It was the middle of September, a little past the start of the second semester, a time when you would still feel sweaty in the afternoon, but the morning wind was somewhat cold, and you would sometimes see a mackerel sky1 indicative of Autumn. On such a day after school, I was traveling on a rattling train to Nagoya, my head filled with question marks.
From where I lived, Kira City, it wouldn’t even take twenty minutes to reach Nagoya if I took the high-speed train. It was well within my reach, but I actually hadn’t been to Nagoya for any reason besides taking the Shinkansen. As for why I was now heading for that aforementioned city while gazing at the afternoon streetscape, it was, of course, because Osanai-san had brought me along.
Since it was close to the end of the summer break in my first year of high school, I had returned home late for many days. When questioned about that, I’d made use of my arrangement with Osanai-san which stated that we could use each other as an excuse in dangerous situations, and explained that I was late because of cultural festival preparations. Now that I had been saved from a sticky situation, it was my turn to be of use to Osanai-san. I thought that I would be made to clean the windows or weed the garden, but she had something else in mind.
“Let’s go to Nagoya together next Friday,” she’d said.
The high-speed train from Kira City to Nagoya was fitted with two-person seats facing each other. It was still early for the evening rush, but the outbound train that we’d passed earlier was already jam-packed. On the other hand, there was hardly anyone on the inbound train we were on, and the two of us were taking up seats meant for four. Osanai-san had a magazine splayed on her thighs, and while she didn’t have a particular expression on his face, the fact that she was shaking her legs meant that she was enjoying herself. I’d come all the way here wondering if I should ask the question, but now that we would reach Nagoya in ten minutes according to the timetable, I definitely should have asked. What was she bringing me to Nagoya for?
She abruptly stopped shaking her legs and raised her head.
“As gratitude for helping me out, I assure you that I’ll do as you want, but er, could I ask a question, if it’s alright with you?”
Osanai-san tilted her head, a confused look on her face.
She asked. For her to have such a brazen attitude, she could have already given me enough information to deduce our goal. If that was so, then it would be too early to ask for the answer. I should first sort out the clues.
I’d started thinking about it, when Osanai-san muttered “Ah” and nodded in understanding.
“Oh right, I haven’t told you what we’re doing yet.”
“Ah, so you are going to tell me.”
“We’ll be going to a newly opened store called ‘Patisserie Kogi Annex Ruriko’ to try their new macarons.”
I’d expected that, but there was still one remaining question.
“Why are you bringing me along?”
“There are four autumn-exclusive flavors, according to this magazine.”
She slapped the magazine on her thighs, then gave me a frighteningly serious look.
“You can only choose three types of macarons for the Tea & Macaron Set.”
Basically, I was to order the other flavor. I’d also expected that. Then, the last question would be…
“Can’t you get them to go?”
After I asked that question, a sorrow-filled smile appeared on Osanai-san’s face as she stared beyond the horizon from the train window.
“If I could do that… it wouldn’t be so difficult…”
Her side profile was just like that of a martyr enduring their fate.
“Now, I’ll give a lecture.”
Osanai-san said unexpectedly, seemingly having gotten excited.
The train had just departed from an interim station, meaning that the next stop would be Nagoya. Osanai-san corrected her sitting posture, straightened her back and cleared her throat.
“There is a patissier called Haruomi Kogi. He went to France immediately after graduating from middle school, and went through extensive training at a famous patisserie for ten years. Its name is in French, so I can’t read it. It would be good if they add a Katakana spelling. Anyway, after he came back to Japan, he worked for a hotel in Nagoya City, but when he was thirty years old, he left his family in Nagoya and opened his own store called ‘Patisserie Kogi’ in Tokyo’s Jiyugaoka2.”
“So he had a single posting?”
Osanai-san pouted at being interrupted.
“I don’t think you call self-employment a posting.”
Indeed, he wasn’t posted there by someone else.
“What do you call it, then?”
“Working away from home… I suppose?”
“That doesn’t sound entirely right.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“According to an interview in the monthly magazine Macaronage, Kogi Haruomi said this about opening a store in Tokyo…”
While speaking, Osanai-san retrieved a clear file from her school bag which contained a bundle of magazine cutouts. She picked one of them out, brought it in front of her eyes and started reading.
“‘I wanted to test my strength in a bigger world. If I can jump over the tallest hurdle, I’ll stop being afraid of anything else.’”
“What a positive person.”
“By the way, he’s quite a handsome guy.”
She turned the cutout towards me. There was a color photograph of a man in a chef coat folding his arms and smiling cheerfully. At a quick glance, he gave off an uncouth impression, but he did have a well-proportioned face. He looked to be about thirty years old. His facial expression and pose showed that he was overflowing with self-confidence, but I felt that the silver necklace hanging down his neck didn’t really fit him. The fingers extending from his folded arms were slender and unadorned. His nails were also well trimmed, as expected.
Of course, I was deeply impressed not by Kogi Haruomi’s interview or picture, but by the fact that Osanai-san was carrying those around. I couldn’t imagine that she’d brought them just to show me, so it was probably for her to study. Even though she went around to dessert shops after school, the thought of her cutting out pages from a magazine and bringing them around had never crossed my mind.
Ignoring my countenance, which was a weird cross of admiration and astonishment, Osanai-san retrieved the next article from the file.
“Patisserie Kogi succeded with its focus of indoor dining, and achieved popularity. Kogi was invited to set up a temporary stall in one department store in Shinjuku and another in Nihonbashi for special events. Both of them were well-received, and three years after opening his first shop, he set up a second shop in Daikanyama3, called Patisserie Kogi Daikanyama. It also flourished, and by continually beating the other competitors in that fiercely competitive region, the name of Kogi Haruomi became firmly established. Around that time, he started growing a moustache. It makes him kind of look like an old man.”
As she spoke, she showed me the cutout. This time, it was a photograph of him looking at a piece of dough. The black mustache had a strong impact, and while I could understand why Osanai-san thought that he looked old, he seemed to exude the dignified aura of a successful person, which I wasn’t particularly averse to. The accessories on his body didn’t seem to have changed from the other interview, but perhaps because he had gained presence, it was impossible to spot the necklace. I took a glance at the article to see that Kogi was asked about what he did on rest days, to which he replied, “Most of the time, I go back to Nagoya to see my wife and daughter. It is because of the support from my family that I am able to focus on my work.” It sounded like quite a tough life, but probably made better by the fact that he could go to and fro with one train on the Shinkansen.
“And in January this year, it was finally announced that he would open another shop in Nagoya. That is the place we are going to today, Patisserie Kogi Annex Ruriko, and it is Kogi Haruomi’s triumphant return to his hometown. But of course, more importantly…”
Osanai-san spoke emphatically as she brought out another article.
“Since it’s in Nagoya, I can go there after school.”
The third article she handed me showed Kogi Haruomi with slightly sunken cheeks laughing a little audaciously. He was still wearing a chef coat, but perhaps his tastes had changed now that he was older, for he was no longer wearing the necklace. I took a quick look at the article and spotted an interesting quote: “With my new store in Nagoya, I am aiming for a different direction compared to the one in Tokyo. It is important that it contains the essence of what makes Patisserie Kogi what it is, but there is no progress if I keep doing the same thing. I want to create a shop that makes use of feminine sensibilities, and I have decided that it will be called Patisserie Kogi Annex Ruriko.”
“It’s written that he wants to create a shop that makes use of feminine sensibilities.”
“What kind of shop is that?”
Osanai-san put on a slightly bored look.
“Does that mean it makes use of curves?”
“I would be surprised if there are any living things that don’t have curves… But I suppose it does feel a little like art nouveau4. Sorry that I can’t give you a proper answer. To me, the atmosphere in the shop is important, but it comes second at most.”
Macarons are number one, I presume.
Looking at the article, I tried to infer what Kogi Haruomi was trying to say.
“…Anwyay, so that’s why the shop name is Annex Ruriko. Basically, this Ruriko-san is not the name of a specific person, but a kind of image meant to evoke a feminine atmosphere.”
While I was admiring its style, Osanai-san gave me a pitying look.
“The store manager is called Tanaka Ruriko-san.”
“Ah, is that so.”
“As Kogi Haruomi became increasingly busy, the one who practically ran the Jiyugaoka store was Tanaka Ruriko-san, a powerhouse who has many achievements in domestic competitions, and is the ace of Patisserie Kogi… Sorry Kobato-kun, I didn’t bring any information about her. I never thought that you would be so interested.”
“No, it’s fine.”
“I can bring them on Monday, if you like.”
“It’s fine, Osanai-san. Thanks, I appreciate the sentiment.”
The high-speed train slowed down. In a leisurely voice, the announcer declared that we had reached Nagoya Station.
Assistants (Tier 1) : Rolando Sanchez
Thank you very much for all your support!
- A term for clouds made up of rows of cirrocumulus or altocumulus clouds displaying a rippling pattern similar in appearance to fish scales.
- An elegant town that looks European, with Parisian-style streetscapes and a miniature version of Venice, with a canal and gondola. It is apparently a mecca for sweets lovers.
- A stylish, Brooklynlike quarter of brewpubs, coffee roasters, and gourmet delis in Tokyo.
- An international style of art, often inspired by natural forms such as the sinuous curves of plants and flowers.