writers” and was heralded as one of the “best novels of postwar Japan”.20 Like Inspector Imanishi Investigates, Kasha is more than just a murder mystery. It is a sociological analysis of Japan in the early 1990s with its “examination of pressing social issues gripping Japan: personal bankruptcy, the deleterious effects of rampant consumerism, and the crises arising from the largely unregulated and highly speculative consumer credit industry” which fed the ‘bubble’ economy and were responsible for its collapse.21

Miyabe’s novel not only held up a mirror to Japanese society but also exerted a strong influence upon it.22 Miyabe inspired a boom in Japanese women writing mystery novels and, in All She Was Worth, she assigned many of the leading roles to women. The investigating officer in this tale of a missing young woman is a man—Honma Shunsuke—but he is an oddly emasculated one: crippled by an injury incurred in the line of work and, as a widower who must care for a young son, he must act as a surrogate mother and carry out domestic tasks in the household, although he is assisted by a friend, an out-of-work architect named Ikari, whom he has hired as a kind of housekeeper.

The story revolves around a missing woman named Sekine Shōko, the fiancée of Honma’s nephew, Kurisaka Jun. Jun has asked his uncle, a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan police on leave due to his injury, to investigate, able only to offer the clue that Shōko vanished after learning that her application for a credit card had been rejected on the grounds that she had once filed for personal bankruptcy. Jun is baffled not only by his fiancée’s sudden disappearance but also by the rejection of her application because of her once having filed for bankruptcy: Shōko had told him she had never had a credit card before.

It transpires that the missing woman is not Sekine Shōko but a woman of similar age and appearance, Shinjo Kyoko, who has murdered Shōko to take over her identity. In his search for the ‘fake’ Shōko, Honma uncovers the motive that inspired Kyoko to kill her. From her earliest years, Shinjo Kyoko and her family were targeted by yakuza (the Japanese mafia) sent to collect a debt. Kyoko felt that the only way to escape their threats and intimidation was to assume a new identity, not realising that her first victim, Shōko, was also the victim of financial disaster. Once her application for a credit card as Sekine Shōko was rejected, Kyoko needed to move on, to find a new victim with an untainted background.

Miyabe’s novel also mirrors the changing position of women in Japanese society. While the female characters in Matsumoto’s novel were girlfriends, wives and mothers peripheral to the action who acquired significance primarily in their relations to the male figures in their lives, Miyabe describes, in her murderer, Shinjo Kyoko, a resourceful and self-sufficient if immoral individual.

The traditional ie or family structure privileged males over females and assigned roles by sex. It led to girls facing limited life options, with the “rigid order of sex polarity” frustrating their aspirations, to wives and mothers expected to be self-denying creatures who devoted themselves to their families, and to women being treated as second-class citizens, consigned to poorly-paid jobs.23

But times are changing. In the world of All She Was Worth, the old traditions of Japan are breaking down with the emergence of a new, rootless generation comprised of people like Sekine Shōko who have fled their hometowns for what they hope are improved opportunities in large cities like Tokyo. Such individuals often try to fill the vacuum once occupied by family obligations and by the social and religious rituals of their abandoned communities with an obsession with material goods.

As Miyabe shows, the modern Japanese woman’s new-found opportunity to escape the traditional patterns dictated by custom may result in a less than desirable scenario. She may find herself socially isolated and in a dead-end job rather than a successful career woman enjoying a sense of personal fulfillment derived from economic independence. Many of the female characters in All She Was Worth are depicted as solitary and desperate. While old friends reminisce about how Shoko Sekine was always longing to leave what she disparaged as the ‘boondocks’ for cosmopolitan Tokyo, ironically, her hopes of achieving an exciting new life in the big city collapse into a nightmarish existence of working as a bar hostess heavily burdened by debts while one of her old friends, who chose to remain in their rural town, manages to find happiness and a good job there.

Like Kyoko, the woman who kills her, Shōko had been trying to assume a new identity. In a further ironic twist, Kyoko is able to single Shoko out as a victim because Shōko decides, after all her attempts to escape Japanese traditions, finally to embrace them. Once a bequest from her dead mother frees her of her debts, she visits a cemetery, hoping to observe the decorum of Japanese filial piety by finding a plot in which to bury the ashes of her parents. It is here that Kyoko first makes her acquaintance, and Shōko’s doom is sealed.

All She Was Worth presents a dichotomy between “consumerism and sense of place as competing bases for identity formation”.24 Its characters can be divided into two classes: those who belong to a community and those who do not, with those falling in the former class subscribing to the traditional “Japanese traits of self-denial, reliance on members of the community, and a belief that things will improve if people work hard”.25 Such individuals are valorised in the novel, while egotistical, ambitious individuals like Kyoko, a product of the Japan’s more recent, shallow consumer culture, want gratification so badly—in Kyoko’s case, a house of her own—that they will stoop at nothing, not even murder, to satisfy their desire.

How does Kirino Natsuo’s novel Out, published in Japanese in 1997 and in English in 2004, reflect its cultural context? Female characters occupy center stageand, like those in All She Was Worth, struggle to get by in a society in which the odds seem stacked against them. They are victims of a culture that privileges male experience over female, whose legal system countenances man’s position of “power, authority and sexualised control” over women, and does not even recognise as crimes “sexual harassment and domestic violence”.26

The plot of Out centres around four Japanese housewives employed on the graveyard shift at a boxed-lunch factory in a dreary suburb of Tokyo. The women include Yayoi, mother of two small children, married to a feckless, philandering and abusive husband whom she ends up murdering; Yoshie, a widow who shares a drab, cheerless home with her bedridden mother-in-law and a daughter descending into juvenile delinquency; overweight Kuniko, whose live-in boyfriend abandons her at the beginning of the story; and the story’s protagonist, Masako, trapped in an unhappy family life with a reclusive husband and son.

The women in Out are desperate individuals trapped in dysfunctional relationships with men who are predators or parasites while laboring under the burden of limiting or crippling societal expectations. Although Yayoi is young and attractive, a good wife and mother who contributes to the family income through her part-time job at the boxed-lunch family, her husband Kenji has not only spent all their savings but is infatuated with a bar hostess. The widow Yoshie does not mourn her husband’s death—it has freed her from the necessity of caring for a depressed, egotistical individual she realises she never loved—but Japanese custom means she still is shackled to the heavy responsibility of caring for his mother. Kuniko’s lover simply disappears one day from the apartment they had shared, and she worries about loan sharks who are threatening physical violence in demanding repayment of money she has borrowed at an exorbitant rate of interest from them.

Kirino describes the plight of her protagonist, Masako, in particular detail. On graduating from high school, Masako had joined a credit and loan firm and, after twenty-four years employment, found herself the senior female employee. But she became a victim of the ingrained sexual discrimination of the Japanese workplace, with its unwritten rule that women should retire from well-paid office jobs at the age of thirty-five. Her attempt to hold on to her job, coupled with protest on learning that a male colleague with similar qualifications and duties was earning a far higher salary, led to a harassment campaign against her, resulting in Masako’s decision to resign.

The middle-aged woman in Japanese society looking for a job has poor prospects. It has been estimated that 23.3% of all company workers in 2002 were part-time workers and, of that number, that they were predominantly housewives, forced into non-regular employment without benefits or a pension as a cost-cutting measure by Japanese industries.27 Women middle-aged or older are seen as peripheral to the core of permanent male workers enrolled in Japan’s lifetime employment schemes.

What is the significance of the title of Kirino’s novel? The female characters of Out automatically are consigned to the role of outsiders in the enclaves of male power that dominate Japanese society even though, with the passage of equal opportunity laws on the books since 1987, the “masculine domination of the public sphere has decreased substantially”.28 Kirino’s women are individuals who are socially marginalised, excluded from the ‘urban “centres” of power, wealth and influence by the attitudes, actions, or absence of men’.29 They lead lonely lives, sometimes under the threat of physical violence. Yayoi’s husband beats her and Kuniko ends up being murdered. Although Masako hates her job, which is physically grueling and mentally deadening, she dreads the end of each shift at the factory because it means returning home to a loveless marriage and to an unhappy and hostile son.

But while the women in Miyabe’s All She Was Worth remain socially isolated, those in Kirino’s Out, on finding themselves unable to count on any assistance from the male figures in their lives or from Japanese law or society, club together to help each other. When Yayoi kills her husband, Masako and Yoshie help their friend dispose of his remains and escape arrest. In a perverse reversal of the position in which they found themselves before the murder, when they were strictly supervised and lowly-paid at the boxed-lunch factory, Masako and Yoshie set up as successful entrepreneurs, making a handsome profit from disposing of corpses sent them by gangsters and dispersing the parts of dismembered bodies in black plastic bags left at collection sites throughout the city.

Kirino Natsuo has admitted that she has scant interest in the prototypical murder mystery and that her motivation as an author of crime fiction is with “observing the fabric of human relationships”.30 The principal interest of Kirino’s hard-boiled suspense stories derives not form the reader’s being invited to consider how a crime might have been committed but, rather, why.

Matsumoto Seicho, Miyabe Miyuki and Kirino Natsuo all used the popular literary genre of the detective story as a base from which to launch a sociological analysis of Japanese society. Matsumoto’s novel depicts a traditional society in which sex roles are clearly assigned and implicitly obeyed, with women routinely assigned a kind of second-class citizenship. It is also a portrait of a post-war Japan in the process of rising, phoenix-like, from the near-total devastation wrought by a war that had ended less than two decades earlier to become the world’s second largest economy and one of its most ordered, successful societies because of the willingness of people like Inspector Imanishi to consider work their greatest priority in life, sacrificing personal inclination and family ties for its sake.

Miyabe’s novel depicts a society in the midst of change, its traditions undermined by a newly rootless generation attracted to the pleasures promised by consumerism. In this new world, Japanese females characters are still less privileged than males, and the freedom they seem to enjoy under the new social dispensation often turns out to be just an illusory promise. Ironically, in some respects, the female characters in All She Was Worth are shown to have less attractive prospects than those of women thirty years before. While Inspector Imanishi’s wife may experience frustration at the expectation that she is first and foremost a housewife, on the other hand, she can enjoy financial security and social status in that role.

Although they are largely exempt from the strict social rules that had constrained their mothers in their life choices, in the characters of Kyoko and Shōko, Miyabe presents two women who lead, after all, far from enviable lives. With her family targeted by ruthless loan sharks, Kyoko is always on the run, a predicament that inspires thoughts of murder as Kyoko believes that it is only through appropriating someone else’s identity that she can ever escape the gangsters’ unwanted attentions. Her victim, Sekine Shōko was unable to forge the happy future for herself in the big city that she had always dreamed of and ends up being killed.

The women in Out also ostensibly enjoy new liberties and opportunities as the inhabitants of modern Japan but, like Miyabe’s characters in All She Was Worth, their gender condemns them to being prey to violence and prone to social isolation. Kirino’s main character, Masako, was unable to succeed in the job she had made her career simply because she was a woman in a man’s world. Yoshie had regarded her husband as a selfish slob; his death has freed her from the necessity of caring for the depressed man who once had shared their home, but Japanese custom means she still is shackled to the heavy responsibility of caring for his mother, a duty that will only end with her mother-in-law’s death. Yayoi is a victim of domestic violence.

Matsumoto’s, Miyabe’s and Kirino’s novels lay bare a litany of problems that beset modern Japan. These include its dubious distinction as a developed nation with an alarmingly high suicide rate, as dramatised by Rieko’s killing herself in Inspector Imanishi Investigates. In Out, the reclusiveness of Masako’s husband and son is indicative of a trend that became noticeable in Japanese society in the late 1980s, with its plunge into economic recession following the bursting of the speculative bubble and resulting in the creation of what has been described as Japan’s ‘lost’ generation: the estimated nearly half a million young Japanese, most male, who choose to retire completely from public life and sequester themselves at home and usually in their own bedrooms.31 In All She Was Worth, Miyabe depicts the power and brutality of Japan’s yakuza gangs, with their links to prostitution and loan sharking.

From its earliest incarnation four hundred years ago in Japan, Japanese crime fiction has served as a mirror of Japanese society. Where their literary forebears had used the genre to frame narratives glorifying the state or simply to offer light entertainment, Matsumoto, Miyabe and Kirino demonstrate crime fiction’s enormous potential to serve a wide variety of narrative functions in writing books that are as much analyses of the dark underbelly of modern Japanese society as they are murder mysteries.


[1] See Mark Silver’s Purloined Letters: Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature 1868-1937 (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008), which includes, as its second chapter, a study of pre-modern and early Meiji crime literature.

[2] Silver observes, on pp. 23-4, that in Saikaku’s work, ‘the justice system is essentially infallible’ and that the ‘ideology of infallible justice…was in perfect accord with the image projected as a matter of policy by the administrators of the actual Tokugawa (1600-1868) justice system.’

[3] Sari Kawana, Murder Most Modern: Detective Fiction and Japanese Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), p. 6.

[4] Amanda C. Seaman, Bodies of Evidence: Women, Society, and Detective Fiction in 1990s Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004), p. 2.

[5] Kawana, p. 9.

[6] Kawana, p. 4.

[7] Seaman, p. 5.

[8] Kawana, p. 1.

[9] Ibid., p. 8. The shakai-ha or ‘social school’ of detective fiction is described by Seaman as a sub-genre of honkaku-ha or ‘standard, detective fiction’. Kawana also notes a distinction between the type of socially conscious detective fiction written by Matsumoto, sometimes called suiri shosetsu, and the traditional term for the genre, tantei shosetsu. See her discussion on this topic, pp. 219-220.

[10] Ibid., p. 6.

[11] Sonya Salamon, ‘Male Chauvinism’ as a Manifestation of Love in Marriage,’ Japanese Culture and Behavior: Selected Readings, edited by Takie Sugiyama Lebra and William P. Lebra(Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986), pp. 134-5.

[12] Ayumi Sasagawa, ‘Is It Worth Doing? Educated Housewives’ Attitudes Towards Work,’ Perspectives on Work, Employment and Society in Japan, edited by Peter Matanle and Wim Lunsing (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 191.

[13] L. Takeo Doi, ‘Amae: A Key Concept for Understanding Japanese Personality Structure,’ Japanese Culture and Behavior: Selected Readings, edited by Takie Sugiyama Lebra and William P. Lebra (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974), 121.

[14] Ibid., p. 126.

[15] Takie Sugiyama Lebra, Japanese Patterns of Behavior (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1976), p. 61.

[16] Seicho Matsumoto, Inspector Imanishi Investigates, first published 1961 as Suna no Utsuwa, translated by Beth Cary 1989 (New York: Solo Press), 9. Hereafter, all references to this book will be cited within the text.

[18] Masaaki Kato, ‘Self-Destruction in Japan: A Cross-cultural Epidemiological Analysis of Suicide,’ Japanese Culture and Behavior: Selected Readings (1974) op. cit., p. 374.

[19] See Ellery Queen’s Japanese Golden Dozen: The Detective Story World in Japan, edited and with an introduction by Ellery Queen (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1978).

[20] Seaman includes this quotation, p. 1.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Takie Sugiyama Lebra, Japanese Women: Constraint and Fulfillment (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984), p. 75.

[24] Seaman, p.

[25] Seaman, p.

[26] See ‘Woman Uncovered: pornography and power in the detective fiction of Kirino Natsuo’ by Rebecca Copeland, Japan Forum, 16: 2, p. 259, in which she includes this quotation.

[27] Helen Macnaughtan, ‘From “Post-war” to “Post-Bubble”: Contemporary Issues for Japanese Working Women,’ Perspectives on Work, Employment and Society in Japan, edited by Peter Matanle and Wim Lunsing (Basingston: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 40.

[28] Amanda C. Seaman, ‘Inside OUT: Space, Gender and Power in Natuso Kirino,’ Japanese Language and Literature, Vol. 40, No. 2 (October 2006), p. 201.

[29] Ibid., p. 200.

[30] Japan Review, interview, Natsuo Kirino.

[31] See ‘The Japanese hikikomori phenomenon: acute social withdrawal among young people’ by Andy Furlong in The Sociological Review, 65: 2, 2008 and Michael Zielinger’s book on the topic, Shutting out the Sun (New York: Vintaghe Books, 2006).

About the Author

Wendy Jones Nakanishi, an American by birth, spent seven years in Britain, earning her MA in 18th-century English Studies at Lancaster University and her PhD at Edinburgh University, with a doctoral thesis on Alexander Pope’s correspondence. She has been a resident in Japan since the spring of 1984, working first for five years as a ‘Guest Professor’ at Tokushima Bunri University’s Shido campus, and since then, as a full-time tenured member of staff in the Department of Language and Culture at Shikoku Gakuin University. She has published widely in her academic field, mainly on the topic of letters, diaries and journals, but recently has also been writing on the topic of her experiences as a foreigner living in Japan, the wife of a farmer and the mother of three sons.

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