Seicho Matsumoto*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Seicho Matsumoto*

Seicho Matsumoto* 松本清張

Seichō Matsumoto ( (1909–1992)  ) made a relatively late literary debut, at age 42. The clarity and originality of his works soon won him many readers, and his 1958 mystery novel Ten to sen (tr. Points and Lines) became a runaway bestseller. This work marked a turning point for the Japanese mystery novel, which subsequently focused less on detective work and more on social issues and character development. In the more than four decades of his career, Matsumoto wrote about everything from ancient history to modern times, in a dazzling range of technique. His total literary output, including novels, short stories, and other writings, amounts to over a thousand works.

Zero no shōten (Zero Focus) combines the genres of contemporary history and whodunit. Teiko's newlywed husband, Ken'ichi, disappears while transferring business in Kanazawa to his successor. As she investigates, Teiko learns that around the time he vanished, the suicide was reported of another man, one Masusaburō Sone. She comes to think that her husband may have been living under that name with Hisako Tanuma, a former prostitute who serviced U.S. troops stationed in Japan. She also suspects another woman of being a former prostitute: Sachiko, the wife of the president of Firebricks, Inc., a client of her husband's. What if Ken'ichi had stumbled on Sachiko's dirty little secret? If so, she must have found his presence unnerving. Perhaps Ken'ichi had confided his marriage plans to Sachiko, asking how to end his relationship with Hisako, and she had suggested the fake suicide; then, when the masquerade was over, she had shoved him off a cliff. Teiko takes off in pursuit of Sachiko, but she is already on a ship heading out to sea, prepared to die.

In the title story of the collection Harikomi (Stakeout), Detective Yūki stakes out the home of Sadako, the former girlfriend of criminal Kyūichi Ishii, who is wanted on suspicion of murder and robbery. Twenty-eight-year-old Sadako, now the second wife of a banker, seems so drained of passion that it is difficult for Yūki to imagine she ever was involved with a man like Ishii. Her life is monotonous, but on the fifth day of the stakeout, she changes her skirt: Ishii has appeared, and Yūki’s eyes pop to see her clinging desperately to him. Seeing the dramatic change that has come over Sadako, the detective hesitates, but finally he moves in and arrests Ishii. Told of her lover's arrest, Sadako stands petrified. At least, thinks Yūki, she was able to feel the flame of passion for a few hours.

Kurokawa no techō (The Black Leather Notebook) is one of Matsumoto's best-known works. Longtime bank employee Motoko Haraguchi comes into possession of a notebook containing a list of secret cash deposits made for the purposes of tax evasion, and blackmails the bank into letting her embezzle 75 million yen (roughly $750,000) out of the funds. She uses the money to open a nightclub in Tokyo's fashionable Ginza district. When she again becomes strapped for cash, she extorts 50 million yen from the head of Narabayashi Maternity Clinic, one of the account holders named in the notebook. Motoko's greed grows. She hears of a list of cash bribes accepted by the director of a cram school in return for arranging back-door admissions to a medical school, and gets her hands on the list, planning to buy a large Ginza nightclub. However, her plans go awry at the last moment and she loses everything. It was all a trap arranged for revenge by her former victims.

Motoko rushes alone to the big-time racketeer who devised the plot, but at his place she faints dead away, and an ambulance is called. She revives on the way to the hospital and is told that she miscarried when she fell. As part of her devious scheming, she had slept with a man a single time, and the pregnancy was the result of that union. Motoko is prepped for surgery only to find that the operating surgeon is none other than Dr. Narabayashi. Her screams ring out.


* Zero no shōten (Kobunsha, 1959, 271 pages)
* Harikomi (Shinchosha, 1965, 403 pages)
* Kurokawa no techō (Shinchosha, 1980, two volumes, total of 543 pages)