current projects

this is where i will keep a (probably not at all) up-to-date list of the projects i’m working on, with links to the finished translations, where appropriate.

Prince of the Sun, Princess of the Moon by Ryo Mizuno

A Lodoss gaiden/prequel, starring the royal family of the kingdom of Skard, part of the Moss alliance, or rather, specifically not part of the Moss alliance, despite being located in the Moss region. This is the royal family that, between the three of them, manages to piss off a princess, summon a demon, and doom the rest of Lodoss to the fate we all know and love. (^_^) (note, Seven Seas has started releasing the lodoss novels, if they get as far as the prequels, i’ll be taking this down. go read their translation, it’s great!)

translation: 100% COMPLETE!
transcription: 100% COMPLETE! click the title!

Mysterious Password 1098 (working title) by Yumiko Shirogane

A young girl trying to log on to her MMORPG in the middle of a lightning storm accidentally logs on to an online store for demons and monsters instead. Without meaning to, she buys herself a real life familiar and ends up with a green man on her doorstep and a saucy mountain cat talking back to her stuffy babysitter.

translation: 100% COMPLETE!
transcription: 6% (T_T)

The Black Knight by Ryo Mizuno

*squeeeeeee* this is the novel that started it all, at least for me. A Lodoss gaiden (side story) about the one and only Lord Ashram! Fifteen years after i first picked up the book that convinced me to learn Japanese, we shall all soon know the tragic past and even less pleasant future of this dark anti-hero, and his beloved dark elf Pirotess. This story is told in five chapters, detailing Ashram’s first meeting with Beld, his first meeting with Pirotess, and other joys, as well as the story of Ashram’s attempts to lead the people of Marmo to a new land where they can prosper and be happy. Yeah, good luck with that. (^_^) (note, Seven Seas has started releasing the lodoss novels, if they get as far as Ashram’s side story, i won’t be putting this up. go read their translation, it’s great!)

translation: oh my god done! WHAAAA!
transcription: 0%

Reverse Applique Bag

My sister found this image on Pintrest somewhere, and asked me to translate it, so I thought I would put it up for everyone to enjoy.

translation: 100% COMPLETE!
transcription: not needed, see image via link above.

Lodoss RPG Companion

A manual for the table-top (or, as Group SNE calls it, table-talk) RPG invented by Mizuno-sensei and his fellow Lodoss crew. It features lengthly articles on the mythology and history of Lodoss Island, instructions for creating and using your characters, and even a few scenarios to play through with friends. My brother has vowed that he and I will be playing through one of these as soon as I am finished with this book. We’ll see about that. (^_^)’

translation: done! done-y pants! oh yes. (^_^)
trasnscription: not yet begun.

It happened at the table (vol 1)

aka Table dekigoto. it’s a collection of short stories comissioned by a restaurant consortium and produced as part of a marketing ploy to… i don’t exactly know. convince people to go out to eat more often by telling them fictionalized accounts of nice/sweet/sappy/funny things that happened at restaurants? at any rate, the writing’s not terrible, and the stories are kind of cute, so i thought it’d give it a shot. i did write the publisher to see if they’d give me permission to enter my translation of one of the stories in a translation contest, or who even had the rights to the thing, but they never got back to me, so…

translation: 100%
transcription: 100%

adult science magazine vol 28

no, this is not some science-of-sex serial (although i’m not above reading/translating that, too) it turns out to be a magazine that releases themed maker kits every couple of months. their site is, although of course it’s all in japanese, but you can still see all the cool stuff they put out. my sister bought me the wa-tokei kit, which is a traditional japanese clock. it comes w/ a whole, full-sized magazine, with articles about the history of clock-making in japan, interviews with master clock-makers, etc. it is very cool, and i’ve been working on it in between projects, and eventually i will finish it. when i do, i’ll put it up here, complete with illustrations and instructions, for those of you interested in buying and making one yourselves.

tsubasa no kaeru tokoro – the home of the wings

my NaNoWriMo 2016 project! this long (long) tale is about the sickly (and magically endowed) Yaeto, imperial historian, who really just wants to retire to the back country and live in a wigwam a la George Washington, but instead he gets shipped north to the mountains, where it is chilly even in the summer, and deadly cold in the winter. the imperial princess shows up not too long thereafter, and what scant chance poor Yaeto has left of living the quiet life vanishes like one of his visions as he gets embroiled in imperial politics in the present, and the lives of angry ghosts from the past. as a matter of fact, this is the first in a now 10 (?) novel series. i don’t know if i’ll be doing the whole thing (at my current rate, that would be about two and a half years worth of wall-to-wall translating… (good god)) but this first novel, at least, will be done this November. (^_^)

translation: 100%! NaNoWriMo was a ravishing success, my first pass clocked in at just over 85,000 words. I am now officially deceased.
transcription: ugh, give me a minute, didn’t you hear, I’m dead.

+++ there were some translations of the ebi japan reader here, but they were all for editions of the app long past. i took them down, so as not to confuse people +++

projects on hold:

To Paradise by Mika Harima

In a world where it hasn’t stopped snowing in more than a decade, the people are looking for someone to blame. The Church has marked the so-called Odd Eyes, that is, people with eyes of two different colors and, occassionally, super powers, as the cause of the calamity, and has urged their elimination from the earth. Two teenaged Odd Eyes, twin brother and sister, flee their village, and strike out on their own. — This is another book I got out of my local library before I could stop myself. It has some beautiful artwork, and is apparently written by a lady who won a publishing contest. I’ve been going on and off with it. I feel like I shouldn’t be keeping a book out of the library for 6 months at a time, so I just pick it back up for a month or two every time I see it on the shelf again.

translation: 20% (on temporary hiatus)
transcription: not yet begun.
on hold because? i think we can admit this hiatus is more than just “temporary” by now. i am planning on getting back to this, but i’m Distracted at the moment…

Feast of the Painted Demons – Preperations for the Feast (working title) by Natsuhiko Kyogoku

a collection of “short” detective/ghost stories (kyogoku-sama is notorious for books with an afterlife as bricks; this one has 616 double-columned pages). each one is named after a mythical Japanese demon, and the characters are somewhat interrelated, or at least that’s the impression i’m getting. i’m on page 23 (of 110) of story 1 (of 6), so who knows what it’ll actually turn out to be. on the other hand, a book that starts off with a fantasmal sequence in which a man looks at someone standing under a tree and wonders what he is starting at only to find he’s literally looking at himself, can’t be bad. (^_^)

translation: almost 4%. wow.
transcription: not yet started.
on hold because? too hard. (T_T) i’ll try again after i get my skills up…

Love & Ranking by Mitsuru Hanagata

a cute middle-grade book about a 6th grader who think she has people figured out, until she meets a cocky guy and a ditzy girl who seem to be the perfect couple – something she never predicted!

translation: not even calculated.
transcription: yeah, hardly.
on hold because? OMGs little girl, stop using so much slang! *is weak at casual speech* (X_X)

N/R no return by Makoto Kawashima

another book i got from my local library. about a (i think) teenage boy who loses both his parents and his memory in a car accident. told in a series of very short chapters (i think the longest one is something like 8 or 10 pages) from the amnesiac’s point of view, so it’s quite interesting seeing what he remembers and what he doesn’t and how/when/what he regains, but of course i don’t know what i was thinking checking it out from the library while i had kokui no kishi still on my plate. i’ll come back to this one.

translation: 10%
transcription: not.
on hold because? let’s try one project at a time, please? apparently, having half a dozen projects in various states of not-yet-done is my super power.

also, i’ve done a couple of BL novels, which are my chief interest at the moment. i certainly will continue w/ the mainstream things, too, but i know not all of you are into the homo (^_^), so i’m putting that up elsewhere on the intertubes. in case you’re curious, i’m planning on put up such gems as yoake ni wa yasashii kisu wo by nagira yuu (which is amazing, sugoi, yabai), koi shite, enjou by narimiya yuri (which is suuuper hot. and i’m pretty sure i /am/ niimori-san, but that’s another post altogether), and a short story i’m calling for the moment a night of dreams and telephones, which was in a ghost story BL anthology. it’s adorable, and contains The Cutest Kiss. only Dreams and Telephones is up right now, but i’ve made 2018 the Year of Typing Things Up, so hopefully we’ll see some actual movement here before too much longer… #good luck

It Happened at the Table

=============================================== menu

Cabbage Rolls and Sketch Pads
I can make someone’s life just a little bit happier

How About Some Sweet Fritters
It’s because we’re so different that we make a good team

Along the Road to Dewa
Frustration, or, The Wall You Build Around Yourself

Explore New Territory!
A pro always puts himself in sticky situations.

The Farewell Wristwatch
What makes it hospitality is eyes that can see into the heart.

Can I Get a Margarita?
Even hearts that are shut tight can be opened with a warm breeze

How to Eat Tonkatsu with Tea-rice
No matter how badly you lose, you’re not a loser

Shingo’s Father
Trusting someone else means improving yourself

A Table for Two
Warm memories remain in places where people gather

In Place of an Afterword

~notes and credits~

~1~ Cabbage Rolls and Sketch Books

Cabbage Rolls and Sketch Books

I can make someone’s life a little bit happier

It’s always morning when I come to this place.

It’s a food court connected to a subway entrance with a lot of riders on their way to work. People bustle to and fro all day long, from early in the morning. For some reason it reminds me of the morning markets back home. Although there aren’t any old men in tall galoshes walking around here.

I have an odd habit of sitting in the same seat every time I come here. If I set foot in here and my “reserved seat” is taken, I get very nervous. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve simply left. But it’s not because I’m selfish. I would say, in a word, I’m timid.

The other day, I got quite the shock.

The instant I entered the restaurant, Shirokawa Toshiko from the bakery (I learned her name from her name tag) said to me with a smile, “Your usual seat’s free.” How embarassing, I’ve been spotted, how embarassing. It’s exactly the sort of thing that gets a timid person like me flustered. But, I have to admit, it made me feel good, too. Like I was a regular, you know.

There’s a reason it’s always morning when I come here.

I’m an illustrator. Not a very popular one. Since I’m always struggling, I have to give everything I’ve got on every job I get.

Being an illustrator is hard, manual labor. It’s not rare to find me working endlessly in the one-room design company next to this food court. And so, I got into the habit of dragging my over-boiled body to my reserved seat at this particular place.

In that condition, the first thing is to drink some strongish coffee. My stomach’s always empty after an all-nighter, but I can’t take anything that’s hard to digest.

What I usually eat here is the cabbage rolls.

Those hit the spot.

They’re a bit big. Soft and tender. I’m not really in favor of the modern habit of throwing around the words “it healed me,” but I feel like those cabbage rolls are the one time it’s okay to use it.

No doubt the staff considers me a “problem customer.” Even so, every morning, I show up with swollen eyes, fidget my way through a cabbage roll, and then instead of going home right away, I stay forever. And as a bonus, I’m usually sullen about it. Yes, I’m that type.

People don’t usually spend a long time here during the morning rush hours, so even when the subway is busy you get a good mix of people, and I end up staying without really meaning to. Although it’s not without reason.

This lovely plaza is the ideal place for people watching.

Maybe it’s a professional hazard, or perhaps it’s just my nature, but I love studying people. I mean, you know the scene, a kid who hides behind their mom when they meet anyone, so shy they can’t even say hello, but even as they’re hiding they stare at people from their mother’s shadow. That’s me. When I spot someone interesting, I quietly produce my B5-sized sketch book and run my pencil over it.

A real variety of people gather in this particular place before they scatter again.

Since I come in the morning, almost everyone is in a mood like, “Okay, another day starts right now!”

For example, there’s an old man I see frequently who comes in early and orders a glass of beer every time.

He drinks it all in one gulp, and lets out a noise like a sumo wrestler – Yossshaaa! – and then he gets firmly to his feet and tightens his necktie.

It must be his pre-work ritual. He sat still long enough once for me to put him in my sketch book. When I looked at it later, it was like a picture of an orangutan sneezing.

There are these high school girls, too. I was surrounded by mountains and rivers in my high school days, so I never even thought about having a meal at a place like this before school.
These two girls always sit in the seat next to me and finish their drinks. They stand up, and one of them picks up her friend’s bag.

“Lord that’s heavy. What do you have in there?”


“That is heavy.”

Man, that was cool. I dedicated a page to them, too. I carefully drew a bag filled with dreams.


If I’m to be honest, my observations aren’t usually about the customers, as perfect as this plaza is for that. The ones I find myself continually staring at, actually, are the staff.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve liked watching people work. I always used to follow the local carpenter around when he went out to do house repairs.

People who are working… How should I put it? It’s that sense of rhythm, the feeling of lively motion, that’s what I enjoy watching.

Even the people in this food court are worth seeing.

Toshiko Shirokawa, from the bakery.

She knows how to handle a loaf of bread. Her loaves are always baked just right and golden brown. Agile, somehow. Perfectly crunchy. Never dull. Aromatic. There’s not one wasted movement. As long as I’ve been watching her, I’ve never seen her put a bad loaf on the shelf. I still don’t know quite what her process is, even though I study her carefully.

I’ve secretly drawn Ms Shirokawa in my sketchbook, too. I titled it “The Bread Fairy.”

Mari Ōe, from the Bistro Cooking Corner.

She’s a swimmer. She swims around the food court, too, flowing and energetic. She’s brisk, but she doesn’t feel unapproachable. She’s elegant. And she has good timing. Like when it’s time to clear my empty plate and cup. Just when I’m finished and I’m thinking it’d be nice to draw something, she glides up to the table with a grin and says, “Can I clear these away for you?”

Normally when somebody says that, I get suspicious.

Mm, is this how they tell you to just go away already?

But Ms Ōe never harbors such thoughts about her customers. It feels more like she’s sincerely telling me, “Go ahead, take your time,” and because she follows up just on time, you feel more comfortable. But the thing I admire most about Ms Shirokawa and Ms Ōe both is their conversation skills. They have a knack for talking with customers. It’s an important skill.

But it’s just lip service, right? They just start a conversation about whatever they think the other person might find appropriate?

It’s what I thought at first, too, but then I really watched them.

And the more I watched, the more I understood that it’s no trivial thing. They can get in the head of person after person so well, and they communicate in such in an easy style. When I think about it, it’s probably because I’ve always been so bad at things like that, that I chose to draw pictures for a living.

Ms Shirokawa’s saying something.

“How was it in Hakata?”

A couple of days ago, that gentleman in the suit happened to mention he’d be going on a business trip to Hakata, and it’s only because she can remember such details that she can ask about it today. Being asked makes him happy. It’s not just a cold business exchange, Ms Shirokawa’s question shows that she values him.

Working hard by taking an active interest in those around her is a way of showing she respects the job, too. It’s a lot of nuance casually packed into such a short question. That’s what makes the gentleman in the suit so pleased.

In Ms Ōe’s case, she’s a good listener.

I had friends like that in high school. People who would listen intently to another person’s story. And when they did speak, they were straightforward.

“Mm-hm, then what happened?”

But there was no twinkle of mockery in their eyes. They listened quietly. It felt like a ripple slowly spreading across the surface of a pond.

At any rate, when I watch Ms Shirokawa and Ms Ōe, who are both so good at social interaction, I get an amazing feeling, like I had when I watched that carpenter using his wood planer, like when I would stare at the shavings curling off the main block. It feel like, now there’s a craftsman. These people work in a restaurant, their entire job is serving customers. They are definitely craftspeople.

What irritates me is that I could have every desire to talk with the staff, to interact with that good feeling they give off, but I’m just not very good at it. I know full well that I’m not just visiting this food court in my off hours to avoid the rush. I’m unwinding here so that I don’t take all those rough feelings from an all-nighter home with me.

And even though I’m fully aware of all this, Ms Ōe, for example, will say to me, “You’re always working, that must be tough,” and all I can do is shake my head breezily, like I’m annoyed, and even Ms Ōe can’t think of anything else to say. It really sets my teeth on edge.


It was on a certain morning.

I was quietly eating my cabbage roll as usual, when I felt a gaze on me. From the other side of the shop window.

It was an older couple. The wife especially was staring at me.

What the heck, what’s going on?

I felt like I wanted to protest, but I just lowered my head and kept eating.

The older couple came into the shop.

They sat down at the table right behind me. They couldn’t have been too much older than my parents back home.

What the heck, how creepy.

“Um, excuse me.” The wife called Ms Ōe over as she was walking past.

“You serve cabbage rolls here, don’t you?” she asked in a tiny voice.

I give up, seriously, what the heck.

I still had a big chunk of my own cabbage roll left, so I opened my mouth wide, and threw the whole thing in.

“Yes, we do. Shall I get some for you?” Ms Ōe’s always-gentle reception.

“No, we can get them ourselves. Honey?”

Husband nodded and stood up.

“This is the first time we’ve ever been hew,” the wife said.

“Oh yes? We’re very pleased to meet you. We hope you enjoy your stay,” Ms Ōe answered quietly.

“We just happened to be passing by today. We thought, this must be the place. Somehow it felt like we were being pulled in by some strong force.”

“Is that so. Thank you very much.”

What were you doing, staring at people like that?

Listening to the exchange between the wife and Ms Ōe made all the nerves in my back tense.

The husband came back carrying two cabbage rolls.

After that, there was a short silence. It was only a small interval, but because I was so uneasy, I snuck a peek at the old couple by pretending to look out the window. The two of them were quietly gazing at their cabbage rolls. Neither one of them even picked up their fork, they only stared at the rolls. Ms Ōe was still standing there unobtrusively.

“Oh, indeed,” the wife muttered. “These do seem tender, don’t they. These do seem gentle, don’t they.”

“Yes. They’re quite tender,” Ms Ōe said quietly.

“About a year and a half ago, not very long after this shop opened, I think, it seems my daughter used to come here quite often.”

“Is that so. Thank you very much.”

“I’m sorry, I know this is a bit of a strange conversation.”

“No, ma’am.”

Oo, I don’t know what’s going on, but this seems like it’s going to get interesting.

My greater-than-average curiosity made me sit up a bit straighter.

But Ms Ōe is that kind of person though, I thought. A person with whom you unconsciously want to have “a strange conversation.”

“It seems our daughter used to frequently cry in this shop.”

“Is that so…?”

“That’s what we’ve been told. We thought it was strange, too. She was never one to cry in front of people, nevermind crying in a place like this, where big crowds of people are having their meals.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“But, you know, now that we’ve come here today, we feel like maybe we can understand why. This place makes you feel like you can let your guard down, somehow.”

“Thank you very much.”

“Our daughter, you know…” It was slight, but the wife’s tone changed. “She lost her husband to an unfortunate accident just after they were married. It got to the point where she was so sad she wouldn’t even eat, but she still came to this restaurant and cried.”

“Did she…” Ms Ōe replied, with no exaggerated surprise.

“Apparently, someone here recommended the cabbage rolls to her. I don’t know why it was the cabbage rolls in particular, but at any rate, it seems that’s what the person said. They’ll give you your strength back, give them a try.”

“Did they…”

“The rolls were so tender, so warm, our daughter said, they surprised her. They must have left quite an impression. I don’t know how many times we heard that story.”

I had some thought bumping around in a corner of my mind, but I couldn’t quite make out what it was. But nevermind that–

Ah, so that was it.

My worry lifted. What they’d been staring at through the window before hadn’t been me, but the cabbage roll at my table.

“I haven’t been here very long yet,” Ms Ōe said, “so I’m afraid I’m not sure I’ve ever met your daughter. Does she still stop in at all?”

“No, unfortunately,” the wife answered, in a half-smiling tone.
Just at that moment, I thought, Ah-ha.

It felt like I’d caught the thing bumping around my mind by the tail.

I quickly pulled my usual sketchbook from my bag. I flipped through the pages, Ah, where is it, ah, where is it?

Could it be…?

I thought it was. I was almost certain.

Behind me, the wife’s story took an unexpected turn. “I apologize, but I’ve told you the story thus far, would you let me finish it? It’s almost over.”

Ms Ōe would have nodded softly at that.

“The month before last, our daughter passed away. She had a blood disorder.”


“Yes… So I’m afraid she won’t be able to come back in for any more cabbage rolls.”

“Is… Is that so.” I knew Ms Ōe must have been bowing her head slightly.

“Yes. And that’s the end of the story. I’m glad we came. Honestly, thank you.”

“Oh no, thank you, very much.” Ms Ōe picked up the emptied plates and glasses and left.

I was right!

My heart was pounding. Their daughter had put in appearances in my sketch book. And more than that, she’d graced rather a number of pages.

I remembered her clearly. I’d thought, What? No way, that person, is she crying?

It was the way she was crying that was impressive, that made me move my pencil in a trance.

There are all kinds of ways of crying. Weeping, sobbing, anguished cries, constant tears, ugly crying… But not one of those words seemed to hit the mark.


It felt like the tears were coursing down her cheeks like rippling spring water. She didn’t even try to wipe them away.

She was a beautiful person, so it didn’t feel necessary.

Ah where is it… Ah where is it…

When I turned the pages of my sketch book, she was everywhere.

There, with a cabbage roll on the table.

Wondering when she’d first appeared, I turned the pages back. Many of the early pages contained a beautiful woman drawn in all black, western style clothes.

Oh yeah, the contrast between her white skin and those western clothes had been very beautiful, and I had put down just that contrast and then stopped drawing. Oh, I thought.

Could it be, were they mourning clothes?

I didn’t know, but maybe they were.

I closed my sketch book with a thump.

“I knew your daughter. This is her, right?”

I wanted to rush up to their table right at that very moment and open my sketch book to show them. I wanted to show them so much I couldn’t stand it.

But it was no good.

As I sat there without an ounce of bravery to my name, the older couple got quietly to their feet and headed for the exit. It was like that feeling when you notice that someone’s left something behind, but you lose sight of them without ever being able to tell them.

At the exit, the older couple said goodbye to Ms Ōe.

Oh, that’s nice.

I thought, watching the scene.

The people who’d told told such a personal story, and the person who’d listened to it. This went beyond the normal customer-employee relationship. The scene was full of something quite plump and round.

Ah, crap…

This was the perfect opportunity, but my sketchbook was already full, not one page was left to draw on.

There’s no choice, this’ll have to do.

I flipped over the coaster on the table.

Ms Ōe’s smiling face peeking over the husband’s short form, the morning light streaming in. I rushed to capture the scene.


A few days later.

After an all nighter, of course. I took my usual reserved seat.

Ms Ōe came over, grinning. “Thanks very much. This, it’s me, isn’t it?”

She was holding something out. My voice squeaked, “Ah!” I knew my face was turning bright red.

It was the coaster.

That day, I’d quickly sketched Ms Ōe on that coaster. Then, I happened to get a call from the design company, and while I was answering it, I forgot all about the coaster and ended up going home without it. Ah, how embarrassing.

“Would it be alright if I kept it?” Ms Ōe said.

“Of- Of course. My apologies.” I pulled in my shoulders like a child caught pulling a prank.

Ms Shirokawa from the bakery came right towards us. “What’s that? Hey, that’s nice. Cute, Mari.” She peered at the coaster drawing.

My shoulders contracted even more.

“That looks good, you should draw me, too, please!” Ms Shirokawa said.

It didn’t seem like just flattery. She rushed off, and when she came back, she was carrying a pretty notebook. She offered me a white page.

“It doesn’t have to be today, but absolutely one day!” Ms Shirokawa said. She was such a brilliant person, I had a hunch it was going to be a great picture.

Wait. I thought. I can’t just be this open about it, can I?

I also thought, finishing all-nighters was going to get a lot more fun from now on.

I decided to borrow a bit of Ms Ōe’s bravery. That sketch book.

Actually, after I’d gotten home that day, I’d gotten to work on a certain opus. An opus where I started to pull out all the pages on which I’d drawn that older couple’s daughter.

Once I got to doing it, there turned out to be an awful lot of them. I bound them simply, trying to make it like an individual folio edition.

“The other day,” I said to Ms Ōe, “there was an older couple who told a story about their daughter, wasn’t there?” She immediately understood. It seemed they’d been into the shop once or twice since then.

“The next time you see them, would you give this to them?” I showed them my specially made individual edition.

“Wow, that’s amazing,” Ms Ōe and Ms Shirokawa said at the same time.

“Thank you very much,” Ms Ōe said. “I’ll get it to them without fail.”


After that, I couldn’t come to the food court for a while.

I had a work request from another place, not that usual one-room design studio, and so I was always tied up. It was a tough job, and I ended up pushing myself hard.

By the time I finally finished it and got around to thinking, Oh yeah, I should go to that food court for lunch, it had been a month since the matter with the coaster.

“Ah-ha, a rare non-morning visit today,” Ms Shirokawa said right away.

“Yeah, I’ve been working away from home,” I answered. I was a little lost as to what to eat, but of course I ended up with a cabbage roll.

Ms Ōe slid over. “Thank you so much for the other day,” she said, grinning. “I was able to give them that sketch book right away.”

“Oh really! Thanks.”

“The couple was really happy.”

“Oh that’s great!”

“As they were turning the pages, these big drops of tears were spilling down the husband’s face.”

I didn’t say anything.

“They fell onto the pages and soaked into them, it was really beautiful.”

“I see.” I was so happy.

It was invigorating to think that it had been a joint operation with the restaurant staff. I had a keen hunch that I’d be able to draw something really nice, one day in the not-too-distant future.

~2~ How About Some Sweet Fritters?

How About Some Sweet Fritters

It’s because we’re so different that we make a good team

[parts of this story rely on the reader’s knowledge of kanji. I’ve tried to put the radicals and kanji the narrator is discussing in the footnotes, i apologize if it’s not very clear…]

Maruna had studied the Japanese language diligently in her home country, and her sense of kanji was very interesting.

“You know the kanji for umbrella?” she said once. “Before I came to Japan, I used to wonder if people here all stood under a single umbrella, in a big crowd.”

Of course, because the kanji for umbrella is four “person” radicals under an umbrella shape. [1]

What was more interesting…

“If I wanted to write ‘food court’ in kanji,” Maruna said, as if she’d made some great discovery. “This character?” She wrote down the character for an inn.

“Uh, Maruna, that’s…” I started to say.

“A hundred people under one roof,” she said, brimming with confidence.

Ah, I get it, the “person” radical and the “hundred” radical underneath the “roof” radical. [2]

I grunted. Now that she mentioned it, a food court is sort inn-ish.


Maruna was Sri Lankan.

Six months earlier, she’d made her way to Japan by herself to study Japanese culture and language. Now she was working in the kitchen at our food court while attending Japanese language school.

Sri Lanka is an island nation to the south of India, near the equator. Apparently, it’s a little bit smaller than Hokkaido.

I learned from Maruna that the name Sri Lanka means “Shining Island.” It’s a country of beautiful plateaus and ultramarine oceans. I’ve never been there myself, but as I listed to the “Talks of Home” she and I sometimes had, I was able to build up a full picture of that bright island in my mind.


Spending every day with someone from another country like Maruna made me think about things in a new way. Things like teamwork.

This job is all teamwork.

I hear that a lot. And certainly, to the extent that this isn’t a job where someone just churns out handicrafts or something one after another, teamwork is an indispensible element of my job. It’s true for anyone who works in a food court.

But when you say teamwork, the image you get is something like, “relating to each other,” or “putting in a great effort together, working towards the same goal.”

Depending on how you think about it, it might even be a bit depressing. After all, the work still gets divided up, even if nothing that actually ends up being done is performed in the spirit of One Heart One Body. Such a situation wouldn’t technically be inconsistent with the word teamwork.

Ms Yoshie Eguchi is a great example.

She’s a bit of a peculiar person. Someone of very few words. She’s more than quiet. To put it plainly, she’s unsociable.

A while back, Maruna taught us all a Sri Lankan greeting.

“Ayu bo wan,” you say, and put both hands together in front of your chest.

Ayu is “longevity,” bo is “to spread,” and wan is “let there be ~.” That’s what she said it means. In other words, what you’re saying is, “May you have long life.”

It’s a really convenient phrase, too. This one phrase can be used for Good morning, Good afternoon, Good evening, Goodbye, and Goodnight. It’s the utility knife of greetings.

Everyone thought it was interesting, and for a while Ayu bo wan was all the rage at our food court.

But Yoshie Eguchi was the only one who never used it. Apparently, she just wanted to be contrary.

Maruna tried to work with her, and would greet her specifically in beautiful Japanese, “o-hayō gozaimasu.” [3]

But Yoshie Eguchi would only respond with some voiceless muttering, her mouth only half open. Poor Maruna, she always got such a troubled look on her face.

Not to say that the attitude was reserved for Maruna. Yoshie Eguchi is not a person who opens her heart to anyone.

And if she does open her mouth every once in a while, it’s only to utter something short and to the point.

“That spot is dirty.”

“That part’s wrong.”

“This is terrible.”

She only uses her voice to point out stuff like that, in a snapping tone of voice.

When you mention the word teamwork, someone like her is just about the total opposite of One Heart One Mind.

She must, I believe, have some kind of principles. But as someone who works in the same place as her, her sullen behavior amazes even me.

How I was supposed to make working with a person like her feel good, or at least a little bit less unpleasant, was something I’d never understood. But it was Maruna who gave me a hint.


The climax of the issue occurred with the Sweet Shrimp Fritter Incident of a certain day in April, but before I tell that story, I’d like to touch on the issue of Maruna herself a bit more.

Just once, I went to her residence for a visit on a day off. She lived in a sort of dorm for the Japanese language school, and was rooming with a Chinese exchange student, but that day, Maruna said, her roommate was going back to China for an unexpected visit home, and she invited me to come over.

Our feast on that day was Sri Lankan curry. It’s properly said “cuh-ree,” not “kah-ray,” as we Japanese say it, and unlike the Japanese term, curry is apparently a generic term for any kind of boiled dish. [4]

In Sri Lanka, she told me, they don’t use the direct fire method of cooking. I imagine it might be a religious matter, but they don’t grill meat or even fish.

There are all kinds of curry though, like meat curry, fish and shrimp curry, potato curry, vegetable curry, curry with a type of legume called a dal, fruit curry…

She said you just boil all the ingrediants together, which would be a main ingrediant plus onions, garlic, ginger, tomato, and the ever-important coconut milk.

But the most essential part of curry is the spices.

When you say the word spice, you get an image of something hot and burning, but that’s not all they are. Spices can also be used to bring out a depth of flavor. Cinnamon, tumeric, corriander, cardamon, lemon grass, cumin, karan pecha, fennel greek… Maruna makes a powered mix with a coffee grinder out of a lot of spices with names that seem to bite the tongue. She puts the mix in a sealed container and stores that in a small cooking shelf in her room.

Apparently, these kinds of boiled dishes are normal, every day fare at the Sri Lankan dining table. They eat rice, too, and a steamed dish of thin noodles made from rice flour – indi appa.

She told me about all these things, as I watched her move briskly about her small kitchen, and I thought intently about what she was saying.

Maruna really likes food, doesn’t she.

In applying to come to Japan to study, she had to figure out something to pay for her living expenses. Where was she going to work?

It seems Maruna decided on a restaurant without hesitation.

“Hey Maruna,” I asked her, still in the kitchen. “When you came here from your country, what did you think of Japanese restaurants?”

My tone made it seem like an interview.

“Mm, I guess,” Maruna said, her hand stopping its work as she considered hey answer, “they were very sanitary. I was suprised.”

The cooking areas were scrupulously cleaned, and all the ingrediants tightly managed. She said that had impressed her.

“And also, the customers all have great manners. That shocked me, too,” she added.

The amusing thing was that she added, quick on the heels of her last sentence, “In Sri Lanka, people are very enthusiastic about their work, and strong of spirit, and fervant about their faith.”

Probably she was in a hurry not to seem like she was speaking ill of her homeland, while still praising the restaurants and customers of Japan. That does seem like Maruna, I thought.

“Your chopsticks are your right hand,” Maruna said, giving me a demonstration. Her fingers pinched the curry tidily.

Watching and imitating her, I felt deeply moved.

Of course, the curry tasted great, but using the fingers of my right hand as chopsticks like that made it taste even better. How can I put it, I felt like I was tasting the natural ingrediants more closely, it had that kind of bite to it. I remember it had a more gentle feeling to it than I had imagined it would.

Maruna shook off her worries and came to Japan, but of course, she said, she did get homesick.

“I call home a lot. Last month is was forty-thousand yen. [5] That’s why I didn’t make much rice,” she said.

For a while, the two of us ate our curry in a trance.

We cleaned the plates, and Maruna politely said her thanks for the meal, and then told me that actually the person she calls all the time in her homeland was her husband.

“What, really! You left him behind?” I said, surprised.

“Yeah, if I didn’t, he’d spoil me rotten,” Maruna said, with a broad smile. I realized all over again how extraordinary her determination was.


So then, about the Sweet Shrimp Fritter Incident of a certain day in April.

First, some foreshadowing.

“It’s already New Years,” Maruna said quietly to me one day.


“Sri Lankan New Year is in April.”

“Oh really, what day in April?” I asked, but her answer wasn’t what I expected.

New Year’s isn’t on the same day every year. The day the year starts, and even the time the year starts, are both decided by divination.

Even the exact time to start a fire in the hearth for the first meal of the new year is prescribed.

That’s the Sri Lankan New Year.

“Before New Year’s, there’s a ban on all kinds of things.”

“What kind of things?”

“Touching money, visiting people’s homes…”


“Work is off limits, of course.” Maruna laughed.

Yoshie Eguchi was again behaving in her anti-teamwork fashion that day.

We were so busy our eyes were spinning. An entire family comes in. A couple comes in. A group of college buddies comes in. Like wells gushing up one after the other, there’s no pause in the flow of customers.

“You shouldn’t even be working today, and now it turns out like this,” I said to Maruna, walking briskly behind her.

“It’s completely insane,” she answered, looking dizzy herself.

When things get this bad, Yoshie Eguchi’s unsociable, chilly attitude is irritating, no matter what.

I end up feeling like, you’re not the only who’s busy, you know. Whenever I glance over, she’s working quickly, she’s not idle, and she’s never sloppy, but still.

Yoshie Eguchi was on trash duty that day, and left to take care of it. She didn’t come back for a long while.

The trash station is on a different floor, so you put the trash on a push cart and use the elevator. It always takes a long time. But even taking that into account, she really was overly late.

“That girl, she’s gotta be slacking off,” one of the other staff members muttered.

Everyone had been thinking the same thing.

They’re short words, often said, but at a time like this, I think they just about cover it. “You said it.”

But what’s the phrase, spoil yourself, be strict with others? It’s always ugly to see in action.

After a long time, Yoshie Eguchi returned. The peak of business had continued unabated, so everyone’s stares were quite pointed indeed.

“I apologize,” Yoshie Eguchi said quiety, bowing her head perfuntorily and returning to her post, shaking off those pointed looks.

“Remember to think of other people, too,” was all the store manager said.

“Yes, sir.” Yoshie Eguchi nodded.

But no matter how you looked at it, she acted like she was sulking. An unpleasant, apathetic atmosphere filled the kitchens.

That was when it happened.

Maruna raised her voice, like she was making a pronouncement.

“Eguchi is a good person. She doesn’t have it in her heart to lie.

And she doesn’t like to fight with people. That’s the kind of person she is.”

It was a declaration extremely unsuited to the time and place, and also extremely unexpected coming from her, and no one could make an immediate reply. Myself included.

Even Yoshie Eguchi herself, for a shocked instant, stared back into Maruna’s big eyes, but the customers weren’t stopping, so the moment didn’t go anywhere, and we all returned to the rushing vortex.

Nobody said anything further about Yoshie Eguchi’s anti-teamwork behavior, but as it turned out, I was walking with

Maruna to our usual train station on the way home that day when I heard something I’d never expected.

“Eguchi was helping a lost child,” Maruna said.

“What? A lost child?”

Which reminded me, Maruna had left the kitchens, too, for a little bit, on an errand the shop manager had asked her to run.

Apparently, she’d seen Yoshie Eguchi in the food court plaza on her way back.

Our food court is a big space, so you can’t see the whole thing from the kitchens. Yoshie Eguchi had been in a corner we couldn’t see.

“She was holding a little kid’s hand, and they were looking for the kid’s mother. She was smiling, and making a kind face, Eguchi was.”

That was apparently why she’d spent so much time taking out the trash.

If that was the case, I said to Maruna, she should have said so when she got back.

“Eguchi, um, what’s the word, I’m sure she didn’t want people to think she was… exposing?”



“Ah, making excuses?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“Well, you didn’t say anything either though, Maruna…”

“I picked up on how she felt.”

She looked at me with a face like, did I say that right? so I gave a big nod. You did it right.


The Sweet Shrimp Fritters Incident was the following day.

The path it took was this:

Maruna enters the shop at 9 AM, as usual, to do the prep work. She turns on the power.

The prep schedule for the day is always written out on the white board, but she double checks it, as usual, and gets to work. Shrimp fritters.

In the shop duty logs, she keeps a record, in Japanese of course, with plenty of kanji. This is what she wrote on that day:

“Prepared the fritters, but when I tried to deep fry them, the color kept changing.”

That was weird, was the oil dirty? And so, with that in mind:

“I switched out the oil and tried deep frying them again, but with the same results.”

The color turned out a stronger burnt shade than usual. Thinking this really was strange, she tried what she called “Product Inspection.” Oh dear, they were sweet.

“Finally, the reason became clear. Pastry flour…”

She’d used desert-type powdered sugar by mistake.

Which was to say, she’d made crispy brown, deep-fried sweet fritters.

She brings it to a conclusion in the work log like this:

“I put them in the staff lunches. They seemed to like them. I was worried I’d put the shop at a disadvantage.”

I ate them, too, actually. They certainly were sweet.

But there was a moment when something unexpected happened.

“Oh, these are delicious,” someone said, before anyone else had spoken.

It turned out to be Yoshie Eguchi.

The chopsticks of every staff member eating their provided lunch froze, and all eyes became glued to Yoshie Eguchi.

She didn’t seem to mind the stares in the least, and quickly reached out her chopsticks to throw another of the sweet fritters into her mouth.

She didn’t merely toss it in, either. “I think I might prefer them like this,” she said calmly.

It was a big moment for Maruna, too.

She put down her chopsticks, put both hands together in front of her chest, and said, “Ayu bo wan.”

Whether she meant it as “Thank you,” or “Have as many as you’d like,” wasn’t clear, but Yoshie Eguchi replied, “Sure, bo wan, bo wan.”

An indulgent atmosphere spread over those present.

It goes without saying, but what we call a team is actually made up of a lot of individuals. As I savored the sweet fritters, I was struck by the thought that when everyone supresses their individuality, or hides themselves, the homogenaity that results isn’t necessarily “one body.”

Everyone has subtle variations on “what’s important,” and “what I believe in.” When we all respect that in each other, we make a great effort towards the same goal.

And that is teamwork, indeed. Ayu bo wan.


[1 – 人 (person), 傘 (umbrella)]

[2 – 人 (person) + 百 (hundred) + 宀 (the roof radical) = 宿 (an inn or hotel)]

[3 – good morning, the formal/polite version]

[4  – in Japan, curry, or カレー is a sort of slop-looking roux-based dish, usually with meat, almost more stew than anything else, usually served half and half with rice on a giant plate. it’s often considered a comfort food.]

[5  – that’s a $400 phone bill. yikes. (^_^) ]

~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]

~4~ Explore New Territory!

Explore New Territory!

A pro always puts himself in sticky situations.

It’s pure chance that anyone meets anyone.

Having to make even a temporary connection with someone who’s rude is like a traffic accident, it’s a misfortune that one can only resign oneself to.

Such are my thoughts concerning my meeting with Shigeo Endo.

Shigeo Endo was the kitchen manager at Marronier. [1] The restaurant’s parent company was developing restaurants all across the country, but for some reason, they hadn’t taken any steps toward Nagoya City yet, or so I’d heard. But finally they got everybody on board. This was the result, Marronier.

It felt like we were reclaiming the west. It was the first time I’d been to this city.

So at the interview, I said to Endo, quite frankly:

“I’m interested in exploring new territory.”

Endo peered right into my eyes.

“Izzat right,” he said, in a terse tone.

Criticizing other people’s looks isn’t really a hobby of mine, but I would like to say a bit about him in particular.

His eyes seemed like they could see right through me, straight to the bone. Whenever I did something dumb, his forehead and temples would turn red all at once.

To be honest, I had another motive, too, besides my interest in “exploring new territory.” To use the fashionable phrase, I was “searching for myself.”

Those words make me want to really dig into it, like, is there really even a “self” to go searching for? but there certainly was a bit of that motive there.

I’ve never worked for one place for very long.

I graduated from a food prep school and set out to look for work. Until this incident, I’d just sort of tumbled through whatever posts came across my path. The worst didn’t even last ten days. My longest successful run wasn’t more that two months. There always seemed to be this wall.

I even gave other stuff a try, figuring maybe I wasn’t suited for kitchen work. The results were always the same.

I wondered if it was really okay to keep up like that forever. I did a lot of reflection, and I started to search for myself.

But, this research experiment was apparently to be accompanied by certain costs.

That’s what my instincts told me, the instant I saw the gleam in Shigeo Endo’s eyes at that interview.

Endo had been dispatched from distant lands as a kitchen manager specifically for the opening of this shop. Actually, he was a man of legendary valor, and everyone knew him. If this had been a western, he’d be a never-miss gunman with the kind of rep that made people say, “You’ve heard the rumors about him, ain’tcha. Nothing but gravestones where he’s walked.” Who knew how many young bucks he’d worked to exhaustion in his kitchens.

That’s what I heard, anyway, at the celebration later. I’d ended up as part of something I hadn’t expected.

The Great Kitchen Manager Shigeo Endo had received a command from on high:

“Establish a Marronier in Nagoya in three months!”

So he set out, like some kind of wandering gunman. We were just the rank and file soldiers assembled under him.

In other words, plying the people of this town with the shop’s favors, and raising a successor to those flavors from this very shop, was Shigeo Endo’s mission. Marronier was a casual restaurant with an Italian base.


Three months after the interview.

That sure went fast.

It feels like it’s all been a dream, but at the same time I remember every inch of every corner of those days as if it’s been only maybe three days.

This town has a lot of pedestrian traffic, doesn’t it, I thought today, peddling my bike. I travel this street every day, but today it feels like I’m discovering it for the first time.

Now that I think about it, outside of this route that I bike to work on everyday, I haven’t really gone anywhere in three months. In other words, it’s been a season of nothing but round trips between my house and the shop.

Every day has been just like being in the center of a tornado.

Even now, I really don’t know which parts I was awake for and which parts I slept through.

But this path is going to come to an end soon, too.

My contract term expires next week Tuesday. I wasn’t a Nagoya City resident to begin with, so it was set up this way from the very start. The other staff members are all Nagoya City people.

My term was restricted to three months.

I learned about it after I’d been put to use in the shop, after I’d spent my two week trial period here.

Huh, that so…

I didn’t think much of it. As I said before, historically speaking, my longest run had only been two months. So when I was told of the three month limit, I only thought:

Am I even going to last that long?

But before I knew it, my record for longest run had to be updated. The fact that I wasn’t even aware of the development could only be because these three months really had been a tornado after all.

And now, today, we’ve come to the end of my term.

What the heck do you call this feeling? I thought, still riding my bike.

Actually, whatever it is, it’s lodged itself in my head or my chest or wherever for the past two whole weeks.

A sense of liberation?

That must be it. I’ve wondered seriously if I’ll ever have another day without that special murderous beam that radiates from Endo’s glaring eyes. Just the sensation of that stare and it feels like I’m going to faint. It feels like I’m walking barefoot on a blade. I’m constantly tense.

After all that, it’s a sense of liberation.

Ah, I’ve been saved.

It’s a feeling like I’m earnestly grateful for god’s divine protection on the battlefield, having barely escaped with my life.

Plus, because this isn’t the type of farewell that comes from my own decision not to continue, that sense of liberation is free of any feelings of guilt.

Having said all that…

Actually, there are some other feelings mixed in, too.

A reluctance to leave?

I asked myself that last night, and the night before that, too.

It couldn’t be anything like that.

I answered myself clearly last night, and the night before that, too. Shouldn’t I be thinking that I needed to take my entire body out for a makeover? I shouldn’t have any reluctance about leaving.

So what is it, this misty feeling?

This morning, too, while I was reading the newspaper before I left, I was staring into space, thinking about what this feeling really is, and not folllowing the printed words at all.


Yesterday, just before I went home, Endo said to me, “Satoru (that’s me), come talk to me tomorrow.”

“Okay,” I answered. I didn’t ask what it was about because I’d been meeting with Endo for three months to study.

What, why, how.

It was not Endo’s practice to give answers to those sorts of questions. Think whatever you want, was probably his attitude.

He often said stuff like that was the mark of a true artist, and usually sounded like he meant it as praise. But whenever he said it to me, it was just him being high-handed.

As a matter of course, Endo was not a polite tutor.

I’d only done dishwashing up till then, so I hadn’t expected it.

“Make a dressing,” he told me only a few days after I’d started working.

I didn’t know what kind I should make, so I waited for instructions from the glaring Endo.

After a while, he came up to me. I got ready, like, ah, some directions finally, but what he asked me was, “Done?”


“Hurry up.” He tossed the words at me and left. What the heck, I thought, am I just supposed to make whatever I want? So I made a dressing with olive oil, salt, and pepper – the simplest kind, I’d made it all through food prep school. I had a least a little bit of faith in myself.

I carried the dressing over to Endo. He took one lick and tossed it out without ever changing his expression.

That same scene repeated itself four, no five or six times. After the third time, I started crying without really meaning to. These weren’t tears of frustration or sorrow. It was closer to powerlessness, or exhaustion. All the strength left my body, and so all the strength went out of my tear ducts, too, and the tears just came out one after the other.

Well, that was what it meant to be attached to Shigeo Endo.

So when I was told, “Satoru, come talk to me tomorrow,” my answer was only, “Okay.” That was last night, but it wasn’t until I arrived at my apartment that I tried to guess precisely what the topic of this “talk” would be. It was probably this:

The appointed three months ended next week. The day after my trial period ended, the area manager had said to me, “If you want to stay on after three months, come talk to me and we can discuss a transfer to another store.”

Last night before I fell asleep, I got lost in my own thoughts, spellbound by a certain scene.

“Thanks for all your help,” is how Endo greets me in this scene. Then he abruptly turns his back on me. That’s it, that was really all it was, but imaging it held my rapt attention.

This morning, while flipping through the morning paper, I just stared into space, my eyes not following the type at all, but I wasn’t continuing that daydream.

I couldn’t see what was at the core of my own feelings. It was quite vexing.


I continue riding my bike through early morning Nagoya City.
I’ve been looking back at those two weeks, and all my days since then, but even now I still think:

Even so, Endo…

I say, “even so,” because he never bothered to teach me anything about cooking. But even so, he critiqued my cleaning in minute detail. How many times did I have to clean the same thing in a single day? And every time:

“Wash your hands.”

He said it so much my ears were sore from it. I couldn’t stomach it, either. My so-called training was all cleaning. It was like all the evils of the apprentice system.

The cleaning was a package deal with the simulations.

Before the shop opened, we’d run simulations that repeated just like baseball’s so-called thousand bat knock. [2] Certain dishes were ordered. Stop watches were pressed. From the galley, dishes were passed into the hands of the floor staff, and Endo let the timer keep going until the dish made it to the table.

“Three minutes twenty-six seconds over.”

He would read off the time in those moments with no expression, like a machine.

And then.

He would start to investigate the breakdown of those three minutes twenty-six seconds in excrutiating detail.

For instance, you missed something just here and that cost you eight seconds. He would clean out the causes in every corner just like that. He acted like it was so intolerable.

I even got hurt, too.

One time, I cut my finger with the kitchen knife.

I was showing off a little. I rubbed some salt into the wound to sterilize it, and said, “Wounds are like medals to a chef.”

It felt like a little joke more than showing off.

I assumed his retort would be, “You’re ten years too early.” Instead, there was a sudden lightning strike in the galley immediately following my remark.

“Satoru! Go home!”

Endo’s voice was a whump that made the window glass shiver.

“Don’t soil the galley with your blood!”

I felt myself go pale. Am I bleeding so much I’m anemic, I wondered just at the edge of my thoughts.

“I’m sorry, I’ll just go then, I’m going.”

I suddenly felt very antagonistic. But before I knew what I was doing, I was earnestly apologizing.

Why he was so angry, I hadn’t the slightest clue.

Endo was also an extremely self-confident person.

“My flavors won’t lose to anyone.”

I can’t even imagine being so self-possesed as to think that without any misgivings. But he would announce it clearly to the entire staff on a daily basis.

Every time I heard it, I felt fed up.


If you counted them up, it’d never end.

Still on my bike, I turn my mind again to “Shigeo Endo’s Problematic Points,” something I’ve thought a lot about these past two weeks.

I brake as the light at the intersection in front of me turns yellow. As my bike comes to a lazy stop, I think:

It’s the other day, that’s why. I seriously didn’t expect that.

It was three days ago.

It was after the staff lunch breaks were over, and I realized that someone had shown up in Marronier. They were obviously not a customer.

I couldn’t see their face. But still, how can I put it, there was an aura, maybe, a sense of a peculiar existence.

Who’s that?

I asked my coworkers quietly, but everyone shrugged their shoulders.

If Endo was a wandering gunman, this guy was a famous sherriff. He had that kind of air about him. Every hooligan starts shaking.

There was an intermission before the evening rush.

Endo and this person sat down at the shop’s innermost table and had a friendly chat.

I’ve always thought this, but the difference between what the shop looks like during business hours, and what it looks like during the lulls is amazing. What’s it called, Fixed Point Photography, where you compare a photo taken in spring with a photo taken in the same spot in fall? It has exactly that kind of impact. Marronier’s interior, once bursting with the luxurious scenery of spring, becomes filled with a sense of deep autumn. That is intermission.

In the midst of that quiet, the two of them continued their chat. It looked from the outside like they were really close, but I recognized Endo’s expressions of respect.

He must be someone from the company. And someone important, too.

I had a hunch.

For a while, I used my elastic knees and stretchy ears, but only Endo’s voice reached me, and only intermittently, maybe because his tone was unusually high.

“… … But still … … That’s true, but … … In three months, that’s impossible … …”

I heard something like that, anyway, and there was that low tone again, and they both laughed. And then:

“You haven’t finished yet, say it clearly.”

I heard those words with such clarity I was surprised.

They were on the other side of the wall, so naturally I couldn’t see Endo, but the reddening of his face and rush of blood to his head were obvious enough. I didn’t need to see him to know that.

The other person didn’t show any signs of agitation. He didn’t even raise his voice. A scene played out in my mind with Endo supporting himself on both elbows and leaning in as the other person responded with dignity.

“You know, leaving now wouldn’t be…” He left off there.

“No one’s leaving.” Endo’s tone rose sharply. “These guys are eager.”

I’d been stretching every muscle to its limit, but listening in was getting awkward, so I figured I’d better stop while I was ahead, and left. So I never learned of later developments.

But with the night rush approaching, I did learn from the hall chief that the person who’d come in earlier was the general manager.

Ah, is that so.

I fell into a bit of a fog imagining the topic of their conversation.

“These guys are eager.”

That one phrase remained frightfully strong in my ear. Wow, that Shigeo Endo, I thought. Unexpectedly for me, my chest felt full.


The yellow light turned red.

I guess it’s always been like this, but this light is long.

I got off my bike and took a single big, deep breath, staring at the rooftops of the buildings.

Just then, I was a bit foggy from thinking constantly for these past two weeks, but I had a certain hunch, and gradually things were coming into focus.

Endo’s special declaration, “My flavors won’t lose to anyone,” wasn’t necessarily a greasy statement of his excessive self-confidence.

It’s a refusal to back down.

I was sure of it.

You often hear that modesty is a virtue.

“I’ve still got a lot to learn.”

That might be thought of as refreshingly reserved, but never professional. Whenever I made something that turned out sub-par, he’d only ever given me evasive answers. It was a pre-emptive defense. It was pretty cunning, when I thought about it.

Endo was constantly asking each one of us on the staff how our flavor excelled, and to prove his point, merely meeting the standards wasn’t enough. In order to say, “I’m the best,” you couldn’t just preserve the status quo, you had to constantly impose new trials on yourself. And then, thanks to that experience, you’d never end up with unexpected flavors.

Shigeo Endo’s “self-praise” is really a self-admonition, so that he won’t run away from his own declared high standards, I thought clearly.

The discoveries followed in quick succession from that. It was just like turning Othello game pieces from black to white.

I’d always been dissatified that he’d never taught me any cooking techniques, but when I thought about it, wasn’t that deliberate, to soak it into my head not to steal with my eyes and hands?

And then, all that stuff about cleaning.

It’s Endo’s conviction that hygeine is the foundation of everything. Attractive dishes will never come from a disordered galley.

It’s the same with injuries.

My talking about the honor of wounds was such an amateur move. When a pianist goes out, he never forgets his gloves. For a chef, too, his fingers are the tools of his trade.

Endo got angry and turned so red because I’d been playing around, and lost my focus, and had ended up injuring myself. And that injury had only made the galley that much more unsanitary.


The light still hasn’t changed.

It was like that then, too, and that time, too.

The discoveries continued. That simulation where he measured our times with a stop watch, and going over each second to find the cause, when we were slower than the alloted time.

The image of a beehive suddenly floated through my mind.

A honeycomb’s rooms are each finished in a regular hexagon. If they were round, you’d end up with a subtle gap between the rooms. That gap is a waste. A small waste, yes, but if you consider the entire beehive, it would add up to quite a lot of space.

When Endo made us run those simulations, surely that’s what he was getting at.

Discovering a little waste in all four corners, and cleaning out each one like I was prying it out with the tip of a toothpick meant that I was buried in detailed manual labor.

But a group of people who are like a beehive, with its collection of perfectly regular hexagonal rooms, is a beautiful sight to behold. And it’s not just an attractive sight, but there’s a quiet and gentle strength that won’t just crumble away once the job’s complete.

Endo was creating that kind of environment.

The truth is, the number of mistakes we were making had dramatically decreased by the third month. That’s proof that the Marronier work enviroment is remarkably close to a regular hexagon.

Finally the light turned green. I took off on my bike.

What we call a “pro…”

A strange metaphor had occurred to me.

Maybe what we call a “pro” is someone who lives like they’re always plunging into the intersection on a yellow light.

Someone who puts themselves in a tight spot, not just living peacefully in the green or the red, but always behaving as if they were being chased.

It’s only because they do things in that way that things get finished just in the nick of time. That’s the business person we call a “pro.” Just like a top, they can’t stand up unless they’re spinning.

I stepped hard on the pedals.

I could see Marronier about seventy meters ahead. Looking at it from a distance, a wave rose from it like a heat shimmer, but only in the area around the shop. It was the zeal that had taken root there, no doubt about it. I thought, Is this what you call a shop that’s on the right track?


My talk with Endo happened during my break time, after lunch was over.

“Sit down, Satoru.”

He offered me a seat at the table closest to the window. He brought me a coffee.

“It’s been decided that I’m leaving before too much longer,” Endo said.


“I’m quitting this shop pretty soon.”

“Huh, oh, is that right.”

The results of that talk with the general manager three days ago, I finally realized.

Endo, though, didn’t say anything else. Instead, he looked through the window and up at the sky.

“The clouds look like they just float along, nice and fluffy, but when you get close to one, it swirls around you with a thunderous noise, and it’s like being in the middle of a waterfall. That’s what they were saying on the radio the other day,” he said, or something like that.

I didn’t know how I was supposed to respond to that, so I stayed quiet.

“How about it, Satoru?” Endo said.

“How about what?”

“This shop.”


It felt like Endo was scolding me, but all the things I’d been trying to say rushed out of my mouth.

“If it’s about work, I think it’s about expression. Self-expression,” I said, and then ducked my head, but Endo was unexpectedly silent.

All he said, after a little bit, was, “And?”

“Would it really be impossible to let me do that here?” I said.

Endo stared at the clouds outside the window again, and then said, “Is that right.”

Maybe I’ll end up regretting this decision later, but that’ll be then. That’s what I thought.

One thing I do know. I called it “searching for myself,” but maybe what I was doing wasn’t “searching for,” but rather, “building.”


[1  – “Horse Chestnut”]

[2  – you keep hitting balls out to the outfielders until they drop, to give them practice catching]

~5~ The Farewell Wristwatch

The Farewell Wristwatch

What makes it hospitality is eyes that can see into the heart.

In the airport departures lobby, Katsuo Umehara, manager of a shabu-shabu bar [1] called Kichiro, [2] pulled out his cell phone.

“Hey, it’s me. Thanks for your hard work. What’s up?”

Golden Week [3] was approaching, and they were opening a sister store. He would be getting on a flight pretty soon to help out with that, but it was the weekend and he was worried about his own store, too.

“Yeah… … Yeah… … Ah, okay, have you got enough change? … … Okay then, thanks again.”

He was only occassionally away from home, but when he was, he seemed to worry about the minutest details.

After he said thanks yet again, he continued with, “Oh, and one other thing…” but eventually he did snap his cell phone shut.

As he was closing it, he started to sit down on a bench, but when he saw the face of the person next to him, he stood up again.

“Ah, thank you very much for the other day,” he greeted the man stiffly.

The person he’d greeted looked suspicious for a moment.

“At the Shinjuku Kichiro. You helped us out a little while back. I’m the owner, Umehara.”

“Ah!” The man seemed to remember. “You give such a different impression than when I saw you in the store I didn’t recognize you, my apologies. Are you on this flight, too? That’s a coincidence. And I’m the one who should be thanking you for that day.”

This person, Mr Ōta, had been the star of a banquet held at Kichiro the month previous, in March. March had been Mr Ōta’s last full month at work before retiring from the company at which he’d been employed for many long years, and the banquet had been a farewell party.

Even customers who’ve only been to a store once are sometimes left with strong memories of the store employees.

There can be a wide variety of reasons, even in a single case, but Katsuo Umehara wondered if a comparitively large number of cases might be caused by the proverbial small bone caught in the throat.

Something like ninety percent of how a person feels about any given service is based on whether or not it’s offered according to what they expect, but when there’s something left undone… That thing becomes like a tiny bone, stuck in a corner of the mind, and it can stay there for an unexpectedly long time. That was the night of that banquet. It was why Mr Ōta, guest of honor, had such a tight expression on his face.

Customer service skills could only enhance a situation by burying that small, stuck thing. That’s what Umehara had always thought.

“The announcement a little big ago said the flight was about twenty minutes late,” Mr Ōta said, smiling quietly.

“Oh, did it? I was on the phone, I didn’t notice,” Umehara replied. Mr Ōta, perhaps mindful of the time, looked at his wrist-watch. Umehara thought his way of looking at it was a little unnatural, but the reason for that would become clear later.

As a matter of etiquette, they didn’t ask each other where they were headed, but instead, as Umehara sat down, Mr Ōta said to him, “I’m really sorry about the organizer at that farewell party, I mean really.” His expression was as quiet as ever.

Umehara offered a flawless negation, “Not at all,” accurately assessing, of course, what Mr Ōta was saying.

There certainly had been a few issues with the man who’d organized the party that day. To put it plainly, he was inept.

After the banquet had started, Umehara had said, “As today’s guest of honor, I hope everything is to your satisfaction.” He hadn’t imagined there was any specific problem, but he’d realized his error not too long after.


Umehara remembered that night.

Had it really been entirely the organizer’s fault? Of course he definitely had been inept, but there were plenty of other things… Something was stuck in Umehara’s mind, like a single forgotten screw in the shop’s service.


The farewell party.

There had been signs about the organizer from the first phone call.

“Hello, I’d like to have a banquet at your place.”

He said there would be twenty or thirty people. He was quite vague about it. Then when they tried to confirm what the occassion was, he was long winded and vague. That gave an instant clue to the man’s inexperience. As far as Umehara was concerned, though, that wasn’t a problem. In cases like these, he would just stick close to the organizer, never in front of him, and without the organizer ever being aware that he was being stuck to, but he would support the organizer at all times, with brute force if necessary, and produce the event as if it had been raised entirely on the organizer’s initiative. In his experience, situations like this almost always went off without a hitch.

It was instead the experienced organizers, the ones who tried to take control of every little thing, that were trouble. There had been plenty of times when the curtain, as it were, was full of holes, and what was worse, the person in question didn’t recognize, would never recognize, that the holes were even there. In these cases, Umehara did not stand behind the organizer, he stood right beside them, and in the gaps, when the organizer was looking the other way, in other words when the organizer couldn’t see, Umehara would devise some scheme to lead the party forward.

So then, in the case of this particular farewell party, what he’d predicted was that he’d call the organizer on the day before the reservation to confirm the number of people, and the reply would be, “Plus or minus two or three people maybe…”

He resigned himself to it, We’ll have to just deal with it. But on the day before the party, he was told that the number of people had increased. By ten people.

The plan went entirely out the window.

They couldn’t handle that many tables. They had a backup plan to avoid the impression of being overcrowded as much as was possible, but when done on a full shop scale, it was tight. The layout was at its limit.

They ended up with six people sitting in the space meant for four people’s seats, and when they asked the organizer if he wouldn’t mind such a layout, the response was, “Roger.”

Roger? What is that? I mean he said it easily enough, but…

If the service wasn’t scrupulous in that constrained space, the guests would be dissatisfied with the shop, that’s all there was to it. He wouldn’t allow himself to pass it off with some excuse either, like, under such circumstances…

Happily, the staff understood his aims. In cases like this, they knew that deliberate attention to every inch of available space was needed. They had to keep a wary eye on the arrangement of the tables, and give as much consideration as possible to the positioning of even coasters and chopsticks, to avoid a constricted feeling.

He tried to gently call attention to the problem with the organizer. “These are the final numbers then, I assume?”

The organizer answered that indeed they were, but there was a distinct lack of self-confidence in his voice.

And of course, about noon on the day in question, came this:

“Four or five people fewer.”

“What are we going to do, manager?” one of the staff asked. “We can’t just cut out four or five people, can we?”

They were right. If they simply cut them out, the whole room would be off balance, and things would seem even more constricted.

“No other choice,” Umehara said, to which the staff member replied, “Take it all down then?”


The chopsticks that had been placed just so on the tables, the coasters, everything came down. The whole layout of the tables had to change.

The staff was quick. They knew what they were doing.

Work progressed in a flash. After a quick consultation, they converted everything from vertical to horizontal, a hundred and eighty degree rotation. When they were finished, the entire landscape had changed.

And then, with incredible speed, the chopsticks, the coasters, were all set out again. The number of people had only decreased by five, but they’d created a surprisingly spacious atmosphere.


“The man who organized it, it seems to have been his first time, didn’t it,” Mr Ōta said, on the bench in front of the boarding entrance. “It must have caused everyone at your company a lot of trouble, yourself especially.”

“Oh no, not at all,” Umehara answered. Against his better judgement, he tried asking a question. “That farewell party, it didn’t leave you dissatisfied in any way, did it?”

Mr Ōta had been retired compulsorily.

A farewell pary, that goal of the company he’d been employed at for so long, and his own goal. A meet-up where he could receive the thanks of the collegues and subordinates with whom he’d passed days both clear and cloudy.

Umehara had been intensely aware of the meaning behind the event, and had intended to spread his customer service eye warmly into every nook and cranny.

But for some reason, he couldn’t help but feel that there was something he’d left undone, a screw he’d forgotten to tighten.

“Dissatisfied?” Mr Ōta looked at Umehara with a face that said, “Good heavens!” and then smiled gently. “Oh no, it was a very nice party.”

Then he glanced down at the watch on his left wrist.

“You must be in a hurry. Delayed flights are a pain, aren’t they,” Umehara said.

“No, I’m a free bird now, I don’t have any use for rushing,” Mr Ōta answered, still smiling.


The farewell party didn’t quite start at the appointed seven thirty.
Even as the hour passed, people were only gathering in drips and drops. The poor state of the organizer’s curtain was being quickly made clear.

Not to mention that the organizer himself was late. It was nearly eight o’ clock.

He entered the shop without even giving his name, took his seat, and ended up buried in the midst of the other party-goers.

He may have been buried, but Umehara knew him right away. That person sitting amongst the other guests and chatting, but blinking at the staff and in the direction of the kitchens, he must be the organizer.

An then, Umehara checked on the guest of honor.

He wasn’t making any eyes at the staff or the kitchen. Instead, he was surrounded by a ring of guests, and talking to every one of them in a fidgety rush. Mr Ōta couldn’t be mistaken for anyone other than the guest of honor.

As Umehara’d thought, the organizer was not leading the party.
If there was no opening speech, there would be no toast.

Umehara quietly approached him and called out a name he’d heard on the telephone once, “Mr Sakamoto?” The organizer gave a big surprised nod. Umehara whispered in his ear.

“It doesn’t seem like everyone’s quite here yet, but shall we bring out the beer?”

Once they brought out the beer, someone would start the normal flow without the organizer having to pay attention to anything. “A toast! And to lead it…”

Draft beer was poured into medium-sized mugs according to the number of people they’d been given. One staff member had volunteered to play bartender, and he stepped up. The whole bunch of them were lined up, and with last-minute adjustments to the head on the beers, everyone ended up with the same beautiful medium-mug serving. They set all the beers up on the tables simultaneously.

The organizer’s “Cheers” was quiet, but the bubbles in his beautiful mug were brilliant, and the party was enlived.


“I never realized he had such terrible manners when he was drunk until that farewell party,” Mr Ōta said, his eyes following the planes visible on the other side of the glass.

“He certainly had a healthy appetite,” Umehara answered.

After the toast was finished, things followed their normal course.

All at once, the hall fell silent. The attendees had begun eating. This was frequently what happened. It didn’t necessarily mean that the guests had gotten bored, so the staff didn’t make any inappropriate moves.

They entrusted the guests to the flow of the party.

Once their appetites were gradually sated, conversation blossomed.

It was about that time that large quanitites of alcohol were circulating.

In the middle of it all, the organizer had started to get quite sloshed. It seemed, in fact, that he’d been getting air drops from his compatriots. “Hey, mister organizer, good job.”

Umehara suspected this was dangerous, and had prepared counter measures. After the organizer became totally useless, someone would be needed to arrange the party’s progress. If things got too bad, they might break up mid-flight. But rationally, not everyone would be drinking alcohol. So, the venue would have to put a target on someone, and gently urge progress on.

Umehara had even found his target. The pleasant chatter wasn’t slowing down, but still, he’d checked in on a few people who weren’t drinking that much.

The one who was the least bored turned out to be the party’s guest of honor.

Observing him indirectly, Umehara was relieved to see that Mr Ōta seemed to passing his time enjoyably.

However, the organizer was now taking a slightly unexpected action.

“I have to go,” he said, and did indeed leave the shop.

The organizer of the party was absent from it.

This was beyond unexpected. When the person from an interior table whom Umehara had targeted went to the toilet, Umehara mentioned to him, “If there’s anything you need from us, please let me know.”

He was hoping to get a sense of any established hierarchy.

It was maybe thirty minutes later.

The organizer returned.

Umehara had no idea what the man had been doing outside, but Umehara did remember his slightly tense expression.

After that, the organizer got really smashingly drunk.

When Mr Ōta had said, “such terrible manners when he was drunk,” surely this was the part he’d been referring to.

His gait had been unsteady.

He kept knocking into the tables.

“Oi, are you alright, Sakamoto?” several people approached him asking, lending him their shoulders.

Umehara, standing a little behind him, took care of things indirectly.


The departures clerk made an announcement: “Our sincere apologies, but the flight has been delayed a bit longer.”

“The organizer got drunk faster than anyone else. He caused trouble for everyone, I think,” Mr Ōta said, glancing at his watch again.

Just then, suddenly, a memory surfaced in Umehara’s mind.

Now that I think about it…

The organizer was leaning on a coworker’s shoulder, and suddenly turned back towards Umehara, glancing around in all directions.

“There’s a suprise after this. I’ve got a favor to ask,” he said.

“A suprise?”

Umehara thought about it. He probably meant that someone was going to produce something that would ellicit a reaction from everyone, but as he tried to confirm that, the organizer’s head only turned round and round.

Oh yeah, we have a protocol on stand-by for stuff like that. Regardless of what the surprise is, we have to tighten down that noisy room, so we can get the place together.

First, they would replace every guest’s glass with a new one. Things would take on a ceremonial mood. To that end, they would turn the lights down, but imperceptibly. Mr Ōta’s seat would be the only one still lit up.

Yeah, yeah. That surprise…

Umehara found a loose end of that small thing that had gotten stuck that night.

But things ended up so confused in the end.

Apparently taking its cue from the organizer’s drunkeness, the whole place had gotten quite disordered. Maybe they should take away the tableware? Umehara wondered, imaging the surprise.

Someone Ota’d never dreamed of was going to put in an appearance at the party.

Was that the play?

If it was, they probably didn’t need to be too artful about it. Since the person’s appearing would be more of an act than anything else.

Who was it?

Maybe the company president or something?

That couldn’t be it.

Oh wait, it was his wife, wasn’t it.

“Cast your eyes on someone who’s supported you from the shadows these thirty years.”

The organizer would make some such fishy comment.

Then the chaotic room would get a bit awkward.

Umehara contacted a flower shop the ladies on staff always used, and requested they prepare a casual bouquet.

But his guess missed the mark.

The party was going to be over before too much longer, and still no one had appeared.

All the while, the organizer was sinking.

He fell onto a table.

His collegues who were sitting nearby poured him a glass of water, but when they told him to drink it, he only lifted his head and mumbled, “Surprise, surprise,” like he was talking in his sleep.

Guest of honor Mr Ōta stood up.

“Thank you, everyone, for today.”

The short greeting sounded like the opening lines of a speech.

His expression seemed lonely.

Ah, a bad ending, huh.

Umehara felt it keenly.


Still though.

Umehara thought, sitting on a seat in front of the boarding entrance and remembering the events of the farewell party a month earlier.

Still though, what was that surprise? It hadn’t sounded like drunken rambling.

“Mr Ōta, sir, I have an awkward question I’d like to ask you.”

I might as well ask it now, Umehara decided.

“What is it?” Mr Ōta answered with a gentle expression.

“At the farewell party, was there some kind of plan to bring your wife in on the spur of the moment?”

For an instant, Mr Ōta made a “Wha?” face, but then he immediately smiled.

“There wasn’t.”

“I see.”

“Well, my wife’s already passed on, it’s been six years ago now.”

“Ah,” Umehara said, straightening up. “I’m terribly sorry.”

“Not at all.”

Mr Ōta must have thought that Umehara had taken an excessive amount of care with him, because he then answered the question himself, quite firmly.

“Actually, it was my son, that night.”

And so the surprise was revealed, when Umehara least expected it.


Mr Ōta’s story was this:

He’d lost his wife six years previously, and now lived alone. His son had gone to far off lands to find work. That day, his son had happened to be back in the country on a business trip, and had entrused an object to the organizer at a coffee shop next door to Kichiro while the farewell party was in full swing.

“Ah, that must be when the organizer went out for a while?”

That did seem to be the case.

The son had called his father’s company, but learning of his father’s farewell party that night, he’d called the party organizer instead. It was just a cheap thing, but he’d bought a commemorative gift for his father, and so he wanted to give it to him at the farewell party.

The commemorative gift, in other words, wasn’t necessarily the surprise.

But the villainous organizer had ultimately proved useless. The following day, the organizer visited Mr Ōta’s home, his body shriveled up like a salted slug. He’d apologized about a hundred times and delivered the commemorative gift from the son.

“Oh did he?”

Just as Umehara said that, the plane’s preperations were at last put in order, and boarding commenced. The line snaked into place.

As they started to line up, Mr Ōta said, “Do you want to know what the gift was?”

Awkwardly, but triumphantly, he pulled back his sleeve on his left wrist. “It was this.”

His wrist watch.

Umehara had to apologize, but he hadn’t thought it especially valuable. It looked a bit shabby on someone like Mr Ōta.

“I’m on my way to my son right now, actually,” Mr Ōta said.

He normally wore a slightly higher class of watch, he said, but thought he should wear this one when going to meet his son, so he put it on today. It was out of the norm, so it made him feel a bit ill at ease, he said.

Of course.

Umehara finally realized why Mr Ōta had been glancing strangely at his watch the whole time.

The two of them entered the plane.

Their seats were pretty far from each other, so they parted at the door. After taking his seat and tightening his seat belt, Umehara glanced again and again at his own wrist watch, as if Mr Ōta’s guesture had infected him.


There’s an idiom that means something like, to forget to put the eye on the dragon. [4]

In flight, not long after take-off, Umehara recalled that phrase.

The kanji at the end of the four-kanji phrase used in the expression wasn’t the one for clear weather, although they did look similar. It was the kanji for the pupil, for the eye. The kanji in order were picture-dragon-point-eye, so you draw the dragon with a lot of care, but you forget to put in the pupils. The organizer, well, he’d gotten what was coming to him, and there wasn’t much to do about that, but it was still too bad for the son who’d tried his best.

It was only one small thing, but the organizer had obstructed it’s being accomplished.

Maybe the service had been like that, too.

If one thought of a restaurant as a canvas, making someone welcome was the dragon that was supposed to be vigourously painted there. Even if you drew it brilliantly, even if you drew it dilligently, if the eyes were missing, it wouldn’t reach people’s hearts.

He traced back over the story of the banquet, the ups and downs that led to its conclusion. As with any kind of story, the landing is more important than anything else. The ending.

That night’s farewell party was no exception.

Once the surprise materialized in that final scene, it must have left a deep impression on Mr Ōta. Where it took place didn’t necessarily matter. The event must have carved itself deeply into the hearts of the sender as well as the receiver, and no doubt they both thought of it as a meeting that they wouldn’t be able to forget for a long time.

Making someone welcome was the eyes on the dragon. To put it another way, it was the ability to focus all the way through to the finish, to those final moments.

Some surprise had been planned.

And Umehara’d suspected it, but he’d failed to catch on. And because of that, he’d been unable to assist in arranging that final scene.

I guess I felt somewhere deep down, like, “Oh well, it’ll be over soon anyway,” and so I didn’t keep my focus all the way to the end, Umehara thought, on the plane as take-off commenced. Then, on a memo inside his head, he wrote this: Every last drop of a person’s concentration should be poured into their task, right up to the end


[1  – shabu-shabu is a dish of thinly sliced meat and veggies that you scald in a pot of boiling water]

[2  – 吉郎 the auspicious path]

[3  – a week in early May with three holidays in it, so many companies give their employees the entire week off]

[4 – 画竜点睛を欠く – something like, “to go without putting the eye on the dragon painting…”]

~6~ Can I Get a Margarita?

Can I Get a Margarita?

Even hearts that are shut tight can be opened with a warm breeze

Twenty four varieties of beer from around the world are served in this beer restaurant. It’s quite a popular place.

“Tonight, I want to eat something a little spicy, so let’s go with something light.”

“I’m feeling fired up tonight, I wonder if I shouldn’t drink something rich.”

“Since it’s so hot…”

“Since it’s so dry…”

“Since we’re celebrating…”

“Since we’re bored…”

Even if these are all just example pretexts, the fact that a customer can enjoy them all is a benefit of the wide variation the store offers.

But the idea of twenty four varieties of beer wasn’t just for the customers. It’s tied to one of my own discoveries, too, thought Kana Ogawa, who worked as a member of the floor staff.

Her discovery concerned the matter of a mother and daughter with the last name of Miyahara.

The restaurant was directly connected to the subway, and so their customers were largely businessmen, but because there were also a lot of shopping facilities in the area, they frequently caught the eye of mother-daughter pairs, too.

The Miyaharas were one such pair.

It was obvious they were close friends from the moment they stepped into the store. The daughter must be about the same age as me, Kana thought.

They were a perfectly normal mother-daughter pair, but there was one major difference. The daughter was riding in a wheelchair. The mother pushed her along.

It wasn’t the first time they’d had customers in a wheelchair in the restaurant. It had been built without any steps, and the tables were generously spaced, and the washroom had also been adjusted to accomodate wheelchairs, so it was what they called “barrier-free.”

It was, however, Kana’s first experience serving a customer in a wheelchair.

When she went to take an order, Kana usually stood beside the table and stretched her back muscles taught, but in the Miyahara’s case, she received the order by squatting gently next to the pair.

The daughter in the wheelchair was a pale, slender, very pretty, very calm person. Kana crouched down next to her to present the menu and answer questions.

The mother said to the daughter, “I think I’d like a salad, hm?”

The daughter smiled gently.

Following the mother’s suggestions, Kana explained things such as “Shrimp and avacado salad,” and “Ceasar salad with slow-boiled egg” in easy-to-understand terms.

For a while, the daughter dropped her eyes to the menu, but it was the mother who ordered something. “I guess I’d like this, please.” And she added some wine.

“Sure, right away,” Kana answered, but she was a little bewildered. It wasn’t until later that she realized what she’d been puzzled by.

That night, Kana’s every minute was spent serving customers, right up until the moment the Miyahara’s said their thanks for the meal and went cordially home.

“Thank you very much, take care.”

Seeing them off, Kana suddenly realized.

The daughter didn’t say a single word to me all night. She didn’t even meet my eyes.

It wasn’t that she was displaying any hostility. Kana was more or less indifferent to those kind of thorns.

Was she shy?

Could be. But, you know, if that really was it, didn’t that mean that Kana had made a customer who came into her restaurant feel “shy?”
It made Kana a bit sad.


About ten days later, the Miyaharas came into the store again.

Just like before, the daughter sat silently in her wheelchair. The mother pushed her along with a gentle smile. And once again, Kana was in charge of the two of them.

While she was presenting them with the menu, Kana another realization.

I didn’t recommend any of our “twenty four types of beer from around the world” last time. That’s our store’s selling point.
Now why was that?

Kana thought about it while the Miyahara’s both looked cordially at the menu.

She hit upon one thing, at least.

Ah, that’s true. I was surprised when the mother ordered wine with the meal. She thought back over the topic.

Like, Hey, is it even okay for her to drink alcohol?

It was that kind of confusion.

It was a prejudice against people in wheelchairs that really had nothing to do with alcohol. That’s why she’d gotten distracted and had left out the explanation of their twenty-four types of beer.


Still mulling it over, Kana remembered something else.

Something the store manager had told her once. Something he’d said when she’d made a mistake in serving a blind man.

“When you were explaining the beers, you were trying to say that the label on the Belgian beer was attractive, and you said, ‘Seriously, the more you look at it, the more charming it is.’ And then, you followed that up with, ‘Oh shoot…’ ”

She’d said “the more you look at it” to a blind person.

“The mistake, though, wasn’t necessarily that unguarded turn of phrase, it was that flustered ‘Oh shoot,’ and the excessive apology.”

The man’s wife had said, “It’s okay. Please don’t worry about it. Sometimes I ask him if he watched TV last night.”

When the store manager had told her all that, she’d realized, Mm, I get it, so by reading too much into it and behaving so formally, I instead ended up being even more rude, and I made the other party feel awkward.

Kara remembered that conversation.


Was the daughter’s heart closed to me the whole time on their last visit because my attitude was totally awkward, and I was “reading too much into it,” and the daughter picked up on it?

So this time:

“We have twenty-four types of international beers, too.”

Kana presented the menu to them. She tried to be as spirited as she could.

French Kronenberg.

Italian Moretti.

Dutch Heineken.

Mexican Corona.

Irish Guiness Extra Stout.

She briefly told them the characteristics of several of them.

For something a little different, there’s the Belgian Hoeegaarden, it’s a white beer that uses wheat, etc, etc.

Kana eagerly announced all the stock she could remember.

“Wow, have you tasted all of them?”

The mother showed interest.

“I wish I could say yes, but I’ve only had twenty-one types so far. I haven’t had a chance to clear the last three,” Kana said.

“That’s amazing though, twenty-one!” the daughter said, in a shockingly loud voice, looking up to meet Kana’s eyes. It was the first time their eyes had met.

Wow, her eyes are really clear, Kana thought.

“Ireland sounds good, huh.”

The daughter was captivated by the Guiness Extra Stout. The mother ordered. “Well then, one bottle, please. And two glasses.”


After that day, whenever the Miyaharas came in, the daughter would smile when she spotted Kana.

“Today I think we’ll go to Germany,” she’d say. Of course, she meant a German beer.

“This kid used to drink only wine, but suddenly it’s all beer,” the mother said.

The way she said it made it sound like, “She’s been withdrawn and thoughtful until now, but these days she’s cheerful.”

It made Kana happy.


Kana told the whole story to Shiro Tsubouchi in the kitchen. Tsubouchi was an attractively middle-aged artisan chef. He didn’t just cook, either, he also made cocktails. He looked especially good with a shaker in his hands.

“That whole incident, it made me think that drinks are very important to the spirit of hospitality.”

In other words, she’d been studying.

So that night, when a certain person came into the shop for the first time, the lessons she’d learned came clearly to mind.

Kana decided temporarily to call the person Ms Brave. The first time she came into the shop, it was just a few moments before closing time.

She was about the same age as mother Miyahara. She was unaccompanied, and looked to be on her way home from work, with documents stuffed tight in her large bag.

Exhausted, she took a seat, and without even a glance at the menu, said, a bit bluntly, “Can I get a margarita?”

They had Moscow Mules, and Gin and Tonics, and Campari, but margaritas were not on the menu. Still.

“Sure, we have them,” Kana answered immediately, trusting Tsubouchi.

As she expected, Tsubouchi handled it promptly, preparing a champagne glass with salt on the rim.

When Kana carried it to the table, Ms Brave showed a relieved expression for just a second, but she drained the margarita in seven or eight gulps with no change in the exhausted air about her, and then quickly left the store. She left behind the sense that she was gearing up to clear an extremely tough hurdle.

She never met my eyes, either… Kana thought, after the woman’s retreating form had disappeared from sight.

Alright, she thought. Let’s poke some holes in that barrier, too. The self-confidence Kana had gained from the Miyahara’s encouraged her.

A person’s heart was like an embankment, Kana had come to think after she’d connected with daughter Miyahara.

One ant hole will rip the whole thing down. She remembered hearing a proverb like that. A big rip starts with a small tear was an expression about something negative, but Kana thought that opening a heart that was closed was the same physical phenomenon.

Once you opened a tiny hole, the barrier would crumble under natural forces. Crossing the generation gap, crossing even the gulf between restaurant employee and visiting customer, it all started with a body temperature connection.


Ms Brave came into the shop again one week later. It was the same time of day as before, and she sat at the same table.

Kana had made her decision from the instant the woman entered the store.

“You were wanting a margarita, I believe?” she asked presumptively.

Ms Brave looked up at Kana with an expression that said, “Huh?”

Oh, our eyes met, Kana thought. The power of an air hole.

But she’d been overly-optimistic.

Nevermind starting a conversation, Ms Brave did not even return Kana’s smile, as Kana stood there with the margarita. No embankment began to crumble. Instead, it became all the harder.

The solidity of a sullen mood.

Up close, it was like getting an electric shock.

How stubborn.

But even so, she tipped the entire margarita into her mouth.

Kana gave it her best without backing down. She approached the woman again. “Is there anything else I can get for you?”

She was afraid her voice had come out shaking and faint from all the effort she was putting into it.

Ms Brave glanced up at Kana with a face that said, “What nonsense is this little girl spouting,” and without even bothering to speak, just shook her head in annoyance, retreating even deeper into her cave of sullenness.

Kana was quite shocked.

She’d been bouyed up a bit by her success with the Miyaharas. She had felt that if she just tried a bit harder, she could poke an air hole in the woman’s defenses.

But that idea had been beautifully demolished.

Even afterwords, she would specifically cut through the crowd to be at Ms Brave’s side, but every single time, Ms Brave would suddenly lift her head and look at Kana with a definitely unpleasant look on her face.

Why… Why did she make that face?

Why was she so sullen?

Kana could feel her own spirits flagging.

It felt like she was carrying something gross within herself, something ashen and syrupy. Like when she woke up tomorrow morning, she was going to have a pimple right in the middle of her face. Ah, no good, no good.


One day, after the store closed, Kana said to Tsubouchi, “I don’t think that lady who always orders the margaritas will be coming in any more.”

“Why?” Tsubouchi’s question didn’t feel like a cross-examination. It was asked gently.

“Ummm… She always looks like she thinks I’m obnoxious.”

Tsubouchi didn’t reply to that, but talked instead about the cocktail called the margarita.

“It was made by a Los Angeles bartender,” he said.

The bartender, named John Durlesser, had offered the original cocktail in an American national cocktail competition, with good results.

“There’s a theory he named it after his dead lover,” Tsubouchi said.

John had a Mexican lover, and went out hunting with her one day. She was hit by a stray bullet, and he fell into a depression after the incident.

Because the cocktail was made in remembrance of her, he crowned it with her name, Margarita. That was why he’d used Mexican alcohol, tequila, as the base, so the story went.

“Is that really true?” Kana said, thinking vaguely, Maybe that woman is remembering a loved one that she’s lost, too…

But she immediately contradicted herself. It didn’t matter anyway, Ms Brave probably wouldn’t be back.


Of course, she didn’t see Ms Brave again for a long while.
Even Tsubouchi mentioned it. He seemed concerned.

“She really isn’t coming, huh, that margarita lady.”

“She completely hated me,” Kana said.

But just before the store closed that night, Ms Brave came rushing in. She had that same air about her, like she was moping about something.

Kana hesitated, so nervous it put her in a bad mood, but she attempted to approach the woman.

“Shall I get you your usual?”

If she’d been wrong last time, the lady wouldn’t have come back in today. She tried pressing on that point, putting all her weight behind her gut feeling and making a firm decision.

She didn’t know whether she’d really succeeded or not, but Ms Brave did relax her expression a bit, and Kana had a hunch her value had just gone up in the woman’s eyes.

When she went into the kitchen, Tsubouchi said, “I’ve been watching that margarita lady, and I think she’s someone who likes alcohol.”

He handed her a glass, saying that he’d upped the ratio of tequila today, just a little bit.

Kana delivered it, and immediately withdrew.

After a while, she quietly went back, and the glass was already empty.

“How was today’s margarita?”

This was the point she’d press on, she’d decided. She had nothing to lose.


“We tried out a small alteration to the recepie today.”

Ms Brave’s face suddenly transformed. “Oh really. A bit stronger?”

“Hardly enough to mention, but…”

“Can I have another?” she said. She was as brusque as ever, but it gave Kana a little bit of hope.

“Of course, ma’am,” Kana said, bowing. As she started to step away, Ms Brave spoke to her.

“Pardon my rudeness. How old are you?”

That was a surprise. But it didn’t feel like Ms Brave was trying to be rude. Kana had a premonition that an air hole was forming.

When Kana answered her age frankly, Ms Brave said, “I thought so,” and brought the glass to her mouth.

On her walk back to the kitchen, a big image of her mother’s face back home suddenly played on the screen of Kana’s mind.

It was a sad-looking sort of expression.

Suddenly, it came to her in a flash.

When she delivered the second margarita, she put it all on the line.

“Your daughter must be about the same age as me?”

She had a hunch that if she did it right, the air hole would get just a little bit bigger.

She’d hit the target square on. The embankment collapsed. And the river turned out to contain more water than she’d imagined.

Ms Brave’s stories came one after the other, and they didn’t stop.

When she’d finished hearing all of them and stepped back, Tsubouchi seemed worried.

“What happened, she had you there for a long while. Was she scolding you for something?”

“No.” Kana grinned and shook her head.

And then she summarized Ms Brave’s story for him. It went as follows:

Ms Brave worked in intelligence.

Lately, she’d been in charge of more people, and her job had gotten to be intensely exhausting (she’d talked about herself for a long while, but Kana abridged the tale).

As a result, she’d decided to try knocking back a margarita before going home.

Ms Brave lived by herself.

She’d lived with her daughter for forever, but about two months ago, her daughter had gotten married.

She’d ended up moving to America.

At first, Ms Brave had thought she could handle it, but it hurt her more than she had imagined.

Oh my, another mother-daughter tale? Kana thought. Of course, she was remembering the Miyaharas.

Ms Brave had said that she’d learned of the cocktail called the margarita from her daughter. Thanks to her husband’s influence, her daughter was now obnoxious about cocktails.

Trying the cocktail her daughter had told her about in order to heal the loneliness of being without said daughter was a bit warped, but it had gotten to the point that she had to at least try it.

And so, she’d hopped into the restaurant and tried one.

And at that exact moment, thanks to the girl who had waited on her, she’d fallen into a slump again.

The server was the same age as her daughter.

I give up, she’d thought. My daughter’s gone and now this kid is right in front of my face… But what an awful thought.

“It’s not your fault, and it’s not the margarita’s either, but I’m really sorry, I just fell into such a bad mood I couldn’t help it,” Ms Brave had said to Kana. “You were impressive though. How should I put it, it felt like you didn’t back down even one step, that really made me happy.”

After that night, Ms Brave started coming back to the shop quite frequently.

Sometimes she would bring the student meet-up group from the English Conversation school she was attending.

She had wine on those occassions, but when she came in by herself, she always had a margarita. The recepie with more tequila in it.

Ms Brave would tell Kana about her job, and about her daughter, like Kana was a niece or something. It was the first time she’d behaved tenderly towards another person.


One odd night, Ms Brave showed up comparatively early. She wasn’t alone, either, there was a young woman with her. That was her daughter, the one who’d gotten married and moved to America, Kana knew it immediately. It must be the new bride’s first visit home. She was slender and tall, with straight black hair.

Unexpectedly, they ordered wine, to toast the woman’s first visit home.

The two of them lifted their glasses, lightly pinching their grilled steak strips between their fingers. They didn’t talk to each other much.

Their conversation came in drips and drops. But there was never any awkwardness. They’d already talked plenty, and they were fine not talking any more. A peaceful feeling flowed through the air.

The following evening.

A woman stood in the shop entrance, lugging a suitcase behind her. It was Ms Brave’s only daughter. Kana rushed over to her.

“I wanted to pay you a visit, but I don’t have much time, really, so I just came to say hello.”

“Are you going back to America?”

“I am.”

She pulled her suitcase up to her feet, and said she was sorry to have interruped when Kana must be busy, but she’d wanted to express her gratitude in person. That gratitude was as follows:

Before I got married, I would listen to my mother’s worries about her job, and consult with her about my wedding. We were the sort of mother and daughter who talked all the time.

But I moved far away, and naturally there weren’t any chances to chat or drink margaritas. Mom’s voice on our international phone calls didn’t sound like mom at all, and I was worried she was getting exhausted.

Sometimes she would tell me about you.

Somehow, I really felt sorry for you, like you were just my mom’s closest target.

But then I was really glad. Thank you very much.

And then, not an hour after Ms Brave’s daughter had left, lugging her suitcase behind her:

“Haven’t seen you for a while,” Kana said.

The person she was speaking to took her hand off the wheelchair and waved.

Ah, mother-daughter tales, part one!

Kana’s heart sprung up. She’d heard the name of the woman in the wheelchair before. Keiko Miyahara, who’d suddenly become interested in beers. And pushing the wheelchair, was of course her mother.

Kana really hadn’t seen them in a while.

“Actually, you know,” the mother said.

“Jeez, Mom,” Keiko Miyahara said, trying to stop her mother from saying anything further. She was feeling shy about something.

“It’s alright, it’s something to be happy about.” The mother ignored the daughter’s attempts to stop her.

“Actually, you know, this kid took second prize at the English debate competition, with ‘The Claims of Youth.’ ”

“What!” Kana shouted. “Amazing! A debate competition! And in English!”

“Maybe she got a little bravery from that beer we drank here,” the mother said, laughing. “I wanted to make a toast, but I was wondering which beer we should use. We’re feeling pretty fired up, so maybe something from a hot country?”

“Well, how about some Filipino San Miguel?” Kana said.

“Hey, Miss Kana?” Keiko Miyahara had learned Kana’s name from her name badge.


“Have you cleared all twenty four types?” she asked, her eyes lit up. All of the store’s international beers.

“Yeah, of course.”

“Amazing! Amazing!” Keiko’s response was the same exaggerated style that Kana had used to express her own admiration a moment earlier.

~7~ How to Eat Tonkatsu with Tea-Rice

How to Eat Tonkatsu with Tea-rice

No matter how badly you lose, you’re not a loser

When he took over as manager of the Kyoto tonkatsu [1] store called Gin’ya, [silver store] Shūji Akagi had a kind of “if you only remember one thing, remember this” thought.

I am not here as a mop-up pitcher.

Gin’ya was a team in a slump, headed for defeat. In this town, a certain old, well-established tonkatsu shop reigned supreme and held absolute power, so much so that when someone said, “Let’s go out for tonkatsu,” it was understood that everyone was thinking of this certain old shop. That’s just what circumstances were. As Gin’ya’s customer base stretched thin, the shop lost energy, and because there was no energy, the foot traffic declined. The vicious cycle continued, and the restaurant suffered considerable.

Akagi fully accepted those conditions. They were all it took to fill him with a sudden will to fight. I am no a mop-up pitcher.

Maybe the 9th inning would end and the match would be an 8 to 0 loss. He had no secret plan for a last-ditch attack. He was perfectly prepared to lose the fight. But that didn’t mean that was the role he’d come here to perform.

It’s like, we’re already on the floor, we can’t get any lower.

There was a big shake up coming.


Shūji Akagi had been born to a family that managed a cheap dining hall.

“I always thought, like, it’s busy, and the work is intense, but the old man seems to handle it pretty well.” He had told the story to some friends of his. “The old man would whisper about ‘even a worm can turn on you,’ like he was doing the hottest boasting.”

But before the young Akagi could grow up, the dining hall went bankrupt.

Maybe his father’s whispered boasting had been carved somewhere on his heart, but Akagi was still an adolescent when he took his first steps down the road into the food service business with almost no hesitation.

At first, he trained as a Chinese cook. But his frame was on the small side, and he wasn’t exactly Mr Muscles, so the work was a bit hard, and Akagi gave it up as hopeless.

“Chinese cooking is a brute strength exercise, and the work surface is always so high…”

He transferred to a tonkatsu shop. Everything had turned out to be just preperation for Gin’ya, but that didn’t mean it had all gone smoothly.

For a number of years, Akagi entered the so-called Berms of Life. He had a wife and daughter, but he was seperated from them. He was seperated from work, too. He didn’t even tell his friends the details of his situation, but things were arranged so at least his six-year-old daughter could come live with him. After that, they began their father-daughter lifestyle.

That lifestyle had resurrected in Akagi the feverish pride in food service work that he’d seen from atop his own father’s shoulders when he was young. He returned to that world from which he’d been so long absent, to polish his skills. He lost no time in clearly explaining his passions to those around him.

It was an estimation of and being trusted with those passions that had gotten him Gin’ya.


He’d been prepared for the worst, but their competition’s citadel was stronger than he’d imagined, and Gin’ya’s last battle was going to be quite a sight to behold.

This was going to be one of those situations, wasn’t it, where you couldn’t shift the beast for all the pulling and pushing in the world. Gin’ya was as slow as a rusted machine. It wasn’t moving.

It’s sales were ¥30,000 a day, most days. [2] If he calculated using the price of a tonkatsu combo meal as a ruler, that was a bit more than twenty visitors.

“Ah, today was so busy.”

That would be a day with ¥40,000 sales. That was the state of affairs.

Akagi was a veteran who’d gone down a lot of paths, but even he had to sigh.

Even if I tried to shake things up, where would I grab hold?

It felt like searching in the darkness for a light switch. No matter how much he groped around, all he found was a blank wall.

First off, personnel reform.

He steeled himself for this one.

Everyone in the shop had fatally lost their ambition. They were stained with a losing attitude. He had to do something about that first. If the store employees couldn’t communicate a passion for the store, no one else would even want to try eating there.

Akagi said to the small number of staff, “You gotta be bitter about losing, right.”

It was a gabler’s saying. If you lose and you’re not bitter, retire. He’d wanted to say that more than anything.

But when a sense of defeat has attached itself to someone for a long time, those kind of abstract shouts of encouragement don’t accomplish anything. Preaching is worthless.

Akagi knew that for a fact.

This is something I gotta show with my own actions.

He’d work his tail off. He’d turn their attitudes around by using himself as an example.

They were short handed. But there was no room in the budget to hire any part-timers.

Akagi went to work with reckless abandon. He cut down on his sleeping time. They say half one’s life is spent sleeping. So he’d go without for that one extra hour that might pull the situation back from the brink, and he figured he’d square up the balance sheets later.

He livened up the atmosphere of the place, cheering loudly whenever possible. If the sales receipts went up even ¥1000 [3] from the day before, it became a cause for great joy.

Even when the staff stared apathetically at him, he never waverd.

I’m like some kind of out of work, third-rate actor, he thought, alone in the store in the middle of the night, but he never regretted it.

Things seemed to change a bit – a truly small bit – for the better. One or two customers seemed to be repeats.

But even with this, we’re not very popular, are we.

What do I do about this wall? He thought about things like that with his chronically sleep-deprived mind, but then there came a certain telephone call…


The person on the other end of the line gave the name of a television show.

“We’d like to get some basic information about your shop,” they said.
It was a regional Kansai [4] news program. It had extremely high ratings, especially considering it’s morning hours, but they had a standard Saturday segment called “On Foot.” This Saturday, today, they were aiming to introduce a new spot called “A Little Trip,” where they wandered through the suburbs.

They were hoping to put Gin’ya on the segment, they said.

Why would, I mean us…? was the thought that of course had swept over him, but it was a unique chance to appear in front of the people of the world and say, “Gin’ya is here.” He’d reported it to the area manager in charge of the region, and a decision had been made.

A few days later, the people in charge of the show’s filming had visited for a meeting and some basic data collection. There were two of them, a calm-mannered producer, and a bearded, large-framed director with a presence to match.

“Uh…” Akagi asked them. “What sorry of information did you need?”

The producer immediately answered, “Tonkatsu with tea-rice,” and continued with something along the lines of, “We’ll put that unique-ness right out in front.”

“Is that right,” Akagi said, forcing himself to be calm. What he was thinking was: FINALLY!

“Tonkatsu with tea-rice” had been on the menu as a specialty item ever since Gin’ya had opened. A breaded pork cutlet, grilled in a soy-based sauce and served on an iron plate, with half to be eaten plain, and the other half put atop fried rice with a cabbage garnish and tea poured over it. That was how their menu gave the recepie.

But even that hadn’t been out there at all lately. It wasn’t popular. This town had an old tradition of pouring tea over things, so of course people couldn’t help but think of it as some kind of seasonal item. And even that idea didn’t seem to spark anything in people, but rather produced an atmosphere that seemed to drive people even further away. Akagi had been mulling it over.

Even this shop’s specialty is going to dry up and wither away, huh. But when your clean up hitter has a long slump, don’t you immediately bench him. That’s how you show your respect for him. It’s another way of telling him you care.

It was a subject he’d mulled over from different angles, too. What could he do about it? And then, look what the wind had blown in, some reporters gathering data for a TV show.

“I understand. You’re saying some celebrities would sample our tonkatsu with tea-rice, right?” Akagi asked, but he hadn’t quite hit the mark.

“No, we’d like you to be the one to eat it, Akagi, as the store manager,” the bearded director said. The manager would make it, the manager would eat it, the manager would tell everyone how delicious it was. That seemed to be the plan.

“You don’t get stage fright do you, Mr Akagi?” the producer asked calmly.

“No, not really…”

“Don’t worry about it. A little nervousness is just reality for a novice.”

“Sure, thanks,” Akagi answered admiringly, but he was really thinking: Stage fright?

“Life is ad libbing.”

It had been Akagi’s recognized method of existence until now. Leaving things to chance served people best in the long run. And now he was going to put himself in front of the television cameras and offer up some tonkatsu.


The day of filming arrived.

Movie cameras, monitors to show what they were filming, direction mics that looked like they were chief among mops that swept the floor, lights that illuminated even the inside of your nostrils, electric cords like a tangle of thick spaghetti, a mountain of equipment, and through it all shuffled men in headphones and brisk women, with that large-bodied director in a daunting pose, glaring out over the whole area from dead center.

“Aka-yan, they’re gonna start filming you soon. Don’t have any last words, do ya,” somebody called out.

There was a peanut gallery. Many of the store managers from nearby eateries had gathered to watch. They had an air of anticipation about them, like, With that guy in front of the camera, this is bound to be a weird one.

Akagi had been a character right from the start, and because he was anxious about the Gin’ya Renaissance, he had striven to make that character stand out all the more.

“Watch out, Aka-yan, they’ll fit you for a jumper if you’re not careful.”

“What am I, a suspect?” Akagi answered, his timing like the straight man in a comedy pair.

“The camera’s swinging around. When we get on air, you go for it,” the director called out.

Akagi’s voice went up with a gurgled shout.

The camera seemed to be trying to nestle itself against his cheek. It nuzzled up against him at point blank range, so close that he felt like the lens was about to stick its tongue out and lick him.

“Five, four, three, two, start!”

He heard the bearded director’s voice through a fog, from far away. The segment had been planned out, they were going to film a cut of him making the sauce first. They’d decided on a few lines for Akagi.

“First, we make the sauce.”

That’s all it was, but he couldn’t manage it.

“Fuh- fuh- fuh…”

All the muscles in his lips went stiff and the words wouldn’t come out. The moment stretched on endlessly.

The inside of Akagi’s mind went completely blank.

Even his prepared lines started to feel weird.

“He- here is Gin’ya obsession,” he clattered on in a serious tone.

“Akagi, more Kansai-ben, please. Like normal,” the director said, not smiling.

“Take two, start!”

“And- And here we’ve got Gin’ya’s obsession.”

He sounded like someone’s prim and proper young daughter.

Finally, the food sampling segment. Akagi had had a habit since he was a child of standing his pinky up when holding chopsticks. Figuring such a guesture was probably inappropriate on television, he put some effort into standing it down, and got that much more awkward.


One of the young men in the photography corps approached him. On the director’s orders, he was untangling the electric cables, and moving chairs that were in the way of the screen off to one side, and also single-handedly doing a lot of other odd jobs – he was an Assistant. One of the restaurant staff had called him Kenta.

“The director says he’d like you to eat like it was really good…” he said, apologetically.

Okay, Akagi said, nodding weakly, and steeled himself for a new serving. He’d eaten four servings of tonkatsu with tea-rice since this morning.

He was on a small break at the moment.

He was in a bit of a daze after four servings, and was so disheartened by all his fruitless efforts, that when Kenta said to him softly, “Thanks for all your hard work,” Akagi didn’t say anything back.

“That blackboard was really impressive,” Kenta said.


“The one in front of the shop.


Akagi remembered. It was one in a stream of constant ideas to rescue the ill-fated specialty item, “Tonkatsu with tea-rice.”

Might as well try it, anyway, he’d thought, and so he’d put it into practice.

He’d put a blackboard out in front of the store. There was a hand-drawn diagram on it, “How to Eat Tonkatsu with Tea-Rice.” It hadn’t been terribly popular with the staff.

“What the heck, it’s like the store’s rank went down,” they said.

“It’s already down, I’m making it better,” Akagi had answered, and ignored the criticism.

Kenta said, “It was really interesting, so I reported it to the director.”

“Ah… Oh really?”

A question that Akagi had been wondering about for a while now – Why are they covering us? – melted away. It had been the blackboard that caught this young man’s eyes.

“Mr Akagi,” Kenta continued, “I mean, what was on the blackboard was interesting, too, but the way you looked when you were drawing it, that was really great. All hunched over…”


The day’s filming ended with Akagi’s desperate final line, “With tonkatsu, and tea-rice, it’s Gin’ya’s tonkatsu with tea-rice!”

It had taken twice as long to finish as they’d planned for, and the film crew was rolling things up and trying to catch each others’ eyes.

This part had been recorded onto video tape, but the air date wasn’t until Saturday morning, during the studio’s live broadcast. Akagi’s face wasn’t to be on display that day. Some popular actors were going to sample the dish. Akagi’s job was to diligently make tonkatsu with tea-rice for them.

Of course, they were all professional actors, so they all waved their hands around, and expressed their admiration, and glanced into the monitors to say how delicious it was, but Akagi’s spirits sank.

This show is a total failure.

Some tense, shriveled up old man recommends a dish? That doesn’t look good, no matter what it is.

We should never have put ourselves on TV.

Trying to sell our name like this was so hackneyed anyway.

We’ll have to discontinue the tonkatsu with tea-rice after all.

Even as thoughts like that dripped through his mind, and with his hands the only part of him that still moving, a voice cried out, “Thanks for your hard work, everyone!” and it was all over. Akagi left the studio feeling like it had all been a nightmare that would be forgotten in an instant.

It was a nice, clear morning that Saturday. As he walked along the pavement, footsteps came up from behind him, running double-time.

“Mr Akagi!”

He turned around to find Kenta.

“Thanks again for your hard work.”

Kenta said he was going shopping near the station. They walked shoulder to shoulder.

“I missed my chance to say it the other day, but…”

Kenta seemed a bit embarrassed.

“Mr Akagi, that tonkatsu was really… I don’t know how to say it, it made me think, like, he’s really thought earnestly about the connection between food and people’s hearts.”

“What are you talking about, and out of nowhere,” Akagi said, flustered.

“How’s the reaction been in your restaurant?”

“I don’t know. My cell phone’s off.”

“Could you turn it on please?”

“Sure… Ah!”

His missed call history was huge. Every single one was from the store. When he tried to call back, no one picked up. He tried again after a few minutes.

“It’s a disaster, it’s turning into a disaster! There are customers streaming into the store! It’s like there was a power outage and the whole town is throwing a revolt! Everyone’s ordering tonkatsu with tea-rice!”

Akagi had no great surge of emotion as he hung up. It was like the whole thing had happened in a foreign country. He explained the situation to Kenta, still emotionless.

“That’s great, isn’t it,” Kenta said, looking like he was happy in the deepest core of his heart.

Eventually, Akagi tried calling one other place. They’d started their father-daughter life together one year ago, he and his second grader, Megumi.

“Check it out, daddy, you’re famous!”

That short comment, he did not relate to Kenta.

“Well then, excuse me,” Kenta said at the next traffice light, with a look on his face like he wanted to say something but didn’t quite know how.

“Mr Akagi,” he said, as if he was about to mention something awkward.

“What’s up?”

“Gin’ya, an hour ago, it was in danger of closing its doors, wasn’t it?”

“Did you hear some kind of rumor?”

“When we create a TV segment, we have to look into all sorts of things.”

“Ah, that makes sense. Well, certainly the crisis was critical, I guess.”

“I’m sorry. What I wanted to say was…” Kenta wore a serious expression. “I think, you decided to turn the situation around, Mr Akagi, no matter the danger. That’s what I wanted to say.”

“Thanks, very much.”

“Give it all you’ve got. Goodbye.”

“You, too. See you again someday.”

The light changed, and the two of them waved and parted.

Nice weather today, huh.

Akagi looked up at the sky and set off. He’d have to get back to the store and look over the plans straight away. He’d have to bring everyone back down to the ground. The hard work started now. Started tonight. It wasn’t as easy as saying that since they’d appeared on TV, since they got a boost, that everything would be solved. But…

But it is true that all we have to do is take advantage of the shake up.

Kenta’s “give it all you’ve got” echoed in Akagi’s ears. The path ahead was probably still covered in thorns. But at least his questions about how to proceed had gotten some answers. After that, it was all just staying upright.


[1 – tonkatsu is a breaded pork cutlet.]

[2 – that’s about $300, ¥40k would be a little under $400]

[3 – about $10]

[4 – western japan. so it’s not just like, a local city station, it’s a regional station.]

~8~ Shingo’s Father

Shingo’s Father

Trusting someone else means improving yourself

When food enters the body, it becomes nurishment.

When cooking enters the heart, it warms the person.

He’d gotten into cooking professionally because he believed in such things, but actually, he’d been influenced by memories from long before that, from when he was a child.

The man holding the knife in the kitchen at this Japanese-style restaurant, Ikkyūan, [1] was Shingo Ochiai. At work, he was always called Shingo, written with katakana rather than kanji. Of course, that’s how the kanji for his name were pronounced, but his older friends seemed to attribute another meaning to the nickname.

Shingo’s shingo-isms. [2]

Whether because he’s jumped to the wrong conclusion, or has gotten the wrong impression, Shingo Ochiai has a habit of interpreting words in his own way.

For example. One of his shingo-isms is debu-shō, meaning Chubby Syndrome. People who don’t put in many outside appearances are said to be homebodies, debushō, but Shingo thought it caused an actual illness called debu-shō, Chubby Syndrome… Since it made at least some kind of sense, setting him right again was a challenge.

At one point, he confessed himself to the kitchen manager, whom Shingo always called oya-kata, Coach.

“When I thought about doing something bad, but then changed my mind, I’d say it like, ‘I can’t do that, my conscience, my ryoushin won’t allow it.’ I never say ryoushin as the characters for a good heart, I always think of my parents, ryoushin.” [3]

Coach didn’t say anything

“Because when I use those words, it’s like saying, ‘My parents won’t let me.’ I used different words without really meaning to, until quite recently.”

The person he was speaking to must have been giving him a blank look indeed, but this was the only coinage where there is some cause to make allowances.

There’s a reason he chooses to say oya when most people would say ryoushin. [4]

Shingo’s parents divorced when he was in second grade. His father left home. They hadn’t met once in the more than twenty years since then.

Shingo didn’t know why his parents divorced, since he was in elementary school when it happened. His mother hadn’t told him even one story about his father, so in fact he still didn’t know. He didn’t particularly wish to know.

“There’s that saying that even a kid with a parent won’t grow up, right.”

Shingo’s twenty-nine now, and he’s worked out his own understanding of the matter.

It seems to be a misunderstanding of the phrase, “even without a parent, a child will grow up,” but this coinage, too, is close enough to get the gist of it.


When cooking enters the heart, it warms a person.

If we consider things from Shingo’s perspective, this isn’t necessarily one of his baffling shingo-isms, but has instead a rich significance. There is one memory which seems to have had an influence on him, but it’s from when he was a fourth grader.

His mother was always at work, earning money for them to live on. Not just during the day, either, she worked at a snack bar at night. [5] He had an older sister, too, much older than he, but she was gone that night, on a field trip. Shingo got home from school and ate the dinner his mother had rushed to put together for him.

He’d never been a kid who watched a lot of television, but that day, for whatever reason, he hit the button in the remote after he was done eating.

He wanted to watch something, even if it was a boring game show, and as he was flipping through the channels, his eyes suddenly stopped on a cooking show.

“Chinese fried rice made with leftovers”

He still remembers the title of the show. He was fascinated by the way the host handled the food and the tools, and he lapped it up all the way to the end.

He finished watching TV, did his homework, and got in the bath, and who knows what he’d been thinking to do after that, but he suddenly found himself standing in the kitchen.

He opened the fridge. There weren’t many ingrediants in it. He took out some leftover vienna sausage and a couple of vegetables.

He hadn’t necessarily taken any notes while watching TV, but he’d gotten the order of things in his head. Cut up your carrots, but not any thinner than this.

By the time the Chinese fried rice with leftovers was done, it was eleven o’ clock. Young Shingo had made the food, but he wasn’t hungry in the least, so he put it on a plate without even tasting it, wrapped it up, and went to bed. When he thought about it later, he realized this had been his first cooking experience.

In the middle of the night, he’d heard sounds in the kitchen, and had woken up and gotten out of bed.

Ah! Young Shingo quickly hid himself behind a pillar.

His mother was crying. As she spooned the Chinese fried rice young Shingo had made into her mouth, tears fell from her eyes.

Concealing his footsteps, he went back to his bedroom. His heart was racing, and he never did get back to sleep that night.

Around that time, young Shingo and his mother had gotten quite awkward around one another. The young boy was frustrated with a mother who was never around, and the mother was deeply tired. Whenever they came face to face, the only attitudes they could adopt with each other were crusty, dry ones.

The following morning, Shingo remembered clearly, that all suddenly changed.

One might even say that they each regained a meekly considerate heart for the other. That transformation surprised even his older sister when she got home from her field trip, so there was no mistaking how stark a change it was.


He’d been told time and again by his school friends, “You should be a chef.”

He studied English at college, causing his mother considerable trouble. He’d even gone to England as an exchange student. Isn’t cooking a bit out of my field? he’d wondered, time and again.

In school, he’d always answered, “I certainly am a glutton.”

Indeed he was a glutton, but even he understood that it wasn’t just about that. It would sound smug to say it out loud, so he didn’t, but he did clearly think, “It’s because I’m so creative.”

There was one thing a person couldn’t fail to do, as long as they were alive. They had to move their heart, every day.

He’d come to believe that what produced such movement was creative use of the original meaning of words.

He didn’t know if that was really a perspective gained from that Chinese fried rice with leftovers he’d made when he was in elementary school, but still.


But still, he couldn’t just let it slide.

After he graduated, he went to cooking school while working part-time, and after completing the course, he started an apprenticeship he’d learned of through the school.

It didn’t last.

In half a year, he’d quit two restaurants. It wasn’t that the work was hard, or the wages were terrible. He was just disappointed in the people. Like that one kitchen manager.

Being first had nothing to do with it. He was just a man who took great pains to cut corners in everything he did. It wasn’t the sneaky kind of cutting corners, either. More than anything else, he was just nasty, boasting to the apprentices about how good he was at cutting corners. Shingo could never work under those conditions.

The kitchen manager he signed up under next was a great change – he excelled at his vocation. But Shingo recalled something stopping him, something that felt wrong. What was it, back then…? It came to his mind. There definitely had been something missing. It was a love for cooking.

The man’s skills were sharp, but he had no great ability to teach people. That had to be, of course, because he had no love for cooking. Shingo quit as soon as he’d realized it.

“Isn’t there anyone good enough in this whole world?” Shingo had said, disappointed with his own limited experience.

“It has to be cooking that connects with something deep in people’s hearts, it has to be creativity.”

That was the feeling that caused him the greatest disappointment.

Both of those kitchen managers were about the same age as Shingo’s absent father would have been, maybe that made the impression of inadequecy more conspiuous.

A little while after he’d lost his willpower, he’d suddenly seen a Japanese-style restaurant in the help-wanted ads: Ikkyūan.

Maybe he was still disappointed, but he thought he should try for it anyway. If this one turned out not to be good enough either, he’d give up on this world completely. That’s what he was thinking as he muttered, “The face of hell, three times.” [6]

He probably meant “the face of buddha,” but this Shingo-ism, too, managed to communicate the nuances of the original somehow, and his feelings got through.


“After all that, it was a shock to meet Coach,” Shingo still says to his old school friends, whenever they go out drinking or anything.

When you ask him, “What was shocking? His technique, his great lines?” he answers, “Mm, everything, including those.”

His composure. His deep gazes. His tender hands.

In other words, his character.

“This is where I belong,” Shingo thought, quickly, passionately. It was love at first sight.

But this old master with the composed expression listened calmly to Shingo’s story and said, “I’m sorry, but what we’re looking for is someone ready to jump right in. I don’t want you to end up thinking ill of us.”

It was all very polite, but he was clearly being rejected.

“Please, let me do something, even if it’s just washing dishes,” Shingo said greedily. It didn’t help.

He went home temporarily, but headed out again the following day. Even he was surprised to find out he was such an obstinant person.

He waited for hours, and was finally granted just five minutes. He was happy to get it, but when it came time to answer the question of how best to make his appeal, his head went completely blank and no words came out.

Coach made a bit of a troubled face, and asked, helpfully, “Why do you want to cook?”

Shingo was ancy, thinking he’d better make some answer, but his throat closed up. But in that moment, something rushed out of his mouth without him even attempting to think about it.

It was the story of that time in elementary school, the Chinese fried rice with leftovers. He furiously told the tale of that dish his mother had eaten in the middle of the night as she wept.

Coach listened silently. And then, when Shingo finished telling his story, he said, “Is that so.”

The result was, Shingo stuck his landing.

The following day, he was contacted by the store and accepted. Just as he’d asked, his days were spent washing dishes.

Shingo wasn’t mistaken in his love at first sight, though.

More than anything else, what he was hoping for was to come face to face with Coach’s cooking, but actually it was handed down to him directly, in the flesh.

“The ingrediants are to be truly cherished. Fish is a fish, shellfish is a shellfish, they’re living things, and you honor them as such, you get it? It’s like a painter honoring the scenery they’re about to paint.

Shingo told his friends about it.

He was eager to steal Coach’s handling techniques.

Blood flowed through Coach’s carving knife.

That was the feeling it gave. It wasn’t a metaphor, Shingo couldn’t help but think that nerves and blood vessels really did flow from Coach’s arm into that carving knife.

The word for carving knife was originally written with the characters for “kitchen” and “servant” but that particular character for “kitchen” wasn’t on the official list of commonly used characters, so they’d changed it to the character for “carving.” The character for “kitchen” was pronounced kuriya, an older word for kitchen, and the second character in the word was “servant,” which by itself was pronounced yohoro, and meant someone who did work. A person who worked in the kitchen.

When you looked at it like that, a carving knife became a person. So maybe Shingo’s sense that Coach was becoming one with his carving knife was only returning to the original meaning of the word.

One day, about three months after he’d been hired, Coach handed him a small plate.

“Oi, Shingo, here.”

He seemed to be saying, take a bite. Shingo had been eagerly awaiting his first chance to put something that had been made by Coach into his mouth, but what was on the plate was a completely featureless scrambled-egg roll.

What the heck, a scrambled-egg roll?

A little disappointed, Shingo put the roll into his mouth, and suddenly felt like he was going to faint.

It wasn’t even about whether it was delicious or not. That was just commentary.

At that moment, all the encouragement Shingo had ever received was altered, it felt like he was standing on his head and looking at the scenery around him.

So this was cooking, was it. That was the only phrase that passed through his mind. It wasn’t something you felt with your tongue, it was something you felt with your heart.


A number of years passed. Shingo grew into an adult.

He’d run out of things to steal from Coach. Before, it had been like peering into fog, but that fog had been clearing by the day.

Coach hadn’t taught him by moving his hands and feet for him, but had instead always offered short pieces of advice.

He’s watching over me as I mature.

Shingo had a strong sense that it was true. It was the first time in his life he’d ever been able to savor the sensation. If he had to put it into one phrase, it filled him with happiness.

“The character for parent…”

He remembered his middle school language arts teacher saying during a lesson, “If you deconstruct the character for parent, it looks like someone watching you while next to a standing tree.” [7]

As far as Shingo was concerned, Coach was the only old man in the world who fit that definition. Even now, his biological father, the man he was connected to by blood, was off living somewhere on his own. He didn’t feel like someone who watched over him while standing next to a tree to Shingo.

But Coach would slip in with interesting, deep sayings during breaks. They weren’t moral lessons or sermons, but rather they had a gossipy tone.

For example:

“You like rivers, Shingo?” he would suddenly say.

“Yeah. I used to swim a lot when I was a kid.”

“Watching a river calms you down, don’t it?”


“I thought so.”

Shingo didn’t say anything.

“That’s because a river never waivers. The only thing it can think about is returning to the sea.”

And that was all he said.

It took him a while, but Shingo finally got it. “Ah ha!”

It was just a little slump, but Shingo had been kind of off just around that time. He struggled against it, but he just couldn’t get things right.

Is that it? he thought. It’s because I’ve got this selfish desire to “do it right.”

Coach’s story about the river was just a contrivance meant to help him realize that.

Coach was usually a composed man, but he did raise his voice once.

That had been during a break, too.

Shingo had mentioned his two previous kitchen managers to Coach, when Coach had asked him how he’d arrived in his current position. When Shingo had said that they weren’t very good people, Coach pretended he hadn’t heard. Apparently, bad-mouthing people didn’t please him.

He pretended not to hear Shingo, and turned away, but Shingo continued, “They were both about my old man’s age, too. Maybe that age is just no good.”

He’d laughed and told the story of his no-account father leaving when he was in elementary school. It was the first time he’d ever told Coach about it. That was when Coach had yelled.

“You moron, don’t talk talk such flippant crap!”

His voice echoed like a slap.

For three days, he didn’t say a word.

On the fourth day, at break time, finally:

“Listen, Shingo.” He didn’t seem especially angry. “Have you heard of the phrase, ‘Earthquakes, thunder, fires, fathers?’ I always thought they meant fathers were domestic.”

That’s what he said. So even Coach had his own shingo-isms, huh.

“I thought it meant a father looked on sweeping and laundry the same way he looks at earthquakes and thunder, because instead of ‘fires,’ I thought they said ‘hires,’ like hired help.”

“That’s a pretty big misunderstanding.” Shingo laughed, putting his own issues on the shelf for the moment.

“My old man left, too, Shingo, when I was a kid. So, when I was in high school, I hunted down his address, and I even went out there to his place.”

Shingo didn’t say anything.

“I was peeking in through the back, and I saw him, my old man. He was wearing an apron and vaccuuming. I started crying and went home without ever saying anything.”


For some reason, Shingo was deeply moved.


When food enters the body, it becomes nurishment.

When cooking enters the heart, it warms the person.

As Shingo grew into a competant chef, he came to believe this more and more. It was that kind of cooking that he had to hold up as his goal, that was the thought that stuck in his heart.

But then, about a week ago…

That night, Shingo was having a beer in his apartment when he got a call from his sister. She’d gotten married and moved to Kyuushuu. Since she was so far away, they hadn’t seen each other in more than three years.

“I met with father.”

His sister got straight to the point. They’d been reunited after a series of coincidences through an acquaintence in Kyuushuu. Apparently, their dad lived in Kyuushuu now, too. His sister said even their mom hadn’t known.

“What, really?” Shingo replied. He didn’t have any particular feeling about it. He said that their mom had been on her own since he’d left anyway. Even if someone had told her, she wouldn’t have gotten excited about it.

“That’s why I’m telling you, Shingo,” his sister continued, apparently not pleased with his lukewarm response. “He’s coming to Tokyo for some business next week Wednesday, so he was wondering if it might be alright if he came to Ikkyūan.”

That was an outcome he’d never imagined.

His father really did show up that Wednesday, too, after lunch time was over, during the lull before dinner.

“Ochiai…” One of the hall staff came over to Shingo with a troubled look on his face. “I think there’s one of your relatives maybe? He introduced himself as Mr Ochiai, and asked if Shingo Ochiai was here, but I mean. Should I tell him you’re not here?”

Coach caught his eyes with a look that said, get out there, quick. He’d told Coach a bit of the story.

Shingo went out into the hall.

“Shingo?” the man said. It was a voice Shingo hadn’t heard before.

“Yes.” Shingo made a quick bow in greeting.

This little guy…? he thought. What are we supposed to do now?

The man took a seat without a word. Shingo sat down beside him.

The man repeatedly cleared his throat.

Shingo didn’t say anything.

He’d gotten a second phone call from his sister. Twenty years ago, his father had gotten intimate with another woman, and that was why he’d left home, she’d told him. But he broke up with that woman almost immediately, and had been on his own ever since. He’d talked to some friends and moved to Kyuushuu, and lived there still, his sister had said. Shingo had wanted to ask, yeah what about it?

“Excuse me.” Shingo got up from his seat and headed back to the kitchen.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t bear the oppressive atmosphere, he just thought he shouldn’t be sitting there in a customer’s seat like that during business hours.

When he got back to the kitchens, Coach was plating up a familiar dish.

“Why’d you come back?” Coach asked, puzzled.

“No, it’s just that, I mean I’m supposed to be at work…”

Coach silently pointed to the wall clock. It was break time already. There were only three customers, including Shingo’s father. The people at the other two tables were already finishing their meals, and there weren’t any new customers coming in.

Shingo washed his hands and headed back to the table where his father was sitting. Coach’s specially made dish arrived at the table like it’d been chasing him. His father was clearing his throat as usual, and Shingo didn’t open his mouth.

“Oh.” A stuffed-up sounding noise came out of his father.

Shingo thought he was about to clear his throat again, but then there was a sounds like someone was wringing him out.

“De- de- de- delicious.”

He was admiring Coach’s cooking. When Shingo glanced at him, his eyes were red around the edges.

“This is really good, Shingo,” his father said again, his voice husky like he was overcome with emotions.

“I think so too,” Shingo answered.

What was completely mysterious, though, was that in that instant when Shingo gave his mildly apathetic response, a transformation occurred in his chest.

That’s not to say the transformation entailed some welling up of nostalgia. Something a bit more meek spread through Shingo’s heart, like ripples in a pond after a pebble’s been thrown in.

His father spent about an hour at Ikkyūan.

They didn’t exchange many words, but Shingo didn’t feel awkward. Sitting there next to him, Shingo couldn’t help thinking, “This was the day I met him for the first time.”

To put it another way, he thought this was a person he could get close to in the future.

Why was that? Shingo wondered as he saw his father as far as the subway station.

When they parted at the entrance to the stairwell, his father said, “If I end up coming to the capital again, I wouldn’t mind visiting you.”
Shingo answered, “I’ll be waiting.”

As he answered, though, Shingo thought, Will I? Huh.

He’d been feeling awkward these past few days since he’d heard that his father was coming to the store. He’d been thinking, “Do whatever you want.” After his father had disappeared, Shingo had simply wandered around on his own until he finally arrived where he was now, and he’d felt like telling the whole tale and then all the little details of his current life was just going to be gloomy. He didn’t feel even the slightest desire to speak, but if he kept silent and was misunderstood, that would be infuriating. Of course, explaining was also irritating.

Such things were what had given rise to that awkward feeling.

But then his father had been so moved by Coach’s cooking.

Everything had broken loose with that one moment. He didn’t need to say anything else. It was a relief to have declared what was important to him now, and why he was training the way he was.

The awkwardness had vanished.

The social power of cooking.

Shingo watched his father’s retreating figure until it disappeared, his mind filled with all these thoughts.

The social power of cooking. In inheriting all he could from Coach, he was mastering that skill.

He was keenly aware of it, too.

“Thank you, Coach,” Shingo called out when he got back to the store. Coach had his back turned, inspecting the ingrediants, and he raised his left hand a bit, but didn’t turn around.

The more Shingo looked at it, the more flexible that hand seemed.


[1 – 一 = one, 久 = ye olde, 庵 = respite/hermitage. the kanji for shingo’s name are: 落合 meaning a casual meeting, sometimes a romantic rendezvous, 伸 means to stretch and 吾 means onesself]

[2 – shingo is also the pronunciation of the word 新語 meaning, “a new word.”]

[3 –  because the word for conscience 良心 and the word for parents 両親 are pronunced the same. this is going to be a whole story of me explaining puns, isn’t it. (T_T)]

[4 – 親 parent, vs 両親 parents, literally “both parents”]

[5 – a sort of hostess bar, where men can order drinks and snacks and the company of a lady]

[6 – the phrase is: “The face of Buddha, three times,” the longer version of which says that even the Buddha will get mad if you slap his face three times.]

[7 – because it’s made out of parts that come from the symbols to stand, a tree, and to watch. 親 = 立 + 木 + 見]