(Note about chapter name: This is a variation of a poem by Saigyō Hōshi, a famous Japanese poet of the late Heian and early Kamakura period. The poem reads: Let me die in spring under the blossoming trees, let it be around that full moon of Kisaragi month.)
“Aoi-san, would you like to work here?”
That question came from a strange youth in an antique store named “Kura” in Kyoto’s Teramachi Sanjou.
It was three weeks after Yagashira Kiyotaka-san, or widely known as “Holmes”, had invited me to take on a part-time job at his shop.
“I’ll be going off, then.”
It was a Saturday in early April.
Having thoroughly done my hair, I noisily rushed down the stairs and headed for the entranceway.
“Hey! Aoi, I told you not to run down the stairs!”
My mother appeared from the living room and rebuked me. I replied with an “Alright”, as I slipped my feet into a pair of sneakers.
“You have part-time work today?”
“Isn’t it too early?”
My mother questioned while checking the clock.
“I was thinking of taking a little detour with the bike. I’ll be going off!”
I flew out of the doorway and straddled on the bicycle placed outside my house.
The wind gently caressed my cheek as I started pedaling.
It was a warm wind with the fragrance of fresh verdure.
(Ahh, this feels great!)
Since summers here are murderously hot, this is really the best season.
Traveling nimbly on my bicycle, I went south on a straight road known as Shimogamo’s main street.
If I passed Imadegawa Street, the road name would change from “Shimogamo Main Street” to “Kawaramachi Street”.
To reach Teramachi Sanjou, the location of my part-time job, all I had to do was go further south on Kawaramachi Street.
I would usually travel straight down to Teramachi Sanjou, but today I turned left (Eastward) to Shimogawa.
By taking this path, I could reach Duck River, the confluence of Takano River and Kamo River.
At the point where the Kamo River merges with the Takano River, it apparently becomes known as the Duck River1.
Above of, this confluence is a power spot2.
I intentionally took a detour from going to my part-time job just because I wanted to see the confluence that was also a power spot… no, that wasn’t it. The main goal was the row of cherry blossoms blooming on the sides of the river.
“Wow, this is really beautiful!”
My inner thoughts leaked out as I moved my bicycle.
Kyoto was now welcoming the cherry blossom season. In the brilliant sunlight, innumerable petals were scattered over the sparkling Duck River and between the rows of cherry blossom trees. It was truly a sight to behold.
There were probably many other people who traveled a long distance just to see this scenery. By being able to visit this place by bicycle whenever I wanted, I could easily be labelled as an indulgent fellow.
I went down to the riverbed and headed South. With the river to my side and the cherry blossoms above, I pedaled on.
It was really the best. It would have been even better if not for the couples flirting on the riverbanks.
As the figures of those intimate couples entered my eyes, I was suddenly reminded of the person who had broken up with me.
At that moment, I felt a throbbing pain in my chest.
My heart palpitated painfully as I imagined my boyfriend snuggling up to my best friend.
This was no good. It was painful for him to break up with me, it was cruel for my best friend and boyfriend to go out, and why did it have to happen to me? Such unbearable thoughts circled around in a closed loop.
However, I’d gotten news of them going out only through the grapevine.
It could have been a false rumor. It could have also been some sort of misunderstanding. That was why I wanted to go to Saitama right now, to check for myself.
(No, no, there’s nothing I can do even if I think about this now.)
I slightly shook my head and steadily raised my head.
Before my eyes were flower petals dancing in the gentle wind.
My mangled, pained heart was healed a little by that beautiful scene.
For now, I should only think about saving up my part-time pay.
Taking a firm grip, I continued pedaling.
I traveled like this for about fifteen minutes.
Checking that I had reached “Oike Street”, I took the upward path, and after moving a little to the West, I could see Kyoto’s City Hall, a Western-style building that doesn’t fit the typical image of a city hall. It was apparently built in the early Shōwa period, but it reminded me of Meiji Taishō3 romanticism, with its retro, dignified look.
(I was really surprised when I saw this city hall for the first time. As expected of Kyoto to have amazing things here and there.)
As I held that thought, I stopped my bicycle at a bicycle parking area and headed towards Sanjou’s shopping arcade.
It was now 10:50 in the morning; I was told to come in for work at 11.
It seemed that I wouldn’t be late today.
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 Dynasty4.”
“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 auction5.”
“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 shiritori6.
“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-ji7. 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.
–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 Monzeki10 temple until the Kamakura period. However, tragedy struck during the Ōnin War11 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’12 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.
“–Holmes-san, you were seriously amazing again today!”
I exclaimed excitedly while we were walking out of the temple. In response, Holmes-san produced a wry smile.
“You’re exaggerating, Aoi-san.”
“No, I’m not. I was first surprised when you saw the calluses on his hand and deduced that he was a manga artist.”
“Ah, about that… that’s not the actual reason.”
“He had scraps of screentone stuck on his hair and forehead. I knew he was a manga artist because of that, but it was difficult to say that to his face. I then looked at his hands and noticed calluses there, so I decided to use that as the official reason.” Holmes-san shrugged.
I see, so it was because of screentone.
That is certainly unique to manga artists.
However, that power of observation was still amazing. I never noticed that at all.
“But how did you know that his father being opposed to his job, and that he was experiencing some popularity now?”
“As I said earlier, he didn’t want to tell us his profession, and in such cases it is common for parents to be opposed to their line of work. By the intonation of his words, I gathered that he was living in Kanto for quite a long time. Even though he had returned home, he had those bits of screentone stuck on him, meaning that he was still drawing for his manuscript. That is why I thought that he was a popular manga artist.”
“I, I see.”
As expected of Holmes of Teramachi Sanjou.
“Additionally, that explanation about Nonomura Ninsei is something that anyone in this world would know, so it instantly came to me.”
Holmes-san spoke as if his feat earlier was nothing special.
“But you were also amazing afterwards, when you said that ‘cherry blossoms are loved by everyone’. You read into the intentions of Kishitani-san’s father to such depth!”
“There is no evidence to support my claims, though.”
“Still, it was very persuasive.”
“While his father might have truly wanted to convey that message, it is also possible that my selfish thoughts could have gotten mixed in.”
“Yes. As I mentioned earlier, just creating what you like is in the realm of a hobby, and is not professional work. On the other hand, creating whatever is wanted by people of the world, no matter how much personal expression you put in, is considered professional work, I believe.
“I think that professional creators in all ages shoulder the fate of creating whatever is wanted of them, just like even Beethoven and Chopin were desperate to create music that would please the nobles who sponsored them. And that is because art touches the eyes of the people.”
With that assertion, Holmes-san stared at the five-storied pagoda in the temple grounds.
It was intensely elegant, making me think that it was a work of art.
The scene looked picturesque, especially with the fluttering cherry blossoms in it.
That pagoda was undoubtedly built with the intention of catching the eye of a renowned person and pleasing them.
As I had that realization, the spring wind blew through the gap between us and went on its way.
“… It’s great that we get to see cherry blossoms falling around that pagoda. I feel lucky to be able to witness such a beautiful sight.” Holmes-san said that with a serious look on his face.
Although I had already gotten used to his mannerisms, I involuntarily laughed at the rough words that no one would expect a handsome man to utter.
But it was true. It was indeed a beautiful sight.
“That reminds me of a poem, the one that goes ‘Let me die in spring under the cherry trees, let it be around that full moon of Kisaragi month.’ That’s just like Holmes-san, isn’t it? It seems to be talking about being under the full moon as well as a beautiful cherry tree, right?” I giggled, as Holmes-san gently met my gaze.
“You’re mistaken, Aoi-san. It’s ‘under the blossoming trees’, not ‘under the cherry trees’.”
“Fuheh?” A sound escaped from my mouth.
“‘Let me die in spring under the blossoming trees, let it be around that full moon of Kisaragi month.’ …That’s a poem by Saigyō Hōshi. As someone who greatly admired the Shakyamuni Buddha13, he apparently wanted to leave the mortal realm on the full moon of Kisaragi month, or the 15th day of the 2nd month14, which was the death day of Shakyamuni. Unfortunately, he died on the 16th day of the 2nd month, which was quite a shame.”
Holmes-san explained. I couldn’t say anything in return.
…So, I was totally wrong.
“O-Oh, so it wasn’t a poem about cherry blossoms and the moon, but about yearning for the Shakyamuni Buddha.”
That was really embarrassing.
I should stop revealing my half-baked knowledge in front of such an erudite person.
“However, in the world of poems, blossoms usually refer to cherry blossoms, so you might not be wrong there. Also, Kisaragi is a month in the old calendar, and refers to what we now call spring.”
“I, I see.”
“…Moreover, your version of the poem is also great and sounds really dream-like.
“‘Let me die in spring under the cherry trees, let it be around that full moon of Utsugi15.’ …To put it in modern terms… ‘I would be undoubtedly blessed if I could pass away in the light of the full moon, under a blossoming cherry tree, after burning many beautiful images onto my memory.’”
Seeing a gentle smile surface on Holmes-san’s face, my cheeks became hot.
Sensing that I was feeling ashamed, he said all that without any hesitation.
It was a kind move, but for some reason, I felt that his composure had a degree of mischief.
“…Holmes-san, you’re quite mischievous, aren’t you?”
I pouted. In response, Holmes-san’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Mischievous, you say?”
Being questioned like that, I couldn’t say anything.
That was because it was difficult to pinpoint exactly which part of him was mischievous.
And even so, he was always really kind.
Holmes-san then chuckled.
“Please bear with me, Aoi-san.”
“Cos us Kyoto guys are wicked.”
That was the first time I heard him use his Kyoto dialect.
As he stood there in front of me with his index finger raised in the air and a mischievous grin on his face, my heart palpitated strongly.
“Shall we go, then?”
I gazed at the back figure of Holmes-san, who had put on his usual smile.
“Kyoto guy… that’s a good name.”
Thankfully, that unintentional murmur that escaped my lips was only known to me.
This post is made possible by our amazing patrons!
Editors (Tier 2) : Smash the Oni, Sam D., Steven Baltakatei Sandoval
Assistants (Tier 1) : Bennet Kilian, zqy47d, Mark Kochan, Daniel Betts, Jaime Cuellar, Gajusz Kubasik
Thank you very much for all your support!
- Both “Kamo River” and “Duck River” have the same pronunciation in Japanese, but I translated them that way to be able to differentiate between the two. The first is written 賀茂川, with Kamo being the name of a clan in ancient times. The other is written 鴨川, with Kamo meaning wild duck.
- A spiritual spot where one can feel in tune with nature or the surrounding elements.
- Period in Japan from 30 July 1912 to 25 December 1926, coinciding with the reign of Emperor Taishō.
- 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.
- 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.
- The primary figure in Buddhism.
- This is referring to the lunar calendar. Kisaragi means 2nd month in the lunar calendar.
- Another term for April.