Novelist Yamasaki, champion of social issues, dies at 88


Noted Japanese writer Toyoko Yamasaki, whose novels helped raise public awareness of social issues, died of heart failure Sunday morning. She was 88.

Yamasaki, whose real name was Toyoko Sugimoto, had begun writing a serial novel about the Maritime Self-Defense Force for Shukan Shincho magazine before passing away.

After joining the Osaka headquarters of newspaper publisher Mainichi, Yamasaki debuted as an novelist in 1957 with “Noren,” a book about a kelp trader that was modeled on her family’s business in Osaka.

One of her major influences was novelist Yasushi Inoue, who was then deputy head of the Mainichi’s cultural news desk.

In 1958, Yamasaki won the prestigious Naoki literary prize with “Hana Noren,” a story about the founder of an entertainment group. She then quit the newspaper to become a full-time author.

After penning books about Osaka merchants, she gradually shifted her focus to social issues. Her 1965 work “Shiroi Kyoto,” which can be translated as “Huge White Tower,” was a saga about doctors involved in politics at a university hospital who become implicated in a medical malpractice suit.

Between the 1970s and 1990s, she released books about a trading house employee who was imprisoned in Siberia by the Soviet Union after the end of World War II, the hardships of children of Japanese immigrants to the United States around the start of the war, and Japanese who were abandoned in China as children in the closing days of the war.

In 1999, her book about the infamous 1985 Japan Airlines jumbo jet crash in eastern Japan, “Shizumanu Taiyo,” focused on one man’s struggle in a corrupt organization. Her 2009 tale “Unmei no Hito” was about the leak of secret documents by a Foreign Ministry official.

Yamasaki in 1993 established a foundation for Japanese people orphaned in China near the end of the war who returned to Japan.