If you get to Teramachi Sanjou Shopping Arcade from Oike Street and head south from there, you’ll eventually see a small antique shop.
There is just one word on the sign – “Kura”. That is where I, Mashiro Aoi, am taking a part-time job.
The shop’s interior gives off a Japanese-Western-style eclectic atmosphere reminiscent of the Meiji and Taishō eras. The Western-style reception room has an antique sofa and counter, making one think of a retro-modern café.
A chandelier hangs down from the ceiling, which isn’t particular high at all. A gigantic wall clock stands at the side. Various antiques and sundries are laid out on the shelves inside the shop.
Right now in the shop is the Owner’s grandson, Yagashira Kiyotaka, or better known as “Holmes”.
He has a slender body, white skin and a slightly long fringe. With a well-defined nose, he is the very definition of a biseinen1.
“—Aoi-san, is something the matter?”
Bong! As the wall clock informed us that it was already one in the afternoon, Holmes-san asked a question while flipping through the account book at the counter, looking down at his hands.
Being as perceptive as always, he’d noticed my gaze without looking this way.
“Ah, no, I finished cleaning, so I spaced out for a while. Is there anything else for me to do?”
I said as I hurriedly held up the duster. Well, that wasn’t a lie. I’d finished cleaning the entire place, so I was just gazing at Holmes-san’s handsome profile.
“There’s no work in particular… shall we get to Study Time again, then?”
I exclaimed in excitement, and Holmes-san narrowed his eyes cheerfully.
“Aoi-san, this isn’t an izakaya2. Take a seat at the counter.”
“Alright,” I nodded and eagerly moved towards the counter. When I reached, Holmes-san silently stood up and smoothly pulled the chair back for me.
“T-Thank you very much.”
Holmes-san bowed quietly, then headed towards the interior of the shop.
As always, his every action displayed elegance and polish.
It has already been five months since I started working here. After bearing witness to his refined behaviour, I would often look back on myself and think, “I should grow up and become a proper person like him.”
“—Take a look at this today. This is an article from my grandfather’s collection.”
Holmes-san said as he returned from the shop’s interior carrying a small box.
He was wearing his usual white gloves… no, this time he had black gloves on his hands.
“Holmes-san, you changed your gloves from white to black?”
I’d never seen any color other than white for his gloves, so this was quite a fresh surprise.
“Yes, I also have black gloves. Did you not know?”
Holmes-san said as if it were just a trifling matter, then sat opposite me and gingerly retrieved a tea bowl from the box.
“Right, now for Study Time.”
With his long index finger in front of his mouth, he grinned.
Since I felt the atmosphere was different with the glove’s change of color, I was quite nervous.
In front of me was an earthenware tea bowl.
As you might have guessed, “Study Time” refers to the lectures Holmes-san gives me about antiques. He’d given me some short lessons in the past, but these “Antique Study Program” only started when my school entered summer break.
With the long holiday, I was asked to come in for work on a lot more days.
There wasn’t much work they wanted me to do in particular, just that I had to tend the store. In that respect, I was an essential employee.
The shop was rarely visited by customers, and there is a limit to cleaning and stock checks, so I usually had a fair bit of spare time there. To make good use of that time, Holmes-san started teaching me more about antiques.
This particular tea bowl was “bowl-shaped”3, and had a olive brown flower drawn on its light brown body. I hadn’t seen this one before.
“…What is this?”
“This is an old Karatsu tea bowl.”
“These were fired in kilns during the Momoyama period4, in what is now the Saga Prefecture… Now, take a good look at this.”
I looked closely at the bowl. While it was simple, it had a genteel appearance. However, the flower was drawn so crudely that I couldn’t tell what exactly it was.
“…The drawing of the flower isn’t exactly of excellent quality.”
I frankly answered, causing Holmes-san to nod with a smile on his face.
“Yes, that’s exactly the flavor of old Karatsu ware. They’re known as ‘the last articles for pottery enthusiasts’. The clay used here is hard, so wrinkles are formed on the base of the bowl. They’re called ‘fine wrinkles’.”
I nodded, retrieved a small notebook from my pocket, and smoothly wrote down what Holmes-san had said.
“…Aoi-san, you’re always so zealous.”
“N-No, not at all, it’s just that I think I might forget if I don’t write it down. This is normal behavior for a disciple, since Holmes-sensei is teaching so thoroughly.” I bowed in gratitude.
“I’m still in training, so it would be presumptuous for me to have a disciple.” Holmes-san let out a wry smile and shrugged.
Come to think of it, Holmes-san was the grandson and apprentice of this shop’s owner, Yagashira Seiji, a famous appraiser also known as the “National Appraiser.” His training was still underway.
“By the way, what does an appraiser do in training?”
“It’s hard to say exactly what we do, but I’ve gained practical experience in many different fields. For that, there’s nothing we can do but come into contact genuine articles. My grandfather always says that there’s nothing better than seeing and getting a feel for the real deal, training the mind’s eye along the way.”
Holmes-san solemnly explained as he returned the Karatsu tea bowl to the box.
I was about to nod strongly and say, “I see,” when the doorbell rang.
“W-Welcome.” I quickly stood up and hastily bowed.
Customers rarely came in, so I was in quite a fluster.
On the other hand, Holmes-san wasn’t shaken at all. While placing the box containing the Karatsu tea bowl in a cupboard, he greeted the customer with a “Welcome” and a refreshing smile.
The visitor was a middle-aged man.
He was clad in a lustrous, high-quality suit and was wearing a gold wristwatch. In his hand was a furoshiki.
At first glance, he seemed to be a rich person, but that didn’t feel right, or rather, it didn’t seem to suit him. Was he nouveau riche?
…Yeah, right. Since I’ve been by Holmes-san’s side and always witnessed him instantly seeing through people, I’ve noticed myself making my own worthless judgments of others.
“I’d like ya to do an appraisal, is that okay?”
The man approached the counter with a smile.
“Yes, please take a seat.”
With a grin, Holmes-san showed the man to his seat.
“Thanks,” the man said as he sat down on the sofa in front of the counter.
“I’d like ya to take a look at this.”
He immediately opened up the furoshiki and held out the box inside it.
(Judging from the size of the box, could there be a tea bowl inside?)
A few paces away from the counter, I did some cleaning with the duster as I peeked on the situation.
“Now then, I shall take a look.”
With his black gloves on, Holmes-san opened the box, and took out a tea bowl.
As I thought, it did contain a tea bowl. It had a “semi-cylindrical shape”, and gave off a heavy impression. On its yellow ochre body were what looked like deep green flowers.
“Oh, this is…”
Apparently having seen something interesting, Holmes-san’s mouth opened wide.
“My ancestors used to do trade in Osaka, and I found this in the family storehouse. It’s a part of my late grandfather’s collection, but it’s a ‘Kizeto tea bowl’, ain’t it? I’ve been hearin’ that it’s something good, but I ain’t got any interest in teacups.”
Sensing our interest in his tea bowl, the man leant forward and chatted on brightly.
“Kizeto, you say?”
Holmes-san asked, then took a sideward glance at me.
This was Holmes-san’s signal. “What do you think?” He asked me with his eyes.
I’d already taken a lecture on “Kizeto” in this summer’s Antique Study Program.
I nodded wordlessly, then studied the tea bowl carefully.
The bowl’s yellow ochre body had a matte quality to it, and felt rough and thick. I could sense that there was a lot of history behind it, and certainly looked like a Kizeto at first glance.
But I had a strange feeling about it that I couldn’t shake off.
I had a feeling that the tea bowl was a fake.
I couldn’t explain what exactly about it was wrong, but it just somehow didn’t make sense.
I silently shook my head. In response, Holmes-san nodded in satisfaction, as if to say, “Correct”, then shifted his gaze to the man.
“I’m sorry, but this is a fake.”
Holmes-san clearly announced, causing the man to open his eyes wide in surprise.
“A genuine Kizeto would have what we call an ‘oily body’. It should have a glossy, fresh feel, as if oil was poured over it. However, that kind of texture is not present on this tea bowl.
“Moreover, a real Kizeto tea bowl is known to feel lighter than it looks, but this one feels heavy. Also, it should have a copper-green coloring from copper sulfate pentahydride, but this tea bowl is considerably black. This is undoubtedly a counterfeit intentionally made to imitate a Kizeto.”
Holmes-san explained coolly with the tea bowl in his hand.
The man seemed dazed for a moment, but then a twisted smile appeared on his face.
“—Ah, but what does a young kid like ya know?”
His voice was filled with rage. He’d probably come in believing that his treasure was the real deal, and couldn’t stand a young appraiser telling them that it was a fake.
“I know. And on top of that, I know that you brought this here knowing that it’s a fake.”
“What!” The man exclaimed.
I was also shocked by that declaration.
He didn’t actually believe that his tea bowl was genuine, but brought it here with the knowledge that it was a counterfeit?
“From the intonation of the words that came out of your own mouth, I can surmise that you live in the southern parts of Osaka. Why would you intentionally come to an antique store in Kyoto? There should be plenty of shops that do appraisals in Osaka, right?”
Holmes-san asked as a smile formed on his face. He was using a really gentle tone, and yet there was immense pressure from his words.
The man choked, then stuttered an answer, showing that he was clearly intimidated.
“I-It’s just a coincidence. I-I just happened to be in Kyoto, so I came here.”
“So you just happened to visit Kyoto and just happened to have a Kizeto tea bowl on you? That’s way too unnatural. You knew that the grandson of the famous appraiser Yagashira Seiji was undergoing training in an antique shop at Teramachi Sanjou, didn’t you? The proof for that is your lack of surprise upon seeing me. Everyone who comes here is surprised that someone as young as myself can conduct appraisals.”
Hearing his statement, I nodded strongly.
That’s right. The customers who bring in antiques always openly show their shock and unease when they learn that Holmes-san, a mere student, is conducting the appraisal.
In my case, when I first saw Holmes-san, I was amazed, since I couldn’t imagine him to be anything but a student.
“You were aiming for this very shop, I daresay… you thought that an apprentice appraiser who is still studying would be an easy target, didn’t you?” He looked down at the tea bowl again, as the corners of his mouth curved upward.
“After making the tea bowl, you even employed the services of an ‘antiquer’.”
I instinctively asked. Still looking at the tea bowl, Holmes-san quietly opened his mouth.
“They’re professionals who make new objects look old, and give them an antique quality. They’re also known as ‘distressing artisans’. In about a month, they can transform a new tea bowl to have the subdued refinement of a three hundred year old artifact. To be involved with such pros, you must be quite used to this counterfeit business, and you’ve cheated many inexperienced appraisers, haven’t you?”
Holmes-san spoke as if talking to himself.
Overwhelmed, the man couldn’t say anything.
Seizing on that moment of weakness, Holmes-san pressed on.
“On top of that, you borrowed that suit to act like a rich person, didn’t you? Unfortunately, the size doesn’t fit, and while your suit looks fine, your shoes look worn. But even so, you’ve managed to scam inexperienced appraisers into buying your counterfeit goods at a high price.
“And recently, you learned that there is a young, rookie appraiser at Kyoto Teramachi Sanjou, and you came here to trick me into buying that tea bowl— is that correct?”
Holmes-san was smiling.
But it was so scary that a chill ran down my spine.
“No, um, I mean…”
Having been completely exposed, the man was shaken. He hemmed and hawed as sweat slowly flowed down his face.
“Too bad for ya. I might be young, but I ain’t gettin’ tricked by something as clumsy as that.”
Holmes-san trapped the man with a cold stare, causing his face to turn white.
Wow, there it is! His angry words in Kyoto dialect!
It was like the advent of “Dark Holmes”.
Holmes-san, who was always gentle and kind, and acted with irreproachable conduct.
At first glance, he seemed like a perfect person who wouldn’t lose control of his emotions, to the point that he lacked humanity, but after spending some time with him, I can see that it isn’t the case.
He was unexpectedly competitive. And while he was a considerate person, he was often self-seeking.
And I recently learned that he was scary when angry. When his emotions got the better of him, he would stop using polite speech and start using Kyoto dialect.
I’ve started secretly calling that frightening side of him “Dark Holmes”.
Having been exposed by the dark, scary version of Holmes-san, the man grabbed the ersatz tea bowl, stuffed it into the furoshiki and scurried out of the shop.
“Ah, I’m seriously pissed. Aoi-san, go spread the salt!”
After the man disappeared, Holmes-san shook his head vigorously and turned to looked at me.
“Ah, yes. Salt?”
“Umm, right now we only have seasoned salt for boiled eggs. Wouldn’t that be a waste?”
I retrieved a bag of seasoned salt from the back, causing Holmes-san to widen his eyes in surprise, then he burst out laughing.
“…I see. It sure would be a waste.”
“In that case, shall we make some boiled eggs, then?”
Holmes-san grinned mirthfully. It seemed that he’d gotten back into a good mood.
“Yes! I’m a little peckish right now, so I’d be glad to.”
Thankfully, no other customers came in, so we made boiled eggs and took a coffee break.
“When I’m with you, I somehow manage to calm down.”
With his long fingers, Holmes-san peeled the shell off the egg and muttered.
“Eh? What do you mean?”
“Whenever I see a bad quality counterfeit, I would always feel irritated for a whole day. But when I see you with that bag of seasoned salt, I managed to let off some steam.”
“Let off steam, you say!” I burst out laughing, then asked a question that had been at the back of my mind.
“But since that person was a scammer, shouldn’t we have reported him to the police? There were appraisers who got tricked, right?”
“It might be cold, but the fault lies on the appraisers if they get tricked. That scam artist doesn’t target normal people, after all. But of course, I will make a report that such a crime was attempted.”
I see, even if that man intentionally brought in forgeries, appraisers have to be able to detect them.
It was like a battle between appraisers and forgers.
“…By the way, what about replicas? They’re also made to imitate, so aren’t they counterfeit products as well?”
“Replicas are recognized by their creators as imitations done with good intentions. That’s why their identities as reproductions aren’t hidden, and their prices are different from the original. Those who buy them also do so with that knowledge.
“On the other hand, forgeries are articles made to deceive and cheat people of their money. I can’t stand this kind of malice; it’s sacrilege to artists and people who love their art.”
Holmes-san said with a frown as he moved the coffee to his lips.
“…Holmes-san, you’re a very honest person.”
I asserted, causing the person in question to look in surprise.
“Yup,” I nodded. After all, his actions and words had often shown me that he truly hated forgeries. He was definitely a straight, honest person who couldn’t stand fakes.
“Not really. I just hate forgeries, but my personality is twisted, and I’m fundamentally black-hearted.”
“By the way, Aoi-san, do you have any plans for the summer holidays?”
I was looking down, but was surprised by that sudden question.
Why is he suddenly asking about that?
Could he be inviting me to go somewhere during the upcoming holidays?
“N-No, I don’t have any plans, so I can help out at the store as much as you need.”
Since I was a little excited, I said that all quickly.
Even if he was inviting me, we would undoubtedly be going to an art gallery or a museum for learning purposes. Even so, my heart was pounding.
Seemingly relieved, Holmes-san relaxed and placed a hand on his chest.
“Perfect. Actually, I’ll be traveling around Europe with Owner for about a month in August.”
“We get appraisal requests from overseas art museums, and we are also entrusted to purchase antiques for hotels. We always travel around overseas in the summer.”
“…I see. So that’s what you do.”
“Yes, exactly. In the meantime, I’ll leave the shop in your care. My father will be around as well. We don’t mind if you do your home work here, and just tell him if you need a break.”
Holmes-san said apologetically, while my earlier excitement disappeared in an instant.
“…Ahh, it’s fine. I hope you enjoy your time in Europe.”
“I’ll be my grandfather’s assistant and servant, so I’m not sure about whether I’ll enjoy it, but I’ll bring back souvenirs for you, Aoi-san.”
“I’ll look forward to it!”
Being a simple-minded person, my face instantly brightened up upon hearing those words. I chewed happily on the boiled egg.
“It’ll be the second summer since you came here, right? I hope you enjoy it too.”
“…Yes. I was thinking of seeing the ‘Daimonji-Yaki’5 this year.”
“Aoi-san, it’s called ‘Gozan-no-Okuribi’6, not ‘Daimonji-Yaki’.”
Holmes-san rebuked with his index finger in the air.
“Ah, that’s right. It’s something I shouldn’t say to a Kyoto person, right?”
In Kanto, it’s known as ‘Daimonji-Yaki’, but the official name is ‘Gozan-no-Okuribi’.
“Yeah, you can’t say that here.”
Holmes-san nodded strongly, then gave his usual smile.
“Sorry… And, um… if I may ask a question…”
“Are you really black-hearted?” I blurted out.
“Didn’t you know, Aoi-san? Kyoto guys are all black-hearted.”
With a hand on his chest, he presented an intrepid grin.
That pose penetrated my heart, leaving me speechless.
At that moment, I thought, “Black-hearted Kyoto guys are great, too,” but that’s strictly confidential.
Meanwhile, the idle summer afternoon stretched on.
This post is made possible by our amazing patrons!
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, Yazmin Arostegui, Steven Baltakatei Sandoval, Bennet Kilian
Assistants (Tier 1) : Jaime Cuellar, Karen Kronenberg, redlegsfan21, Anna, Definitelynotme, War Dub
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- A beautiful man who is of age (usually those who have completed tertiary education). Similar to bishōnen, which is used for beautiful adolescent boys.
- A type of Japanese tavern/pub that serves alcoholic drinks and snacks. They are usually casual places, so Holmes is trying to say that Aoi is being too loud and excited.
- Meaning that it starts out thin at the base and becomes wider at the top.
- The final phase of the Sengoku period, leading to the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
- Literally means “Giant Burning Words”, or “Burning at Daimonji”. The latter refers to Mount Daimonji, where the largest fiery word burns.
- This roughly translates as “Send-off fire of five mountains”. Bonfires are lit on five mountains around Kyoto and arranged to look like words, at the end of the Obon Festival. It signifies the moment when the spirits of deceased family members, who are said to visit the world during Obon, are believed to be returning to the spirit world.
- The character for “large”.7, 妙法8The characters for “wondrous dharma”, which is part of Buddhist teachings.
- Note that this refers to the shape of a boat, so the fires form the shape of a boat, rather than the characters 舟形.
- Likewise, this refers to the shape of a torii (Traditional Japanese gate commonly found at the entrance of a Shinto shrine).
- Hidari means left, so this refers to the 大character on the left.