Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests








Monday, January 21, 2019

The Master Key by Masako Togawa - 1962 -152 pages - translated by Simon Grove






My Introductory post for JLC12





Works I Have So Far Read for Japanese Literature



  1. “Insects” - a Short Story by Yuchi Seirai, a post Atomic Bomb work,2012
  2. The Great Passage by Shion Miura, 2011, a deeply moving work centered on the creation of a Japanese Language Dictionary 
  3. "The Whale That Fell in Love with a Submarine" A Short Story by  Akiyuki Nosaka- 2003- translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori - 2015
  4. “Bee Honey” - A Short Story by Banana Yoshimoto- 2000 - set in Argentina during the annual Mother’s March for Disappeared Children.
  5. Killing Commendatore: A Novel by Huruki Murakami- 2017
  6. The Master Key by Masako Togawa - 1962 - translated by Simon Grove

The Japanese Literature Challenge,  #jlc12, runs until March 31.  Everyone is invited to join us.  Maybe as happened to me by participating in JLC 3 back in 2009, ten years from now you will count numerous Japanese writers among your favorite writers.

The Master Key by Masako Togawa is a very interesting highly creative novel, set in Tokyo circa 1960 in an apartment complex for single women. The complex opened in 1951.  The rules are strict, all outside guests must register and overnight male visitors are not allowed.  The apartment building is to be moved soon.  This move sets the plot working.

There are chapters focusing on several residents, all single, mostly lonely and isolated.  There are three flashback segments from seven years ago.  In one a resident and a man dressed as a woman, to skirt the rules, bury a child under the communal bath.  His body could be revealed when the building is moved.

In another episode, we learn of the kidnapping of the four year old son of an American Army officer and a Japanese woman, who once lived in the building.  Marrying an American was slightly frowned upon.  

One of the residents was at one time a well known concert violinist.  I found the complex details involving her really intriguing. It includes a very strange fellow resident more than a little bit unbalanced.

The violinist decides to send letters to her former pupils.  She has a list of about  350 names and addresses, many from seven years ago.  Most go unanswered, some students moved. However, one of the students turns out to be the mother of the kidnapped boy.  This sets in motion a complicated series of events out of a detective story.

There is a key that will open all of the apartments, the master key, when it is stolen, things begin to get really weird.  The two receptionists play a big part in the plot.

The descriptions of the lives of the residents are  masterful.  Perhaps the best part of the book for me.  There is even a religious cult involved, a stolen stradavarious violin, a hoarder, a resident who steals milk bottles, recalled one night romances.

I never saw the ending coming,in which all the mysterious issues are resolved.

I am quite glad to have read The Master Key.

Pushkin Press has published a translation of another of her novels, The Lady Killer, which sounds interesting.

Bio Data from Puskin Publishing

In 2016, beloved Japanese crime writer and LGBT activist Masako Togawa sadly passed away. We’re delighted to be able to bring you her prizewinning debut novel The Master Key, originally published in 1962, as the latest in the Pushkin Vertigo crime series.


Masako went on to publish over 30 books and was described by the Times Literary Supplement as “The P.D. James of Japan.” She was as gregarious as she was talented, finding success in many different careers over the course of her rich and varied life. Here are some of her highlights:
Singer/songwriter: She made her singing debut in the well-known nightclub ‘Gin-Pari’ in 1954. Music and performing remained a big part of her life and she released several records including “Lost Love” in 1975 and “Bon Voyage” with her son Nero in 2015.

Club owner: In 1967, she decided to turn her sister’s coffee shop into a live music hall, calling it Aoi Heya, or “Blue Room.” The intimate 150-person venue in Tokyo’s vibrant Shibuya district hosted artists and composers, simultaneously serving as a Chanson club and a lesbian night club.
LGBT icon: After years of encouraging LGBT artists at Aoi Heya, she came out as bisexual on television in 1999. In 2002, she was one of the first Japanese television personalities to take an active role in the Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Parade.

Actress: From 1969 to 1974, she played the lead character in a television show called Playgirl about a mystery writer who creates an all-female detective agency specialising in white collar crimes. She also starred in a film The Hunter’s Diary (1964), an adaptation of several stories she had co-written.
Music teacher: In 2012, she started teaching Chanson classes, calling the programme the “Blue Room Grand Cabaret.” They proved highly popular, taking place on the first and third Wednesdays of each month and broadcast via web channel “Scatch TV”.

I was given a review copy of this book by Pushkin Press 

Mel u



6 comments:

Bellezza said...

I, too, found the descriptions of the characers’ lives the most meaningful part of this book. It was really interesting to me to read about their varied backgrounds and emotional “wounds”, so much so that I barely recall the ending now. The solving of the mystery was the least satisfying part of the novel for me, as it seemed rather contrived in my opinion.

Thank you for adding so much information about the author. I did not know that she was an activist, nor quite so highly praised. Personally, I like Keigo Higashino’s mysteries much better, but I am glad to have read this much appreciated Japanese mystery.

Nadia A said...

Wow. This story sounds really intriguing. I love the idea of how everything ties together and learning so much about these characters/residents lives, especially through the flashbacks. I'm definitely adding this title to my TBR. Thank you!!

Lisbeth said...

Sounds like a fascinating read. I wanted to join this challenge this year, but just don't have time (a lot of other challenges). Maybe next year. In the meantime I will add this to my wish list.

Mel u said...

Bellezza-. The more I think on the ending it seems almost a joke on the reader but there were enough really interesting segments to make me still endorse

Mel u said...

Nadia, we really do learn about the residents lives, this was very worthwhile and creative.

Thanks so much for your comments

Mel u said...

Lisbeth. The JLC 12 challenge only ssks we read one work and it runs until Mzrch 31. Thanks so much for your comments