He looked up at the sky.
An expanse of blue covered the sky above him.
A few thin clouds streaked across, as if blue paint had been scraped off the canvas.
The sky stretched on and up endlessly.
Or so it seemed to him now.
The sky above him during junior high school in Morioka must have also been this same clear blue.
The only reason he now couldn’t think of a single blue sky from that time must have been because he had seen everything through a filter of gloom.
It wasn’t the sky that was dirty, he thought. It was my heart.
He left the guest house with the visor of his cap pulled low over his eyes and his SLR camera in hand.
For today’s stroll, he headed for Jodogahama.
There were many tourists on the beach today as well.
While he mused over the explanations from the girl he had met at the bus stop, he pointed his camera at the water’s surface and the walls of rock.
Intent on taking pictures from different angles than yesterday, he cleared his mind of everything but the endless click of his shutter in order to capture on film as many memories of this one month as possible.
Today, he tried hiking up to a different observation deck than yesterday.
Seeing the same spot from a different angle was like seeing it anew.
He was jealous of the girl for being able to call such a beautiful region home—and thinking that, he took countless more pictures.
The water’s surface, which had yesterday sparkled emerald green, was today a deep blue.
He was surprised that it could look so different depending on the day.
Another tourist at the observation deck told him, “If you haven’t been yet, you should check out Koyasu Jizo1 too.” He lowered his head in thanks and walked towards the location as directed.
He picked his way across an outcropping of uneven rock face, and arrived at a spot where small rocks and sand accumulated as they washed up on the embankment.
This place was called Sai-no-Kawara2, and here he had been taught to pick up a small stone for when he went to pray to the Jizo.
Atop a path so narrow a single person could barely climb it, sat a roofed hut with latticed windows3, and enshrined inside was a statue of the guardian Buddha of childbirth, Koyasu Jizo.
Apparently locals came to the god with prayers for their families’ health and bountiful fishing.
He also prayed, wishing for his parents’ continued good health.
Especially for his father, the lawyer, for whom he had caused a lot of grief.
It’s not like he begged them to take care of him.
But that’s what ended up happening, and it was his own fault, causing the accident.
So it was only out of courtesy that he prayed for them now.
He captured the Jizo in his camera, and photographed the ocean from various angles before enjoying a late lunch at the rest house in Jodogahama.
Around the time he was headed back, the sun had gone down completely in the west.
His one regret was that because of the direction, the sun was hidden in the shadow of the mountains.
How beautiful of a sight it would have been if the horizon had been dyed in the sun’s orange glow.
Leaving the sea of Jodogahama and on his way back to the guest house, he walked along a coastal road where the view of the ocean was cut off by the sea wall.
The wind chilled to welcome the evening.
The sun hid its face among the mountains, and gradually the indigo shadows deepened between the shops and houses.
The air grew cold.
It was almost as if his surroundings hinted at the melancholy stagnating in his heart.
The whole world felt like it was against him.
While he walked and pondered those feelings, he spotted her figure on the road up ahead.
The girl he had met yesterday at the bus stop.
She appeared to be walking side-by-side with a stooped old woman.
They parted ways at last in front of a small side street, and just as she waved her hand to send off the old woman, she suddenly noticed him and turned his way.
He saw her graceful features slide into a carefree smile.
She wore a white blouse of a simple design and light blue jeans.
She briskly ran up while waving her hand so hard it seemed it would snap off.
“Good evening,” Osakabe greeted her.
“Um… sorry, actually I completely forgot to ask for your name yesterday.
I feel awful, asking now—”
Wait, I guess I did tell you that part yesterday.”
She laughed sheepishly, with her tongue out.
However, he could understand her desire to emphasize her age.
It was a sensitive time, nineteen: while her heart was filled with the hopes of becoming an adult at twenty4, she was still stuck right at the height of her teens.
A special time, only occurring once in a lifetime.
Is that why she seems to sparkle like this he thought, watching the silhouette of her profile against the glow in the evening sky.
“I see, Honoka-chan.
That’s the perfect name for you, vivacious5 like the summer sun.”
“Vivacious! You won’t get anything, flattering me like that.”
At any rate—something is obviously wrong with me, blurting out compliments that get such obvious results, he thought while watching her embarrassed smile.
“My birthday is actually in October, not too long from now.
But my name has the character for summer in it.
Don’t you think that’s strange”
“I guess so,” Osakabe said, tilting his head to the side in thought.
“If that’s the case, then shouldn’t your name use the character for fall instead”
“That’s what my parents thought at first, too.
But actually, I have a twin sister.
So for our names, they split us into two seasons.
For me, the oldest, summer.
For my younger sister, winter.
So that the two of us can live on together for a long time, for all seasons.
They also included that wish with our names.”
“Wow, that’s a good story.”
“You think so My parents also said they just couldn’t think up two names that had the character for fall.
Don’t you think it’s a little lazy”
Saying that, she smiled brightly.
“My sister is also cute—she looks just like me, you know” she said with a little more significance than just praising her sister.
She looked at his face, then turned away once more.
The corners of her mouth curved up playfully as she chuckled again.
It might have just been light from the setting sun, pushing the reds to their peaks—but he saw a faint blush in her face.
Her cheekiness, inadvertently calling herself cute as well, left a strange ache in his chest, like fingers scraping against his heart.
His breath abruptly caught in his throat, and he averted his gaze and asked her the question that had been on his mind from earlier.
“Come to think of it, that old woman just now, was she a friend of yours”
I don’t know her at all.”
“Not at all”
Somehow… she seemed lost, so I asked if she needed help.”
“Oh, sorry,” she said, putting her hand on her head.
“I’m a mind reader.
…although that’s kind of an exaggeration, I do get a faint sense of what other people are thinking.”
“A mind reader”
What on earth is she saying Perplexed, Osakabe just shrugged his shoulders.
“That’s right.” Saying that, she turned her eyes to the sky.
Before long, the corners of her mouth turned up in a satisfied smile and she giggled mischievously.
“You believed that Mind reading is all fake of course.
But how do I say it… I just predict what a person may be thinking from their actions and their way of speaking.
For example, let’s see…”
Honoka held a finger to her lips impishly, and looked up to examine Osakabe’s countenance.
“…that’s how I know.
You’ve got something on your chest, some burden that worries you, maybe.”
No way—the moment he looked at her face in surprise, a strong sea wind blew by them.
Her longish hair, ruffled by the wind, whipped around and hid most of her face.
He was denied a glimpse of what expression floated up as she let slip that remark.
Her face when the wind stopped blowing had not changed at all from the gentle expression she wore a moment ago.
“What are you—”
His voice, as if wringing out those words he uttered, was frustratingly hoarse, even to himself.
“Uh oh, I caught you off guard.
Am I mistaken, or did I hit a nerve After all, it’s plain to see, with your face looking so gloomy all the time.”
“Do I really make such an awful face”Osakabe forced a polite smile, annoyed.
“Yeah, you do,” Honoka said, brushing away a strand of hair from her face.
Then added, “But don’t worry.
I won’t pry, even if that is the case.
Please, just forget everything I said.
Except my name—don’t forget that! Shirakisawa Honoka—that’s my name.”
“Of course, I’ll remember.
I’ll probably never forget it.”
Hearing his words, she grinned in satisfaction.
“Since it’s getting chilly, shall we go back to the guest house”
“Yeah.” He nodded and followed as she walked on ahead.
She glanced back every once in a while as she talked pleasantly about tonight’s dinner menu and this or that.
He pondered while staring at her slender back.
Why did he feel like all those negative emotions, the anxiety and anguish that had stagnated in his heart, seemed to weaken while he spoke with her Like a sense of relief, as the threads that had tangled around his heart came undone.
He just continued surrendering himself to the warm feelings filling up his heart.
Ringing from all over, the insect song announced that summer was just beginning.
In Japan, there are many stone statues of Jizo erected at shrines and temples or on roadways.
The Jizo statues are often decorated by handmade red hats or bibs, or even offerings of toys or snacks from parents whose young children have passed away.
賽の河原 Sai-no-Kawara is a dried-up riverbed in the Buddhist underworld where, according to Japanese folk belief, the souls of dead children go.
There, they pile up rocks to make towers to climb out of limbo and into paradise, only for demons to come and knock them down.
Jizo, the Buddhist guardian of children and travelers, protects the children from those demons so they can build their towers in peace.
This is one of several sites in Japan that is said to resemble the sandy banks of the underworld’s river.
The word used here is 櫓 yagura, which is primarily used to refer to old watchtowers, but can refer to any kind of scaffolding such as the festival stages built for the Bon’odori dance during Obon festival, or even old gravesites.
Here it’s referring to the little wooden huts built for statues or to mark places of worship in rural areas instead of a large temple or shrine complex.
Although at 18 Japanese youth can sign rental agreements, get married, and even more recently vote, traditionally adulthood has been seen as starting at age 20 in Japan.
At this age, young people are allowed to drink alcohol and buy cigarettes.
There is also a big ceremony in every town in January, called 成人の日 seijin no hi, to celebrate the youth who have turned or will soon turn 20 that year.
The word Osakabe uses here is エネルギッシュ, from the German energisch, meaning energetic or full of life, but I didn’t think just calling someone energetic in English would evoke that kind of reaction.