Seichō Matsumoto

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Seichō Matsumoto
Seichō Matsumoto in 1955
Seichō Matsumoto in 1955
BornKiyoharu Matsumoto
December 21, 1909
Fukuoka, Japan
DiedAugust 4, 1992(1992-08-04) (aged 82)
Tokyo Women's Medical University Hospital
GenreDetective fiction
Ancient history

Seichō Matsumoto (松本 清張, Matsumoto Seichō, December 21, 1909 – August 4, 1992) was a Japanese writer.

Seichō's works created a new tradition of Japanese crime fiction. Dispensing with formulaic plot devices such as puzzles, Seichō incorporated elements of human psychology and ordinary life. In particular, his works often reflect a wider social context and postwar nihilism that expanded the scope and further darkened the atmosphere of the genre. His exposé of corruption among police officials as well as criminals was a new addition to the field. The subject of investigation was not just the crime but also the society in which the crime was committed.[citation needed]

The self-educated Seichō did not see his first book in print until he was in his forties. He was a prolific author, he wrote until his death in 1992, producing in four decades more than 450 works. Seichō's mystery and detective fiction solidified his reputation as a writer at home and abroad. He wrote historical novels and nonfiction in addition to mystery/detective fiction.

He was awarded the Akutagawa Prize in 1952 and the Kikuchi Kan Prize in 1970, as well as the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1957. He chaired the president of Mystery Writers of Japan from 1963 to 1971.

Credited with popularizing the genre among readers in his country, Seichō became his nation's best-selling and highest earning author in the 1960s. His most acclaimed detective novels, including Ten to sen (1958; Points and Lines, 1970); Suna no utsuwa (1961; Inspector Imanishi Investigates, 1989) and Kiri no hata (1961; Pro Bono, 2012), have been translated into a number of languages, including English.

He collaborated with film director Yoshitarō Nomura on adaptations of eight of his novels to film, including Castle of Sand.


Seichō was born in the city of Kokura, now Kokura Kita ward, Kitakyushu, Fukuoka prefecture, on the island of Kyushu in Japan in 1909. His real name was Kiyoharu Matsumoto, he later adopted the pen name of Seichō Matsumoto; "Seichō" is the Sino-Japanese reading of the characters of his given name. A product of humble origins, he was his parents' only child. Following his graduation from elementary school, Seichō found employment at a utility company. As an adult he designed layouts for the Asahi Shimbun in Kyushu. His work in the advertising department was interrupted by service in World War II. A medical corpsman, Seichō spent much of the war in Korea. He resumed work at the Asahi Shimbun after the war, transferring to the Tokyo office in 1950.

Though Seichō attended neither secondary school nor university, he was well read. As a rebellious teenager, he read banned revolutionary texts as part of a political protest. This act so enraged Seichō's father that he destroyed his son's collection of literature. Undeterred, the young Seichō sought award-winning works of fiction and studied them intently. His official foray into literature occurred in 1950 when Shukan Asahi magazine hosted a fiction contest. He submitted his short story "Saigō satsu" (Saigō's Currency) and placed third in the competition. With three generations dependent on him (he supported his parents as well as his wife and children), Seichō welcomed the prize money. His modest success and the encouragement of fellow writers fueled his efforts. Within six years he had retired from his post at the newspaper to pursue a full-time career as a writer.

Renowned for his work ethic, Seichō wrote short fiction while simultaneously producing multiple novels, at one point as many as five concurrently, in the form of magazine serials. Many of Seichō's crime stories debuted in periodicals, among them the acclaimed "Harikomi" (The Chase), in which a woman reunites with her fugitive lover while police close in on her home. As is true of much of Seichō's fiction, this psychological portrait reveals more about the characters than the crime.

For his literary accomplishments, Seichō received the Mystery Writers of Japan Prize, Kikuchi Kan Prize, the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for Literature, all awards bestowed on writers of popular fiction. In 1952 he was awarded the prestigious Akutagawa Prize for "Aru 'Kokura-nikki' den" (The Legend of the Kokura-Diary). Considered Seichō's best story, it features a disabled but diligent protagonist who seeks entries that are missing from the diary of author and army medical physician Mori Ōgai.

A lifelong activist, Seichō voiced anti-American sentiment in some of his writings, but he was equally critical of his own society. Many of his works of fiction and nonfiction reveal corruption in the Japanese system. A political radical despite (or perhaps in reaction to) growing up in a conformist society, Seichō associated with like-minded individuals. In 1968 he traveled to communist Cuba as a delegate of the World Cultural Congress and later that same year ventured to North Vietnam to meet with its president. Though he continued to write works of mystery and detective fiction in the 1970s and 1980s, at the same time the author was also interested in political topics.

He was also interested in archeology and Ancient history. He made his ideas public in his fiction and in many essays. His interest extended to Northeast Asia, Western Regions, and the Celts.

In 1977, Seichō met Ellery Queen when he visited Japan. In 1987, he was invited by French mystery writers to talk about his sense of mystery at Grenoble. Since then, his fiction has been compared with that of Georges Simenon.[citation needed]

Since his death from cancer at the age of eighty-three, Seichō's popularity has grown internationally[citation needed], and he has achieved iconic status in Japanese culture.

Works in English translation[edit]

  • Points and Lines (original title: Ten to Sen)
  • Inspector Imanishi Investigates (original title: Suna no Utsuwa)
  • Pro Bono (original title: Kiri no Hata), trans. Andrew Clare (Vertical, 2012)
  • A Quiet Place (original title: Kikanakatta Basho), trans. Louise Heal Kawai (Bitter Lemon Press, 2016)
Short story collection
  • The Voice and Other Stories
    • "The Accomplice" (original title: Kyōhansha)
    • "The Face" (original title: Kao)
    • "The Serial" (original title: Chihōshi o Kau Onna)
    • "Beyond All Suspicion" (original title: Sōsa Kengai no Jōken)
    • "The Voice" (original title: Koe)
    • "The Woman Who Wrote Haiku" (original title: Kantō-ku no Onna)
Short Stories
  • "The Cooperative Defendant" (original title: Kimyō na Hikoku)
    • Ellery Queen's Japanese Golden Dozen: The Detective Story World in Japan (Edited by Ellery Queen. Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1978)
    • Classic Short Stories of Crime and Detection (Garland, 1983)
    • The Oxford Book of Detective Stories (Oxford University Press, 2000)
  • "The Woman Who Took the Local Paper" (original title: Chihōshi o Kau Onna)
    • Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, June 1979
    • Ellery Queen's Crime Cruise Round the World: 26 Stories from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (Dial Press, 1981)
    • Murder in Japan: Japanese Stories of Crime and Detection (Dembner Books, 1987)
  • "The Secret Alibi" (original title: Shōgen)
    • Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November 1980
    • Murder in Japan: Japanese Stories of Crime and Detection (Dembner Books, 1987)
  • "The Humble Coin"
    • Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 1982
  • "Just Eighteen Months" (aka "Wait a Year and a Half") (original title: Ichi Nen Han Mate)
    • "Just Eighteen Months": Ellery Queen's Prime Crimes (Davis Publications, 1983)
    • "Wait a Year and a Half": The Mother of Dreams and Other Short Stories (Kodansha America, 1986)
    • "Wait a Year and a Half": Japanese Short Stories (Folio Society, 2000)
  • "Beyond All Suspicion" (original title: Sōsa Kengai no Jōken)
    • Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 1991
  • "The Stakeout" (original title: Harikomi)


Major works[edit]


  • Points and Lines (ja:点と線,Ten to Sen,1958)
  • Walls of Eyes (ja:眼の壁,Me no Kabe,1958)
  • Zero Focus (ja:ゼロの焦点,Zero no Shōten,1959)
  • Tower of Waves (ja:波の塔,Nami no Tou,1960)
  • Pro Bono (ja:霧の旗,Kiri no Hata,1961) Published in English (Vertical, Inc., 2012)
  • Inspector Imanishi Investigates (ja:砂の器,Suna no Utsuwa,1961), Published in English (Soho Crime press 2003), ISBN 978-1-56947-019-0
  • Bad Sorts (ja:わるいやつら,Warui Yatsura,1961)
  • Black Gospel (ja:黒い福音,Kuroi Fukuin,1961)
  • The Globular Wilderness (ja:球形の荒野,Kyūkei no Kōya,1962)
  • Manners and Customs at time (ja:時間の習俗,Jikan no Shūzoku,1962)
  • Beast Alley (ja:けものみち,Kemono-Miti,1964)
  • The Complex of D (ja:Dの複合,D no Fukugō,1968)
  • Central Saru (ja:中央流沙,Chūō Ryūsa,1968)
  • Far Approach (ja:遠い接近,Tōi Sekkin,1972)
  • Fire Street between Ancient Persia and Japan (ja:火の路,Hi no Miti,1975)
  • Castle of Glass (ja:ガラスの城,Garasu no Shiro,1976)
  • The Passed Scene (ja:渡された場面,Watasareta Bamen,1976)
  • Vortex (ja:渦,Uzu,1977)
  • A Talented Female Painter (ja:天才画の女,Tensaiga no Onna,1979)
  • Pocketbook of Black Leather (ja:黒革の手帖,Kurokawa no Techō,1980)
  • The Magician in Nara Period (ja:眩人,Genjin,1980)
  • Stairs that shine at Night (ja:夜光の階段,Yakou no Kaidan,1981)
  • Street of Desire (ja:彩り河,Irodorigawa,1983)
  • Straying Map (ja:迷走地図,Meisou Tizu,1983)
  • Hot Silk (ja:熱い絹,Atsui Kinu,1985)
  • Array of Sage and Beast (ja:聖獣配列,Seijū Hairetsu,1986)
  • Foggy Conference (ja:霧の会議,Kiri no Kaigi,1987)
  • Black Sky (ja:黒い空,Kuroi Sora,1988)
  • Red Glacial Epoch (ja:赤い氷河期,Akai Hyōgaki,1989)
  • Madness of gods (ja:神々の乱心,Kamigami no Ranshin,1997)
  • Black Sea of Trees(ja:黒い樹海, Kuroi Jukai, 1960)

Short stories[edit]

Japanese Modern history[edit]

  • Black Fog over Japan (日本の黒い霧,Nihon-no Kuroi Kiri,1960)
  • Unearthing the Shōwa Period (ja:昭和史発掘,Shōwa-shi Hakkutu,1965–1972)
  • Essay of Ikki Kita (北一輝論,Kita Ikki Ron,1976)
  • February 26 Incident (二・二六事件,Ni-niroku Jiken,1986–1993)

Ancient history[edit]

Film Adaptations[edit]

See also[edit]


  • Gonda, Manji (April 1993). "Crime fiction with a social consciousness". Japan Quarterly. Tokyo. 40 (2): 157–163. ISSN 0021-4590. ProQuest 234913069.

External links[edit]