~3~ Along the Road to Dewa

Along the Road to Dewa

Frustration, or, The Wall You Build Around Yourself

There are two types of regret.

One called, “Ah, I shouldn’t have done that,” and one called “Ah, I should have done that.”

In a long life, a human being will occasionally taste both types, and to put it in a slightly pretentious manner, we all continue to sail the rough seas in a small boat named regret. Incidentally, which one of those types might be considered the one you can’t recover from?

After a busy day at his vegan buffet restaurant, Shinji Takeno would often sit alone and ponder such heavy questions.


When he started his car that day, he had not even the slightest clue where he was trying to go.

His car was a Honda Odyssey. The name apparently came from The Odyssey, an epic poem by the ancient Greek poet Homer. After the Trojan War, the hero Odysseus leaves on a wandering adventure that ends up taking ten years. Probably that “dreams and romance” feeling had inspired Honda to name the car.

But on that pale, cold day at the end of the year, as he turned over the engine and pulled out of the driveway, there was nothing so heroic about his journey, and he was definitely not filled with hope.

The bare minimum of daily necessities had been piled into his luggage in a room in his apartment. Which was to say that there was no mistaking the fact that he’d come to some kind of decision, at any rate. He was tossing something aside, or perhaps running from something.

Not more than an hour previous, Shinji Takeno had placed a phone call from his apartment.

What was he supposed to say? All his words swirled in his head like dirty clothes in a washing machine. He ought to wash and dry them, and then say them out loud.

With his head full of such thoughts, he listened to the phone ringing, and finally, after it’d rung so much he wondered if he should just hang up already:

“Yo, what’s up Take?”

The words that came out of his mouth were short.

“Kitamura, I can’t do it. Thanks for all your help.”

“Wait, hey, Ta–”

Takeno hung up halfway through the other person’s sentence.

The person on the other end of the line was Mr Kitamura, the area manager who oversaw the region containing Shinji Takeno’s shop. Mr Kitamura immediately called back, but all he got was the message letting him know that the phone’s power had been turned off.

Shinji Takeno had hit the power button on his cell phone and started putting his apartment in order. His room had been as it normally was, until that moment.

That was to say, the decision hadn’t been a sure thing before those words that had surprised even him had left his mouth, although his behavior afterword was quite efficient.

He piled the bare minimum of supplies into his car, stuck a note on the rest saying, “I am truly sorry, but please dispose of this baggage for me,” and stacked everything neatly in the corner.

And then the Odyssey departed.

He drove through town.

Akita Prefecture was cold at the end of the year. Today, too, white stuff was falling from thick, hidden clouds.

Oh man, I really did it this time, Shinji Takeno muttered, gripping the wheel. He was aware only that he was headed in a direction from which he would not return.

This must be what they called, “Presenting a Sudden Letter of Resignation.” He’d thrown away his position and all his duties as restaurant manager with only a “thanks for all your help” over a cell phone.

It was shameful, and even though he’d decided not to make any excuses, it was specifically because of that, for the sake of his own honor, that he’d ended up wanting to follow his heart for a bit.

Maybe he’d just gotten frustrated. But if that was the problem, what had set him off? First, we shall hear the testimony of Kotera, one of the staff members who worked under Shinji Takeno.


{Kotera’s Testimony (1)}

Take’s a guy with a strong sense of responsibility. That’s all I know for sure. Except maybe that he’s the “take everything upon himself” type. He can’t just do something “good enough,” I’m not even sure he would know what that means. Sorry, that was kinda rude.

If I had to put it into words, it’s like, all the autumn insects crying out, at their wit’s end, like they’re saying, “We have to make a noise right here and right now or everything will end.” That’s the way Take did his job back then.

But there’s another side to his seriousness, you know. To be honest, Take’s footwork had gotten pretty bad. If I have to put it bluntly, he’d taken a hit to his ability to make judgements. There was a sense that everything he did ended up taking too long.

Once, he suddenly said to me, “Kotera, I’ve been thinking I should get in shape. I’m going to join a gym.”

I’m sure he was thinking about it seriously, like, he needed a certain base strength to carry out his job responsibilities to perfection, and even though I really shouldn’t have, I ended up saying to him, “Yeah, Take, coz you’re footwork’s kinda bad.”

I mean, are you kidding me? After I said it, I thought, I should not have done that, but Take nodded, like, yes I know. And the next day, he really did decide to join a gym.


A short CV for Shinji Takeno follows.

Born in Yamagata Prefecture, he attended a food preperation school in Sendai, and then worked in the kitchens at a certain hotel. He spent almost a year and a half traveling through Europe to hone his skills, and then returned to the Sendai hotel for three years. Besides food preperation, he’s also studied general management, and worked for his current company developing a wide variety of restaurants.

After devoting himself to his chosen path for a while, he was selected as kitchen manager of a vegan buffet restaurant. The restaurant’s previous general manager suddenly stepped down after an accident, and Shinji Takeno found himself both Kitchen and Store Manager, without having ever really intended to be either.


{Kotera’s Testimony (2)}

He really put his shoulder into being manager, he really went for it, but he couldn’t keep up with all of it, and then there was that complaint. Well, the complaint itself wasn’t that important.

When somebody’s wife comes to eat at their honey’s store and then goes home, starts to feel bad, and throws up, what do you do? Well to make a long story short, it was a stereotypical kind of quibble, and Take responded appropriately. He dealt with everything, and he didn’t look like he was too disturbed or anything.

But to look back on it, it was like a body blow.

Shinji Takeno spoke with Area Manager Mr Kitamura himself about it.

“Ever since, I jump every time the phone rings.”

“Dummy, don’t talk like somebody’s sheltered princess.”

Mr Kitamura laughed loudly. Mr Kitamura’s a brawny guy, with a face like a rock, and he looks exactly like a local pro wrestling star.

“Kitamura. Isn’t it the mission of the store manager to protect the livelihoods of everyone who works there?”

“How are you doing, Take? Do you have a fever? Any chills?”



“I’ve been having a lot of dreams lately where I make some huge mistake.”

“What are you talking about?”

“They’re dreams, so they’re all really weird, but like for example, I’m carrying dishes for a thousand people when I fall in a ditch…”


“It’s okay, I thought, I won’t mess up, and then I woke up.”

“Of course.”

“But I spend so much time thinking about it, that it becomes a kind of burden of its own, and I really will mess something up.”

“What is this, an excuse?”

“It’ll affect my dishes, too. And if it comes to that, that’s not professional.”

“Now that you mention it, your flavors have been off.”

“What– Is, is that true?”

“Man, listen. Take.”


“Are you saying Store Manager is too much?”

“No, it’s not that.”

“Listen, Take.”


“Even when stuff gets intense, don’t make an intense face. Show it on your face and you’ve lost.”

Take didn’t say anything.

“Guys who show it on their face are just spoiled anyway. Don’t be some half-assed spoiled jerk.”


{Kotera’s Testimony (3)}

Kitamura’s a strict guy.

He always shoots off these icy one-liners, rapid fire. Even I ended up feeling a little overly familiar with him, but the second you lose focus, he gets you. Thunk. You do it again, he’ll poke you with pin point accuracy exactly where it hurts.

One time, I said, “At the hospital, a patient asks a doctor about the technicalities of an illness, and the doctor makes a face like, ‘Leave it to the professionals.’ I mean, it’s like that.

“You have to act like a pro in the hospitality industry. Since the customer is always going to be an amateur of some kind, we absolutely have to meet them with a professional face.”

I like Take’s “an amateur of some kind” service, and so I might have mentioned something like that to Mr Kitamura.

Maybe I was thinking that Take’s footwork was as bad as ever, and that Mr Kitamura was going to lose it at some point. It’s a bit presumptuous to say I was standing up for him, I guess, but it did feel a bit like that.

“You’re an idiot, Tera. That’s just conceited. What the hell are you talking about anyway.”

I couldn’t say anything.

“Make no mistake, our customers are pros.”


“They’re professional customers, ain’t they? What are we supposed to do in the face of that except provide our service with a professional fighting spirit.”

Take was right next to me, he heard it, too. He was looking straight at the floor.


That day, Kitamura called me over, all quiet.

“Take’s disappeared,” he said, with a scared look on his face.

That was when I learned about that crazy phone call from Take.

Just at that moment, we were getting ready to open another vegan buffet franchise in Morioka, over in Iwate Prefecture, and that was the day Take was supposed to go to a meeting with Mr Kitamura, as his second.

He’d abandoned the meeting, too.

And Take’s reasons, that was the kind of thing Mr Kitamura hated the most.

Mr Kitamura went to Take’s apartment, but there hadn’t been any sign of him, and Take’s Odyssey wasn’t in his parking spot.

“Don’t you tell anybody,” was all Mr Kitamura said about notifying the staff, but when I snuck a peek at his profile, I thought, damn he’s really mad.

Where did you go, Take?

I was a little pissed, too, but then I had a shocking thought.

No way, Aokigahara, the Sea of Trees at the foot of Mt Fuji!? [1]

He hadn’t just left, he’d joined those who’d lost their way in life, and I suddenly thought of that place from which they say there is no return.

Take, whatever else is going on, that would just be a shame.


The sun tilted westward. It was freezing. Since he’d pulled the Odyssey out of the driveway before noon, and with only the absolute minimum of luggage, quite a bit of time must have already passed.

His running had stopped. He’d stopped, regretted, and then run some more. If he had to say how he’d spent most of the hours, it was in the Stopped phase.

Why did I make that phone call.

How many times had Shinji Takeno stopped the car, lowered his seat back, and thought exactly the same thing.

He immediately headed for Morioka, resigned to major embarrassment, and resigned also to being yelled at by Mr Kitamura. He considered his earnest apology.

“Please, give me another chance.”

That’s what he wanted to say.

Okay then. He picked up his cell phone to make the call, but stopped.

He chose to leave, rather than to call.

He turned over the engine. But the direction in which he pointed his Odyssey was not Morioka. His emotions pulled him strongly in that direction, but his body did not head that way.

I hadn’t thought I was such a slob of a man.

Shinji Takeno was dumbfounded.

I have no skills as a store manager, I’m bound to make some huge mistake before long, to just drag things along until I can’t pull them back, and once I do that, I’m going to cause so much trouble for the company and the staff and the customers, everyone. I’m quitting to prevent that from happening.

That’s what I believed in that moment, so I told Kitamura thanks for all his help…

But, how should he put it, maybe that was a phony thought. Wasn’t he just turning tail and running away? He’d even abandoned the jobs he’d been given.

He’d muddied the waters after he flew the coup, and covered the whole mess in dung.

And now he was going to ask for another chance? There was a limit to how much you could impose on people.

First things first, where am I even headed?

Shinji Takeno thought, clicking his tongue.

The Odyssey wasn’t headed for Morioka. It wasn’t headed for Aokigahara, as Kotera worried. He was headed for Yamagata Prefecture.

He was headed for the house where he’d been born and raised. Yamagata Prefecture, Yonezawa City. To the house where his mother still lived by herself, having raised him all by herself, after his father passed away when Shinji Takeno was still in elementary school.

Turning tail and running home, is that it?

Was it just to make his declaration to the mother who had been so relieved to have him finally become an adult after all her troubles? “I couldn’t do it. I quit.”

I am beyond help. I thought I had a bit more back bone than this.

He was suddenly reminded of something that’d happened a number of years ago in Switzerland.

During his time at the hotel kitchen in Sendai, he’d learned of a Swiss training program that was going to be recruiting at a chef’s convention. When he applied, it turned out that he’d been the only applicant, so it was decided on the spot.

He’d stuffed all the things he used every day into a big bag and headed out, but barely a week after he’d done it, the bag was stolen. He didn’t even have a toothbrush to his name.

He regretted it, but he didn’t let himself get into a slump about it.

As long as he still had his health, he could do something. If he had to be stripped naked so he could absorb the culture of food, that was alright by him. Without any unnecessary baggage, he could steep himself entirely in that culture. He had genuinely thought that, too.

A year and a half after that, he’d used his vacation time and traveled to nearly every food culture in Europe.

I thought I’d really honed my skills there, too, didn’t I?

What a disappointing setback.

He drove into town with the sun firmly set. Oh, Yamagata Prefecture already, he thought, seeing the sign.


How long had it been anyway?

Shinji Takeno glanced at the watch on his right wrist, his hand still on the steering wheel.

That meeting in Morioka should be going on just about now.

Mr Kitamura’s shoulders, just like that local pro wrestler’s, floated into his mind, and his chest tightened.

He turned on the radio.

A live broadcast of a national league soccer match was playing. It seemed to be the season’s final match for the Yamagata Montedios. They were losing big.

Monte was for mountain, Dio for god. The compound word was the team’s name. The mountains of the gods, for the three sacred mountains of Dewa: Gassan, Yudonosan, and Hagurosan. It was already almost too dark to see, but Gassan must be around here somewhere, he thought, and then, glancingly:

How about spending the night at the foot of Gassan instead of going to the old lady’s place?

Maybe he could ressurect his own miserable guts on that holy mountain.

He stopped the car, and as he was worrying over the map, Montedio Yamagata gave up a goal.

He shut the radio off and started forward. Not in the direction of Gassan, but towards Yonezawa City, where his mother lived.

I really thought I’d found my calling… He thought. I didn’t hallucinate it, did I, that I was a vessel for food offerings?

When was it, that Mr Kitamura had said that one worrying thing? That’s what this made him think of.

“Like, Take…”

Given that he remembered Kitamura saying it like that, it must have been when they were drinking at some bar somewhere, when Mr Kitamura had been seriously plastered.

“There’s this bird, right, where, you calculate the size of its body in relation to its wings, and it shouldn’t be able to fly, no matter how you look at it.”

“Is that right.”

“I forget the name of it. So, yeah, let’s just call it the Dovish for the sake of argument. Alright, Take?”


“Okay then, physically, this Dovish shouldn’t be able to fly, but the thing just calmly does it. So then, how does the Dovish fly?”

At that point in the conversation, one of Mr Kitamura’s old friends showed up at the bar, and the topic was dropped.

How does the Dovish…

Deep in thought again inside the Odyssey, but without an answer, he stopped thinking about it halfway through the thought.

Get home to the old lady’s place, spend a day wandering around, and then consider your next step.

I really have no excuse, Mr Kitamura.

Turning his head towards Morioka, Shinji Takeno apologized again.

I really should give up the restaurant business, after pulling this kind of crap. What he would do instead, he hadn’t the foggiest, but that much at least was clear.

The car entered Yonezawa City. It was quite late.


{Kotera’s Testimony (4)}

Mr Kitamura called me over.

“Tera, let’s go to Morioka.”

I was going to be Take’s substitute, I realized.

He didn’t say one word about Take on the way there. I figured, well, the matter’s closed with Mr Kitamura, so I didn’t say anything, either.

At a drive-in, Mr Kitamura got a call from someone, and when we left again, I had a hunch we were headed in a different direction, but I just figured we must have been running a little late and he’d opted for a short cut.

I got a little sentimental about it, like, ah, this really is the end for Take. There were some cold, hard to ignore feelings along with it, too, like, he brought it on himself and there’s nothing to do about it now.


There’s a bit more to tell about the Disappearance of Shinji Takeno, but one day several months later at the vegan buffet restaurant in Akita Prefecture…


The two types of regrets are, “I shouldn’t have done that,” and “I should have done that,” but which one is the type you can’t recover from? Even now, Shinji Takeno still thinks about it sometimes, when he’s exhausted from a day’s work, but feeling a sense of fulfilment he can’t quite name.

Indeed, Shinji Takeno’s bitter resignation – “With things as they are now, I can never go back to the food services industry again” – had ended with only the resignation itself as a result. He hadn’t abandoned the food services industry. He’d even become extremely proactive, given the opportunity the matter had provided. There was a power in his work he hadn’t had in some time. He now had the heavy responsiblity of Brand Manager of the vegan buffet franchises in the northern Kanto, northeast Honshu, and Hokkaido regions.

He’d gone from Akita to Yamagata that day. Those twelve hours had lost all sense of reality in Shinji Takeno’s memory.

It didn’t feel like anything that had actually happened, it was more like watching a movie that was a bit too long.

He hadn’t forgotten his plan, but a lot of the details had flown from his mind.

It really was a movie, one that had now come out on DVD, and if he were to watch it again, he’d probably be surprised, like,

Wow, I didn’t remember any scene like this.

He still couldn’t see a clear answer to the question of which regret was the one a person couldn’t recover from, but he himself was recovering from “I shouldn’t have done that.”

Of course, it wasn’t by his own strength that he had recovered, he knew that well enough.

Indeed, if that day was a movie, there was one scene he would never forget the details of. Well, to continue the theme, it would be the penultimate scene.


When Shinji Takeno arrived at his mother’s house in Yonezawa City, it was already past twelve o’ clock.

His mother was awake.

He apologized for coming home so suddenly, and she asked if he wanted to eat the potato she’d made.

He was exhausted, he’d go to bed without eating. He’d eat tomorrow, was his answer. They’d talk properly about why he’d come back tomorrow, too. His mother said she understood.

As he was washing his hands and face in the bathroom, his mother came in and stood behind him.

“A visitor came by about nine o’ clock,” she said.

“A visitor? For me?”

“Someone named Kitamura.”


“And another person, too, a young man, tall and skinny, what was his name…?”

“What, Kotera?”

“Yeah, that was the name.”

Shinji Takeno’s face flushed red. He stood in front of the mirror in shock for a minute, forgetting even to dry his face off.

When he asked about it later, Mr Kitamura said he’d contacted the HR department at the head office and inquired about Shinji Takeno’s parent’s address.

En route for Morioka, he’d changed course and headed for Yamagata. The Morioka meeting had been attended by a substitute.

“What did he say? Mr Kitamura, I mean,” Shinji Takeno asked his mom.

“He introduced himself as a friend from work. I guess they came to Yonezawa on some errand. He said he remembered you saying you were going back to your mother’s place for two or three days and thought he’d stop by.”

“Uh, oh.”

Good, that way the old lady wouldn’t worry about him, he thought, relieved.

“But that was a lie, wasn’t it.”

Behind him, his mother grinned. When he couldn’t say anything right away, she handed him a piece of note paper.

“They said they’re staying at a hotel near the station.”

“I’m going out.”

He put the sweater he’d taken off back on.

“Oh, are you,” his mother said.


{Kotera’s Testimony (5)}

Take showed up at the hotel with his cheeks bright red.

Mr Kitamura took one look at those cheeks, and started laughing in a weird way.

Then he said, “We didn’t come to keep you from leaving, you know.”

“Mr Kitamura…”

That was all Take said. I was irritated, like, you could have left a little more silence, you know.

About a week after that, the three of us were drinking at a bar in Akita.

“If you’re thinking I’m always gonna be so leniant as to go and fetch you like that, you are seriously mistaken,” Mr Kitamura said to Take. “I didn’t even go to fetch you that time, I just went to say hi to your old lady.”

Take only nodded again and again, and said he knew it.


As the bar gradually got busier, Shinji Takeno asked a question. “Mr Kitamura… ” His tone could only be called earnest. “How does the Dovish fly, will you tell me?”

Mr Kitamura had mentioned it once. There’s this type of bird that shouldn’t be able to fly because of the size of its body compared to its wings. Mr Kitamura had temporarily called it a Dovish. But how did it fly when it shouldn’t be able to? And why?

The conversation that day had abruptly ended, and he never had gotten an answer. But Shinji Takeno was always worried, and there didn’t seem to be much he could do about it.

“Oh that, huh.” Mr Kitamura nodded, apparently remembering. “It’s not really important, is it.”

Shinji Takeno didn’t say anything.

“The bird in question doesn’t know it, that they can’t fly,” he said, glancing up at the night sky through the bar window.

Generally speaking, what we call frustration is born of the person in question underestimating themselves. That’s what Mr Kitamura thinks. You limit yourself, and you wrap a band around your own wings.

When it comes to stuff like “ability,” an approximate measure is all you need. Precisely weighing out each little thing that’s impossible for you is not even remotely required.

Follow the Dovish example. Just take off with a calm face.

To Shinji Takeno, it was like the scales had fallen from his eyes. It was two months later that he took on the job of Brand Manager.


[1  – the infamous forest where people go to commit suicide]

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