Since I’m writing a mystery set in Japan for an English-speaking audience, I thought it might be fun to share my favorite Japanese mysteries, written about Japan or by Japanese authors. If there’s one thing to know about Japan before getting into their mysteries, it’s that they can be pretty graphic and gory. The first few I read were a bit disturbing, but I also couldn’t help but be drawn in by the stories. Maybe there’ll be a few here, you’d be interested in!
- OUT by Natsuo Kirino – This is the quintessential Japanese mystery book because it’s based on actual events that occurred in Japan in the 1990s. This actually happened in my favorite park in Tokyo, Inokashira Park in Kichijoji, and I have since written this park into one of my other novels Summer Haikus (but I was careful to never mention the incident in that romance!) Anyway, body parts were found in trash bags in the garbage cans in this park and the murder was never solved. Since this murder happened, garbage cans have been removed from the park, and you have to take your trash with you when you leave. Out is murder mystery that uses this same technique to dispose of the body, but that’s only one little twisted piece of the puzzle. I promise you will never look at bento boxes the same way again.
- ALL SHE WAS WORTH by Miyuki Miyabe – If you want a real look into Japanese culture, this is a good place to start. The crimes in this novel are mostly missing persons and credit troubles including theft, but you get the chance to see how the Japanese society is laid out and works so that people can game or move around in the system. I found this book fascinating for all the twists and turns along the way to the big reveal.
- A WILD SHEEP CHASE and DANCE, DANCE, DANCE by Haruki Murakami – These two books comes as a pair and the mystery in them is both supernatural and not. As usual, Murakami draws from his background in magical realism to create a fantastical, other-worldly setting without leaving Tokyo. Who is the man in the sheep suit and what does he want? These books drew me in and captured me completely.
- THE DRAGON SCROLL (Akitada Mysteries) by I. J. Parker – The Dragon Scroll is only the first book in a 15+ book series that takes place in ancient Japan. I’ve read the first five or six books in this series and really loved them. They’re not only clever mysteries but also give good insight into Japan’s past and the rules, cultures, and castes that shaped that time.
- SHINJU (San Ichiro Novels) by Laura Joh Rowland – This is the one book on this list I haven’t read but has been on my Kindle waiting for me for a while. It comes very highly rated and talked about from friends, so I’m excited to start it. It also gives a lot of insight into Japanese culture and societal norms, along with a tragic murder of two people drowned in a river together. This is also a first book in a long series, so there’s plenty of reading material here!
These are only a taste of MANY mysteries set in Japan. Other authors you may want to consider in your search would be: Seicho Matsumoto, Keigo Higashino, Barry Lancet, and Sujata Massey (who writes the Rei Shimura Mysteries).