“Hey, it looks just like snow, “Akari had said.
It was seventeen years ago when she said that. We had just become elementary six students and we would always walk together around the small grove on our way home with our schoolbags on our little backs. It was spring and a countless number of cherry blossoms were in full bloom on the trees, their petals dancing soundlessly in the air, covering the asphalt beneath our feet in a blanket of white. The air was warm and the sky hung overhead as if it was a great canvas covered with light blue paint. Not far from us ran the main road and the Odasaki railroad crossing but none of its noise seemed to reach us. Only the chirping of birds could be heard as if a blessing from spring. There was no one else was around.
It was as if it was just a painting of a certain spring scene.
That's right. At least in my memories that moment of time was like a painting. You could say they were just a collection of images. When I try to gather those old memories, I feel as if I’m gazing from outside a frame at a little distance. The young man had only just turned eleven and so was the girl who was around the same height as he was. I gaze as their figures as they run into the distance, the light that filled the world enveloped them naturally. I was always watching them from behind in that painting. And every time it would always be the young girl who ran ahead first. When I remember that short moment of sadness that shivered the young man’s heart, it makes even I who was now an adult feel just a little sad.
In any case, I remember how Akari had described the shower of cherry blossom petals were like snow. But I never saw it that way. At that time, cherry blossoms were just cherry blossoms and snow was just snow to me.
“Hey, it looks just like snow.”
“It does? Hmmm, maybe it does…”
“Oh, never mind,” Akari said coldly walking two steps ahead quickly before turning around. Her brown hair shone as the light from the sky reflected off it and once again, she said something mysterious.
“Hey, I heard they fall at five centimetres per second.”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on, think about it, Takaki-kun.”
I still didn’t know what she was talking about so I just honestly told her I didn’t know.
“It’s the speed cherry blossom petals fall at. They fall at five centimetres per second.”
Five centimetres per second. It had a mysterious ring to it. I let her know how fascinated I was, “Wow, you know a lot of these things don’t you, Akari.”
“Heehee,” Akari smiled happily.
“There’s a lot I know. Rain falls at five centimetres per second. Clouds fall at one centimetre per second.”
“Clouds? You mean the clouds in the sky?”
“Yes, the clouds in the sky.”
“Clouds fall too? Don’t they just float?”
“Clouds fall too. They don’t float because they’re composed of water vapour. It only looks like they’re floating because they’re so big and so far away. As the vapour expands in the clouds they grow bigger and bigger and then they fall to the surface as rain or snow.”
“Wow…” I said as I gazed up at the clouds in fascination and then back at the cherry blossoms again. Akari’s young cheery, pleasant voice made it sound as if it was an important rule of the universe. Five centimetres per second.
“Wow…” she repeated, teasing me and suddenly broke into a run.
“Hey wait, Akari!” I cried as I ran after her.
* * *
During that moment of time, it was a habit of Akari and I to exchange little bits of knowledge we learned from books and watching TV as we returned home. Little bits of knowledge that we thought were important – things such as the speed flower petals fell at, the age of the universe or the temperature silver melted at. It was as if we were a pair of squirrels desperately preparing for our winter hibernation, or perhaps we were travellers sailing the seas trying to learn astrology so that we could gather the starlight scattered around the world. For some reason, we had seriously thought these little bits of knowledge were going to be essential in our future lives.
Yes. That was why both Akari and I knew so much. We knew what position the stars were in during the seasons, or in which direction and brightness Jupiter must be at before it was visible to the naked eye. We even knew why the sky was blue, why the earth had seasons, when did the Neanderthals disappear and the names of the species that became extinct during the Cambrian Period. We were both extremely fascinated by everything that was much bigger and far away from us. But for me, I’ve forgotten most of it all. All I know is that they were bits of knowledge that I once knew were the truth to me.
From the moment I first met Akari until the moment we separated I thought we were both alike – that was around three years between elementary four and six. Both of our fathers relocated a lot due to work and we had both arrived at the same elementary school in Tokyo. I had moved to Tokyo from Nagano when I was in elementary three and Akari moved from Shizuoka while she was in elementary four. Even now I remember how tense and nervous she looked as she stood in front of the blackboard on her first day at school. She stood there hands clasped neatly together in front of her as the spring light shone through the classroom windows on her, casting a shadow from her shoulder up all the way to her long hair. Her lips were nervously pursed together bright red, her unblinking eyes wide open as her line of sight was fixed onto a single spot before her. She reminded me of my own expression when I arrived a year ago and immediately I felt we were closer to each other. I think I was the one that spoke to her first and we quickly got along.
Akari was the only one who had the same strong opinions as I did – about how students who were brought up in Setagaya seemed more mature, how hard it was to breathe within the crowds at the station, how surprisingly unpleasant tap water tasted. To us, they were all problems. We were small and were prone to falling ill so we preferred staying in the library than being in the playgrounds and that was why physical education classes were very unpleasant for us. Both Akari and I were like adults who preferred to enjoy having a conversation with someone or to read a book. At the time my father was working at a bank and we were living in a company owned apartment and, perhaps it was the same for Akari which was why we went the same way back home. Naturally as if we needed each other, we always spent our breaks and after school time together.
Of course, we were teased by many of our classmates a lot. Now that I look back, the way they acted and the things they said to us were really just something kids commonly do but at that time, I couldn’t really handle those situations very well and every time something happened, I was hurt. The need we had for each other grew stronger because of that.
One day, something happened. I had gone to the toilet and was on my way back to the classroom when I saw Akari standing alone in front of the blackboard. On the board there was a drawing of an umbrella with both Akari and my own name written underneath (that could be considered harassment now I think about it), while her classmates were standing afar murmuring to each other, staring at Akari. She had gone up to the blackboard trying to stop their harassment but was probably too embarrassed and had stopped half way. I grew stiff at the sight of her standing like that and without a word I walked into the classroom, grabbed the duster and quickly wiped off the drawing. I didn’t know why but I grabbed Akari’s hand and we ran out of the classroom. We could hear the voices behind us getting excited but we ignored them and continued running. Even I couldn’t believe how bold I was to do what I did but I remembered how the softness of Akari’s hand made my heart throb so hard, I was almost dizzy and for the first time, I felt there was nothing in the world to be afraid of. I was sure many more bad things were still to come in the rest of our lives but no matter what it was – whether it was transferring between schools, taking exams, going to a foreign land or feeling uneasy meeting new people, as long as Akari was there I would be able to endure it all. I think we were still too young to call it love but at the time, it was clear I liked Akari and I could clearly feel that Akari liked me too. As we ran with our hands held tightly together, the more I was certain of that feeling. As long as we had each other no matter what was going to happen, we strongly believed there was nothing to be frightened of.
For three years those feelings continued to stay strong as Akari and I spent time together. We both decided we would attend the same junior high school that wasn’t far from our residences and studied hard, spending more and more time together. We probably became aware of how more mentally mature we were than other children and that we were introverted, caught up in our own little world but we were convinced it was all part of preparing ourselves for our junior high school life. We were going to graduate from elementary school away from the classmates we didn’t get along with and start a whole new junior high life with new students and our world was going to grow bigger. We also hoped that it would help us clearly ascertain and express the strong feelings we had for each other. It might be the time when we will be able to express our love to each other. The distance between us and our surroundings, the distance between Akari and I would surely grow smaller. We were going to have more power and we were going to have more freedom.
Now that I think about it, perhaps we knew that we were going to lose something when we kept exchanging bits of knowledge with each other. Clearly we were captivated by each other and wished to be together forever but – perhaps it was because we transferred schools so many times – we knew at the same time that that wish couldn’t come true and felt fear in our hearts. Maybe we tried to leave as much memories of ourselves with each other because we knew one day we wouldn’t be together any more.
Indeed in the end, Akari and I were separated and attended different junior high schools. One winter night when we were still in elementary six, Akari called to let me know.
It was rare for Akari to call because we hardly ever talked to each other by phone and it was late (at the time anyway which was around nine o’clock). I had a bad feeling when my mother told me it was Akari and handed the phone to me.
“I’m sorry, Takaki-kun,” Akari said in a tiny little voice. What followed were words that I didn’t want to hear or believe.
We can’t go to the same junior high school anymore, she said. She said her father had decided to move to a small town in the northern part of Kantou to work. She was shaking as if she was going to cry. I just couldn’t understand why. I suddenly felt something burning inside but my head felt cold. I just couldn’t understand why Akari had to tell me this.
“What… But what about Nishinaka High? They’ve already accepted you there,” I finally managed to say.
“He says he will arrange for me to go to Tochigi… I’m sorry.”
I could hear the sound of a car drive by in the background which meant she was calling from a public telephone box. Even though I was in my room, I sat down on the tatami mat, hugging my knees as if I could feel the coldness from there creeping into my fingers. I didn’t know what I should have said to her but felt I had to say something.
“No, it’s not your fault Akari…”
“I told him I wanted to stay with my aunt in Katsushika so that I could stay but he said I had to be older first…”
As I heard Akari try hard to stop herself from crying I suddenly wanted to hang up because I didn’t want to hear it.
Before I knew it I had cried out loudly to her, “…I know what you’re saying already!” I could hear her gasp yet, it didn’t stop me from continuing.
“Forget about it…” I said to her in a firm voice. “Just forget about it…” I repeated desperately trying to hold back my own tears. Why… Why did it always have to turn out this way?
After ten seconds of silence Akari managed to say “sorry” again with her sobbing voice. I kept the phone pressed hard against my ear with my head hanging down. I couldn’t take it away from my ear and I couldn’t hang up either. I knew what I had said over the phone had hurt Akari. But there was nothing I could do. I hadn’t learned how to control my feelings at the time. After the unpleasant call I had with Akari finally ended, I just sat there hugging my knees.
Over the next couple of days, I felt very bad. I was very ashamed of myself that I didn’t manage to say anything nice to Akari even though I knew she must have been very worried. With such feelings still lingering in our minds, Akari and I separated awkwardly on the day of our graduation ceremony. That day right after the ceremony, she had approached me and said in her pleasant voice, “So this is farewell…” but I had hung my head in shame, unable to say anything back. I had thought to myself it couldn’t be helped. I had depended upon Akari up until now. I had planned on trying to become more mature because she was going to be there with me but now I couldn’t. I was still very much a young child. I thought to myself I can’t stay like this forever and let an invisible force take everything away from me. Even if Akari had no choice, we weren’t supposed to be separated like this. We were never supposed to be separated.
* * *
Those unsuppressed feelings remained with me as the new junior high semester began. I had to face those uncomfortable new days alone even if I didn’t want to. Even though I should have been attending the same school with Akari, I began attending alone, slowly making new friends, joining the soccer club and working hard. The days were a lot busier than my elementary school days but that was good for me because it kept my mind occupied. When I had time alone I would feel very uncomfortable just like in the past and clearly I couldn’t bare the feeling at all. That was why I tried to stay proactive by spending most of my time with friends, went straight to bed as soon as I finished my homework and woke up early so that I could focus on training at my club.
I was sure Akari too was busying herself everyday at her new home. I wished those days would help her forget about me. I was the one that hurt her when we parted after all. I too should have forgotten about Akari. We should have learned how to do that by now after all our experiences of transferring schools so many times and being separated from others.
Then one summer day, during the hot days, a letter arrived from Akari.
I remember when I saw that light pink envelope stuck amongst the row of apartment mailboxes I had felt more confused than happy. I thought to myself, why now? I had been so determined to get used to a world without Akari. The letter from Akari made me remember just how much I missed her.
Yes, instead of trying to forget about Akari, my mind was suddenly filled with nothing but her. I had made many friends but every time I was with them, they made me realise just how special Akari was to me. I would confine myself in my room reading her letter over and over again. Even during classes I would secretly slip it in between my textbook so that I could gaze at it. I read it so many times I could almost remember the letter off by heart.
“Dear Takaki Tohno,” the letter began. It was such a nostalgic feeling seeing Akari’s neat handwriting again.
“It has been such a long time. How are you? The summer weather is very hot here but I’m sure it’s a lot easier to bear than Tokyo. But now that I think about it, I prefer the humid hot summers in Tokyo more - the hot asphalt that looks as if it’s about to melt, the high rise buildings in the heat and the almost freezing air conditioning of the apartments and underground stations.”
Funnily enough, in between the mature writing were tiny little illustrations (like the sun or cicadas) which made me imagine what the young Akari I once knew was like now as she was growing up slowly. It was a very short letter that told me how she was doing. She told me how she went to her new school by the four carriage trains, how she joined the basketball club to keep fit and how she decided to cut her hair short so that it was now only down to her ear. Surprisingly it all unsettled me. She didn’t write that she missed me and from her words I could tell that her new life was going well and she was getting used to it. But somehow, I had no doubt that she would have felt very sad if she wrote that she missed me or wanted to talk to me. If that wasn’t so, she never would have written a letter to me. I felt exactly the same way towards her.
Since then, Akari and I exchanged letters once a month. I felt it was a lot easier going about my life than before. For example, I could clearly admit boring lessons were boring. Since being separated from Akari, I had just thought all the harsh training and unreasonable instructions that my senior trainers gave me were just the way things were but now I could feel it was all a little unbearable. My feelings were back. Strangely, it was because I could feel that way that it all became easier to endure. We never wrote about our displeasures or silly things that happened during our days but we could strongly feel that there was only one other person in this world that could understand us.
The summer and autumn of our first year at junior high soon passed and it was now winter. I had turned thirteen, was taller by seven centimetres, grown more muscular and no longer caught the cold as easily as before. I felt as if I had become relatively closer to the world. I’m sure Akari too was thirteen now. Every time I looked at my female classmates in their uniform, I would imagine how Akari may look like now. Once she had written that she wanted to see the cherry blossoms again with me someday just like we did when we were in elementary school. She said there was a large cherry blossom tree near her home. She wrote, “I’m sure the flower petals there fall to the ground at five centimetres too.”
I was in my third semester when it was decided I was going to transfer schools again.
I was going to move during the next spring break and it was going to be Kagoshima, an island near the region of Kyuushuu. It takes about a two hour flight from the Tokyo, Haneda airport to get there. To me, it was no different than living at the edge of the world. But by that time, I was used to such changes in my life and wasn’t worried about it at all. My main concern was my distance from Akari. Since leaving elementary school neither of us had met but we weren’t really that far away from each other when I thought about it. It was only a three hour train journey to travel between Northern Kansai where Akari was and the Tokyo where I lived. We could have met up with each other during Saturdays. But once I move to the southern point of Japan, I may never be able to see her again.
That was why I decided to write to Akari and let her know that I wanted to see her one more time before I moved. I suggested a list of places and time where we could meet. She replied promptly. We both had exams for the third semester. I had to prepare for the relocation and she had club activities to participate in so it wasn’t until after the last lesson at the end of the semester that we could meet at night. After we checked our schedules, we decided that we could meet at a station near her home at seven o’clock. That way I could skip my club activities and set off straight after class then after spending two hours with Akari, I could take the last train home. In any case, as long as I could get back home on the same day, I’d be able to think of some excuse to explain to my parents. I’d have to take the train on the Oda and Saikyou lines then switch to the train on the Utsu to Ryouke line to get there which was going to cost around three and a half thousand yen for the return tickets. It wasn’t a small amount for me to handle at the time but there was nothing more important than seeing Akari again.
There were two weeks left before the promised day and I spent that time writing a long letter that I wanted to give to Akari. It was probably the first love letter I ever wrote in my life. I wrote in it about the aspiring future I had thought of, what I liked such as the books I read and the music I listened to and, just how important Akari meant to me – perhaps it really was still just puppy love between us but I stayed honest with my feelings and expressed them as best as I could. I can’t quite remember what I wrote but I think it spanned about eight pages of writing paper. At that time, there were many things I really wanted to say and let Akari know. As long as she read the letter, I had thought I’d be able to endure the days on Kagoshima. It was the part of me I wanted her to know about.
As I spent those days writing that letter, I dreamt about Akari many times.
In the dream I was a nimble bird. Flapping my wings I flew through the night sky, through a city filled with high rise buildings and railroads. I was thrilled and enthralled with my small little body as I flew at a speed hundreds of times faster than what I could manage running on the ground, flying to that place to meet that special someone. Before long I could see a town densely packed with lights in the distance, twinkling like stars as I rode the strong night wind, the light of trains running along like veins and arteries. Soon I managed to pierce through the clouds and was flying where the moon illuminated them all from above as if I was above a vast ocean. The transparent blue moonlight made the various peaks of the clouds glow as if it was another planet. I had the power to go anywhere in the world I wanted to and my feathery body was shivering with happiness. As I arrived close to my goal I dived down excitedly, the place where she lived expanding rapidly before my eyes. There were rural fields stretching into the distance, roofs of sparsely populated houses, patches of forest here and there and amongst it all, there was a single streak of light moving. It was a train. I must have been on that train too. And at the platform I caught sight of a girl waiting for that train. The young girl with hair that hung down to her ears was sitting on a bench alone and nearby stood a single large cherry blossom tree. The flowers had yet to blossom but I could feel a breath of life from within its hard bark. Before long, the young girl noticed my presence and looked up into the sky. Soon we were going to be able to see each other again…
It was raining on the promised day Akari and I was going to meet. The sky was a single shade of grey as if concealed behind a giant lid and from there cold droplets of rain fell and accumulated on the ground. It was a day as if spring had changed its mind and turned back, leaving only the scent of winter behind. I put on a double layered brown coat on top of my uniform and after putting the letter I had wrote for Akari in my bag, I had set off to school. I was expecting to be back late that night so I had left a note for my parents letting them know so that I wouldn’t worry them too much. Our parents didn’t know each other and I doubt they would have allowed us to do what we had planned even if we tried explaining to them.
I felt very unsettled during that day and spent all my time gazing out the window during all the lessons. It was as if I couldn’t understand any of the lessons at all. I had probably been imagining what Akari looked like in her school uniform, what we would be talking about and hearing her pleasant voice again. Yes, at that time I wasn’t consciously aware of it but it was clear I loved her voice. Her voice sent waves into the air and I loved it. Her kind and soft voice always stimulated my ear. Soon I will be able to hear her voice again. Every time I thought about it my body would grow hot as if it was on fire and it would make me feel unsettled but then I would gaze out the window at the cold rain.
Five centimetres per second. It was daytime yet everything was a light grey colour and I could see many windows lit up in buildings and apartments as I gazed out of the classroom window. The lights in the distant dance floor of a certain apartment could be seen swaying from time to time. As I continued to gaze out the window, the rain drops had grown bigger and as the school day came to an end, they had turned to snow.
After class, I made sure none of my classmates were around before I took out the letter and memo I had. I was still a little unsure about the letter but put it inside my pocket. I wanted to give it to Akari no matter what happened so I wanted to have it somewhere where I could touch it and be reassured it was still there. As for the memo, it had a list of the trains I had to take and the times they would arrive. I had already gone through the list a number of times already but I went through them one more time.
First I would take the three fifty-four train at the Goutokuji Station on the Oda Line to Shinjuku. I would then switch to the Saikyou Line and travel to the Oomiya station, switch to the Utsunomiya Line and reach Koyama Station. Then I would switch to the Ryouke Line and finally reach my destination at Iwafune Station by six forty-five. I was going to meet up with Akari at seven o’clock at Iwafune so I should make it just in time. It was the first time I travelled so far by train alone but I told myself that it was going to be alright. Yes, it will be alright. It might be difficult but I was sure nothing was going to happen.
I made my way down the dimly lit stairs in school and in the entry hall I opened up my locker to change shoes. It was deserted which made the sound of the steel door closing louder than usual. It made my heart beat a little faster. I decided I would leave the umbrella I had brought with me in the morning and went outside, looking up at the sky. The early morning scent of rain was now that of snow. It was a smell that was easier to pick up than rain and it made my heart livelier than before. As I stood there gazing up at the sky I felt as if I was going to be swallowed up as countless small pieces of white descended. Quickly, I put on my hood and ran towards the station.
* * *
It was my first time at Shinjuku Station. It was a station I had never come across in my life but now that I think about it, I had gone there to watch a movie with a friend once. At that time we went to Shinjuku on the Oda Line and after leaving the ticket barriers at the JR East Exit, we got lost quite a bit before managing to leave the station. That experience we had of Shinjuku Station’s complexity and busy environment left more of a strong impression with me than the movie itself.
I left the Oda Line ticket barrier and stopped, looking carefully at the guide map on the wall so that I wouldn’t get lost then walked quickly to the spot marked “JR Line Ticket Office”. On the other side of all the pillars were a large row of ticket machines and I made my way to the one with the shortest queue, waiting in line for my turn. Somehow I felt as if my chest was in pain when I caught the perfume coming from the woman in front of me who was dressed like the regular office lady. The queue next to me moved on and this time I felt oddly uneasy as I briefly smelled Naphthalin coming from an elderly man’s coat. The station was filled with so many voices blended together in a single sound. The tips of my shoes covered in snow felt cold. My head was feeling a bit dizzy. When it was finally my turn to buy a ticket I was a little confused when I discovered the machines had no buttons (at that time, most ticket machines still had buttons). I peeked over at the person next to me and found out I just had to touch the screen.
I left the ticket machine and paying careful attention at several platform signs I weaved my way through the crowds and made my way to the Saikyou Line. “External Yamanote Line Loop”, “Going to Sobu Line, Nagano”, “Internal Yamanote Line Loop”, “Going to Sobu Line, Chiba”, “Central Line Express”, “Main Central Line Express”… I had to go through many platforms and along the way I stopped by a large map of the station’s complex and stared at it. The Saikyou Line was in the inner most area. I took the memo I made out of my pocket and looked at my watch (a black G Shock I received to celebrate my successful entry into junior high). The Shinjuku train was going to leave at four twenty-six. The digital numbers on my watch were showing four fifteen. It will be alright. I still had ten minutes and I was going to make it.
As I made my way to the platform, I dropped by the toilet just in case. It was going to be a forty minute journey so I thought it might be best to keep myself prepared. I washed my hands and looked myself in the mirror. On the other side of the dirty mirror, a white light shone upon my reflection. I was pretty sure I had grown taller and was more of an adult now than I was six months ago. I was embarrassed that my jaw had grown a little red from the cold outside. I was going to see Akari soon.
At first, I couldn’t find a seat inside the train on the Saikyou Line because it was full of people heading home. I leaned against the wall towards the end of the carriage just like a number of others and gazed at the adverts, out the window and occasionally took a glance at the passengers. I just couldn’t calm down and my eyes were looking everywhere so I didn’t feel like reading the science fiction novel I had in my bag. A girl was talking with another high school girl standing in front of her. They seemed to be friends. They both wore short skirts that revealed part of their bare thighs and rouge socks.
“What about that guy?”
“You know, the one from Kita High.”
“What? Him? You have some weird tastes.”
“No way. He’s totally my type.”
They were probably talking about a guy they had met or an acquaintance. Even though I wasn’t the one they were talking about, I felt somewhat embarrassed. I turned my eyes away from them and while making sure the letter was still there in my pocket with my fingers, I gazed out the window again. The train had been running on a high bridge for some time now. It was the first time I was travelling on that line. The way the train swayed and the noise it made on the move was different from travelling on the Oda Line and strangely, it had made me anxious. The dim setting winter sun dyed the skyline a faint orange, a row of buildings can be seen lined up in the distance. The snow hadn’t stopped falling. I wondered if I was in Saitama now. The town seemed to be packed closer together than the familiar scenery around it. All the tall buildings and apartments at the centre looked as if they were buried into the ground.
Along the way, the train stopped at Murashiurawa Station to let an express train pass. “Would any passengers who are in a hurry please switch to the opposite platform,” said the loudspeaker. About half of the passengers got off and made their way there including myself who followed at the end. To the west were a number of railroads. Snow continued to fall and accumulate while the small setting sun could occasionally be spotted between the clouds, its light shining vividly on hundreds of roofs. I gazed at the scenery and suddenly remembered I had been here before.
Yes, it wasn’t the first time I had been on this railway.
Just before elementary three, I had been on this train before from Oomiya to Shinjuku with my father when we were moving to Tokyo from Nagano. I was used to the rural scenery of Nagano and the completely foreign scenery here had made me anxious. At that time, as I gazed out the window at the scenery where there were nothing but buildings and realised that was where I was going to live, I had become so worried I had felt I was going to cry. Even so, five years had passed since then and I was now thinking to myself that I managed to live through that. I was still only thirteen but I don’t think that was too much to think to myself. Akari had supported me. I prayed that Akari felt the same way during those years we were together.
Oomiya Station wasn’t as big as Shinjuku Station and was just one big terminal. I descended some stairs from the Saikyou Line then back up another flight of stairs and made my way through the crowds as I headed to the Utsunomiya Station for the interchange. A strong smell of snow filled the station now and everyone’s shoes were soaked with it making a slushing sound as they walked. The Utsunomiya Line was overflowing with people making their way home too and long lines were visible there. I stood somewhere away from the queues and waited alone for the train. I wasn’t going to get a seat anyway even if I joined the queue. For the first time I had a bad feeling. It wasn’t long before an announcement was made.
“Would passengers please note that the train on the Utsunomiya Line heading to Koyama, Konomiya will be delayed by eight minutes due to the snow, “the announcer informed us.
I don’t know why I hadn’t taken into account the train could be late too. I took out my memo again and looked at my watch. I had expected to get on the five-four train but it was already five-ten. I shivered as if it suddenly got colder. Two minutes later, I didn’t feel any better even when the long whistle sounded and the warm lights shone from the other train.
* * *It was a lot more crowded on the Utsunomiya Line than the Oda or Saikyou Line. It was still around the time when everyone was returning home either after a day’s work or school. The train that arrived was a lot older than the other trains I came on and the seats were arranged in sets of four facing each other which reminded me of the native local trains that ran in Nagano. I held onto one of the hand rails attached to the seats with one hand, putting my other into my pocket as I stood in the narrow passageway between the seats. The heating made the carriage warm and the windows steamed up with little droplets of water sliding down them. Everyone looked tired and no one said a word. The lamp shining upon them inside the old carriage made them fit in place. I felt I was the only one out of place so I kept my breathing low and gazed out at the passing scenery outside the window trying to keep those thoughts away.
The buildings had all disappeared from the scenery now and only large fields blanketed in snow stretched out into the distance. In that distant darkness, the small lights from homes can be seen sparsely spaced out, swaying in the wind. The tall towering steel lamp posts lit with red lights seemed to be lined up all the way to the mountain peaks. Their silhouettes appeared as if they were a giant’s army standing to attention amongst the snow fields. It was a world I was completely unfamiliar with now. As I gazed at the scenery all I thought about was whether I would get there in time to meet up with Akari. If I was late, there would have been no way for me to let her know. At the time, mobile phones weren’t common amongst junior high students and I didn’t know Akari’s new phone number either. The snow outside was growing heavier.
The next interchange was at Koyama Station but the train had been running painfully slow for the past hour. The stations on the line were almost unbelievably far apart when compared to those in the city and the train stopped unbelievably long at each one. Every time it stopped, it was always the same message over the speakers. “Attention please. Due to the delayed schedule of all trains this train must stop at this station for a prolonged period of time. We apologise for any inconvenience and ask for you to wait patiently…”
I looked at my watch time and time again praying hard that it won’t be seven o’clock soon but that didn’t change how far I still was from my destination. Yet time was ticking and every time I looked, my body was in pain almost to the point of making me give up hope. It was as if the air around me had formed an invisible cage, shrinking with every passing moment.
When it was finally seven o’clock I still hadn’t arrived at Koyama Station yet and the train had stopped at a station called Nogi which was two stops away from my destination. I still had to switch trains at Koyama Station for another twenty minute journey before I could reach Iwafune Station where Akari was waiting. During the two hours since leaving Oomiya Station, impatience and hopelessness continued to stress me. I had never felt pain for such a long time in my life. I could no longer tell if the carriage was warm or cold any more. All I could feel was the darkness of the night and my empty stomach because I haven’t had anything to eat since lunch. I soon realised the carriage didn’t have as many people as before and that I was the only one left standing. I went to a seat nearby where no one was sitting and sat down with a thud, my feet felt stiff and numb, and all the tiredness that had gathered somewhere deep within my body gushed onto my skin. There wasn’t anything I could do to get rid of that feeling. I took out the letter I had for Akari from my pocket and stared at it. It was long pass the time we were supposed to meet and I’m sure she was starting to worry now. It reminded me of that last call we had. Why did it always have to turn out this way?
The train stopped for a full fifteen minutes at Nogi Station before it started moving again.
* * *It was pass seven-forty by the time the train finally reached Koyama Station. I got off the train and ran to the platform at the Ryouke Line interchange where I crumpled up the useless memo and threw it in the bin.
Koyama Station was a big building but there were few people around. While I was running inside the complex I saw a number of people sitting around a stove in a wide open area. I wondered if they had driven here to pick up their family. It felt like they blended in naturally with the scenery. Only I was running around impatiently.
I had to go down some stairs and pass a place that resembled a subway station before I reached the Ryouke Line platform. The ground was made of plainly cut concrete with a number of pillars spaced out in a row along it, pipes intertwined and stretched across the ceiling. The low howling of the wind could be heard as it blew from one side of the pillars to the other. Plain white lights vaguely lit the tunnel-like area. The shutters of the kiosk were shut tight. It felt like I had lost my way but there were a number of others who were also waiting for the train. There was some warm yellowish light emitting from a small Soba stall and two vending machines but other that, the rest of the place felt cold.
“Due to heavy snow, all transport is currently being delayed. We are terribly sorry for the inconvenience and ask for you to bear with us while waiting, “ the emotionless announcement informed us as it echoed through the station. I put on my hood to help protect myself against the cold a little more and went close to one of the concrete pillars to shield myself from the wind as I waited. Some cold air struck my body as it blasted up from the concrete ground. My impatience and the cold air were robbing my body of warm and my empty stomach made my body stiffen hard. I could see two businessmen standing at the Soba stall eating. I had thought about going to buy some myself but when I thought of how Akari maybe waiting for me on an empty stomach too, I just couldn’t make myself eat. I changed my mind and thought I could at least have a can of warm coffee and walked to one of the vending machines. As I took out my wallet from my pocket, I dropped the letter I had written for Akari.
Now that I think back, even if that never happened I don’t know if I could have handed the letter to Akari or not. Either way, I don’t think it would have changed whatever ends it may have lead to. Our lives are made up of many events all accumulated together whether we like them or not and losing that letter was just one such event. In the end, no matter how strong your feelings are at one time, slowly they will change with the long flow of time – whether I managed to hand over that letter or not.
The letter that fell out of my pocket when I was trying to take out my wallet was caught in the wind and in the blink of an eye it was whisked away off the platform and disappeared into the darkness. At that moment, I wanted to cry. I just grit my teeth instead and held my tears in. I didn’t buy that can of coffee.
* * *
Eventually, the train I ended up on on the Ryouke Line stopped completely while on route to my destination. “Due to the heavy snowfall, we have stopped to avoid any potential trouble ahead,” informed the announcement. “We are terribly sorry for the delay but we do not have an estimated time of when this service will resume,” it continued. I looked out the window and all I could see were the vast plains of snow in the darkness. The heavy blizzard could be heard rattling the windows. I didn’t understand why they had to stop the train in the middle of nowhere. I looked at my watch and found out two hours had already passed the promised time. I wonder how many hundreds of times I had looked at my watch that day. I didn’t want to see the time ticking any further so I took off my watch and placed it on a small table mounted by the window. There was nothing I could do any more. All I could do was pray the train would quickly start moving again.
Akari had written in her letter, “How are you Takaki-kun? I woke up early today to go to my club and I’m writing this letter on the train.”
As I imagined Akari writing that letter, I somehow felt that she was always alone. I also came to realise I too was the same. I had many friends at school but as I sat there on the train where no one else was sitting around me, my face hidden underneath my hood, I realised this was the real me. The heating was working but with so few passengers on board, the empty spaces still felt cold. I had no idea how I should have been feeling – I had never experienced such a terrible time in my life before. All I could do was sit there, my back slouched, gritting my teeth so that I wouldn’t cry and desperately held myself together against the malicious ticking of time. I felt like I was going to go crazy when I imagined how Akari was still waiting alone at the cold station and how helpless she may be feeling. I desperately wished that she wasn’t waiting anymore and had gone home.
But I just knew she would still be there waiting for me.
I knew it was true and because of that it filled me with even more sadness and pain. It seemed like the snow outside was going to fall forever.
Another two hours had passed before the train started moving again and it was pass eleven o’clock by the time I reached Iwafune, four hours later than I had planned. To me, it was already late night at the time. As I descended onto the platform, my shoes made a soft sound as they dug into the newly laid snow. The wind had completely stopped and countless number of snowflakes continued to silently fall from the sky. On the side of the platform where I got off, there were no walls or fencing, only snow fields stretching as far as the eye could see. The lights from the town were distant and few. It was completely silent other than the humming of the train’s engine.
I crossed an overhead bridge and slowly walked towards the ticket barrier. You could see the whole town on the bridge. There were few visible lights and the town silently lay there as the snow fell and covered it. I handed the station attendant my ticket and entered the wooden station. I entered the waiting room pass the ticket barrier. My body was enveloped in warmth and the nostalgic smell of an oil stove reached me. Everything warmed me from the inside of my heart and somehow made me close my eyes to take it all in… When I opened my eyes again, I saw a single young girl sitting in front of the stove with her head down.
The slim girl wrapped up in a white coat looked like a total stranger to me at first. Slowly I approached her and called out, “Akari”. She reacted to my voice as if I too was a stranger. A little surprised she slowly raised her head and looked my way. It was Akari. The corners of her eyes were red and tears had gathered there. Akari looked more mature than she was a year ago and as the golden light from the stove softly glowed upon her, she appeared as the most beautiful girl I had ever laid eyes on. I was speechless and my heart throbbed as if it was touched directly by a finger. It was the first time I had such a feeling. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I gazed at her as if the sight of the tears growing bigger in her eyes was a priceless moment. Akari reached out her hand and held the bottom of my coat, squeezing it. I took a step closer. The moment I caught sight of tears gather on her smooth pure white hands, a sudden indescribable feeling had stiffened me again and when I recovered, I realised I was crying. The hot water on the oil stove boiled gently, its sound echoing gently through the station.
* * *
Akari had brought a lunchbox she made for me and some tea in a thermal flask. We sat one seat away from each other so that she could lay them out on the seat between us in the middle. I drank the tea she poured for me. It had a pleasant aroma, hot but just right and tasted good.
“This is good,” I said from the bottom of my heart.
“Really? It’s just common Houji Tea.”
“Houji Tea? This is the first time I’ve drank it.”
“You can’t be serious. I’m sure you’ve drunk it before!” said Akari but to me, it truly was the first time I drank tea that tasted so delicious. “Really…” I replied and Akari answered, “Yes, really” with an amused look.
I thought Akari’s voice too had matured just like her body had. Her tone was kind, teasing yet also a little shy and hearing it made me feel hot, returning warmth to my body.
“Oh, and have some of this too, “ Akari said opening up the lunchbox to reveal two Tupperware trays. One of them had four large rice balls in it while the other was filled with vividly coloured side dishes. There were mini hamburgers, sausages, omelettes, baby tomatoes and broccoli. They were all neatly arranged in pairs.
“Since I’m the one that made it, I can’t guarantee it tastes good…” Akari said as she carefully laid out some of it on her lap. “…But you can try some if you like,” she said shyly.
“Thank you,” I finally managed to say. I felt very hot again suddenly feeling like I was about to cry again. I felt embarrassed and desperately held it in. I remembered how hungry I was and quickly said, “I’m so hungry!” Akari smiled at me happily.
I took one of the heavy rice balls and took a big bite. Even during that single bite, I felt like I wanted to cry. I put my head down as I chewed, making sure Akari wouldn’t notice. It was more delicious than anything I have ever eaten.
“This is the most delicious thing I’ve ever had,” I told her honestly.
“You’re just saying that!”
“I’m sure it’s only because you’re hungry.”
“Yeah. I think I’ll have some too,” said Akari happily taking a rice ball too.
We continued to eat for a while. Even the hamburgers and sausages were surprisingly delicious. When I tried to tell Akari this, she would smile shyly but somehow she also seemed proud and said, “I went back home after school to make it. Mother helped a little.”
“What did you tell your mother?”
“I left her a note to say I will be home no matter how late it is so that she wouldn’t worry.”
“I did that too. Your mother must be really worried right now.”
“Yeah… But I’ll be alright. When I made the lunchbox she asked who was it for and I smiled at her. She seemed happy. Maybe she knew what I was up to.”
I was very curious about what she knew but I didn’t ask what she meant and continued eating my rice ball. The rice balls were of good size and having two of all the side dishes, I was full and my stomach was content again.
The golden light from the stove shone on us. My forehead felt comfortably warm. We forgot about time and talked about everything we liked as we slowly drank Houji Tea. Neither of us had thought about going home. Neither of us had said it out loud but we both knew that was the case. We both had a countless number of things to talk about. We were letting each other know how lonely we had been during this past year. Although we didn’t put such feelings into words, we were conversing while letting each other know how much we missed each other and wanted to be with each other.
It was close to midnight when the station attendant knocked on the glass window of the staff room gently.
“It’s nearly time for me to close the station. There’s no more trains coming.”
It was the elderly attendant that I had handed my ticket too earlier. I thought he was angry at us but he was smiling. “I didn’t want to interrupt since you both look like you’re really enjoying yourselves but…” he said with a knowing, kind tone.
“I have to close the station. Please be careful on your way home. There’s a lot of snow.”
We thanked the attendant and left the station.
The town of Iwafune was completely buried in snow. It was still falling but strangely in this late night world where the sky and ground were surrounded by snow, it didn’t feel cold at all. We walked excitedly next to each other over the newly laid snow. I felt proud that I was a few centimetres taller than Akari. The pale white street lights lit up spots of snow before us. I watched as Akari happily ran ahead towards one of them. Her figure had clearly grown more mature than I could remember.
Akari took me to the big cherry blossom tree that she had told me about in her letter. It was only a ten minute walk from the station but it was in the middle of farmland where no residences could be seen. There were no manmade lights nearby but the light reflecting off the snow made it just bright enough. All the surrounding scenery was softly lit. It was as if the beautiful scenery was the result of someone’s fine craftsmanship.
The cherry blossom tree stood upright in the middle of some rice fields. It was big and tall. A fine tree. Both of us stood under it, gazing up at the falling snow. The snow fell from the dark sky, silently landing on and weighing down the branches.
“Hey, it looks just like snow, “ said Akari.
“Yes, it does, “ I replied. I could feel Akari looking at me smiling under the fully blossoming tree.
That night, Akari and I kissed for the first time. Very naturally we kissed.
The moment our lips touched, I came to understand where eternity, the heart and soul were. It felt as we were sharing our thirteen years of life with each other but after that, came sadness.
I did not know where I could take Akari’s warmth and soul with me or how I should treat it. Even though she was right there before me. I didn’t know what I should have done. I clearly understood that we couldn’t be together again after this. We still had a long unforeseeable life ahead of us spread out within the vastness of time.
But before long, that uneasiness that befell me melted away and only the warmth from Akari’s lips was with me. Nothing in the world was like the warmth and softness of her lips. It was a very special kiss. Now that I look back, there was no other kiss that happened in my later life that could compare to the happiness, purity and sincerity I felt during that one kiss.
* * *
We spent the night in a small shed by the fields. Amongst all the farming equipment stored inside the wooden shed, Akari and I found an old blanket in the shelves and taking off our wet shoes and coats, we wrapped ourselves together in it and talked quietly. Underneath her coat, Akari had been wearing a sailor suit uniform while I was in regular uniform. We were no longer lonely and were overjoyed.
As we talked underneath the blanket leaning against each other, every now and then Akari’s tender hair would brush over my cheeks and neck. Every time that happened, the smell of her sweet aroma would excite me while the warm touch of her body kept my senses satisfied. Akari’s speaking voice would gently make the front of my hair sway while my voice too would sway hers. The snow outside was growing light and occasionally, the shed would be filled with light from the moon that made it all feel like an illusion. Before we knew it, we had fallen asleep.
When we woke up it was around six o’clock in the morning and the snow had stopped. We drank some of the still slightly warm Houji Tea that was left then put on our coats and started walking to the station. The sky was blue and the rising sun was shining over the ridge of the mountains, making the snow covered fields glitter in its light. It was a dazzling world.
On the platform that Saturday morning, I was the only passenger. The train painted in orange and green had arrived, its carriages on the Ryouke Line shining underneath the rising sun. The doors opened and as I got on, I turned round towards the platform. The thirteen year old Akari stood there, the buttons of her white coat unbuttoned, revealing part of her sailor suit uniform.
Yes, I had realised it. From that moment on we had to be alone again and return to our own places in the world.
Even though we had talked so much with each other last night, even though we had been so close to each other we were suddenly going to be split up again. I remained silent, not knowing what to say. It was Akari who spoke up.
“Huh?” I replied in a voice as if I found it difficult to breathe.
“Takaki-kun…” she said once more, hesitating. The snow fields bathed in the rising sun behind her were shining like the surface of a lake and Akari looked ever so beautiful as her figure stood against the scenery. She suddenly looked straight at me and continued as if she had gathered up all her strength.
“Takaki-kun, I’m sure you’ll be alright! I know you will be!”
“Thanks…” I managed to say before the train doors began to close.
I couldn’t leave it like this. I had to tell her more. I shouted with all my strength so that my voice could reach her through the closed doors.
“You take care too, Akari! I’ll write! I’ll call you!”
At that moment, I felt I heard the shrill cry of a bird. As the train began to move, our right hands touched the same spot on the door’s window. They were separated almost immediately but just for a brief sure moment, they touched the same spot.
As the train moved, I continued to stand there by the doors.
I couldn’t tell Akari that I had written a letter to her nor could I tell her that I had lost it. I had thought we could meet again someday but I felt the whole world had changed after our kiss.
I gently put my hand on the spot where Akari had touched.
“Takaki-kun, I’m sure you’ll be alright”, Akari had said.
It was as if her words had struck something within me – something that even I didn’t know about myself – they had a mysterious feeling about them. I had a feeling that someday in the far distant future, Akari’s words will become a precious source of encouragement for me.
But at that very moment of time I could only continue to gaze out the window at the passing scenery and think to myself… If only I had the power to protect her.
Please do not copy this translation to any other place and link to this site instead.
If you feel anything requires clarification, feel free to contact me but please quote a few words so that I can find the part you are referring to easily. If you wish to make a correction, please quote the original Japanese and explain (constructively) why I am wrong.