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Kei TSUKIYAMA (Author)

Weaving stories with threads of history

Many of Ms. Tsukiyama’s works are set in Osaka during the Edo Period. She’s liked historical TV dramas ever since she was a child. “I loved samurai period dramas with lots of sword fighting, like ‘Hissatsu Shigotonin .’ It was exciting to see worlds completely removed from the everyday,” said Ms. Tsukiyama. What solidified her love for historical pieces was “Moeyo Ken,” a novel by Ryotaro SHIBA that depicted the Shinsengumi, a special police force of the shogunate government in the late Edo Period. Drawn in by the appeal of the Shinsengumi, she read comics and novels about the group, and even toured historical sites related to the group in Kyoto.

Ms. Tsukiyama entered the School of Letters at Osaka University. She says that she was entranced by ancient texts as a student. Revealing a bigger historical picture by piecing together historical facts, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle, was thrilling to her.

“I was more interested in the lives of everyday people in the Edo period than the people in power. I’m sure that the people of that time had strong awareness that they couldn’t leave things to the government and had to do something to support themselves. I wanted to write about those kinds of common folk.”

Aiming to become a writer while in graduate school

After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she began research on modern Japanese history in graduate school. Researchers must pursue the truth in their research, but novelists can use their imagination to create stories, so she decided to become a writer.

“I incorporate fact and fiction into my novels so that readers aren't quite sure where the fiction ends and the facts begin. If I can make readers think that my story might be true, I feel that I've done my job!

Readers sometimes ask her how much of her books are indeed true, but just as one would expect from an author, she simply responds with, “I’ll leave that to your imagination.”

However, the road to becoming an author had its bumps. She applied for prizes awarded to new or upcoming authors since she was in graduate school, but was rejected every time. A turning point for her came in 1998, when an editor and acquaintance of Ms. Tsukiyama published her novel, “Naniwa no Kaze.” In the wake of good reviews in the newspaper, she began to receive writing offers from publishers.

She drew attention for her novel featuring OGATA Koan

Author Kei TSUKIYAMA became well-known in 2009 when her novel featuring OGATA Koan entitled “OGATA Koan – Naniwa no Jikencho (OGATA Koan – Naniwa [Case Files])” was dramatized and broadcast over several episodes on NHK.

Koan was the founder of Tekijuku, a school for Dutch studies and the origin of Osaka University. “There are a lot of novels featuring famous Osakans in the Edo period, like IHARA Saikaku and CHIKAMATSU Monzaemon, people you could find in a high school history textbook, but hardly those featuring Koan. So I thought, why not write one myself? This may sound like hindsight, but I’m a graduate of Osaka University, so perhaps it was fate that I would write this novel.”

Currently, she’s enjoying her life as a novelist who can use her imagination to create stories.” To collect information for a novel, she’s also been learning to play the musical instrument used in Tennoji gagaku, ancient court music of Japan passed down in a single family in Osaka from the time of Prince Shotoku. She works out the structure of the novel by looking at old newspapers, texts, and diaries from the Edo period and by just walking around town. She enjoys creating the worlds of her stories from a single line of an ancient text by stretching her imagination.

She’s never fallen into a slump, but there have been times when she’s nearly lost sight of the appeal of historical pieces. On such occasions, she makes a point of watching “Hissatsu Shigotonin.”

“I get a lot of inspiration from these kinds of ‘anything goes’ period dramas.”

Edo period Osaka is likely to be her main battleground from the time being.

To current students

Ms. Tsukiyama clearly remembers the response she received from her former teacher Professor WAKITA Osamu (now Professor Emeritus) when she mentioned that she wanted to become an author: “Sounds interesting!” Prof. Michito MURATA (Graduate School of Letters) also showed his support, saying, “Work hard so that your juniors can boast of a graduate who can write novels.” She feels that she is here as an author because of support from her former teachers.

So, she wants current students to be “flexible” individuals who do not simply fit into an existing mold. Currently, in Japan, emphasis tends to be placed on practical and useful knowledge, but she wants Osaka University to be a university that allows these “flexible” students to thrive.


Born Kayoko YAMAGUCHI, Ms. Tsukiyama graduated from the School of Letters, Osaka University in 1992. She received credits in the doctoral program at OU in modern Japanese history. She made her writing debut in 1998, and has written a number of historical novels set in Edo period Osaka. She has written 34 works, including Tenmon Goyo Juichiya and her latest work, Miraiki. The NHK Saturday Historical Drama “Naniwa no Hana – Ogata Koan Jikencho” was based on a work by Ms. Tsukiyama. She likes playing the ancient musical instrument sho (traditional Japanese woodwind).

This is a reprint of the article posted in the Osaka University NewsLetter No. 67 (March 2015).

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