The two of them first headed for Jodogahama beach.
It was August, early afternoon.
On the sandy beach spread out under the clear sky, Osakabe could spy many beach-goers—clusters of colorful beach umbrellas and the occasional figure reclining on a beach towel.
He squinted up at the sun, blazing down as if releasing all its pent-up energy, and regretted not bringing a bathing suit.
Watch your step, the going’s a little rough.”
While Osakabe grimaced at the heat of the sand that slipped inside his shoes, they passed the beach and continued on to a part with many pebbles and rocks.
It was difficult to walk across the rugged terrain, but the girl in her sneakers nimbly wandered ahead with a practiced stride.
At last, when they reached the water’s edge, she stopped and pointed at a boulder in front of them.
“This is Takaiwa.
It’s called that because the top of the island resembles three hawks.
Seawater comes in from the lower-left side of this rock, so the water of Jodogahama is constantly cycling in and out, keeping it clean and beautiful.”
Pointing to the next rock, she continued her explanation.
“That is Eboshi-iwa.
While the other rocks are white, this is the only black one, right It’s called that because it looks exactly like an eboshi, those black hats that samurai and noblemen used to wear.”
“You really know the area well,” he said.
“Well, I am a local.” But she beamed a child-like smile at his praise.
While watching the girl continue to explain, with a faint blush in her cheeks, Osakabe couldn’t help but think: I’m on a beach, in a polo shirt and chino pants, with this girl in a straw hat and a white dress.
A guy and a girl, standing side-by-side—to anyone who sees us we must look like a couple.
Unexpectedly, it wasn’t so bad either, to be seen like that.
But at the same time, he cringed to think how conniving he was, moving on so easily after he had broken up with his girlfriend of several years just the other day.
Setting aside the tempting fantasy, the scenery was certainly beautiful.
The quiet ocean with gentle waves.
The forest of white rocks in the ultramarine ocean.
The evergreen trees growing along the tops of the boulders.
“Like Buddha’s Pure Land of the West”—what an elegant way to put it.
He remembered to point his camera and started taking picture after picture when the girl made a suggestion.
“If you came for pictures, I know a spot with an even more amazing view.
Do you want to check it out”
“Really Yes, please,” he answered.
She smiled with satisfaction.
“Right this way.”
Returning to the beach by which they had just come, they passed through an area of bare rock with precarious footing and from there climbed a road leading up to an observation deck.
“It’s a hard climb, so keppare—don’t give up!” Encouraged by her rustic cheers, he started up the sloping path.
Halfway up, the girl intentionally veered off the course and pushed her way through the undergrowth and into the trees.
The grass grew tall, and made walking difficult.
“Is it okay to leave the path” he asked in a concerned voice.
She looked back over her shoulder with a small murmur of realization.
Perfectly fine! It’s a trail left by some animals, but you can still walk it.
And you’ll be amazed when you get to the top.
You’ll get to see something completely different from the view on the observation deck.”
“Are you for real”
“It’s my special spot.”
She pressed a finger to her lips as she spoke, the corners of her mouth curving with mischief.
Swallowing down his growing unease, he decided to follow her in silence.
They continued for a few minutes on the uneven terrain.
The view that awaited when they arrived made all his worries up to that point disappear.
Forgetting the pain in his feet, Osakabe cried out in wonder and lost himself to the click of the shutter on his camera.
The heat was intolerable, but now he was honestly grateful for the day’s sunny weather.
The spot was closer to the ocean than the observation deck he could spy from the periphery of his vision, and amidst the trees a space had curiously opened up that allowed him to simply look out over a panorama of picturesque beauty.
Below his gaze, the water’s surface, spread out in a sparkling emerald green.
The white sand.
The white rocks.
The ocean’s gentle waves occasionally cresting in white caps.
Their colors embellished the scene.
It was entirely different from the view seen from down below.
The word felt cheap, but he could think of no other words worthy of praising it.
“Do you like it” the girl asked.
He nodded without thinking.
“Yeah, this is wonderful.”
“Brilliant kelp, the velvet of the sea, spread out glistening on the shore of Paradise.”
A curious expression appeared on Osakabe’s face as she recited the poem out of nowhere.
“This is the poem the author Miyazawa Kenji1 supposedly composed when he visited the area in 1917 and saw the pebble beaches used to dry kelp.”
“Wow, you really know your stuff.”
“Yeah, but you know, he changed the name from Jodogahama, the shores of the Pure Land, to Jakko no Hama, the shores of Paradise.
At the time, he had already devoted himself to the Lotus Sutra and was vehemently opposed to the Pure Land Buddhism his family had always believed in.”
“So there’s some cynicism towards his family’s beliefs in that poem as well.
When you interpret it that way, it gives you mixed feelings.”
But in the end, although family is certainly important, don’t you get the sense that believing in one’s own way of thinking is more important than anything else At least I think so… Osakabe-san, you’ve also probably faced all sorts of difficulties, right In order to live.”
“Well, I guess so.”
—One’s own way of thinking.
That hits somewhere quite painful, Osakabe thought.
When he retraced the whole series of events that led to him quitting his job a few months ago, he could not deny that his own weakness and immaturity were a factor.
And of course, he could find the cause in other factors, too.
His mental illness.
And related to those, his relationships with people at work, and the change in his emotions.
But in spite of it all, eventually he reached the conclusion that the largest factor was his mental incompetence arising from his own negligence.
At the end of the day, he had no choice but to confront and accept the fact that he had been left behind by everyone else.
Just as she said, it was only his own way of thinking.
His mood grew somber as he remembered his painful past.
“You may have suffered too, but you can’t let them win.”
“Huh” A sound that could not be called either a breath or a voice slipped from his mouth at her words, almost as if she’d read his mind.
“You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you”
“No, it’s just…”
“Perhaps, things aren’t going so well with your family”
“How do you…” he carelessly started to say, but he quickly held his tongue.
“What exactly are you saying”
“I think you’ll go on to face more hardship.
You may suffer even more than you have already.
But you will surely turn out okay, Osakabe-san.”
When he faced her, she was staring straight at him.
His confusion deepened more and more when faced with her earnest gaze.
At that, the girl laughed awkwardly and lowered her eyes.
“Life is not just an endless stream of good things.
Sometimes the wind and the waves rock the boat, and getting along with others is the same.
Not everyone close to you is on your side.
You might hear people whispering negative things behind your back.
But still you must persevere, to continue moving forward with your life.”
“That’s what I wanted to say,” she said, breaking into a smile.
“I understand less and less,” he said, trying to brush off or flee her comments, but her advice left ripples in his heart.
“I’m kidding,” she said, her gaze softening.
“I tried to trick you into opening up, but I’m not too far off the mark am I After all, you do have a deep wrinkle between your eyebrows.
That’s the kind people get when they spend all their time worrying.”
“Huh” Again his lame reaction slipped out, and Osakabe raised a hand to his face. Do I really make such a harsh scowl “Sorry.
I guess sulking is my bad habit.”
You should be careful.
Come on now, smile!”
She turned away while laughing and looked out to the horizon, as if staring past it.
Her longish hair danced in a sudden breeze.
She held her straw hat with one hand so it wouldn’t blow away, and her profile silhouetted against the blue sky.
Although her eyes didn’t have the coveted folded eyelid, they harbored a powerful light, he thought.
Then her slender, shapely nose.
Her white skin, reminding him of unseasonal snow, and her well-proportioned outline.
And inside that, her pretty eyes.
Seeing her like this, she was maybe quite beautiful.
As soon as he calmed his racing pulse, Osakabe stealthily framed her profile in his camera’s viewfinder.
Immediately, she turned towards him, and so he quickly averted his gaze.
Embarrassed that she would discern something from his startled expression, he awkwardly peered into his camera once more.
His heart leapt to hear his name suddenly.
“Don’t fall for me.”
He gasped in surprise.
It was almost as if she knew what he was thinking, even if it was just how beautiful she was.
If she hadn’t known, then he couldn’t understand what she was trying to say.
“That’s… what do you mean”
“Our existence rejoices for love that lasts a single summer.
But no matter how much we fall for each other, we will inevitably part ways.
Thus, we must not fall for each other.
This is a warning.”
Why is she saying this now Osakabe thought, taken aback.
If she hadn’t been so serious about what she was saying, he would have wanted to laugh it off.
But after seeing his startled expression, she snickered to herself.
“I told you, I’m just kidding.”
Feeling as if she had seen through his feelings that had come unexpectedly bubbling up, he could only bow his head. Ah, of course you are.
Miyazawa Kenji (1896-1933) was a Japanese novelist and poet, who lived in Hanamaki, not too far from Jodogahama.
He is most famous for his children’s story Night on the Galactic Railroad, which inspired the anime Galaxy Express 999.