The novels of Matsumoto Seicho

A few books from my Matumoto Seicho collection

Whenever a learner of Japanese, who has reached a certain level of proficiency, asks me to recommend an author or work, I always recommend the works of Matsumoto Seicho. When I tell Japanese people that I am a fan of his books, they always say “kurai!”, which means “dark”.

“Dark” is a good way to describe Matsumoto Seicho’s writings. They deal with the darker side of postwar Japan. Matsumoto was a prolific writer, known mainly for his detective and mystery stories. His books are page turners. There is nothing I like more than curling up with hot drink and a good Matsumoto Seicho mystery. He never fails to surprise me with his plot twists!

Apart from the fact that Matsumoto’s books are engrossing, they are also quite easy to read. A lot of them were serialised, so he recaps a lot throughout the story. You always know where you are, and what’s happened. This can get a bit repetitive at times, but it doesn’t detract from the story, and is a big help for learners of Japanese.

The first novel I read by Matsumoto Seicho was Suna no Utsuwa. It has been translated into English with the title Inspector Imanishi Investigates. People recommended this book to me when I was learning Japanese because some of the action takes place in the prefecture where I live.

If you enjoy “dark” postwar social realism, which shines a light on the murkier side of society, you’ll love Matsumoto Seicho.

Start with his most famous work 点と線 (Ten to Sen), then move on to ゼロの焦点 (Zero no Shoten), 時間の習俗 (Jikan no Shuzoku), 砂の器 (Suna no Utsuwa), and 砂漠の塩 (Sabaku no Shio), or any other of his many works. (And there are many – he published more than 450 works, including novels, short story and non-fiction.)

Matsumoto Seicho was born in Kyushu in 1909, and was more or less self-educated. He died in 1992. Despite the years that have passed since his death, I have never met a Japanese person who hasn’t heard of him. Quite a few of his works have been turned into films or TV dramas, which has raised his popularity.

If you are around the N2 level on the JLPT, you should be able to manage his novels. I started reading him when I had passed 2nd grade on the old JLPT. He sometimes uses obscure kanji, but you can just gloss over those and try to follow the story. I find extensive reading (not using a dictionary and aiming for overall understanding) to be a great way to build fluency. If you are looking to get into Japanese literature, why not give Matsumoto Seicho a try?

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