23 April, Hiroki Nagaoka

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Selection Committee

I am currently one of the members of the selection committee for the Mystery Writers of Japan Awards. The tenure for this position is four years. April 23rd, 2020. On this day, I was to head to a hotel in Tokyo and attend the last meeting of my tenure.
  It is often said that the ones who are truly tested are not the candidates, but the committee members. Every year, when this time comes around, I become quite nervous. I need to carefully read through each candidate’s work and take my time to carefully reflect before making a final decision. If I were to neglect this thorough process of selection, I would be failing in my duty as a committee member.
  However, much like many other events, the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the selection committee’s meeting being postponed.
  So, instead of heading to Tokyo for the meeting, I am currently staying in my house in Yamagata Prefecture and dedicating myself to needlework. To be more specific, I am working on making masks.
  My wife could be considered a true believer in masks. Whenever we head into a crowded bus or train, a white cloth to cover one’s nose and mouth is thrust in front of me with the command You should put this on. As such, when it became clear that obtaining masks would be difficult, my wife immediately got to work on homemade masks. Obviously, I was made to help out with this endeavor.
  If you look it up on the internet, you can find all kinds of simple guides for making your own masks. It is even possible to fold kitchen paper towels into masks. The mask design my wife went with was the HK mask. Apparently, it was devised by a Doctor of Chemistry in Hong Kong. You can make it with materials lying around the house, and it is almost as effective as medical-grade masks.
  Making the HK mask can be summarized as a four-step process. 1. Download and print out the mask patterns, and place them over a cloth material. 2. Mark the margins of the mask onto the cloth with a colored pencil. 3. Cut along the lines with scissors. 4. Combine all the parts into a complete mask, and you’re done.
  As our household doesn’t have a sewing machine, we have had to use needle and thread. I am currently fifty-one years old, and my eyes aren’t what they used to be. Just trying to get the thread through the eye of the needle is quite difficult for me.
  I don’t think I have done any needlework since the time I took a home economics class in middle school. As such, I just couldn’t get my fingers to move the way I wanted them to. To make matters worse, my wife sat next to me and continued to point out what I should do next. Hold it together with a marking pin, then start running stitches from there, she would say, making the process even more stressful. Despite the difficulty, I was able to make my HK mask in about three hours.
  Staring at the mask I put so much painstaking effort into, my wife simply muttered That’s a mask that won’t be winning any awards.

Translated by Benjamin Martin/Arranged by TranNet KK

Hiroki Nagaoka
Born in Yamagata Prefecture in 1969. Graduated from Tsukuba University. Won the 25th Mystery Novel New Face Award in 2003 for the short story Manatsu no sharin (Midsummer wheels). Won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Short Story in 2008 for


(Eavesdropping). In 2013, his novel


(Classroom) was voted No.1 on the annual Shūkan Bunshun’s 10 Best Mysteries (works published in Japan) list. His recent works include








(Kazama classroom), and




(Scarlet echo).




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