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Locked room mysteries have enjoyed far more popularity in some cultures than in others. While the sub-genre has risen and fallen several times in the English speaking counties, it has sometimes fared much better elsewhere. Among those places where it has never really faded are France and China, but perhaps nowhere has it remained more popular than in Japan! Japanese authors have contributed a large number of locked room and impossible crime stories, though, unfortunately, few have been translated. At the top of the list is the famous Akimitsu Takagi who began writing in 1948 with the publication of ‘The Tattoo Murder Case’. He was followed by the renowned, Soji Shimada, who published ‘The Tokyo Zodiac Murders’ in 1981, and both served as inspirations for Yukito Ayatsuji, who first published “The Decagon House’ in 1987, though only this year has it finally appeared in an English edition!

These authors, and several other Asian writers, have written some of the best locked room fiction of modern times, and we can only hope that more translations are on the way!

Wikipedia: Japanese Detective Fiction

Akimitsu Takagi Locked Room

Takagi_AkimitsuAkimitsu Takagi (高木 彬光 Takagi Akimitsu) (1920 – 1995) was the pen-name of a popular Japanese crime fiction writer active during the Showa period of Japan. His real name was Takagi Seiichi.

Takagi was born in Aomori City in Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan. He graduated from the Daiichi High School (which was often abbreviated to Ichi-ko) and Kyoto Imperial University, where he studied metallurgy. He was employed by the Nakajima Aircraft Company, but lost his job with the prohibition on military industries in Japan after World War II.

On the recommendation of a fortune-teller, he decided to become a writer. He sent the second draft of his first detective novel, The Tattoo Murder Case, to the great mystery writer Edogawa Rampo, who recognized his skill and recommended it to a publisher. It was published in 1948. He received the Tantei sakka club sho (Mystery Writers Club Award) for his second novel, the Noh Mask Murder Case in 1950.

Takagi was a self-taught legal expert and the heroes in most of his books were usually prosecutors or police detectives, although the protagonist in his first stories was Kyosuke Kamizu, an assistant professor at Tokyo University. Takagi explored variations on the detective novel in the 1960s, including historical mysteries, picaresque novels, legal mysteries, economic crime stories, and science fiction alternate history.

He was struck by stroke several times after 1979, and finally died in 1995.

Edited from Wikipedia – Akimitsu Takagi

Akimitsu Takagi Locked Room Novels

tattoo murderThe Tattoo Murder Case (1948)
Detective: Detective Kyosuke Kamizu


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Note: A stolen tattoo?

Kinue Nomura survived World War II only to be murdered in Tokyo, her severed limbs discovered in a room locked from the inside. Gone is the part of her that bore one of the most beautiful full-body tattoos ever rendered. Kenzo Matsushita, a young doctor who was first to discover the crime scene, feels compelled to assist his detective brother, who is in charge of the case. But Kenzo has a secret: he was Kinue’s lover, and soon his involvement in the investigation becomes as twisted and complex as the writhing snakes that once adorned Kinue’s torso.

honeymoon nowhereHoneymoon to Nowhere (1965)
AKA: No Patent on Murder
Detective: Prosecutor Saburo Kirishima

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Note: A deadly marriage?

Etsuko has fallen in love with a shy, studious lecturer at a university. But she has to tell her parents she’s pregnant to force their agreement to her marriage. Their objection is to the rest of her fiance’s family: his father was a war criminal; his deceased younger brother, a murderer. His only respectable relative is a research chemist who says he’s too sick to come to the wedding. And then the groom is called away on the first night of the honeymoon by an urgent telephone call. His body is found the next morning and State Prosecutor Kirishima must discover who killed him, and why.

informer takagiThe Informer (1965)
Detective: Prosecutor Saburo Kirishima


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Note: Based on a real case!

When the Tokyo stock market crashes, adultery and industrial espionage lead to murder.
Segawa had a good job as a stock market trader, but the “private” hedge fund he operated suffered big losses and he was fired. He is down and out when he is approached with an offer of highly paid work. How can he resist? He agrees to become an industrial spy, even when he discovers the target is his old schoolmate – who married Segawa’s girlfriend – and his company. Ogino, the old friend, is murdered, and Segawa seems to have been the last person to visit him. He panics, fakes an easily disproved alibi, then tries to flee. He would seem to be the obvious culprit. Who else could have done it? The widow? Segawa’s other girlfriend? The dead man’s uncle or some of the other ambitious directors of the company? Ogino’s secretary, who happens to be his greedy sister’s lover? State Prosecutor Kirishima must solve a baffling crime to save Segawa from hanging for a murder he did not commit.

The Informer, based on a real incident, was a runaway bestseller in Japan when it was published in 1965.

Akimitsu Takagi Bibliography

Soji Shimada Locked Room

Soji_ShimadaSoji Shimada (島田 荘司 Shimada Sōji), born 1948, is a Japanese mystery writer. Born in Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan.

Soji Shimada graduated from Seishikan High School in Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture, and later Musashino Art University as a Commercial Arts Design major.

After spending years as a dump truck driver, free writer, and musician, he made his debut as a mystery writer in 1981 when The Tokyo Zodiac Murders remained as a finalist in the Edogawa Rampo Award. His most well-known works include the Detective Mitarai Series and the Detective Yoshiki Series. His works often involve themes such as the death penalty, Nihonjinron (his theory on the Japanese people), and Japanese and international culture. He is a strong supporter of amateur Honkaku (i.e. authentic, orthodox) mystery writers. Following the trend of the Social School of crime fiction led by Seicho Matsumoto, he was the pioneer of “Shin-Honkaku” (New Orthodox) logic mystery genre. He bred authors such as Yukito Ayatsuji, Rintaro Norizuki and Shogo Utano, and he led the mystery boom from the late 1980s to present day. As the father of “Shin-Honkaku,” Shimada is sometimes referred to as “The Godfather of Shin-Honkaku” or “God of Mystery.”

Though a tough critic and writer, Shimada is not the harsh, grim character that many imagine him to be; in fact, he is quite friendly in person. One could get a sense of his character in his humor mysteries such as Soseki and the London Mummy Murders and Let There Be Murder, Any Kind of Murder. These novels, especially the latter, involve an extravagant mystery trick as well as elements of satire, confusion, youth, and survival. These colorful themes made this novel into a great hit, and it was later continued in a short series.

In recent years, he has begun a new challenge – an animated series called the “Taiga Novels,” collaborated with the renowned illustrator Masamune Shirow. Upon its kick-off in January 2008, he and Shirow planned to create a twelve-book series through the Kodansha BOX publishers. On top of the BOX, Shimada holds a column in the celebrated magazine, the Weekly Shincho. He is also heading two newly founded Amateur Mystery Novel contests – first, “The City of Roses Fukuyama Mystery Award” for amateur writers in Japan, and the “Soji Shimada Mystery Award” in Taiwan, sponsored by Crown Publishing company. Even past the age of sixty, his passion for writing has become stronger than ever: he is truly the maestro of Shin-Honkaku mystery.

Edited from Wikipedia – Soji Shimada

More on Honkaku Mystery School

Soji Shimada Locked Room Novels

tokyo zodiacThe Tokyo Zodiac Murders 
Translator: Ross and Shika Mackenzie
Detective/Series: Detective Mitarai’s Casebook

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Note: Who created Azoth?

Astrologer, fortuneteller, and self-styled detective Kiyoshi Mitarai must in one week solve a macabre murder mystery that has baffled Japan for 40 years. Who murdered the artist Umezawa, raped and killed his daughter, and then chopped up the bodies of six others to create Azoth, the supreme woman? With maps, charts, and other illustrations, this story of magic and illusion, pieced together like a great stage tragedy, challenges the reader to unravel the mystery before the final curtain.

Soji Shimada Locked Room Short Stories

EQMM 08:13The Locked House of Pythagoras
Detective: Detective Mitarai

Collection: EQMM, August 2013

Available only in original magazine format.

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, August 2013

‘The Locked House of Pythagoras’ features the same detective as The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, Kiyoshi Mitarai, only it is setback during his school days in 1965, making it more in the tradition of the Japanese mystery manga series like ‘The Kindaichi Case Files‘ or ‘Case Closed‘.

EQMM 08:15The Executive Who Lost His Mind
Detective: Detective Mitarai

Collection: EQMM, August 2015

Available only in original magazine format.

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, August 2015

Note: Dying to look young?

This story involves a woman who vanishes from a locked office, pops up again eight or so months later looking much younger, and is then thrown from a window and turns into an eight month old corpse on the way down. Lots of fun!

Soji Shamada Bibliography

Yukito Ayatsuji Locked Room

ayatsuji yukitoNaoyuki Uchida (内田 直行 Uchida Naoyuki, born 1960), also known by his pseudonym Yukito Ayatsuji (綾辻 行人 Ayatsuji Yukito), is a Japanese writer of mystery and horror. He is one of the founders of Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan and one of the representative writers of the new traditionalist movement in Japanese mystery writing. His wife is Fuyumi Ono, a Japanese fantasy and horror writer who is known for her fantasy series The Twelve Kingdoms.

His first novel The Decagon House Murders was ranked as the No. 8 novel on the Top 100 Japanese Mystery Novels of All Time.

Edited from Wikipedia – Yukito Ayatsuji

Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan

Yukito Ayatsuji Locked Room Novels

decagon houseThe Decagon House
Translator: Ho-Ling Wong (Locked Room International, 2015)


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Note: Multiple murder on a very strange island!

Originally published in Japanese in 1987. In its starred review, Publisher’s Weekly writes: “a brilliant and richly atmospheric puzzle which will appeal to lovers of Golden Age whodunits…. As in the best fair-play mysteries, every word counts, leading up to a jaw-dropping but logical reveal.”

Students from a university mystery club decide to visit an island which was the site of a grisly multiple murder the year before. Predictably, they get picked off one by one by an unseen murderer. Is there a madman on the loose? What connection is there to the earlier murders? The answer is a bombshell revelation which few readers will see coming.

The Decagon House Murders is a milestone in the history of detective fiction. Published in 1987, it is credited with launching the shinhonkaku movement which restored Golden Age style plotting and fair-play clues to the Japanese mystery scene, which had been dominated by the social school of mystery for several decades. It is also said to have influenced the development of the wildly popular anime movement.

This, the first English edition, contains a lengthy introduction by the maestro of Japanese mystery fiction, Soji Shimada. Locked Room International discovers and publishes impossible crime masterpieces from all over the world

another AYAnother (2009)
Translator: Karen McGillicuddy (Yen Press, 2013)
Detective: Another Series

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Note: Murder in Middle School?

In the spring of 1998, Koichi Sakakibara transfers into Class 3-3 at Yomiyama North Middle School. But little does he know…his new class has a horrible secret. When he takes his seat in class for the first day of school, Koichi is unsettled by his fearful classmates. Despite this atmosphere and warnings from fellow students, Koichi is drawn to the beautiful, distant Mei Misaki, another classmate. But the closer he tries to get to her, the more mysterious she and their class become. And when a fellow student dies a disturbing death – the first of a long chain of deaths – Koichi seeks to learn the truth behind the curse of Class 3-3. But can he get answers before the curse kills him?

Yukito Ayatsuji Locked Room Short Stories

speculative JapanHeart of Darkness
Translator: Daniel Jackson
Collection: Speculative Japan 3: Silver Bullet and Other Tales 

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No information on this story! May be sic-fi crossover?

Yukito Ayatsuji Bibliography

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