Chapter 3: Spring and Asura
“Coffee’s on me,” was the first thing Takino Renjou said.
He’d arrived only five minutes later than our agreed meeting time, but clearly had no intention of listening to my objections. Insisting that it was cheap and I shouldn’t worry about it, Takino invited me to a chain coffee shop near the bus station.
“There aren’t many cafes that open early even around the station.”
The two of us were sitting next to the window facing outside. This was my first time coming to Hongodai, and although the roads felt awfully wide, there still weren’t many shops at the station. The newly built apartment buildings were tidy and provided for a nice view—completely different from Ofuna, with its older, rundown buildings.
It was already the end of February. Outside the window, I saw several women shivering in front of the supermarket as they waited for it to open. The weather looked like it could start to sleet at any moment.
“Sorry about calling you over so suddenly on your day off.”
“Don’t worry about it. I wasn’t doing much, and it wasn’t much of a trip,” I replied.
There was only one station between Ofuna, where I lived, and Hongodai, but I didn’t have any friends or relatives that lived in the area and had never come here before.
It was just this morning that Takino called me. I was perplexed when he first said that he finally managed to get some free time and wanted to meet up and talk—but then I remembered how he told me a while ago that he wanted to have a long talk about Shioriko’s mother the next time he was available.
…And that was why I was currently in Hongodai, near Takino’s shop.
“How has Shinokawa been lately? Is she doing fine…ah, my bad. Do you mind if I smoke?” Takino asked as an afterthought.
He had already taken out a cigarette and put it in his mouth.
“She’s doing fine. Her leg also seems to be getting better.”
“Ah, that’s good to hear.” He opened the lid of his lighter with a clink and lit his cigarette.
Shioriko had recently begun to regain normal function of her leg. It wasn’t completely healed of course, but the hope was that she’d eventually be able to live normally without her cane.
“Has anything else changed?”
“Not really…I guess.” I answered hesitantly.
It wasn’t completely true that nothing at all had changed. Ever since the incident with Sakaguchi Shinobu’s book last month, Shioriko started talking about her mother more often. I say talking but it was mostly complaining. She’d been saying things like, “She caused me a lot of trouble when she disappeared all of a sudden,” or, “She’s someone who never listened to what others had to say.” Still, it was refreshing to see her being open about her feelings. Perhaps seeing Shinobu earnestly talk with her mother from whom she had been separated for decades was still on her mind.
“I shouldn’t have asked such a weird question.” Takino smiled wryly as he put out his cigarette on the ashtray.
“Does Shinokawa get more guests these days? Like meeting people in the main house more often.”
“I don’t believe so…why do you ask?” There wasn’t anything like that as far as I knew. I obviously didn’t know what she did on my off days like today though.
“I was little curious after The Dandelion Girl was stolen. I think this only started after you started working there… but does Shinokawa sometimes do consultations with customers that come into the shop? Dealing with book related troubles and the like.”
“Yes, that happens from time to time.”
“That’s what I thought. It’s something I’ve been hearing from customers when I do home calls in Kamakura. Rumors about how the bookshop in Kita-Kamakura is now taking requests again. I didn’t think they were serious at the time though.”
Takino’s expression was serious as he blew out smoke towards the ground.
“You say again…as in, this is something that’s been done before?”
“Yeah. By Shinokawa’s mom…you didn’t know?”
I nodded wordlessly. I hadn’t heard about this from Shioriko.
“I only heard the rumors after I started working myself, but it seemed she often helped people with stuff like finding stolen books. I heard she didn’t always hand the culprits over to the police when she found them though.”
It was a subtle way of saying it, but that sounded familiar. Apparently, decades ago, Shionokawa Chieko once found the culprit who stole a first edition copy of The Final World War—and then extorted him out of the rest of his other valuable first edition books.
“She used them for business I’m guessing.”
Takino’s mouth became slightly taut. He must have realized I was familiar with Biblia’s history to some degree.
“Something like that, yeah.” He put out his cigarette stub on the ashtray.
“What I want to say is, those are the kind of rumors going around, and there’s a possibility that some unpleasant requests might come your way. I think you should be careful…well, not that Shinokawa is going to go sticking her head into danger anyway.
I couldn’t feel as optimistic when I remembered how far Shioriko went to protect her first printing of Daizai Osamu’s And Then. She also had a sort of obsessive mindset that she would do anything to get what she wanted into her hands. Even if she wasn’t conspiring with criminals, there was a risk that she would do something unpredictable.
Hm? I looked up at Takino.
“You said since I started working. Does that mean she didn’t accept book related requests before?”
That was unexpected in its own way. I was under the impression that she would go anywhere if it was related to old books.
“I believe so…” Takino answered. “I don’t think she wanted to do the same things her mother did. In the first place, she’s always been extremely good with books, but not so much at dealing directly with people.”
Certainly, she was the type of person to hide behind her wall of books in the store. What was the reason for the change then?
“I think it’s because she met you.”
“Because you’re always happy to listen to her talk about books. I think her feelings of wanting to talk to you and wanting to get closer to you got stronger, and she started to feel more positive about taking requests.”
I gulped. Was this really true? Of course, it had to be; this was her childhood friend talking.
“I mean, it would make things interesting if that were the case. I don’t really understand what she’s thinking to be honest, hahaha,” Takino guffawed.
I didn’t find it quite as amusing. He was clearly making fun of me.
“Was Shioriko’s father aware of what his wife was doing?” The smile disappeared from Takino’s face when I changed the subject. He took out another cigarette and lit it as he gathered his thoughts.
“I wonder…in the first place, no one’s really sure how far she went with her dealings. I can’t imagine that he was completely unaware though…”
“Do you think he cooperated with her…?” I cautiously asked.
If that were the case, then dangerous transactions like the one with the copy of The Final World War they found would involve the entire store.
“I don’t know,” Takino shook his head.
“But the old man was, for better or for worse, earnest to a fault. He would not have helped with a suspicious transaction. On top of that, Shioriko’s mother was the one who handled mail orders and almost all of the inventory management. If he did have a slight suspicion, then there must have been a reason he chose to stay silent.”
I took a sip of my now cold coffee. The number of mysteries surrounding Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia was only increasing. What was Shinokawa Chieko really doing at Biblia? Why did she disappear? Where was she now? —and most importantly, how was she getting information about us?
“Ah, right. I almost forgot.”
Takino pulled out a manila envelope from his pocket.
“I’m giving this to you. Look inside”
I opened the envelope as he instructed and pulled out a black and white photograph. In the picture, I saw a family of four standing in front of Biblia.
The first person my eyes fell to was the girl in braids standing next to the rotating iron sign. The uniform she wore resembled the middle school uniform of Seioujo Academy, a catholic middle and high school for girls at the edge of Kamakura.
She was smaller and thinner than she was now, but this was, without a doubt, Shioriko. Perhaps she was being urged to smile, but the image of her desperately lifting the corners of her mouth was cute.
Next to her stood her father, the previous owner of the shop. He didn’t look to be quite in his forties. He looked younger than I remembered, with a smile on his angular face. Next to him was a tall and slim woman looking to the side. She was holding a four or five year old child in her arms.
That person was definitely Shinokawa Chieko, and the little girl was probably Shinokawa Ayaka. She was holding on to her mother’s neck and grinning at the camera. Although half of her face was hidden by Ayaka, I could see that Chieko was also smiling happily. Her clothing choice, of a plain sweater and blouse, and her long hair were strikingly similar to Shioriko’s today.
“I took this picture a year before her mom disappeared. I think this is the only picture with all of them together.”
The Shioriko from this picture didn’t resemble her mother at all. Her clothes were of course different, and more importantly, she wasn’t wearing glasses.
“Was Shioriko’s eyesight better back then?”
“No, she’s been nearsighted ever since she was a kid. She might have been wearing contacts for the picture.”
So that’s what it was. She looked really different without her glasses.
“You said this was the only family photo; why aren’t there others?”
“Because Shinokawa’s mother hated having her picture taken. I even heard there weren’t any wedding photos…actually, her daughter hated them just as much. That’s why the two of them don’t look especially happy in the photo. Her mom was probably looking to the side on purpose, come to think of it. Still, it’s a good picture.”
I could understand why he felt proud of it. The picture perfectly captured that single moment of happiness.
“Yeah, it is.”
“Why are you giving this to me anyway?”
“I thought you’d want a picture of Shinokawa when she was younger. Am I wrong?” Takino was grinning broadly.
I didn’t try to deny it. Of course I wanted the picture.
“Thank you very much.” I thanked him and put the envelope with the photo into my pocket.
I forgot about the photo after I parted ways with Takino.
I only remembered it three days later, when I returned to the store after buying lunch at a convenience store. I took the photo from my pocket as I stood in front of the house. Compared to the photo, the scenery had hardly changed at all.
The photo was taken in the early summer, and between the fence of the neighboring house, hydrangeas could be seen blooming. It was a common flower in the area, but since it was currently winter, the branches and leaves were still bare.
The scenery now was startlingly similar, but the family in the photo had changed greatly. The daughter had grown up, the father had passed away, and the mother was nowhere to be found.
I stared at Shinokawa Chieko’s half hidden face. This photo didn’t show it clearly, but I knew what her face looked like. There was a painting featuring a woman exactly like Shioriko reading a book on the second floor of the main house and—come to think of it, I didn’t know who made that painting either.
Shioriko, who had come out of the store, was standing next to the sign before I realized it. She was in the exact same position as the photograph.
“What are you looking at?”
“Ah, it’s just a picture that Takino gave me and…”
The moment I showed her the picture with a light mood, Shioriko’s face turned bright red, as if she’d been boiled.
Before I knew it, she clicked her cane forward and snatched the photo out of my hands.
“H-how, w-where did you get this?”
She turned the picture over and tightly held it to her chest. I saw it sink deeply into her sweater and looked away.
“Like I said, Takino gave it to me.” I finally realized my mistake. Takino did say before that Shioriko hated getting her picture taken.
“I never know what kind of face to make when I get my picture taken.” Shioriko sounded despondent. “This picture was like that too. It always felt unnatural and I didn’t like it…I didn’t like my face in the first place…”
“You look cute in the picture…I like it at least.”
That was an ambitious statement for me. A silence hung over the not busy road. She hesitantly took a glance at the picture at her chest and sighed deeply.
“Thank you very much.” She bowed stiffly, and returned to the store shaking her head. She probably thought I was being considerate of her. Also, she never returned the picture.
“Oh, that’s right.” Shioriko turned around in the corridor lined with books.
“Daisuke, do you have plans tonight?”
“No, I don’t have any…”
For a moment, she looked down with a worried look. She seemed lost about something.
“If it’s alright with you, can you go out with me for about an hour?”
“There’s a place I have to go to this evening,” she continued.
The sun had completely set by the time we finished closing up and left the shop.
Shioriko said there wasn’t any need to take the car since the destination wasn’t too far. I matched her pace and we began to walk along the road parallel to the train station. There were barely any people going in the opposite direction of the Kita-Kamakura station ticket gates. We passed through a cave-like tunnel that was hollowed out in the cliffs. The rock ceiling of the tunnel was just over my head, so I ducked out of habit.
“I got a call from someone claiming to be one of my mother’s classmates earlier today.” Shioriko explained as we walked.
“A classmate…from when?”
“From middle and high school apparently. She lives in a house in Kita-Kamakura from her father’s generation and has been there for a long time…that’s the house we’re headed to now.”
“Umm, wait a second please.” I interrupted her story. “Which school did your mother go to?”
“Seioujo Academy…I don’t believe I’ve told you that before.”
It was my first time hearing about it. Shioriko also attended Seioujo…so both she and her mother had gone to the same school.
“Has your mother always lived in the area?”
“Yes, she grew up in Fukasawa, I believe.” Shioriko answered. That made sense since her mother used to be a regular customer at Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia.
“What about her family?”
If her house was in the area, then surely her family was too. However, Shioriko shook her head.
“No one lives there now. My mother said her family was gone, but I don’t know any details. Neither Ayaka nor I have ever met anyone from our mother’s side of the family…”
The conversation lulled, and there was only the sound of her cane tapping the ground in the darkness. Even assuming that Shinokawa Chieko’s relative all passed away later, it was unnatural for Shioriko not to have met a single member of her mother’s family. There had to have been some sort of circumstances behind it.
We turned right just before the railroad crossing, and began to walk up the sloped road. This was a road I was very familiar with. I always had to go this way when I walked from my high school to Kita-Kamakura station.
“So why did your mother’s classmate call you?” I brought the conversation back to the original topic.
“I…don’t really know.”
“She said she would tell me the details when we met.”
“She said it was something important.”
It sounded almost as if the conversation was going to be about Shinokawa Chieko. If I had to guess the reason Shioriko asked me to come with her, she probably felt uncomfortable about this strange request and was relying on me.
The path on the slope suddenly became narrower. This part was near the mountains that surrounded Kamakura. The houses here were old and expensive from what I knew, but the cars parked in the driveways were almost all light vehicles. I suppose there was nothing that could be done about that given how small the roads were.
We finally arrived at the end of the road and stood in front of a set of stairs that went even further up the mountain. If we went up the stairs and walked for about five more minutes, we’d arrive at my old school. I hadn’t been here since graduating though.
“Is the house just ahead?”
“No…it’s right here.” Shioriko stopped me just as I was about to start climbing the stairs. There was an old house surrounded by a tall fence in front of us. There was densely packed ivy crawling on one of the walls, but it was winter, so all of the leaves had fallen.
A sign with the name Tamaoka was attached to the cracked concrete gatepost. Past the iron gate, I saw a single illuminated room facing the garden. The place somehow seemed miserable.
Shioriko stood still for a moment, but she soon stepped forward and opened the gate. The garden was well taken care of, but there didn’t seem to be any plants that had flowers or produced fruit in this season.
While we waited for someone to show up after Shioriko pressed the doorbell, I stood behind her and started at the hydrangea brank running alongside the fence. I remembered seeing it in bloom when I went past this house back in high school.
I heard the door open and reflexively straightened my posture. A small woman wearing a black turtleneck sweater appeared in the doorway. Her hair was styled into what could be called a short bob cut with the bangs cut straight. Parts of her hair had streaks of white. If I had to guess, I’d say she was in her fifties.
“Sorry for coming so late in the evening. I-I’m from Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. We g-got a phone c-call ealier today…” Shioriko stammered helplessly as she introduced herself.
“Shinokawa Chieko’s daughter, right?” The woman smiled gently. “I was the one who called; my name is Tamaoka Satoko. Please, come in.”
Satoko said there was something she wanted us to see and led the two of us to a western-style room at the end of the hall. It seemed the room was used as a library, with its bookshelves with frosted glass doors lined up against the wall along with the ticket curtains draped over the window. There was also a chair with wooden armrests and a small table. Perhaps the owner enjoyed reading here.
“This was my father’s library. He passed away two years ago, but I took over and have been managing it ever since.” Tamaoka Satoko explained.
Some of the books in the library were piled up on the table and on the floor, with the odd large print art-book or personal literature collection standing out from the rest. It seemed the deceased had a deep interest in the fine arts and Japanese literature.
I felt something off about the room as I looked around. I felt like I had seen this scenery before—no, that had to be my imagination. I had never stepped into this house before today.
“My father moved here almost 50 years ago, and often visited Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia in those days. There are many books here that were purchased from there, and many others that the shop bought from him. Did your parents ever say anything about my father? Concerning what kind of books he bought, and the like.”
Shioriko shook her head at Satoko’s question. “I’m sorry, my parents haven’t really…”
“I see,” Satoko smiled to smooth things over. “That’s understandable, I suppose. He hadn’t been able to visit the shop since his legs started to worsen about ten years ago. I need to apologize for asking you such a strange question.”
“No, I don’t mind…”
He seemed to have been an important customer, but Shioriko wasn’t even helping around the shop yet ten years ago. It was no surprise she didn’t know.”
“Umm..a-about your request…is there something you needed our help with?” Shioriko asked.
I also wanted to know. If it was something like selling off all of the books in the library, then a simple phone call would have sufficed. If all she wanted was to reminisce about her late father, then she wouldn’t have called Shioriko over to begin with—she didn’t know him.
“Do you also do consultations like Chieko used to?”
Shioriko’s expression became tense at the mention of her mother’s name.
“What do you mean, exactly?”
“Chieko often took requests from people who came into the store, you know. She would even take on difficult problems if they were related to books…I’ve been hearing from people recently that you do the same thing.”
I gulped. I remembered how Takino told me that there were rumors going around that the shop was once again accepting requests. I couldn’t believe we were now being asked for consultations like this.
“I cannot handle things the same way she would have…” After thinking for a while, Shioriko answered. “…but I would like to listen to your request, if you’re fine with that.”
In other words, Shioriko wasn’t rejecting her. I felt a little uneasy about this. I couldn’t tell if it would be dangerous, but this case felt different from all the ones we had taken so far. Like Takino said, we should be cautious.
“Thank you very much.” Satoko expressed her thanks, and continued in a muffled voice.
“I want you to take back the book that was stolen from this room.”
We moved over to the guest room right next to the library, and sat across from each other in the antique lounge suite there.
“Before I begin, I want you two to take a look at this book. I imagine it’s one you’d be familiar with.”
Tamaoka Satoko took out a book and its slipcover, wrapped in waxpaper. Shioriko’s eyes shined when she saw the book, but naturally, I didn’t recognize it.
The name of the author and the title of the book were printed in hard to read letters on a white card set in the brown slipcover.
Spring and Aura (Mental Sketch)
The author was Miyazawa Kenji—a name that I of course knew well. His children’s stories and poems were always a staple in Japanese textbooks. I believe he was also the author of that famous poem where he brought snow from outside for his dying sister.
“This is the first printing of Spring and Aura published by Sekine Publishing, isn’t it? I’ve never seen one in such good condition before…would be alright if I looked inside?” Shioriko’s tone suddenly became eloquent. As usual, it was like she became a different person when she handled books.
“Yes, of course.”
Before Satoko even finished speaking, Shioriko took the book in her hand and took it out of its case. Anyone could see she was excited. The cover of the book had some sort of plant design printed all over it. On the spine were the words Poetry Collection Spring and Asura Miyazawa Kenji. Even an amateur like me could tell it was an intricate, refined design.
“When is this book from?” Shioriko asked in a whisper.
“It was published 87 years ago in the 13th year of the Taisho era.”
“87 years ago…”
For a book that old it was certainly in excellent condition. There was hardly any yellowing or tears to be seen. Clearly it had been well taken care of.
“Is this a valuable book?”
“Of course!” Shioriko answered right away. “Miyazawa left behind many works, but the only ones that were published in his lifetime were the children’s stories and fairy tales collection The Restaurant of Many Orders, and Spring and Asura, which we have here. Both were self published…and did not sell well at the time. The author had to purchase a number of the books himself.
“Really? But wasn’t there also Night on the Galactic Railroad? What about that…?”
“Night on the Galactic Railroad existed as a manuscript, but it was only compiled into a collection of his complete works posthumously. It wasn’t released at all while he was alive.”
“Is that so…”
I groaned. So even his famous works were no exception.
“The author made such a significant number of revisions to it that even after many years, scholars debate which version is definitive. This isn’t something rare in Miyazawa Kenji’s works. Even for this Spring and Asura, the first printing isn’t necessarily…ah….excuse me.” Shioriko blushed and apologized to Satoko.
I also came back to my senses. I had forgotten that other people were here, and we ended up talking about books like we usually did.
“Ah, I don’t know much about books, so it’s not the shop owner’s fault.”
“Oh that’s quite alright. In that cause maybe I should tell you a few things about this book too. I heard a lot of it from my father, however.” Satoko smiled gently as she faced us and began to explain.
“You know, after the first print of Spring and Asura, Miyazawa’s reputation went far and the number of people who loved his books increased. My father was one of those people. He brought this book in the 30th year of the Showa era, about 50 years ago… even back then, this book was rare and was seldom seen even in bookstores in the city.” She explained without the slightest hesitation. It seemed Satoko was also a bookworm. Though I supposed it would come as no surprise that a bibliophile was old classmates with Shinokawa Chieko.
“Where did he buy it then?”
“Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. The second copy came from there as well.”
It sounded like this was related to why we were called over. Shioriko poked my elbow and had me look at Spring and Asura when I leaned forward to get a better look. The title was printed on the opening page.
Spring and Asura
Taisho 11, 12
The sudden typo was off-putting, but it looked like that wasn’t what Shioriko wanted me to see. A red stamp had been marked under the word “skech”. I felt like I had seen this stamp, a hydrangea within a square border, somewhere before.
I gasped. I had seen this exact same stamp on my grandmother, Goura Kinuko’s, copies of Natsume Souseki’s complete works—with the exception of Volume 8: And Then. After receiving And Then as a present from someone, she bought the rest of the collection from Biblia.
“I’m sorry to interrupt…but was your father the one who made this stamp?”
“Yes. All of his books had this stamp imprinted on them. It’s because he loved hydrangeas…even growing them in this house was his desire.”
I remembered how she said earlier that Biblia purchased a number of books from her father. In other words, the Natsume Souseki complete collection originally came to Biblia from this house, and my grandmother purchased it after that.
Two completely unrelated people were bound by old books. It felt mysterious somehow.
“Just now, you said that your father owned two copies of Spring and Asura, correct?” Shioriko quietly closed the book as she spoke.
“The fact that you’re showing us this one means that the ‘stolen’ book was the second copy of Spring and Asura.”
Satoko had a distant look in her eye, and looked down at her hands crossed on top of her lap. There wasn’t a single ring on her bony fingers.
“You’re just like your mother after all,” She muttered to herself.
“My father did in fact have two copies of Spring and Asura. As you might have guessed, the second was also purchased from Biblia. Your mother, Chieko, was the one who sold it to my father about thirty years ago.”
“Chieko would come over to play sometimes when we were in middle school. She got along well with my dad. He was quite taken by her and often gave her books as presents. He really enjoyed talking with young people who loved books, I suppose.
“The reason she started going to Biblia was also because my dad recommended it and said it was an interesting shop. It wasn’t until after she dropped out of graduate school that she started working there, however.”
“My mother attended graduate school?” Shioriko asked, her eyes wide. It seemed there were things even she did not know about her mother.
“She did. She focused specifically on history and said she was doing research on publishing and distribution in modern day Europe. She had various things she was interested in, but she seemed to like that one the most.”
I didn’t know what sort of research that entailed, but it did sound like it was related to books somehow. Shinokawa Chieko wasn’t just someone who loved books, she was also someone who aimed to be a scholar.
“But she only stayed in graduate school for a few months. Due to family reasons, she had to drop out and start working. Chieko didn’t like talking about herself much so I don’t have the details. Do you know anything about it?”
“I also don’t know much about my mother’s past…my father might have however.”
“I’m sure he would have known more,” Satoko nodded.
It seemed she was also acquainted with Shioriko’s father. She likely visited Biblia in the past from time to time, like her father.
“And what about my mother selling Spring and Asura to your father…?”
“About half a year after she started working at the shop, Chieko gave my father a call and asked if he would be interested in buying a first print of Spring and Asura. She found it while doing a home call with one of her clients and ended up buying it for some tens of thousands of yen and well…offered it to my father. She knew that he was collecting first prints of Kenji’s work.”
“She was entrusted with those kinds of purchases after just half a year?” I interrupted without thinking.
I had also been working at Biblia for half a year, but I’d never done a home call all by myself. I couldn’t even imagine purchasing a rare book on my own.
“I believe she did it without getting permission…my mother was exceptional in that sense,” Shioriko whispered to me and smiled at Satoko.
“The previous owner of Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia rebuked her severely for buying and selling books on her own, but since all the books she dealt with brought in profits, he soon let her do as she pleased.”
So she made him recognize her ability. However, the hidden side to that were absurd dealings like the one with The Final World War.
“But your father already had a copy of Spring and Asura that was in good condition, didn’t he? He ended up buying a second copy from my mother…are you saying that the second one was in even better condition?”
“No…in fact, I think its condition was worse. The cover was stained and the inside had writing in it.”
“I don’t completely understand, but maybe he wanted to have a spare copy…or perhaps he purchased it to encourage Chieko who was working so desperately.” Satoko spoke slowly as she thought over her memories.
“But you know, both my father and I were attached to the book that was in worse condition. Because that book had passed through the hands of someone who had loved it…regardless of the worth it would have had in bookstores, it was a valuable book to us.”
I could sympathize with her words. It was like Shioriko had said before…old books contained stories in and of themselves. Their value could not be determined by price alone.
“I would like to hear you explain the circumstances from when the book was stolen to me in detail…but before that, there’s one thing I’d like to ask you.” Shioriko raised a single finger as she spoke.
“Have you reported this to the police?”
Satoko had remained serene all this time, but now her face warped in anguish.
“Can you tell me why?”
“I’m sure you can guess.” She looked down.
“It was my own family that stole the book. Either my older brother or his wife…one of the two. That’s why I don’t want to make it public.”
“My father didn’t leave behind a will on how his inheritance would be divided, but it had more or less been decided beforehand. My mother passed away before him, so it would only be split between my older brother and me, you see.
“My brother inherited the sports shop that my father owned along with the rights to the building. I inherited the house…and was also given responsibility over the books in this library. Half of the collection was to be donated to the new library of his alma mater once it was built. The other half would be sold to Biblia.
“That’s why we invited your father to this house…it must have been two years ago, and my father knew he would pass away soon. Mr. Shinokawa looked tired at the time, but he still shared old stories with me as I helped…but thinking about it now, his condition was…we may have asked him to do something unreasonable.
“Ah, excuse me. I got carried away.
“Let me continue. It was decided that most of the books, including this copy of Spring and Asura, would go to the library at my father’s alma mater once it was completely built. However, my father left a single book behind for me…and that was the book he had bought from Chieko. It was my favorite book among all the ones he had.
“My older brother, Ichirou is three years older than me and his relationship with my father…no, his relationship with me isn’t too good either. He helped my father with the shop, but moved out when he was young. Now he lives in Takano with his wife and son.
“His house isn’t far from here, but he rarely visited. After my father’s legs started to deteriorate, he began to have even less contact with my brother and his family. He rarely saw them, with exception of my nephew who occasionally stopped by to beg for pocket money. I’ve had only a handful of phone calls with him since my father’s funeral.
“Anyway, about a month ago, my brother suddenly stopped by for a visit. He said he didn’t have any business and just wanted to chat since we hadn’t seen each other in so long. When I mentioned that half of the library was sold to Biblia as we talked over tea, the color of his face changed. He asked me to hand over half of the money I got from Biblia since it was also part of the inheritance.
“Since the management of the library was left entirely to me, I never told him about the books being sold.
“It wasn’t something he wanted to admit, but my brother told me that business had not been going well lately, and that money was tight. Perhaps the real reason he came that day was to ask if I could lend him some.
“However, I also believed that he had a right to the money. Ultimately, I deposited half of the money I received into his bank account.
“At that time, I had told him that the remaining books in the library were going to donated, and not sold…but a few days after I gave my brother the money, I got a phone call call—this time, from his wife. She said that her husband told her that there were books remaining in the library, and suggested that we sell those too, and split the profits between us.
“Of course, I refused…but she began to call me every day after that. I was so disgusted with that household that there were many times that I did not pick up the phone.
“Last Sunday, my brother unexpectedly pulled up to the gate as while was out in the garden. With his wife in tow, he said they wanted to have a discussion about how the books were going to be managed.
“I’m sure they deliberately chose a time when they knew I’d be at home. My aunt had come to visit a few days before, and I told her about my plans to garden on Sunday. My brother and his wife must have found out from her.
“I invited them into this guest room, having been left with no choice. It only took an hour, but this was by no means an enjoyable conversation.
“I told them over and over that donating the books was our father’s wish and that the agreement had already been made with the university, but my brother and his wife stubbornly insisted that I annul that agreement and allow them to handle everything.
“When they finally had the temerity to tell me that they had already contacted a bookshop in Jinbōchō, and that they could have the books sold within the week, I couldn’t take it anymore. I furiously told them that I intended to follow through with my father’s will and that they were never again welcome into my home before chasing them out of the house.
“But my temper cooled down as I stood by the gate and saw them off. I thought that perhaps I had been too harsh that time. I went back into the house and walked back to my father’s library while trying to think of other ways to convince them.
“But the moment I entered the library, I noticed something unusual.”
“There were signs that someone else had been in the room. The doors on the bookshelves were all open and of all things, the one book that wasn’t going to be donated, the copy of Spring and Asura that my father passed down to me, was missing…
“I’m certain the book was there in the library when I was cleaning it that morning, and have no doubt that it was either my brother or his wife that took it. Both briefly left their seats during the conversation, so they definitely had an opportunity. The doors to the bookshelves don’t have locks either.
“I called my brother right away and asked him to return the book, but he screamed at me saying he knew nothing about it. His wife also insisted that she knew nothing…
“I’m not concerned about the money. If my brother was in trouble and asked me to lend him some, then I would have helped him to the best of my ability…all I want is for the book to be returned to me. I want you to identify the culprit and convince them to return the book. Of course, I also intend to pay you what I can.
“I implore you from the bottom of my heart. Please accept this request.”
Having finished her fast-paced speech, Tamaoka Satoko deeply bowed her head. Shioriko, who had been listening intently without the slightest movement, opened her mouth to respond.
“As I said before…I don’t know how much I’ll be able to help.” Her tone was more passionate, stronger than usual. “That being said, I want to help you fulfill your father’s final request. Please, raise your head.”
It felt like I had gotten a glimpse of a different side to Shioriko. This was a case that she chose to accept; not one she had been dragged into due to circumstance. While she certainly wasn’t good at dealing with people, I supposed that didn’t mean she disliked them.
Takino said that Shioriko didn’t start taking requests until recently, but maybe that was because there just hadn’t been any opportunity, and it had nothing to do with me coming to work at the store.
That also kind of felt lonely in a sense.
“However, I’ll need to ask you a few questions. Would that be acceptable?”
“Yes, of course. Ask me anything.” Satoko said, clinging to Shioriko’s words.
“First, why do you think the culprit would take the more damaged copy of Spring and Asura? The better copy was also in the library, wasn’t it?”
“I don’t believe my brother knew that there were two copies. He had already moved out of the house when my father purchased the second one. My copy of Spring and Asura was in the library, but he must not have known that it wasn’t among the books that were going to be donated. I doubt he even realized there were two different books.”
True, it would it would be difficult to tell if there were two of the same book, even if they were in different locations within the same room. And if he was already under the impression that there was only one copy, there would have been no reason to search for a second.
“That makes sense. Thank you very much.” Shioriko nodded and followed up with her next question.
“What kind of person is your sister in law? Could you tell me her age and occupation?”
“Her name is Sayuri and she’s 41, maybe 42 years old. There’s a big age difference between my brother and her, but she used to be one of his employees. They started a relationship outside of work…and eventually got married when she became pregnant with my nephew. She still works as his right-hand man even now.”
No wonder. If the store really “wasn’t doing well,” then both of them would be in financial trouble. It made sense that they’d leap at an opportunity to make money.
“Do the two of them read a lot?”
“I know my brother used to read books from my father’s library, but I probably couldn’t say he’s well-read. I don’t think Sayuri has any interest in reading though. I remember my father smiling bitterly when she said she didn’t know a single one of Takuboku’s poems.”
I couldn’t bring myself to laugh at that. I couldn’t remember a single one of them either.
“You said they left their seats halfway through. Could you elaborate on the timing?”
“I brought my brother and his wife to this room at about 11 o’clock or so.” Satoko looked at the pendulum as she scored her memories. “About 15 minutes in, Sayuri left saying she needed to make a phone call home. She had left her cellphone at home, and asked to borrow mine…and went into the hallway holding her bag.”
“I’m assuming in order use the black phone in the hallway.” Shioriko replied. It seemed she had memorized where things were placed in this house at some point.
“Could you hear Sayuri’s voice from the hallway?”
“No…I was still arguing with my brother during that time, so that would have been impossible. Sayuri returned after five minutes or so. A short time after, my brother left for one, maybe two minutes to use the restroom. They didn’t leave their seats at any point after that.”
It felt like the brother was more suspicious to me. I had used the restroom myself earlier and knew it was right next to the library. He could have pretended to do his business and instead gone into the library to take the book. His wife also had the opportunity, but it would have been difficult for someone who was not familiar with books to choose the correct one out of the many in the library.
“And when your brother and his wife were leaving, you saw them off to the gate, correct?”
“Rather than seeing them off, it was more like the argument continued out to the gate…I was agitated and should have known better…” Satoko answered hesitantly. It must have been a fierce argument in its own right.
“So those two brief periods were the only times you weren’t aware of what they were doing?”
Satoko nodded clearly and confirmed Shioriko’s question.
“Yes, that’s right.”
Shioriko placed her fist on her chin and looked down at the table. She was probably organizing the events in her head. Perhaps there might even be some clue in all of this.
“Do you remember what were they wearing?”
“Right. What kind of clothes did your brother and his wife have on that day?”
I was also confused by this question, but Shioriko was probably looking for something specific.
Their clothes must not have left much of an impression on her, because it was a short while before Satoko answered.
“My brother was wearing a thin, bright red sweater and green pants…he didn’t have a coat. Sayuri was wearing a purple coat over a blue dress…I think.”
Clearly they enjoyed wearing gaudy clothes…a sharp contrast to Satoko.
“Did they have anything with them?”
“Let’s see…my brother was empty handed, but Sayuri brought a brand name handbag with her. She kept it with her when she made the phone call.”
“I see…” Shioriko had not changed her posture. “Were there any people outside of this household that were aware of your father’s collection?”
“…Just my father’s old friends I believe…I don’t think any of our other relatives knew either. My father only talked about books to those who loved reading.”
Shioriko finally looked up. It seemed she was finally done asking questions.
“Have you figured something out?” Satoko asked and waited for an answer.
Shioriko quietly shook her head.
“Let’s see…in order to get a clearer picture, what I’ll need to do—the first thing I’ll need to do— is talk to your brother’s family. Could you provide me with their contact information?”
“Certainly. Give me just a moment.” Satoko took out a pen and began writing a phone number on a memo pad.
Her handwriting was child-like, and it was hard to read characters. Looking at it closely, the tip of the pen was shaking—she had probably been unable to stop herself from trembling. It was obvious just how important this book was to her.
“I’m so sorry for giving you such an unreasonable request. There’s no one else I can turn to for help.” Satoko’s eyes were wet with tears as she handed over her brother’s contact information.
“I’ll send him a message to let him know you want to talk him. Really, I appreciate everything you’re doing for me.”
Shioriko and I drove over to Yokosuka the next day.
Tamaoka Satoko’s older brother, Ichirou, had his shop headquartered just off the highway. It was located on Dobuita Street across from a theatre. There was an American military base in the city, so the abundance of English signs didn’t seem strange.
The five story building contained both a store and an office. There were very few customers visible behind the open automatic doors.
“This is the place, right?” Shioriko asked to confirm.
“It should be,” I replied.
The plan for today was to talk to Ichirou first since his wife was away managing one of the branch stores. We didn’t get the opportunity to talk with them directly over the phone, but we were able to get this meeting arranged with surprisingly little trouble.
The tall employee organizing the racks of sportswear suddenly turned to look at us. He was a tanned muscular man who for some reason was wearing an orange short sleeved polo despite the season. His slicked back hair was black, but there were deep wrinkles on his forehead and around his eyes.
“Ah, welcome. I’ve been looking forward to seeing you. Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia, right?”
He greeted us loudly and walked towards us. Shioriko pulled back a little as he approached her; it seemed she was uncomfortable dealing with people like him.
“Call me Tamaoka. My sister already told me what’s going on. Shall we get started then?” Tamaoka clapped his hands and rubbed them together.
“My wife and I left our house in Takano at about 10:50am that day. Since there are no shortcuts by car, we had to go the long way around and got to the house at about 11am. My sister was at home working in the garden at the time, so we went inside to have a conversation. It ended up turning into a big argument though, and we left without even having lunch. We did a little shopping after that and didn’t get back home until about 12:30.
Without even being prompted, Tamaoka Ichirou began blathering about the events of that day the moment he took a seat. We were currently in a family restaurant near his sports store. It was still too early for lunch, so there were only a few customers around. Tamaoka’s deep voice rumbled all the more conspicuously.
“But you know, I really thought my sister was just saying things when she said there was another copy of the first print of Spring and Asura. I bet pops really paid a fortune for it.”
“The person running the store back then isn’t around now, but I believe…”
Tamaoka grinned at Shioriko’s attempt. His teeth were straight, but one of his molars was silver.
“That was Chieko right? Your mom. She came to our house to play from time to time so I know her. She was an unbelievably beautiful girl…just like you, in fact. You’re a very lovely woman,” he said quite boldly.
It was surprising just how different the two Tamaoka siblings were. With such a huge difference in personalities, it was no surprise they didn’t get along.
“So, what did you want to talk about? Please, ask me anything.” Tamaoka placed both his hands flat on the table and leaned forward.
Personally, I thought he was extremely suspicious. Why was he acting so friendly when he knew we suspected him of stealing the book? It made no sense.
Shioriko still had her hands on her lap as she stared at the business card that Tamaoka had placed on the table earlier. After a while, she hesitantly spoke up.
“Did the name Ichirou perhaps come from one of Miyazawa Kenji’s works?”
“That’s right. Be it The Restaurant of Many Orders, or Matasaburou of the Wind, it’s a name that appears in many Kenji stories. My friends used to tease me saying it was an old fashioned name. I don’t know why my father specifically gave it to me though.”
Now that was something I could relate to. My own name Daisuke came from Souseki’s And Then. In my case, the reading remained unchanged though.
“Do you read a lot of books?” Shioriko asked.
“I don’t mean to brag, but I read a lot. Even more back when I lived at the old house.” Tamaoka replied without a second of hesitation. It definitely sounded like bragging.
“My father didn’t know it, but I used to voraciously read the first print books I took out of his library. I became especially became familiar with the first editions of Spring and Asura and The Restaurant of Many Orders. Even now I don’t have any interest in reading the more recent publications. Those first editions were perfection you know…erm, not that I’d go and steal them or anything. Even if I were the thief, I’d aim for Kenji’s other work, The Restaurant of Many Orders. That one’s much rarer.”
It seemed he did have some knowledge about books, but nothing he said was helping his case.
“Today we only came to consult with you. I don’t believe that you were the one who took the book.”
Shioriko’s words shocked me. This man was supposed to be our strongest suspect…if it wasn’t him, then there was only one other person remaining.
“That’s right. I knew you would understand.” Tamaoka said strangely happily. He then purposefully looked around before lowering his voice.
“That said, that would mean my wife stole the book, wouldn’t it? Well, I wouldn’t put it past her…ahh, even if she did do it, hypothetically speaking, it wouldn’t have been out of malice. Our store’s been in hard times and things haven’t been easy for us.”
Now he was starting to treat his own wife as criminal. I really couldn’t like this guy. Call him insensitive, or irresponsible or whatever…was he really not the culprit?
“I wasn’t necessarily implying that your wife stole the book.” Shioriko responded as matter-of-factly. A few wrinkles appeared on her forehead above her glasses. “There are various other possibilities…even if you didn’t take the book directly, it would not be out of the question for you to have orchestrated the theft.”
Even Tamaoka Ichirou looked daunted by that statement. Like Shioriko said, he could have easily instructed his wife, Sayuri, to steal the book.
“Well, there’s no helping the fact that I’m being suspected.” He leaned back on his chair and put his fingers behind his head. “Did Satoko talk about me much? About how her relationship with me is terrible, and how I never visited Pops and stuff like that?”
We stayed silent. Satoko had expressed it a little more elegantly, but he pretty much hit the mark.
“I know what I did to Satoko is hard to forgive. The care of our father was all pushed onto her, and I barely helped even until the very end. She hasn’t even married at that age…though I suppose personality might also have something to do with it…but in retrospect, we certainly should have been more aware of her troubles.” Tamaoka now spoke solemnly.
Unexpectedly, it seemed this weighed heavily on his mind. This was in spite of the fact that he recently went to his sister to ask for money.
“It’s not like Kenji where I can bring in snow for her. Not matter what I bring her now, it’s not going to turn into food from Tushita heaven.”
Tamaoka said that and glanced at Shioriko. The words food from Tushita heaven seemed familiar somehow.
“It’s a line from Morning of the Last Farewell, one of the poems in Spring and Asura.” Shioriko explained to me.
Come to think of it, I did know this poem. It was the famous poem he wrote for his dying sister that began with the line: Before the day ends you will be far away, my sister.
Tamaoka suddenly smiled broadly. “Yes, exactly right! You really are just like Chieko. We used to talk like this and she always got every quote right.” He had a distant, nostalgic look in his eyes.
“Indeed, she truly was a beautiful, wise, yet kindhearted book girl—completely different from my own book loving sister, Satoko. I always used to think how nice it would be if Chieko was my sister instead. How is she by the way? I haven’t heard any news of her from my sister.”
The wrinkles on Shioriko’s forehead deepened. This man had no idea what kind of person Chieko really was and what had happened in the Shinokawa household.
“What was up with that?” I asked after we returned to the van. I didn’t say anything before for fear of making things worse.
Our work for the day was still not done. Now we were going meet Tamaoka Ichirou’s wife. I started the car and began to drive away.
“He was saying such horrible things about his sister…are you sure he’s not the culprit? He’s incredibly suspicious.”
“I can’t say for sure how much involvement he has in this case but…” Shioriko answered. It seemed she wasn’t happy about this either. The wrinkles on her forehead had not yet disappeared.
“…But it would have been physically impossible for him to take the book out of the library himself.”
We passed through the Yokosuka metro area and continued down a steep, cliff-like slope. This was a mountainous area that had much steeper hills compared to Kamakura.
“Please remember our conversation with Tamaoka Satoko yesterday. She said that her brother showed up empty handed didn’t she? Even if he did pretend to go to the restroom and steal Spring and Asura from the library, he would have had nowhere to keep it. He was only wearing a thin sweater, and hiding it in pants would have been difficult.”
That was also true. At the very least he wouldn’t have been able to return to the room with the book still on him.
“What if he took the book and dropped it off in his car to pick it up later…if not there, then somewhere else.”
“Remember that he was only out of his seat for ’maybe one or two minutes’; time-wise, it’s extremely unlikely that he would have been able to go into the library, quietly sneak into the car near the gate, and return in that time. Even if he had chosen some other hiding spot, Satoko followed them all the way to the car, so there would have been no time to retrieve it.”
“I see…in that case, what if his wife stashed it in her handbag? He could have taken the book and hidden it somewhere to arrange for his wife to hide it in her bag afterwar…no, nevermind.”
I realized it before I finished. His wife was the first one to leave her seat…that at least ruled out Ichirou as a suspect.
“But there’s also the possibility that he gave her instructions to steal the book right? That way it wouldn’t be difficult to find and steal the book quickly even if the person he was cooperating with wasn’t knowledgeable about books.”
“While that certainly is true, I don’t believe Ichirou was as knowledgeable as he claimed. It felt like he was just regurgitating what he heard from other family members. At the very least, his story about avidly reading the first edition of Spring and Asura was a lie.”
“Why do you say that?” I remembered him quoting a line from Morning of the Last Farewell earlier.
“Spring and Asura is currently put out by a number of publishers, but the conclusion for Morning of the Last Farewell is often as follows.
On these two bowls of snow you will eat
I pray from my heart
May this turn into the food of Tushita Heaven
And soon bring to you and all others
That is my wish, and for that I will give all my happiness.
You might already know this one, it’s what Tamaoka Ichirou quoted.”
“I do.” I nodded with my hands still on the steering wheel. I was pretty sure this was the version I used to see in my textbooks.
“Incidentally, Tushita Heaven is a Bhuddist term referring to one of the heavens. It can be understood as the outer court where heavenly beings who have been released from worldly desire reside, and the inner court where Bodhisattva Maitreya lives.”
I didn’t really understand her explanation, but it kind of sounded like a place where people with pure hearts ended up.
“However, the term does not appear in the Sekine Publishing version of Spring an Asura. The corresponding lines are as follows.
On these two bowls of snow you will eat
I pray from my heart:
May this turn into ice cream from the heavens
And soon bring to you and all others sacred nourishment
That is my wish, and for that I will give all my happiness.
Pretty different, aren’t they?”
They really were different. The version in the first printing sounded gentler, but the version I knew felt like it had a nicer rhythm. I couldn’t say which one was better.
“Why are they different?”
“Miyazawa Kenji continued to edit and refine Spring and Asura himself even after it was published. The reason Morning of the Last Farewell is different in the first edition is because of the applications of edits that were discovered after his death. “
I was gradually being drawn in. The was my first time hearing this story.
“Does that mean there are other works that were revised?”
“Of course.” Shioriko nodded in the passenger seat. “There are a number of revisions throughout the book…in fact, he left behind several revisions of Spring and Asura, to the point that it’s believed that there are still revisions that have yet to be discovered.”
Meaning there were a great number of updates. Come to think of it, I know Night on the Galactic Railroad had some revisions. Spring and Asura was probably similar.
“Why did he continue to make alterations when it was already published?”
“Until the very end, Kenji considered Spring and Asura to be a collection of “mental sketches.” What’s collected in the book aren’t poems, but a rough sketch of the thoughts he had at the time that he then wrote down. The author himself never called this work a “poetry collection”. Perhaps he saw it as a rough sketch that could be fleshed out and polished over time.”
“But if I’m remembering correctly, didn’t that book have “poetry collection” printed on it? It was on the spine.”
“That had nothing to do with the author’s will and was arbitrarily added in after. Spring and Asura was considered an elaborate book for something printed in the countryside, but it was still it was far from Kenji’s ideal. There were many grievous misprints, you see.
The “Mental Skech” printed on the opening page surely must have also been a shock to Kenji.
“That means what he said before…”
Tamaoka had called a book that even the author was unsatisfied with “perfect”. Not only did he lie about only reading first prints, he was literally just saying whatever came to mind.
Considering his meager knowledge of books and lack of opportunity, he likely had nothing at all to do with this case.
“Does that mean his wife stole the book on her own? But then…”
Tamaoka Sayuri knew even less about books than her husband did…or was that all a façade?
“I can’t say that yet. I believe there are still other possibilities to consider.” She didn’t elaborate any further. I supposed she would explain what she meant after our talk with Sayuri.
We passed a tunnel and entered the city of Zushi. It was still only noon. It was starting to look like we had a long day ahead of us.
The meeting place that Tamaoka Sayuri chose was a neat café and restaurant near Hayama Marina. Having arrived early, we decided to have lunch there while we waited for her.
Since there weren’t many customers on this early March weekday, we were able to snag a seat with a wide view of the ocean. This somehow felt like it could be a date. I was curious about what Shioriko thought, but she didn’t seem to think anything of it.
“Since we have some time, let’s talk about Miyazawa Kenji’s books.” With that, she instead began to talk about old books.
A part of me wanted to talk about something else, but still, it was an interesting conversation. We finished our lunch, and she was explaining over coffee how Kenji’s earlier collections were deeply connected to antiquarian bookstores, and how he may not have gotten published at all if it weren’t for their support. As she spoke, I realized that there was a middle-aged woman in a checkered purple coat standing next to the table.
She was worryingly thin, but was tall and had a well-define features, with her short hair serving to emphasize the bones in her face. She looked fatigued down to her very core.
“Tamaoka Sayuri.” She introduced herself in a flat voice and sat down to order a cappuccino before we even had the chance to introduce ourselves.
“I usually take a break here when going back and forth between the store here and the one in Zushi.”
I guessed this was the only time she’d be available to talk. Shioriko took the opportunity to hastily introduce herself and me.
“This is about one of Satoko’s books that went missing, right? I don’t know which one though.”
“Ah, yes…it’s a first print of Miyazawa Kenji’s Spring and Asura.” Shioriko’s voice was a little shrill. As always, she was having trouble talking to someone who spoke bluntly. But I was sure her switch would be flipped soon and she’d start feeling more comfortable if we continued talking about books.
Sayuri did not so much as twitch at Shioriko’s answer. It seemed this really was her first time hearing about the book.
“According to Satoko’s account, you had a conversation with her on the day this occurred.”
“If that’s what you want to call it.” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm. Unsurprisingly, it seemed she didn’t think kindly of us.
“We were told that you made a phone call…may I ask who it was to?”
“My house.” She unexpectedly answered without resistance.
“It was just before my son’s entrance exams. He likes to slip away and slack off the second I take my eyes off him, so I was calling to make sure he was actually studying. He can also confirm that it’s something I do often.”
What was up with that? I could understand having a zeal for education, but I was sure her son hated it if he was already in middle school.
“Was your son…at home then?”
“He was, and I talked to him for about five minutes. I drank some tea from a plastic bottle after I hung up and went back to the guest room right after. I had a slight cold that day, you see.”
So that was the reason she left the room holding her bag. The amount of time she said she was gone matched up with Satoko’s account. It would have been difficult to finish up a phone conversation and then sneak off the library at the end of the hall to steal the book in that short time.
Of course, we couldn’t say if she was telling the truth. He son was the only one who could confirm whether or not the phone call actually happened, but I doubted she would be happy to let us ask him.
“If you want, I can call the house and have my son confirm. Classes are already over and he’s probably lazing about anyway.”
“Eh…is that really OK?” I blurted out on accident. She was being very cooperative despite her evident foul mood.
“You wouldn’t believe me otherwise right?”
That was when her cappuccino arrived. She waited for the café employee to leave before taking a sip.
“I was out of the room for several minutes and had a bag that could reasonably hide a book. If I don’t say anything you’ll continue to suspect me, and I’d rather not be treated like a thief.”
Tamaoka Ichirou’s ruddy face came to mind. I couldn’t just believe that Sayuri and her husband were both innocent.
“Would there be any problems if we visited your house and talked to your son directly?” Shioriko suddenly asked.
“Eh?” Sayuri furrowed her brows. “Is that really necessary?”
“…Yes.” After a moment, Shioriko answered decisively. I couldn’t understand why it would be necessary, but clearly she had something specific in mind.
“I suppose it’s fine then. Just make sure not to mention anything about a stolen book. Don’t ask about anything that’s not related to the phone call.”
“Thank you very much.” Shioriko bowed her head in reply.
Tamaoka Sayuri finished off the rest of her cappuccino in a single gulp. It seemed she didn’t want to spend too much time dawdling here.
“Ma’am, I heard that you don’t read many books.” Shioriko continued the conversation.
“That’s right; or more accurately, I hate reading. I said that the first time I met my father in law and barely ever talked to him after that. He was someone who couldn’t get along with people who didn’t like books.”
Tamaoka Sayuri smiled bitterly as she remembered her interactions with him.
“Have you ever gone into the library at that house?”
“Never.” She spat out the answer.
“Rows and rows of books as far as the eye can see. The image gives me shivers. I’ve never like bookstores or libraries either.”
“Is that so…” Shioriko sounded extremely puzzled by this. She probably couldn’t even imagine what it could be like to “hate books.”
“By the way, is it really that expensive? That Spring and Asura.”
“…depending on the condition, they can be worth up to one million yen.”
“Really? That much? Unbelievable.” Sayuri’s eyes were shining and she set the cup down with a clatter. “I knew the books in that house were worth a lot. There’s more benefit in selling them than in having them donated. She doesn’t need to be that stubborn about it.”
She didn’t have any interest in books, but she certainly did care about money.
“Satoko said before that she wasn’t concerned with the money—that the book was much more important. If the book gets returned, she said she wouldn’t mind lending you some.”
Sayuri suddenly sat up straight in her seat next to Shioriko’s, her face expressionless. After staying still for some time, she sighed and leaned back on her chair.
“Did she really say that?”
“So she was rich after all.” A long sigh came out from her pale, parched lips. “Saying something like that so easily, she definitely grew up wealthy. My husband is similar…it’s somehow childish.”
She looked back and forth at our puzzled expressions as she muttered to herself.
“That family really was sloppy with the inheritance. My husband mainly got the shop and Satoko the house in Kamakura. However, the store was saddled with lots of debt and, well, it’s not like it’s going to fold at any moment, but it hasn’t been easy. While I was running myself ragged, I heard that a number of valuable books were going to be donated. I thought, why not sell them and split the profits equally? No one would lose that way.”
So those were the circumstances. It seemed she also had her own problems to deal with. I could understand why she would be so insistent on selling the books.
“Like I said before, I didn’t steal the book. And I would’ve returned it right away even if I did…being able to receive money would make me happy enough.”
Sayuri glanced at her wristwatch and stood to put her coat back on. It seemed it was time for her to go back to work.
“Well, I’ll need to get going. Do you know where my house is?”
“Ah, yes…I heard from Satoko…umm, may I ask you one last question?” Shioriko raised one finger. “When did you make the decision to visit Satoko’s home last Sunday?”
Sayuri stopped moving midway into putting her arm into the coat sleeve. She narrowed hear eyes and looked out the window, searching through her memory. Outside, a boat riding a wave could be seen returning from the open sea.
“I think it was during breakfast on that day. We wanted to talk with Satoko about selling the books, but couldn’t figure out what would be a good time to meet her…then my husband mentioned that she was probably going to be cleaning the house that morning. We left shortly after that…did you have any other questions?”
“No, that was all. Thank you very much.” Shioriko politely thanked Sayuri.
“Daisuke, what did you think of Sayuri’s story?” Shioriko asked me in the van after we left the café.
I drove over a bridge near the mouth of the river and continued on the highway alongside the ocean. The wind coming from the ocean howled.
“How to say this…it didn’t feel like she was lying.”
While there was no question that she had money problems, she seemed to be the type to ask for money up front. Stealing a book like this would be out of character.
“What do you think?”
“Hmm, at the very least I think it’s true that she never entered the library.”
“The library in that house wasn’t set up so that books could be seen every which way you looked.”
It was probably to prevent yellowing and dust on the books. The books in the library were all behind shut glass doors, the books themselves couldn’t be seen very clearly. Those were the words of someone who had never stepped into the room. That wasn’t to discount the possibility that it was a calculated statement, though.
“By the way, why are we going to see her son?” I asked.
If we were only going to be asking about the phone call, there should have been no need to talk to him in person.
“I want to have a long and slow conversation with him somewhere where his mother’s eyes won’t reach…also, I want him to show me the phone.”
“Unless it’s extremely old, there should be some form of caller history. It that’s working properly, I should be able to get the number she called from.
“Ah, is that so.”
That would serve to prove if Sayuri really did call her home from her sister in law’s house.
“But I have a feeling that she really did make the call.” Shioriko softly muttered as she stared off at the sparsely populated beach.
I organized everything in my head. Assuming everything Sayuri said was true and that the phone call really did take five minutes, then she couldn’t have stolen Spring and Asura.
But that’s strange…
If both she and her husband couldn’t have stolen it, then the culprit was nowhere to be found.
“Shioriko, which one of the two do you think stole it?”
She had been avoiding making any definite statements on that. It didn’t feel like she was recklessly evaluating the statements we heard today. Rather, she seemed to already have an idea of what happened.
“I don’t have a definite conclusion…” After a brief silence, she answered. “…but I believe we’ll be able to find the book by today.”
Tamaoka Ichirou’s house in Takano was located in a spread out residential area along the mountainside.
It had been developed some decades ago, and there were few roads that led to it from the base of the mountain, so it took us an unexpectedly long time to reach the house from Kita-Kamakura station. Apparently Ichirou wasn’t exaggerating when he said it took him ten minutes to drive to his sister’s house.
We parked the van in front of a large house built in a conspicuously high spot. The school I used to attend was just a short downward slope away from here, from which the Hakone mountains could be seen. It was quite a wonderful view.
The nameplate in front of the Tamaoka house had three names written on it—Ichirou, Sayuri, and finally, Subaru. This Subaru was most likely the son’s name.
I opened the gate and waited for Shioriko to pass by with her cane. Judging by the cross bike resting on this side of the fence, Subaru was probably still at home.
Shioriko pressed the intercom button in front of the house and leaned forward to listen for an answer. However, the door opened on its own without any response from the intercom.
A chubby boy stood in the doorway. His hair was styled into an undercut, with just the top part dyed a bright color. He stared at us from behind his glasses with sanpaku eyes and an expressionless face.
“U-umm…we’re acquaintances of Tamaoka Satoko and…”
“I already heard from the old lady. “ The boy interrupted Shioriko and pointed his thumb at himself. “I’m Tamaoka Subaru…come in.”
He opened the entrance door wide. It wasn’t his fault or anything, but it somehow felt like there was a mismatch between his name and his behavior.
After Subaru led us to the living room, he poured tea into guest teacups for us and placed them on saucers. He even went as far as preparing tea cakes to accompany it. Finally, he sat across the table with a sullen look and stuffed his hands into his pockets. I couldn’t tell if he was being polite or not.
Subaru didn’t prepare any for himself, and instead had a bottle of Yakult for some reason. Perhaps that was his afternoon snack.
“So why do you want to talk to me about what happened last Sunday?” He got to the point right away.
While the boy physically looked more like his father, his personality was similar to his mother’s. He seemed surprisingly calm for a middle school student.
“Oh…yes, that’s right…” Shioriko stumbled over her words. It seemed she got nervous even around middle schoolers.
I cleared my throat and took over for her. She had done all the talking today anyway.
“Can you tell us everything that happened last Sunday? Just the time between breakfast and lunch is fine.”
“Sunday, huh…” Subaru nodded lightly. “I was studying until late the night before, so the old lady woke me up for breakfast. We ate lunch here and she and my dad left for my aunt’s house after that.”
“What time was that?”
“My mom and dad left the house a bit before 11am I think…I was working on practice questions upstairs when the old lady called me from my aunt’s house at about 11:20.”
He jerked his chin towards the sideboard in the corner of the room. There was a phone and fax machine next to a table clock.
“So you picked up the phone from there?”
“Yeah, the other handset has broken batteries and doesn’t work so I ran down from the second floor to pick up the phone here.”
“What sorts of things did you talk about with your mother?”
“Hmm…gimme a sec.” Subaru looked off to the side and gathered his thoughts. “It was mostly just her talking on and on by herself. Stuff like telling me to study properly, telling me about the yogurt in the fridge, telling me not to drink too much Yakult…stuff that didn’t really matter. I put up with that for five minutes or so.”
Subaru sighed. From what he told us so far, all the phone call did was interrupt his studying.
“What happened next?”
“I called her a noisy hag and hung up. She hit my head after she got back and made me apologize for that though…”
Subaru sounded indifferent about the exchange, but at least he apologized. Regardless, all the details matched with his mother’s story.
“Would it be alright if I took a look at the phone?” Shioriko asked timidly.
The boy responded with a puzzled look and glanced at the sideboard.
“Sure, go ahead.”
Subaru moved his seat forward the moment Shioriko stood up to walk around the table.
“Can you fit through?”
His stomach looked like it hurt a little pressed against the table like that. Subaru couldn’t be called friendly, but he was surprisingly kind and attentive of others.
“Y-yes. Excuse me.”
Shioriko walked to the phone and fax machine and began pressing buttons. She was probably checking the call history now. After a short while, she looked at me and nodded deeply. The phone records must have matched what Subaru and his mother told us.
That said, the call history didn’t give us the duration of the phone call, so there was still the possibility that Sayuri simply hung the phone up immediately and went off the library to steal the book. However, I couldn’t imagine Subaru conspiring with his mother to commit the crime.
Although Shioriko said earlier that we would find the book by the end of the day, it still felt like we were far from resolving the case. Just what was she planning to do next?
“The two of you are from Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia, right?” Subaru suddenly asked.
Shioriko cast a quick glance at me.
“Have you been to our shop before?” I asked.
“Well…I didn’t buy anything, but I did go a few times…it’s not like I hate books or anything.”
“In that case, we’d love to have you visit us again.” Shioriko smiled gently as she returned to her seat.
“…If I feel like it.” His tone was as blunt as always, but Subaru’s cheeks were slightly red. I felt like I could relate to the boy for the first time.
“The truth is, your aunt, Tamaoka Satoko, had a book stolen from her.” Shioriko suddenly, smoothly continued.
“Ehh…” I almost spit out the tea in my mouth. Sayuri had just told us not to mention anything about the theft. What was Shioriko thinking?
“Huh…OK…” Subaru responded with disinterest.
“Yes, and it was an extremely rare first printing of a book published in Miyazawa Kenji’s lifetime. Do you know the one?”
“I do. Spring and Asura, right? It’s famous. There’s a poem in it that has the same name as me.”
“I’ve been wondering about that for a while actually. There certainly is a poem titled Subaru in the collection. Is that were your name came from?”
“Nope. My dad’s a big fan of Tanimura Shinji…but if you were to ask him, the old perv would probably lie and say it definitely came from Kenji.”
The boy smiled brightly for the first time. He was surprisingly cheerful considering he was bad mouthing his fath— that’s when I finally noticed Shioriko’s behavior. Before I had realized it, all traces of tension had disappeared from her tone and voice. This was how Shioriko got when she was about to solve a mystery.
“Which poem in Spring and Asura do you like best? Let me guess, is it Subaru?”
“Mm, it’s actually Eine Phantasie im Morgen. I think it’s really cool. Long though.” Subaru excitedly answered and leaned forward towards us.
Shioriko happily clapped her hands. “Oh that one’s good. I’ve read it so many times. Molten copper hasn’t yet dazzled / White halo hasn’t yet burned…”
“Only the horizon has lightened or darkened / Half-dissolved or thickened…” Subaru continued the poem effortlessly; he must have read it numerous times himself. Shioriko’s smile lit up like a crescent moon. I felt a chill go down my spine for some reason.
“You really like that first printing of Spring and Asura, don’t you?” She said in a well-carrying voice.
“Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That stanza goes something like this in most modern printings of the book: Only the indigo horizon / Has lightened or darkened / Half-dissolved or thickened…so tell me, where did you read the first printing?”
The smile on Tamaoka Subaru’s face withered. I stared at his face—don’t tell me, was he…?
“It’s not like the first print is the only one with the original version of the poem. You can find it in the Complete Works of Miyazawa Kenji by Chikuma Shobo or Chikuma Bunko too.”
“That certainly is true. But what made you think I was talking about Spring and Asura in the first place?”
“What I said before was that a book published during Miyazawa Kenji’s lifetime was stolen. The Restaurant of Many Orders could have also fallen under that category. I’m sure you knew that, of course, seeing as you used to play at your grandfather’s house on occasion.”
The boy visibly gulped. Come to think of it, I did remember Satoko saying something about that. Her brother barely ever visited the house, but her nephew did from time to time.
“The only people who knew that the house had an extensive library, and that Satoko would be in the garden all morning, were Tamaoka Ichirou, Sayuri—and you.”
Shioriko was saying that the culprits were not his parents, but Subaru himself since he satisfied all the requirements. He knew about the first print of Kenji’s book and had the opportunity to steal it.
“You left the house on your bike the moment your parents left to go to your Aunt’s. You snuck into the house after that so Satoko wouldn’t see you and took the book…am I wrong?”
“…my parents drove to her house.” Subaru had his head down to avoid our gazes and tried to put up a feeble argument. “There’s no way I could get there before them on my bike.”
“No, you could have. Even I could tell you that.” I said, amazed. He still wasn’t ready to give up it seemed.
“It’s about a ten minute drive from here to your aunt’s house, but that’s only because the roads are limited. But if you go on foot, there’s a stairway through the mountain near here that stops right in front of your her house. I know this because I used to go to a high school nearby and used that route to get to Kita-Kamakura station.”
In other words, any local would have known about the shortcut. Assuming he left his bike at the top of the stairs and ran down the rest of the way, it wouldn’t even take him five minutes to get to the house. He would have had plenty of time to leave the scene and come back home to pick up his mother’s phone call.
“Satoko suspects that your parents did it.”
“…Really?” Subaru must not have considered that possibility.
“If the book isn’t returned, then the suspicion will never be lifted from your parents.”
Subaru tightly chewed his lips. His hands were firmly clenched into fists on the table..
“I’m sorry…I was the one who took the book.” He finally said in a defeated voice.
“But it wasn’t because I wanted to steal it…I was going to return the book as soon as I was done with it.”
Subaru took the two of us to his room on the second floor.
It was a tidy, sunlit room, and in addition to a bed and desk, Subaru also owned a tall bookcase.
The bottom shelves contained paperbacks with Meiji and Taisho era Japanese literature from authors like Souseki, Ogai, and Touson, but the top shelves had neatly arranged manga and light novel series.
“…Just so you know, I keep up with popular stuff too.”
No one had asked him about it, but Subaru told us this with a hint of pride. I wasn’t really sure what there was to be proud about though.
There weren’t many hardcover books, and the few that he did have seemed to be reviews and analyses of Miyazawa Kenji’s work.
Shioriko silently examined the bookcase. After a while, she finally turned her gaze to the wall on her side.
“Oh!” She let out a startled shout.
“What is it?”
“Umm, this drawing…”
There was a framed drawing hanging on the wall. It was a simple, lightly colored pencil sketch of hydrangeas in a glass. It somehow felt like I had seen something like this not too long ago…
“My grandpa made that.” Subaru said. “…And to be honest, I don’t think it’s that good, but it’s still something he left behind for me. I heard Grandpa always put hydrangeas somewhere in all of his artwork.”
That’s when I realized it.
The drawing reminded me of the painting of Shioriko’s mother that I discovered in the main house behind the store. The flowers in that painting were identical to those in this one, down to the petals and leaves. The reason the chairs and table inside the library of the Tamaoka house felt familiar, was because they were the same as that painting. I was pretty sure it had been made in the library with Shinokawa Chieko as the model.
So that’s how it was.
In other words, that painting was something that Tamaoka Satoko’s father—Subaru’s grandfather—gave to Shinokawa Chieko as a gift. If I remembered correctly, the date on that painting was June 1980. That would have been around the time Satoko’s father bought his second copy of Spring and Asura.
“Umm, here it is.” Subaru held out a book still in its slipcover. This was also a Sekine Publishing edition of Spring and Asura, but its condition was much worse than the one Satoko showed us before. The title on the cover was completely yellowed, and the corners were beginning to peel.
Shioriko looked at the drawing one last time before taking the book into her hands. For now, talking about the book took precedence. She took a seat and took the book out of the slipcover to study it.
Subaru and I followed suit and sat down as well.
The cover of the cloth bound book was faded and had numerous stains and smudges. The area around the edge of the spine was especially bad, with the words poetry collection almost completely illegible. Shioriko brought her face closer to the book to inspect the stains.
“I wasn’t the one who did that…Grandpa said the stains were already there when he bought the book.” Subaru explained.
“So your grandfather allowed you to look at this book before?”
“Yeah, Grandpa and I had a pretty good relationship since a few years before he passed away. But when I was younger, the only image I had of him was that he was a really quiet guy who gave me pocket money every once in a while.”
For an instant, Subaru grimaced as if he had swallowed something bitter. It seemed there were some unpleasant memories involved.
“When I was in 3rd grade, my nickname was Suboaru.” He suddenly began a seemingly unrelated explanation.
“What a cruel name.”
“I know. They used to say I wasn’t suited for the name Subaru and called me Suboaru instead. I would be able to fight back against it now, but back then I just ended up taking on that nickname. I hated my own name and even I began to think that maybe Suboaru really was a better name for me…
“…Then one day I told my parents that I was going to Grandpa’s house to get some pocket money.”
“And did you visit him?”
“Yeah. Grandpa was in his library reading books since his leg was injured and he couldn’t really walk much anymore. He asked me if anything was wrong lately. I ended up telling him about how they called me Suboaru and tried to laugh it off. That’s when Grandpa’s face got really serious, and he started to read a poem from Spring and Asura out loud.”
“Was it Subaru?”
Shioriko opened the book to one of the pages towards the end of the book. The first thing I saw on the page was that the misspelled title had been crossed out and corrected with a pencil. This was what Satoko must have meant when she said there was already writing in the book. But the strange thing was that misspellings weren’t the only things corrected—additional punctuation and parentheses had also been inserted throughout the book; this definitely struck me as odd.
“The last part of the poem left a huge impression on me…People who are wealthy cannot rely on their wealth / People who are healthy could suddenly roll over and die.”
“People who are smart are weak in the head / Everything we rely on is unreliable.” Shioriko continued the rest of the stanza. It felt like the poem was about being attached to material possessions. The phrase roll over and die stuck out to me somehow.
“All of a sudden, the guys who were it all felt so dumb, both all the people who called me Suboaru and me, for being too scared to go against them. When I got excited and told Grandpa that I didn’t completely get it, but thought it was a really good poem, he told me I understood it well. He also told me that the poem suited me…”
Still frowning, Subaru sniffed. It certainly was a good story though.
“But still, why did you take the book from the library?” Regardless of the reason, we couldn’t just ignore what he did.
“…Because I got a challenge. From Grandpa.”
“A challenge?” I repeated Subaru’s words.
“Grandpa was really smart and had lots of rare books…but the one he loved the most was this one. He even told me he gifted the person who found it for him with a painting.”
That didn’t really make sense to me. The person he gave the painting to was of course Shinokawa Chieko. However, Subaru’s grandfather would have already owned a copy of Spring and Asura at that point. Was this one much more valuable than that one—or did it perhaps have more sentimental value?
“He told me the reason this book was valuable was because it had a secret.”
“That was the challenge. He said I could take as much time as I needed and he would give me a prize if I found out what the secret was… But in the end, Grandpa died before he could tell me the answer.”
Fortunately, we had someone who was skilled in solving such challenges right here. However, Shioriko only continued to silently flip through the pages of the book. The image of her sitting on the floor looking down at the book looked like something out of a painting.
“Then I suppose you didn’t get your prize in the end.”
“No, I did. That was the prize.” Subaru pointed to the painting on the wall.
“After Grandpa died, I asked Aunt Satoko about the challenge to see if maybe she knew. She didn’t know the answer either, but brought me this drawing and said that it was probably the prize I was supposed to get. It was a drawing of the hydrangeas that bloomed in the garden, made on the day I was born. She told me Grandpa always planned to give it to me one day.”
I looked at the drawing on the wall one more time. I didn’t want to nitpick something the deceased left behind, but it looked pretty rough. Perhaps if it were a little more polished…
“I didn’t care that much about the prize anyway. What I really wanted to know was the answer to the challenge, but I was never able to figure it out. Aunt Satoko doesn’t even let me look at the book now.”
She probably had her guard up since it was so valuable. It seemed Subaru and Satoko didn’t have a good relationship in the first place.
“I got busy with exams after that, but I was thinking about asking her again, when I heard something insane…”
Subaru cut his words short. I could guess what he was thinking from his silence.
“You mean the talk about the books getting donated?”
“Right. When my dad heard about it he started saying ridiculous things about selling the books instead. I knew there was no way she’d sell the books, but they would still be donated. Before that happened I wanted to borrow the books for just a bit and spend all my time researching…I never thought that Aunt Satoko would find out…”
I massaged the bridge of my nose. This was all because the Tamaoka couple didn’t have the complete story. The most important part had never made it to Subaru.
“Your aunt always planned to keep just Spring and Asura…there weren’t ever any plans to donate it.”
“What? Seriously? Then there was no point in what I did!”
Tamaoka Subaru held his head and looked up at the ceiling. He sounded completely deflated and continued in a tired voice.
“…I need to take the book back and apologize to her.”
Then, Shioriko spoke up. It seemed she had finished her inspection.
“Did your grandfather ever say anything about this book? Before he passed away, for example.”
“Hmm…I don’t think so… No, actually, he did give me a hint.”
“I visited him with my dad at the hospital a bit before he died. He was already in critical condition by then, but at that time he still happened to be lucid. He asked me all of a sudden how I was doing with the challenge. He looked like he wanted to tell me the answer, so I told him I would find the answer on my own, and he should focus on getting better until then. That’s when he told me to beware of Sergeant Thénardier.”
“It’s a name that appears in Eine Phantasie im Morgen in Spring and Asura. He showed up suddenly with no introduction so I don’t really know who he is either…maybe it wasn’t actually a hint for the challenge—is something wrong?”
Shioriko’s face had become pale. It didn’t seem like it was because she was feeling sick. She most likely figured out the answer to the challenge—no, that wasn’t all she must have realized.
“…Mr. Tamaoka.” She spoke in a low voice. “Do you still want to find the answer to the challenge on your own?”
“Of course I do! “ Subaru declared without an ounce of hesitation. He had a broad and fearless grin on his face. “I don’t mind even if it takes a lot of time. I think grandpa would be happy to see me put all my effort into researching and thinking of an answer on my own. …But it’s not like Aunt Satoko will let me research the book …”
“I understand.” Seemingly having been caught up in the mood, Shioriko’s smile also widened. “In that case, we’ll also work with you…can you leave everything after this to us?”
Shioriko and I went back to Tamaoka Satoko’s house later that evening. She seemed anxious as she welcomed us into the house. The air around her seemed to say that she had been waiting near the doorway since Shioriko’s phone call earlier that afternoon.
We sat across from each other in the same guest room as before. Shioriko took the copy of Spring and Asura that we got from Subaru and set it on the table.
“Aah…” Joy spread over our client’s face.
“Thank you….thank you so very much. You don’t know how happy this makes me.” She took the book into her shaking hands, and after checking that there wasn’t anything wrong with it, clutched it to her chest.
At length, embarrassed by her loss of composure, Satoko put the book back down on the table.
“My apologies…I lost myself for a moment there….I’ll have to give you a proper payment as thanks for all you’ve done for me of course. “
“As we discussed before, we’ll forgo any payment this time.” Shioriko patiently explained. There had been a bit of a disagreement about this matter when they talked on the phone before.
“In exchange, I would like you to forget everything that happened, and allow Subaru the freedom to read this book whenever he wants from now on.”
“That would be a problem.” Satoko shook her head decisively. “What he did really should have been reported to the police, even if he is a member of my family. It’s unthinkable for me to let him see this book whenever he wants.”
Shioriko glanced meaningfully at me. We might not be able to resolve this peacefully after all.
“I’m sure calling the police would also be a problem for you.” Shioriko’s tone suddenly became sharp.
“And what do you mean by that?” Satoko blinked in confusion.
“I thought something was suspicious when we spoke here the first time. Why did your father buy a second copy of Spring and Asura that was in worse condition? And more importantly, why did my mother offer to sell the book to someone who already owned a copy? She wasn’t someone who would make such naïve business decision.”
Satoko was still puzzled. She still didn’t understand what Shioriko was trying to say, but didn’t stop her from continuing.
“Your father presented my mother with a painting as thanks for finding the book for him. It was only natural to assume then, that this copy of Spring and Asura was much more valuable than the one he already owned. After speaking with everyone today, I finally realized the truth.”
Shioriko signaled to me with her eyes again. We had already agreed what to do if things were to come to this.
I quickly leaned forward and snatched Spring and Asura from the table in front of Satoko.
The book was already back in Shioriko’s hands by the time Satoko stood up in a panic. Satoko slumped back into her chair defeated. She looked more uncomfortable now than ever before.
“Please take a look at the spine of the book. Do you see how the words poetry collection have been smudged out?”
I looked carefully at the book in her hands. I actually didn’t get the chance to hear about the “truth” that Shioriko had discovered in detail. There just hadn’t been any time.
“If you recall, when Spring and Asura didn’t sell well, Kenji had to buy some copies back from the publisher, which he then gave out to family and friends. He was unhappy about the publisher marketing the book as a poetry collection without his authorization and smeared those words out with bronze powder on the copies he gave away.” Shioriko was mostly explaining for my benefit.
“In that case, this is…”
“Correct, it’s highly possible that this was a book that Kenji gave to someone as a gift.”
So they weren’t just simple stains after all.
Shioriko cast a sidelong glance at the silent Satoko before continuing. “However, this wasn’t just any ordinary book.”
She took out Spring and Asura from its slipcover and flipped through its pages.
I only glanced at it before, but now I saw there were more than just corrections to misprints and missing letters. There were arrows indicating changes to the heights of characters and x’s where lines were to be deleted. In fact, there were even words and phrases that were added and deleted. This looked more like a revision of the book than anything else.
“Wait a minute…”
I let out a voice. There were traces of revisions in a book that Miyazawa Kenji owned…could this be—
“Are these corrections that Kenji himself wrote in the first print of the book?”
“That’s right.” Shioriko nodded.
“Copies of Spring and Asura that Kenji improved upon are called revised books. Many of the modern printings of Spring and Asura incorporate elements from these books.”
I remembered our conversation about the subtle differences in Morning of the Last Farewell and Eine Phantasie im Morgen.
“As I said earlier today, a number of revised books have already been discovered. The ones in the possession of the Miyazwa estate are arguably the most famous, but the contents differ between them. There are established theories that at least one more revised book exists, but it has yet to be discovered.”
“…And that would be this one?” I stared at Spring and Asura. A revised book that Miyazawa Kenji improved upon—that certainly was an unbelievable “secret.” This was no doubt the answer to the challenge Subaru had been given.
“I’ll need a little more time to confirm…but it’s more than likely.”
Shioriko stared squarely at the owner of the book, but Satoko did not move and sat frozen like a statue in her chair.
“You were hiding this secret from us, weren’t you? You told us the book was valuable because of personal memories. Why was that?”
“That’s because…I didn’t want many people to know. You two didn’t even know how my father got his hands on the book in the first place…and…it really was that valuable…”
Tamaoka Satoko hesitantly looked up, but quickly averted her gaze from Shioriko.
“I saw the drawing in Subaru’s room. It was the “prize” that your father prepared for him, a picture of the hydrangea in the garden, drawn on the day Subaru was born.”
“Y-yes, that’s right.” Satoko’s response sounded like she had something stuck in her throat.
“But I’ve seen something that matches that flower down to the finest detail somewhere else before. In a painting my mother received 30 years ago.”
Of course. How could I have not noticed it before? There was a difference greater than 15 years between the times the paintings were made. There’s no possible way that a flower that bloomed 15 years ago would have also bloomed 30 years ago.
“The fact that your father made it for his grandson was a lie, wasn’t it? You used a sketch that had always been lying around as a convenient excuse and gave it to him. Then what on earth could the real prize prepared for Subaru be?”
An oppressive silence weighed over the guest room.
“…What do you think it is? Satoko replied.
I could already guess. As Sayuri told us before, the inheritance for this house was sloppily done. There wasn’t so much as a scrap of paper documenting who the books in the library were to go to. The only person who knew, was the woman in front of us.
Shioriko showed the spine of the revised book to the requestor.
“Don’t you suppose the prize was this book? You were the one who told us that your father enjoyed talking about—and giving—books to young people. Does it not make sense that this copy of Spring and Asura was always intended to be passed on to Subaru? It was never yours.”
Satoko did not reply. It seemed she had recognized her own crime. I was astonished by Shioriko’s brilliant reasoning. In the end, Subaru hadn’t stolen anything. Without realizing it, he had taken back something that should have rightfully been his.
“I’m sure your father gave you instructions on what to do with the book after he passed away. He must have also recognized the possibility that you would not follow them.”
“Impossible. I can’t believe that.”
“No, it’s possible. Before your father passed away, this is what he told Subaru: beware of Sergeant Thénardier…do you understand what that means?”
Satoko’s face went deathly pale and her lips began to tremble. There seemed to be an understanding between the two of them, but I was still entirely in the dark.
“Umm…what does that mean?” I asked Shioriko in a small voice.
“Thénardier is the name of a character that appears in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. He makes an appearance as a thief, looting valuables from dead soldiers after the battle of Waterloo.”
In other words, that wasn’t a hint for the challenge. It was warning to be careful of thieves by your side—an extremely depressing thought.
Satoko groaned. “What do you plan on doing with that book? Don’t tell me you’re going to give it to that boy. You don’t even have any proof that he was supposed to inherit it in the first place. More importantly, I’m the only one in the Tamaoka family that knows its true value….this is something that people who love antiquarian books should hold on to…”
Shioriko quietly put Spring and Asura back in its slipcover and held it out to Satoko who was still insisting on her argument. Satoko was completely taken aback, unable to believe that the book was simply being returned to her. Satoko looked back and forth between Spring and Asura and Shioriko in dumb silence.
“My earlier proposal remains unchanged. I want you to keep the book for safekeeping, but make it so that Subaru is free to read the book whenever he wants…additionally, once he discovers the secret on his own, I want you to tell him the truth and ask for his forgiveness. Subaru will be the one who decides the owner of the book after that.”
“And what if I refuse that proposal?”
“I’m planning on regularly keeping in touch with Subaru from the shop from now on. If I come to understand that you have rejected my proposal, I will reveal everything to your older brother directly. I don’t know if he will press charges, but at the very least you will find yourself in a troublesome position with your family.
Satoko maintained her silence, but Shioriko’s expression suddenly lightened up her expression and she continued serenely.
“When your father passed away, both you and Subaru lost someone with whom you could talk about books . In addition, the books you own will someday be passed on to Subaru right?”
That was right. Satoko didn’t have any children of her own, so her inheritance would eventually go to her only nephew.
“I…won’t promise you anything.” Satoko muttered and took Spring and Asura into her hands. “But I’ll try to talk to Subaru…it’s not as if I disliked him personally in the first place. It was just that I loved this book.”
“And that is enough. Thank you very much.” Shioriko bowed her head.
Satoko looked at the person who had exposed her secret with faraway eyes.
“You’re an unforgiving person in a different sense from Chieko. I think she would have overlooked something like this…if I were to show her a certain measure of appreciation.”
“I will not accept any bribes…I’m different from my mother.” Shioriko answered harshly. I have to be different from her. I could understand what she also wanted to say in her heart.
Satoko had a somewhat lonely smile.
“It was just as Mr. Shinokawa said after all. You still have complicated feelings about Chieko.”
“My father said something like that?”
“Yes…when he came here to purchase books.”
Come to think of it, Satoko did tell us before that she talked about old times with Shioriko’s father when he came to purchase books. This would have been shortly before he passed away—a story from about two years ago.
“He was laughing bitterly about how, before he knew it, you were already trying to sell the book Chieko left behind for you…” Satoko said nostalgically.
Shioriko’s face was wide with astonishment.
I could smell something good simmering in the kitchen. It was almost time for dinner at the Shinokawa house.
I put some books back on the shelf, and turned back to look at Shioriko. She was still sitting on the floor searching through a cardboard box of her father’s belongings.
We were in the room that the former shop owner used to use. After we left Tamaoka Satoko’s house, we returned as fast as we could, and Shioriko began tearing through all of her father’s belongings.
Shioriko believed that if her father had realized that she was trying to sell Sakaguchi Michiyo’s Cra Cra Diary, then he wouldn’t have let it go. I was of the same opinion. It would have made sense for him to take it and keep it somewhere for safekeeping.
However, we couldn’t find it anywhere in his room. In the first place, the articles left by the deceased had already been organized before. If the book hadn’t already been found then, our chances of finding it now were slim.
“Don’t you think we’ve looked enough for today? We should try searching again tomorrow…I’ll help too.” I spoke towards her turned back.
“…but it has to be somewhere around here.” After a while, I got an absent-minded reply. She had been like this ever since we got back.
“Shioriko, let’s stop.” I said it a little more forcefully this time, but there was no answer. It wasn’t that she was committed to a fruitless search, but rather that she didn’t want to admit that maybe the book was nowhere to be found.
…but why can’t we find it?
A doubt surfaced in my mind. Perhaps the previous shop owner hadn’t realized that his daughter had been looking for the book she once tried to throw away.
However, her father must have considered giving it back to her at some point. He had to have made some preparations just in case when his is health began to fail.
What would I do in his position—?
I snapped back to reality and realized the room had become completely silent. Shioriko had stopped moving her hands and was hanging her head in exhaustion.
I approached her, as if compelled, and crouched down right behind her. Shioriko didn’t turn around even then. I was close enough to see the fine hair growing out of the nape of her neck right in front of me.
“…Shioriko.” I called her name again, but as expected, she didn’t respond.
My chest was tight and it felt a little hard to breath. I softly grabbed her shoulder. What was I supposed to say now?
Suddenly, the sliding door opened and Shinokawa Ayaka, wearing an apron over her jersey, appeared.
“Shioriko! It’s time for dinner! Today’s special is…”
Ayaka’s words stopped short and her eyes went wide. I let go of Shioriko’s shoulders in a panic. Why did she always show up with this kind of timing? It wasn’t like I always did things like this.
“Shioriko…dinner.” She must have guessed that something was off. Trying to gauge Shioriko’s reaction, Ayaka continued. “I made that stewed hamburger you love today…”
Shioriko didn’t respond to her younger sister either. She was stiff as a stone statue, completely lost in her own thoughts. Ayaka took a look around the inside of the room, and realized that her father’s belongings were scattered about. But—
“Shiroko, it’s time to eat.” She didn’t mention it and only repeated herself to Shioriko.
The silence continued.
Ayaka then suddenly stomped into the room and kicked away the cardboard box in front of Shioriko. Shioriko naturally raised her head in surprise, and Ayaka hugged her over her apron.
“Shioriko, let’s eat now, OK?”
For a while, the two of them did not move, but at last, Shioriko nodded. Ayaka helped her stand up, and supported her as the two of them walked towards the door.
I also walked out to the corridor and silently saw them off.
“Goura, are you also staying for dinner?” Ayaka asked me as she stood in front of the door to the kitchen. We silently faced each other in the dim corridor. This was probably the first time I had ever gotten a good look at her face. Her round eyes were smiling as always in her impressively childlike face.
“You’re not going to ask what we were doing?” I asked her in a low voice. Perhaps she didn’t hear me, or maybe she was pretending not to have heard me, Ayaka tilted her head.
“Actually….never mind. Thank you, I’ll stay.” It had been a while since I had stewed hamburger anyway.
I smiled and walked towards the dining room.
 Original translation by Hiroaki Sato. https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/morning-last-farewell
 Original translation at Poetrykanto.com