As usual, I steadied my breathing in front of the shop, then opened the antique door.
The door bell tinkled as I walked in, and I caught sight of two men sitting at the counter.
“Good morning, Aoi-san.”
One of them was the person who had invited me to this part-time job, Yagashira Kiyotaka-san, or as he is widely known, Holmes-san.
The other person was…
“Good morning, Aoi-san.”
It was Holmes-san’s father, Yagashira Takeshi-san.
He had a slender body, wore a pair of spectacles and a vest, as well as a gentle smile like that of Holmes-san.
“I look forward to working with you again today.”
I bowed respectfully again.
After coming here for the last few days, I had learnt many things about the shop.
I’d thought that Holmes-san was a “young shop owner” when he invited me to this part-time job, but I learnt that the real owner of the store was Holmes-san’s grandfather.
However, his grandfather was known as a legendary “national appraiser”, so he had to travel across the country, and on occasion, over the world.
While the true owner was away, Holmes-san and his father would take over the running of the shop, while working their main jobs at the same time.
As for the father’s main job – I had gotten a glimpse of his skill.
His right hand holding a fountain pen, he put sentences onto writing paper – yes, he was an author of historical novels and columns.
As such, he would always be writing while looking after the shop.
(And of course, Holmes-san’s main job is a student.)
“When Aoi-san arrives, the shop instantly becomes brighter. It’s usually just us men in here, after all.”
Probably having noticed my gaze, Holmes-san’s father looked up and put on a warm smile.
Feeling embarrassed, I hastily put on my apron.
According to the regular customers, the Yagashira family had no women.
Holmes-san’s grandfather, the owner of the shop, was now single, having divorced a long time ago due to his free-spirited character.
Holmes-san’s mother passed away from an illness when he was only two years old.
As a result, the Yagashira family was only made up of men.
Since the three men managing the shop had the same name, the grandfather was known as “Owner”, the father was known as “Manager”, while Holmes-san was known as “Kiyotaka” or “Holmes”.
(Even so, it’s rare for both father and son to be around.)
On previous occasions, only one of Holmes-san or Manager was around at any given time.
“Ah, I’ll be leaving soon, so I had my father come in for today.”
Holmes-san looked at me and grinned.
Surprised, I had difficulty breathing, causing me to cough and choke momentarily.
“A-As I said, please stop reading my mind!”
“Ah, sorry about that. I also thought it was rare for you to see the two of us together.”
Holmes-san, who possesses powers of observation that are off the scale, does not actually read minds, but learns a great deal from a person’s actions and words.
“Reading your mind? You’re exaggerating as usual, Aoi-san.”
As he laughed enjoyably, my face became stiff.
Since I’ve had my thoughts unexpectedly surmised by him so many times already, it was like my mind was actually being read. I’m not exaggerating at all.
…Really, it’s bad for my heart when I get responses to my inner thoughts.
“Right, Aoi-san, please come to the second floor.”
Apparently having just thought of something, Holmes-san stood up, startling me a little.
Whenever Holmes-san called me to the second floor, it would always be to show me “something”.
With my heart racing, I took the stairs to the second floor of the shop.
Upon reaching the second floor, there was a door, which he unlocked after retrieving a bunch of keys by his waist. It was a spartanly decorated room with only a window and a ventilation fan.
I could see goods and boxes stacked on the shelves.
This room on the second floor was of course, called the “storeroom”.
Holmes-san advanced into the storeroom and stopped at a door in a corner.
The first thing I noticed about that door was that it had a padlock over it.
Besides that, another less noticeable thing was that the padlock already had a key sticking out from it. Next to the door was a cover which looked like it was for an electrical outlet, but when it was opened, a numerical keyboard, like that of a calculator, appeared.
In other words, it was a digital lock with a numerical code.
Holmes-san skillfully entered the code and unlocked the padlock.
At first, I’d thought it to be just a small room in a corner of the storeroom, but I was wrong.
It truly gave off the feeling of “tight security”.
The door to the corner room was finally opened.
Although the air was being regulated by an air conditioner, there were no windows.
When the lights were turned on, the sight of a small neat room entered my eyes.
In the middle of the room was a table, and on it was “something” completely covered with a piece of cloth.
“My grandfather brought this in last night…”
Holmes-san said as he swiftly put on his white gloves and removed the cloth.
It was a box of fifty centimeters long wrapped in a furoshiki. After that was expertly unwrapped, a simple wooden box remained.
The box lid was then opened to reveal a jar forty centimeters in size.
It had a wide, gentle curve described from its shoulder, which slightly tapered to the bottom from the fringes of its body.
The cobalt blue pattern drawn on its white body was overwhelmingly elaborate and beautiful.
Was it a pattern of grapes? It was certainly drawn neatly and carefully, up to the tips of the leaves.
“…This is really amazing.”
I cursed my scarce vocabulary, but that was all I could say.
“This is a ‘blue-and-white jar’, which is a kind of porcelain from the Yuan Dynasty1.”
“Is porcelain different from pottery?”
“They’re quite similar, and there isn’t a strict line separating porcelain from pottery, but porcelain is white when unglazed, has some degree of translucence, and produces a metallic sound when hit.”
“I see. Is this real?”“There’s going to be an exhibition in a department store here in Kyoto, and my grandfather was requested to appraise this artifact, which was borrowed from overseas.”
“So Owner was asked by the department store to appraise this?”
“Yes. While this jar was loaned from some foreign country, it would be a hit to the department store’s reputation if they displayed a fake article.”
Being the “national appraiser”, Owner would sometimes be commissioned for appraisals like this, and as a result, items that commoners like me could never see up close would be brought in.
Holmes-san would always show these wonderful things to me whenever they were in the shop.
“The cobalt is from the Islamic Zone, so it’s a beautiful deep blue, don’t you think?”
“Yes, it’s a really beautiful blue.”
“On top of that, its symmetric shape gives it a sense of stability. The lines are exquisite, and it’s perfect to the point that no corners were cut for even the green parts. Above all, this pattern is overwhelmingly beautiful.”
His eyes narrowed ecstatically as he spoke passionately, as if it was his own proud work of art.
He must really love antiques.
But I could also understand why he was speaking so passionately.
It was a wonderful item even for amateurs. But of course, a commoner of humble birth like me would be interested in…
“How much would this sell for?”
“Hmm… I heard that a Yuan dynasty blue-and-white jar sold for 3.2 billion yen in an overseas auction2.”
“3, 3.2 billion? For this?”
“Well, not exactly for this particular jar. It’s just that some people might believe that it’s worth around as much.” Holmes-san eyes narrowed cheerfully.
That world is so different that I can’t keep up.
Just like how some have their hearts stolen by jewels or gold, there are those that are captivated by antiques.
Having collected some antiques, my grandfather was probably such a person too.
“…Holmes-san, if you had a fortune, would you want to have this jar even if it cost you that fortune?”
Surprised by Holmes-san’s quick answer, I looked up.
“Oh, really? Don’t you love antiques?”
“Yes, I do, but I don’t feel like I ‘want to have it’. I’m satisfied being able to see amazing artifacts like this. I would like to see as many of such beautiful items as long as I live, and I would be willing to travel to any location in the world for that end. However, I don’t feel the need to own these objects. I feel fortunate to just be able to gaze at them and keep them in the memory of my heart.”
Holmes-san placed a hand on his chest, while his face was filled with a gentle smile.
That was quite a disappointment, but I nodded anyway.
While it was unexpected, it also felt “just like Holmes-san”.
“For my case, it’s not just jars and hanging scrolls, but I’m also charmed by shrines, temples and foreign castles. I certainly can’t obtain them, and I can’t hang them up at home, right?”
A mischievous smile rose to his face. “That’s true,” I said and gave a small laugh.
“The staff are coming over to pick this up, so it’s great that I got to show this to you, Aoi-san.”
He put the lid back onto the box and wrapped it tightly in the furoshiki.
We left the room together, and I stared as Holmes-san locked the room with a key.
…Security might be tight, but is it really alright to leave something worth 3.2 billion yen here?
It might be an unnecessary worry, but that was my concern.
“It’s fine. The security here is heavier than you think.”
I coughed and choked again at Holmes-san’s response.
“A-As I thought, having my thoughts read like that is bad for my heart!”
Seeing my stiff face, Holmes-san laughed enjoyably.
The two of us went down the stairs, and I noticed a regular customer, Ueda-san, relaxing on the sofa in the café corner.
“Oh, if it ain’t Holmes and Aoi-chan!”
Upon seeing us, a bright smile lit up on Ueda-san’s face as he raised a hand in greeting.
“If it isn’t Ueda-san. Welcome. Did you come to meet with my father?”
Apparently, he was friends with Manager in university.
In other words, he was also an alumnus of Kyoto University.
He managed a consulting business based in Osaka, and gained an interest in antiques through the effect of the Yagashira family. He would come to Kura whenever he found something good to have it appraised.
“Yep. I just bought the new book, so I was thinkin’ if I could get an autograph.”
Ueda-san retrieved a book titled “Inner Palace” from his bag.
“Wow, is that Manager’s book?” I leaned forward to get a better look at the book.
“I’ve always asked him about what kind of books he writes, but he’s never told me.”
My heart raced as I read the author’s name on the book cover. It was “Ijuuin Takeshi”.
“So Manager’s pen name is Ijuuin Takeshi, huh. Sounds really dreamy.”
As I said that, Manager brought a palm to his face, troubled.
“Aoi-san, it’s fine if you forget all about my books.”
“Eh? Why would I do that?”
“Ah, he’s such a shy guy, ain’t he, Aoi-chan? Say, I’ll give this so ya can read it.”
“Thank you very much, Ueda-san!”
I accepted the book and held it tightly.
“…It’s extraordinarily difficult to read, so I wouldn’t recommend it.”
Manager muttered as he looked away. His cheeks were faintly red, making him look somewhat cute.
“Yer supposed to be a veteran writer, so get used to it already.”
Manager turned away from Ueda-san, who shrugged exasperatedly.
“An Osakan who lacks delicacy won’t understand.”
“Hmph! That’s the arrogance of someone who grew up in Tokyo. You’ve got Kansai blood flowing in yer veins, but yer still sellin’ yer soul in Tokyo.”
While Manager was born in Kyoto, he was raised in Tokyo.
He was really young when Owner got divorced, and the busy Owner couldn’t raise a child on his own, so he left Manager in the care of relatives in Tokyo.
Manager only returned to Kyoto when he entered university.
As a result, he usually spoke standard Japanese.
Holmes-san’s use of standard Japanese might have also been caused by his father.
(By the way, all of this was information from Ueda-san.)
“I’ll go make some coffee,” Holmes-san said as he headed for the pantry at the back.
“Thanks. I’ve also got something for Holmes to look at. I’ll leave it in your capable hands after ya make that coffee.”
“Yes, that’s what I thought.”
Holmes-san grinned and stepped into the pantry.
“He saw through me, huh. That’s Holmes through and through.”
Ueda-san shrugged, beamed and looked at me.
“Aoi-chan, did ya know this? I’m the one who gave Kiyotaka the nickname of Holmes!”
“…Eh? But isn’t he Holmes because of his surname, Yagashira?”
“That’s what he tells everyone else, but that ain’t the truth.”
“What do you mean?”
“It was when Kiyotaka was a small grade schooler. When he came over to my place, he said, ‘I want to solve a puzzle, so give me a problem.’”
“Ah, but kids usually say things like that, right?”
Whenever I met kids of relatives, I would also be endlessly asked for a quiz or a game of shiritori3.
“Right? So, I gave him many different kinds of questions, but being so smart, he immediately answered all of them. He kept sayin’, ‘Next question, next question’, and I was gettin’ annoyed, so I asked ‘Alright, how many steps does the staircase in this house have?’. I thought I had him, but he instantly answered, ‘Fifteen steps.’ Surprised, I asked, ‘Ya just gave a random answer, right?’, but he replied, ‘No, I’ve gone up those stairs once before.’
“I went to count the steps, and it did turn out to be fifteen! Aoi-chan, do ya know how many steps the staircase in yer house has?”
Being suddenly asked a question, I was at a loss for words.
…Come to think of it, I went down those stairs every day, but I didn’t know how many steps it had.
“I-I don’t know.”
“Right? Ya don’t have to make that face, it’s normal not to know. Well, at that time, I thought, ‘This boy is just like Holmes.’”
“…But why did you think of Holmes?”
I asked, tilting my head in puzzlement. Manager chuckled.
“That’s because Sherlock Holmes is taken to be that kind of person. A person who stores even the number of steps in a staircase in his head upon looking at that staircase.”
“S-So that’s how it is. That’s amazing!”
I spoke with admiration from the bottom of my heart.
“He was born with that quality. If everyone sees the same thing, Kiyotaka will catch and process the information that most people miss out on.”
“So that’s why he can appraise so well too, right? Is Owner like that, too?”
“My father… is slightly different. He possesses an unparalleled talent to tell the authentic from the spurious.”
“And ya ain’t any good at appraisin’ yerself, eh?”
Ueda-san quipped without a moment’s delay, and in response Manager put on a sarcastic smile.
“Well, I apologize for not being of use.”
“Nah, it’s fine.” That was the reply from Ueda-san, who also had a wry smile forming on his face.
Looking between the two of them in turn, I was at a loss for what to do.
“It’s great that you two get along so well, but you’re troubling Aoi-san.”
Holmes-san emerged, along with the fragrance of his coffee.
There were four porcelain cups of coffee, and one of them had café au lait in it. That was probably mine.
It was delicious. I really love the café au lait that Holmes-san brews.
“Thanks. So, I wanted ya to look at this.”
Ueda-san quickly gulped down his coffee, then hurriedly took a box out of a paper bag.
“I noticed this at a client’s house. I thought ‘This is amazing!’, so I borrowed it and came here.”
“I see. I shall start examining it, then.”
Holmes-san put on his white gloves again and slowly opened the box.
In the box was a small jar made of white porcelain and blue designs.
“It’s a blue-and-white jar, ain’t it?”
“What… what a coincidence.”
Holmes-san’s eyes narrowed ecstatically as he turned to look at me.
“What do you think of this, Aoi-san?”
“Eh?” Having a question suddenly thrown at me, I hesitatingly looked at the jar.
(…This is the same kind of jar that we looked at upstairs just now, right?)
I swallowed my saliva and focused my eyes on the jar.
If I were to assume that it held the same value as the one upstairs… the blue color on this one wasn’t as beautiful.
The one earlier had a brilliant, deep cobalt blue, but this one was simply blue.
On top of that, there was the issue of the pattern. The one upstairs had a really detailed design, and even the tips of the leaves were drawn so well that a lot of effort and sensibility must have been put into it. On the other hand, this one didn’t have the same tension.
It wasn’t just the design, but also the shape. This one was a little slanted around the green part near the top.
I could see that this jar was trying to imitate the other one as a whole, but the flaws were quite apparent.
The jar I had seen upstairs possessed an “overwhelming je ne sais quoi”.
Compared to that, I felt nothing about this jar, and to be blunt, it was too poor in quality.
“…Um, I think it’s a fake.”
I slowly declared. Holmes-san nodded.
Ueda-san’s eyes widened.
“What? Aoi-chan can appraise it too?”
“Yes. Aoi-san has a good eye for this, and I knew that she would be able to tell that this is a fake, especially having seen a real one for herself earlier.”
Holmes-san looked into my eyes, as if seeking my agreement.
“T-That’s right. I’ve just been shown a blue-and-white jar that will be shown in an exhibition.”
That was why I felt so strongly that something was off. If I had only seen the jar that Ueda-san brought, I might have thought that it was wonderful.
“My grandfather has always said that ‘it is good to see as many real artifacts as possible’. Only then can you feel the crudeness when looking at a fake.”
…I see. I totally agree with that.
“Everyone is blessed with the opportunity to come into contact with these real artifacts. Art galleries and museums always have such incredible antiques on display. I would like everyone to use these facilities even more. If you have the chance to see these spectacular works of art and yet don’t make use of that chance, I can’t help but feel that it’s wasteful.”
Ueda-san stifled a laugh as Holmes-san took a short breath.
“What, are ya actually a shill?”
“That might be true.”
Hearing Holmes-san admit as much, everyone giggled.
“But this is a fake, huh. Well, I suppose blue-and-white jars don’t just appear out of the woodwork. And I went and got the company president’s hopes up…”
Ueda-san regretfully put the wooden box containing the jar back into the paper bag.
“It’s not a bad item, though.”
“So, how much would it fetch?”
“Just about fifty thousand, I believe. Did that person want a specific price for it?”
“Nah, I didn’t ask.”
Ueda-san shrugged. Thinking that it had been probably bought with a sum that had one or two additional zeroes, I pulled a face.
“All that matters is if that person added it to their collection because they liked it. In that case, its worth would be based on that person.”
Holmes-san put on a pleasant smile and looked at the wall clock.
“Ah, look at the time. I’ll be going off then, father.”
“Right. See you.”
Manager nodded, then looked at me.
“Come to think of it, how would you like to tag along, Aoi-san? The trip might help you attain some useful knowledge.”
I whirled around with my mouth agape.
“Umm, where to?”
“Ninna-ji4. It’s also the best time to see the cherry blossoms, and since my father suggested it, shall we go?”
“Yes!” I excitedly nodded in response to Holmes-san’s grinning countenance.
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- The period of time when Mongolians ruled China, from 1271 to 1368.
- This was an actual event. The jar in question sold for 15,688,000 pounds in Christie’s in London. More information here: https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/an-exceptionally-rare-and-important-blue-and-4549655-details.aspx
- A Japanese word game in which the players are required to say a word which begins with the final syllable of the previous word.
- The head temple of a sect of Buddhism, founded in 886. It is part of the Historical Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.