Tatsuo Shimizu*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Tatsuo Shimizu*

Tatsuo Shimizu* 志水辰夫

Tatsuo Shimizu (1936–)  has won a die-hard following. Passages in a writing style full of humanity and spectacular showmanship, known as Shimizu's "blues," are relished and reread by his fans. A late bloomer, he worked in a government office and a publishing company as well as wrote freelance before launching his career in his mid-forties with the mystery Uete ōkami (Starving Wolf). He is a writer of remarkable versatility, producing everything from love stories to historical fiction.

The novel Somuite kokyō (Against Home), which won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, is a major hard-boiled adventure story from early in Shimizu's career. It is narrated by Hitoshi Kashiwagi, a 34-year-old former naval lieutenant. Now a freelance sailor, he was once captain of the Kyōyō Maru, a ship that oversees Japanese fishing boats to ensure their compliance with a Soviet-Japanese fishery agreement. In late December, Kashiwagi returns to Japan from Indonesia. His best friend, Naruse, who succeeded him as Kyōyō Maru's captain, was murdered in his cabin the previous February. Kashiwagi is here to learn why.

The Kyōyō Maru is in fact a spy ship, assigned to gather intelligence on the Soviets. Tired of the spying game, Kashiwagi had yielded his place to Naruse, and so feels responsible for his friend's untimely end. Naruse had been taking photographs up to the time of his death. Based on this slender thread, Kashiwagi begins an investigation, first tracking the whereabouts of four former shipmates. He quickly uncovers a series of facts, finding out among other things that a member of the security police had been on board as watchdog. That man is killed and Kashiwagi himself is in danger, pursued by a huge man of Herculean strength and his small, nimble sidekick. On New Year's Eve near Naruse's grave, Kashiwagi finds the negatives that had been missing and is set upon by the criminals. Among them are a former shipmate backed by the Soviet Union and Yūko?the shipmate's daughter, Naruse's widow, and the woman Kashiwagi loved.

The novel Yukizuri no machi (Just Passing Through) is a long-seller that has printed over half a million copies. In paperback for over a decade, the book saw a resurgence in sales in 2007 in a "Shimizu boom." It was awarded the Konomys No. 1 Ranking for 1992.  The story begins as the 40-year-old narrator, who runs a cram school in an outlying city, comes to Tokyo to track down a missing pupil named Yukari. A dozen years back, he taught at a prestigious girls' high school in Tokyo, but was forced to quit in disgrace when he married one of his students, Masako, after she graduated. Partly as a result of this scandal, he and Masako divorced. As he searches for Yukari, the real reason why he was forced from his job becomes apparent. This thrilling mystery is also a passionate romance, depicting how the narrator and Masako, who has taken over as proprietor of her mother's bar, meet again and fall back in love.

Shimizu poured his heart into the short-story collection Kinō no sora (Yesterday's Sky), written, in his words, "to close the books once and for all on the past." Neighborhoods where he once lived, images from times he experienced intimately, appear and reappear. The ten stories feature a diverse cast of characters, from an old man who returns to his childhood home after many years in order to tear it down, to a young man whose marriage causes discord with his mother. Loosely connecting the stories is a sense of bitter regret concerning life and family.

One story, Kazoku (Family), is about the daily life of a young man named Mitsuhiko whose father died in World War II. After finishing high school Mitsuhiko abandons college plans and goes to work for a lumber company. His mother used to work as a peddler, but she has fallen ill. Mitsuhiko fills in for her, doing housework for his three younger siblings, and also takes a fatherly role as mediator in their squabbles. In the midst of all this he finds time to study for a civil service examination. One day at the bus stop he chances across a former classmate named Yumiko. His feelings for her are one more thing he has had to give up.

* Somuite kokyō (Kodansha, 1985, 237 pages, Mystery Writers of Japan Award, Japan Adventure Fiction Association Prize)
* Yukizuri no machi (Shinchosha, 1990, 314 pages, Japan Adventure Fiction Association Prize)
* Kinō no sora (Shinchosha, 2001, 340 pages, Shibata Renzaburō Award)