Contemporary Japanese Writers

Asa Nonami*

Asa Nonami* 乃南アサ

Asa Nonami (1960–)  uses the mystery genre to write stories that probe deep into the human heart. After dropping out of the sociology department of Waseda University, Nonami went to work for an advertising agency. One day she happened to come across an invitation for submissions to the Japan Mystery and Suspense Grand Prize, sent in her maiden work, and soon became the inaugural winner of the event. The respective winners in the two following years, incidentally, were Miyuki Miyabe and Kaoru Takamura.

Nonami's prizewinning work at that time, Kōfuku na chōshoku (A Happy Breakfast), is a mystery that depicts feminine passions with shrewd insight. In the commentary to the paperback edition of Gonenme no majo (The Fifth-Year Witch), translator Mizuho Ozawa observed, "Nonami is unsurpassed in her portrayals of the psychology of women who are quiet on the surface but have deep hidden emotions . . . as she has already demonstrated in her debut novel." The protagonist of A Happy Breakfast is Shihoko Numata, who has confidence in her looks and is determined to make it in show business, but is beaten to the punch by her look-alike Mariko Yanagisawa. Shihoko has a falling-out with her apartment mate Yumiko, another aspiring actress, over Yumiko's pregnancy. Shihoko herself once had an abortion for the sake of her career, and she finds the implied comparison with Yumiko hard to take. She switches course, taking up work behind the scenes as a puppeteer, and lives alone in quiet solitude. One day, a weekly gossip magazine publishes a scoop about an affair between Mariko Yanagisawa and Ryōsuke Aoyama, Shihoko's coworker and lover. Knowing he wants to make a name for himself, Shihoko herself had put Ryōsuke up to it in order to debase Mariko's squeaky-clean image. Frustrated at the gap between her dreams of stardom and her reality of being a nameless puppeteer, and unable to escape from the ethical imperative of motherhood that she once turned her back on, Shihoko slowly goes mad. In this outstanding psychological suspense novel, the main character's fluctuating emotions, as she obsesses over her dreams and jealousies, play havoc with the reader's emotions too.

The police whodunit Kogoeru kiba (The Hunter), which won the 1996 Naoki Prize, again attracted high praise for its psychological portrayal of the main character, a woman struggling to exist in a male-dominated society. Late at night in a family restaurant, a man suddenly erupts into flames, setting fire to the entire building. Later, animal bite marks are found on his body. Detective Takako Otomichi, a woman, is paired with Detective Takizawa to investigate the case. In the course of her work, she is forced to put up with the gender discrimination that still permeates the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, yet she grits her teeth and pursues the case with dogged determination. Meanwhile, other cases come along in which people are attacked and killed by a savage beast. This is the first in a popular ongoing series featuring Otomichi.

Namida (Tears) depicts a woman's tumultuous romance. At a time when all of Japan is eagerly awaiting the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, protagonist Tōko Fujishima is busily preparing for her upcoming marriage to police detective Masaru Okuda. But just before the wedding, her fiancé calls out of the blue and tells her to forget about him. Afterwards Nobuko, the daughter of Okuda's senior colleague, is found brutally murdered, and Okuda disappears. His railway pass is found at the scene of the crime, and a manhunt gets underway with him as chief suspect. Tōko is devastated, but decides to track Okuda down herself to find out the truth. What could have happened between him and Nobuko? A man with Okuda's keen sense of right and wrong would never commit murder. Then why did he disappear? At odds with the police, who assume he was the girl's assailant, Tōko searches for her fiancé like one possessed. Finally, far from Tokyo on the Okinawan island of Miyakojima amid a typhoon of historic proportions, she finally catches up with him?and learns the shocking truth. The result is a brilliant portrayal of female jealousy and obsession.

* Kōfuku na chōshoku (Shinchosha, 1988, 254 pages, Japan Mystery and Suspense Grand Prize)
* Kogoeru kiba (Shinchosha, 1996, 380 pages, Naoki Prize)
* Namida (Gentosha, 2000, 458 pages)