–I remember hearing someone saying that spring and autumn in Kyoto were “exceptional”.
When I told that to my grandfather, who has since passed away, he said as he patted my head, “It’s not just spring and autumn. Kyoto is good regardless of the season, and different seasons have different attractions.”
“So, where is the best place for cherry blossoms?” I asked.
“There are a lot of them, but the best would be at Ninna-ji,” my grandfather replied.
Thus, the image of Ninna-ji being the best place to view cherry blossoms was firmly planted in my head.
…However, I would never have the chance to visit it until now.
“–I see. So you haven’t been to Ninna-ji yet, huh.”
Holmes-san responded as he drove the car. I nodded in affirmation and glanced at the jaguar emblem that could be seen from the front window.
Holmes-san spoke cheerfully, but I couldn’t help but be curious about the jaguar emblem.
This isn’t a car that a university would usually drive, right?
“…Um, Holmes-san, this is an amazing car.”
“Yeah, this is Owner’s car.”
“Y-Your grandfather’s car?”
“Yes, he likes Jaguar cars. Apparently, its founder, William Lyons held the belief that ‘beautiful things will sell’, and that left a lasting impression on my grandfather.”
“I, I see.”
“But he hardly had the chance to drive it, so now it’s used as Kura’s company car.”
“That’s amazing for a company car.”
I subconsciously leaned forward, causing Holmes-san to laugh jovially.
We drove on like this for thirty minutes, and we reached Ninna-ji.
Since it was a Saturday in cherry blossom viewing season, the car park was full, but since we were guests invited by the temple, we were directed to a private area.
Looking at the grounds from the front, I could see gigantic, thick doors known as the Niōmon.
“…They’re not just thick, but also really imposing. I can feel the history from these doors.”
As usual, I expressed my thoughts with my sparse vocabulary, causing Holmes-san to give a slight smile.
“My thoughts exactly. Ninna-ji has a long history, being built in the Heian period, and holding the highest status as a Monzeki3 temple until the Kamakura period. However, tragedy struck during the Ōnin War4 and most of it was burnt away. It was only restored well into the Edo period.
“This Niōmon was built during that time, and it followed the traditional Japanese-style architecture of the Heian period, with cylindrical pillars, a three-step bracket complex and even gables on the side.”
In response to the profound knowledge that flowed out smoothly like a stream of water, I could only voice out my admiration with a sound, “Wow.”
After passing through the Niōmon, a wide road pathway could be seen leading to the temple.
As expected of the cherry blossom season, it was filled with people, as if we were in a lively festival.
Advancing past the fresh vermillion-colored central gate, I could see cherry trees lined up on the left.
It was indeed “magnificent”.
The impression I got was that the trees were really short. They were all two to three meters in height, I think.
“…The cherry trees here are really short.”
“Yes, the trees here are called ‘Omuro Zakura’, but strangely enough, every tree is short. It has been speculated that their roots are spread like in a flowerpot, so they can’t grow any further, but to be honest, no one really knows, and I’ve heard that there will be scientific research done to explain this phenomenon.”
“Eh? Scientific research? Is it not a trait of that species?”
“No, it is not. By the way, ‘Omuro Zakura’ is sometimes used as a joking way to describe someone with a flat nose in Kyoto.”
“Someone with a flat nose is an Omuro Zakura. Kyoto sure has a refined form of banter.”
I shrugged, while Holmes-san softly said, “Indeed.”
A priest approached us as we chatted.
He wore a black kimono and had a gentle smile on his face.
“Welcome, Yagashira-sama. Please come in. The Monzeki is waiting.”
He bowed, and we also bowed in response.
“This way,” the monk said as he stepped forward to lead the way.
“Um, who are you referring to when you say ‘Monzeki’?” I asked in a small voice.
“He means the chief priest here.”
“Please wait here,” the monk said as he directed us to a Japanese-style room in the temple.
Tea and snacks had already been prepared on the table in the room.
We sat down together, and looked outside. The sliding doors were left open, letting in the comfortable, cool spring wind. The cherry blossoms were very beautiful under the bright blue sky.
We gazed at the cherry blossoms for a while.
“Sorry to have kept you waiting.”
Another door slid open, revealing the figure of the Monzeki.
“It is great to see you after such a long time.”
Upon seeing the bowing Holmes-san, the head priest narrowed his eyes ecstatically.
“Wow, you sure have grown, Kiyotaka-kun.”
It seemed that they knew each other.
“I apologize for my grandfather not being able to be here today.”
“No, no, Seiji-san said that it would be no problem for Kiyotaka-kun to handle this request.”
Seiji-san referred to Owner.
I see, so this request was originally for Owner.
He then entrusted Holmes-san to act as his substitute.
The Monzeki and Holmes-san exchanged some small talk for a while.
“–Anyway, I would like you to see this.”
They instantly got into the main subject.
There was a small bronze box unassumingly placed on the table.
“…I shall gladly take a look.”
As usual, Holmes-san put on his white gloves and pulled the box towards him.
He carefully opened the lid to reveal a matcha bowl.
He held it in his hand and stared at it fixedly.
It was a magnificent tea bowl, with cherry blossoms drawn on its sides.
“This is Kyō ware, with really full lines. This is definitely the work of Nonomura Ninsei. What an impressive piece!”
Holmes-san grinned, and the chief monk replied with “I see,” and returned the smile.
Nonomura Ninsei… who was that? I wondered about it while looking at the bowl from the side.
“Nonomura Ninsei was a potter who lived and worked in the early part of the Edo period. His real name was ‘Seiemon’. ‘Nonomura’ was the name of his birthplace, ‘Nin’ came from ‘Ninna-ji’, and ‘Sei’ came from his own name.”
Like always, Holmes-san read my thoughts and swiftly answered my question.
“In other words, he was named Nonomura Ninsei because he was Seiemon of Ninna-ji, born in Nonomura, right?”
But why did they add ‘Nin’ from ‘Ninna-ji’, I wonder?
“He was an amazing potter and was also recognized as the forefather of glazed Kyō ware. He was granted the sobriquet ‘Nin’ by the Monzeki at that time, so he became ‘Ninsei’.”
I didn’t even get the chance to ask my question. He was as frightening as ever.
Basically, the tea bowl was an artifact made by a person with strong ties to the temple.
They just wanted it appraised, right?
Would the request be over after that?
“…You don’t just want an appraisal this time, correct?”
Holmes-san looked up and asked, causing the priest to show an expression of surprise.
“Yes, exactly. Actually, someone came to consult us regarding this tea bowl. Please wait for a moment.”
The monseki said, then exchanged a look with a monk waiting in the corridor. That monk promptly left, but returned after a while, leading a man.
That man entered the room, sat down in a seiza and bowed.
“Nice to meet you. My name is Kishitani.”
He looked like a normal middle-aged man, though he did give off the impression of being quite worn out.
“This tea bowl belongs to him… Kishitani-san, your tea bowl is genuine.”
The Monzeki announced, but all Kishitani-san did was scratch his head and say, “I see.”
His bearing suggested that for some reason, he didn’t seem particularly pleased about it.
“…There is something you’re not sure about, right?”
Holmes-san asked immediately. Shocked, Kishitani-san raised his head.
“Ah, yes. I actually received it from my father. He breathed his last the other day, and he wrote in his will, ‘my feelings have all been poured into that Ninsei tea bowl.’ After finding out that Nonomura Ninsei was linked to Ninna-ji, I decided to consult the Monzeki.”
Having still not gotten totally used to the Kansai dialect, I was a little confused about the phrase ‘breathed his last’5 being used to describe someone’s passing.
“Although I was being consulted, I couldn’t tell if it was real, so I asked Seiji-san for help.”
The head priest continued after Kishitani-san. Upon hearing that, Holmes-san nodded and said, “I see.”
“But Kishitani-san, if this is real, then doesn’t that show your father’s feelings? He might have thought that if you put it up at a suitable place, it could being bread to the table. Kiyotaka-kun, how much would this fetch?”
“Hmm, it’s in good condition, and the cherry blossoms are beautiful, so I believe it would fetch about five.”
Of course, not just five yen, but five million. As usual, it was a world with wholly different units of measurement.
“No, I can’t do that. My father said to not sell this tea bowl no matter what.”
“Is that so.”
The Monzeki folded his arms, apparently not fully understanding that statement.
“…Erm, I don’t mean to be rude, but can you draw, Kishitani-san?”
Holmes-san suddenly asked. Kishitani-san nodded in surprise.
“Ah, yes, I do draw, if it counts. Why…”
“Your hands have calluses, and there is some ink-like substance stuck under your fingernails… not caused by painting, because I don’t think you can get those calluses by painting. Also, you said ‘if it counts’ without even specifying your job… could you be a manga artist?”
Upon hearing those words, Kishitani’s eyes opened wide, as if he had been struck in an unguarded moment. The head priest also looked on in shock.
Of course, I was, too.
“Since you did not immediately state your profession, that leads me to believe that you’re not in an environment to proudly announce it. Your father was against it, am I right?”
Kishitani-san’s hands started trembling in response to Holmes-san’s question.
He had probably hit the nail on the head, for Kishitani’s face was deathly pale.
I understand how you feel, Kishitani-san.
It is indeed scary for information about yourself to be revealed like that.
After the silence that followed, Kishitani-san nodded.
“That is… exactly right. He always continued opposing my job, saying that ‘manga is worthless’. However, never wanting to give up on my dream, I left the house and went to Tokyo. Thanks to that, I somehow managed to get my debut, and also formed a conviction.
“’With manga, you can convey whatever you want to say to anyone, regardless of their age or gender, without straining your shoulders and elbows. I don’t need a high social status, I just want to everyone to have fun and have something left in their hearts.’ That was what I thought, but… I wasn’t popular at all, so my manga didn’t sell, and I was always living a difficult life. Since I was in that state, I didn’t dare to return home.”
A self-deriding smile on his face, Kishitani-san looked down.
“…But after that, you wrote a ‘popular manga’, right, Kishitani-san?”
“Y-Yes, that’s right. I had to find a way to survive, so following the advice of my editor, I started drawing a manga in a genre that was ‘popular for now’. It sold beyond my expectations, and my life became quite affluent.”
“Was it around that time when your father sent you that tea bowl?”
Once again, those words caused Kishitani-san’s body to twitch a little.
Apparently, that was exactly the case.
“Y-Yes. My father liked Kyō ware, and Nonomura Ninsei’s works in particular were important to him. When I accepted that tea bowl, I thought he had finally accepted me, that he was celebrating for me.
“I really wanted to return home immediately, but I was too busy with work, while my father passed away due to an illness… I finally came back here for the funeral.
And when I saw his letter, I realized that the tea bowl wasn’t actually meant to congratulate me, and held some other significance. I wonder what kind of feelings were in that tea bowl with cherry blossoms drawn on it, and what my father wanted to tell me.”
Kishitani-san wondered to himself as he turned to look at the tea bowl on the table.
Holmes-san quietly held it in his hand, then turned it around to show its bottom.
“Kishitani-san, have you seen the ‘Ninsei’ seal here?”
“Y-Yeah, the genuine articles have such seals, right?”
“But they are not the only items with seals. In fact, when it comes to Ninsei’s works, it is quite common for fakes to have the seal as well. What I wanted to ask is about the ‘mark’ of Nonomura Ninsei.”
Holmes-san calmly said.
However, Kishitani-san appeared to not understand what he meant.
“Nonomura Ninsei is said to be the first to mark his work with a seal like this. Among all the tea bowls produced by mere potters, Ninsei was marking some of them as his work, or in other words, he was advocating the idea of a brand. That was a sign of pride, that his work had qualities not seen elsewhere, and could only be produced by himself.”
Unable to say anything, Kishitani-san’s eyes widened.
“Kishitani-san, don’t you think that your father was trying to tell you that you shouldn’t write something that imitates someone else’s work, and that he wanted you to produce a manga filled with your own thoughts and feelings? Don’t you think that he wanted you to proudly say, ‘This is my brand,’ just like Nonomura Ninsei, and draw something that only you can draw? However, since he was so against you becoming a manga artist in the first place, he couldn’t say that out loud, and so he entrusted this tea bowl with his feelings.”
As Holmes-san spoke with the bowl in his hands, Kishitani-san’s body quivered.
The chief priest nodded, and narrowed his eyes.
“That should be it. Being a manga artist is a harsh job. As a parent, he probably didn’t want to write it off as a simple matter and treat it with a naïve attitude. Instead, he wanted you to strive on with the vigor of someone who knows that they don’t have anywhere to return to. Your father must have always read your manga, and thought that it was such a shame for you to go along with the popular trends, forsaking everything else.”
At the Monzeki’s kind words, Kishitani-san shouted, “Uwaah!” and broke down in tears.
Having received Kishitani-san’s painful emotions, I also somehow felt like crying.
Resolving himself with the will to become a manga artist, he had to leave home to overcome his parents’ opposition, but he still wasn’t able to show the tiniest sign of success. He was always worried about not getting his parents’ approval.
And then he drew something against his own will. Even so, he thought that his father would be happy with his success.
–But that was wrong. His father was sad for his son who had thrown his will aside.
Knowing that now, there was no doubt that Kishitani-san had a feeling in his heart that couldn’t be expressed in mere words.
Kishitani-san wiped off his tears with a sleeve, then slowly looked up.
“I was actually worrying about it. That I couldn’t bring together ‘what I wanted to draw’ and ‘what would become popular’. I had forgotten about my aspirations because of life’s struggles. But now, I’ll follow my father’s dying wish and stop sucking up to what this world wants. I shall draw whatever I want to convey, regardless of whether it will sell.”
Kishitani-san announced as he clenched his fists on his lap.
Being a high school student, I still didn’t know much, but it must be hard to balance dreams, reality and ideals.
“…KIshitani-san, I believe this tea bowl holds one other message. Look at the drawings on it.”
Holmes-san returned the flipped bowl to its original state.
Perplexed, Kishitani-san muttered, “Cherry blossoms… right?”
“Yes, cherry blossoms, which are loved by everyone. Basically, even though Nonomura Ninsei drew something that was widely popular, this tea bowl is still definitely a work of the Nonomura Ninsei brand.”
Kishitani-san was taken aback after hearing that statement.
“It should be fine for you to draw something popular. In fact, it would be difficult to call you a professional if you draw only what you like. The important thing is whether that is your brand of work, or whether your soul is in it. I believe that would be a far cry from mere mimicry.”
Holmes-san spoke calmly as he held the tea bowl compassionately. In response, Kishitani-san cast his eyes down.
After a brief moment of silence, he slowly raised his head, as another stream of tears flowed down.
“…Yagashira-san, I’ve been searching for those words for so long. Thank you so very much.”
He bowed down so low that his forehead was about to touch the tatami mat. Holmes-san hurriedly said, “No, I didn’t do much,” and shook his head.
“…As expected of Seiji-san’s grandson,” the Monzeki said, breathing a sigh of admiration.
While happening to be present in this room, I might have just witnessed the starting point of an amazing manga artist.
–While having those thoughts, I felt goosebumps forming on my skin.
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Editors (Tier 2) : Smash the Oni, Yingchao Han, Sam D., Steven Baltakatei Sandoval, GreenManSK
Assistants (Tier 1) : Bennet Kilian, CapitanHappyFace, zqy47d, Mark Kochan, Daniel Betts, Jaime Cuellar, Gajusz Kubasik
Thank you very much for all your support!
- If you’re wondering why some location names are fully in Japanese, like Ninna-ji, while others are partially translated, like Heian Shrine, I’m using the names shown in Wikipedia, so that you can easily search these names if you’re interested. As for why they have different official translation styles, I have no idea.
- A pedestrian road that follows a cherry-tree-lined canal in Kyoto.
- Japanese Buddhist priests of aristocratic or imperial lineage.
- A civil war fought between 1467 and 1477 during the Muromachi period, initiating the Sengoku period of Japan.
- Of course, this is an attempt at localization. The phrase used in the original text is 死にはった, which I believe means to die, but spoken in a respectful manner.