In his junior high school days, Osakabe had fallen in love with his classmate, Takasaki Minako.
She belonged to the same photography club as me, and to put it bluntly, she was an untalkative girl who loved photography and cameras.
Walking around carrying an SLR camera she claimed she’d gotten from her parents, she was a girl with the characteristic quirk of—or rather, a sense for—photography.
She of course also took pictures with great deliberation, but sometimes her shutter clicked at random times.
“Why did you take a picture just now” I would ask, surprised, but even then she often wouldn’t respond except with a vague smile.
Over and over she took pictures of me as her subject.
Whenever I laughed and asked, “Doesn’t it bore you to take pictures of such a lame guy” she would retort, “Yep, so boring.” And then without any hesitation add, “But I want to challenge myself to see how beautiful of a picture I can take with such a bland subject.”
“Somehow I don’t think that’s a compliment,” I would complain.
“Nope, not a compliment,” she would answer bluntly.
After school, the two of us often wandered about with our cameras in hand.
In the nooks and corners of the school where no one else came.
At the closed-up shop, overgrown with moss and weeds.
The unmanned train station where only a handful of trains arrived each day.
The dim alleyway where only stray cats prowled.
We captured in our lenses countless pictures of melancholy scenes it seemed almost no one else approached.
By choosing the loneliest places possible, cutting it out and adding color to that scene, we may have been trying to justify our empty existences to each other.
Although I don’t remember the two of us ever speaking much, strangely enough it was never stifling.
I was certainly taken with her, and she had drawn close to me.
That’s how I perceived it.
In a city photography contest held at the end of summer, a photograph she had taken had been selected for the exhibition.
The photograph chosen had been one taken of me from behind.
The embarrassment of being on display in the city cultural center was indescribable.
She had gently smiled as I tore my hair out over it.
Even so, our relationship continued as a tenuous thing.
Forget sleeping together—we had never even held hands or kissed.
And of course there was no way I could confess my feelings for her.
Not close, and yet never far, we were the very definition of “It’s complicated.”1 For the two of us, out of place even in our classrooms, it may well have been a suitable distance.
Thinking back on it now, the fact I never thought to tell her how I felt may have been due to a hunch that I would lose it all.
Perhaps I was afraid—even if I harbored vaguely romantic feelings towards Minako, after moving and changing schools so many times, I knew sooner or later we would part ways.
And yet I—maybe even both of us—surely clung to regrets that we had not developed our relationship.
And so it may have been inevitable, on that day I found out I was transferring schools, that she would suggest writing letters.
“I’m going to write to you, so please write back,” she told me, her face looking—or was I just full of myself—a little flushed.
While today writing letters may seem a little outdated, at the time cell phones had only just started to become popular.
Of course to me, not having a cell phone of my own at the time, writing letters was in a sense very much like Minako, and so I laughed and agreed to her idea.
Just a few days after I left Morioka and moved to Saitama, the first letter from her arrived.
The letter began, “How are you Since you’ve left, I’ve started to miss you.”
We exchanged letters about twice a month, and gradually the contents of the letters, as we sounded each other out, began to grow more personal.
Memories from junior high school.
Stories from our new high schools.
Stories about our new classrooms, and about how hard it was to make friends.
Stories about our classmates and our homeroom teachers, as well as complaints.
About the photography clubs we both joined in high school—
As I kept writing letters to Minako, I was still unable to really fit in at my new school.
I didn’t have any friends in class, and I only continued to attend photography club out of habit.
I didn’t have anyone to confide in, and no one confided in me.
I fell into a funk, sometimes thinking how much better things were in junior high school.
Although it was truly no different than the rest of my life up until that point, losing Minako added a factor of instability—a void left where she used to be.
Likely my only comfort was that her situation was similar to my own.
A classroom with few friends.
A tedious home life, based on the contents of her letters.
Unending days of boredom.
But on the other hand, she had her hobby of photography, and seemed to find fulfillment in her club activities, and so I thought she must be better off than me.
That fact cast another shadow over my heart.
For this reason, I feared that Minako would find out about my hopeless state.
And so in my letters, I began dropping in, little by little, embellishments and tiny lies.
A version of myself that was succeeding just a little bit…
Yet I never once alluded to the existence of a girlfriend.
Somehow I must have been aware of the extent of my affection for Minako, and could infer that I felt some lingering attachment towards her.
As we continued writing letters, we both began sharing more and more intimate details.
Stories about our families.
Our dreams for the future.
And then, about love—
“Right now, there’s someone I’m interested in, but if someone asked me if my feelings were romantic, I wouldn’t know what to say.
Kengo-kun, what do you think about love”
“I don’t really know anything about love either.
But I think love most surely come in many different forms.
Treasuring certain items is a form of love, and spilling tears for a dead cat on the side of the road is another form of love, not to mention worrying yourself to tears over your family.
I think these are all forms of love.”
“That’s certainly a philosophical way of looking at things.
Somehow I don’t think love really suits a gloomy person like me.
I can’t imagine what kind of love would be appropriate for me.
And so I fret about it endlessly.”
“I think it’s best to live a life true to yourself.
Since I’ve started high school, I haven’t had many good things happen.
Every day is another day with nothing to look forward to.
But in spite of that, when I write letters to you, Minako, when I think of you, somehow I feel like my heart is at peace.
And so I think this must also be another form of love.”
“That’s only because of the letters, right You tell me some pretty sappy things.
But right now I’m glad.
Just as I told you before, ever since I entered high school, I haven’t made very many friends.
Nearly every day I remember our time together in the photography club in junior high school, and I’m filled with gratitude.
And so, I finally realized.
I loved you, Kengo-kun.2 This feeling is without a doubt, love.
If I could have any wish, it would be to see your face right now.
These are the feelings that well up inside of me.
Although, I’m sure you must be at a loss, being told all this just now…”
Right after this letter was delivered, my heart swung wildly between emotions.
I had come to realize my feelings towards Takasaki Minako had grown romantic, and in this instant I realized the feeling was likely mutual.
And yet, as much as I rejoiced, the situation was not so simple.
First of all, I had changed too much.
After entering high school, as mentioned before, I had missed out on the chance to make friends, and had transformed into an incredibly boring person.
Then in my letters, I had kept fabricating stories to hide how boring I really was.
The embellishments I had added had grown into larger and more powerful lies.
Secondly, as a result, I did not have the confidence to even come to grips with the straightforward affection Minako felt towards me.
I was afraid of disappointing her if at this point I revealed my true self.
Her roundabout hints at wanting to meet were terrifying.
I was incapable of facing her.
I began searching for excuses to run away, listing reason after reason.
I had gotten too busy studying to get into university.
I was not worthy of Minako.
The version of myself in my letters was different from the real me.
On and on…
The final reason was the distance between us.
It was 530 kilometers from Morioka to Saitama—even driving on the highway, the trip would take seven hours.
For a high schooler like me at the time, it was a rift that could not be bridged.
Building a relationship between the two of us at this stage would change nothing, I thought.
It would be a futile effort.
The moment I realized that, I quite simply stopped replying to her letters.
I expelled from my mind the negative feelings that had pessimistically fallen over my heart by trying to forget about Minako.
A month later, likely worried about the abrupt end to the letters, Minako sent another letter.
However, without even opening, or to be more precise, unable to muster the courage to open this letter, I stuffed it deep inside a drawer.
Thus, our relationship came to an end at last.
Dimly, caught halfway between dream and reality, he began to comprehend the objects coming into his field of vision.
He could see the wooden ceiling.
That’s right, this wasn’t his room back home.
As his awareness caught up to his thinking, he came to his senses.
Just then, the area around his chest grew painful, and he coughed violently.
He took a second to breathe, his shoulders rising and falling with each deep breath, and as he calmed down his mouth gradually closed to take in smaller breaths.
Once he had calmed down all the way, he laid a hand on his chest and let out one last big sigh.
A numbing headache and sluggish thoughts.
His back, soaked with night sweats.
Turning his gaze over the surroundings, he confirmed his whereabouts. …That’s right.
This is the guest house in Miyako. And he realized he had just woken up from an unpleasant dream.
Leaping up from his futon, Osakabe opened his suitcase and pulled out an old, brown envelope.
On the back was written an address in Morioka City and the sender’s name, “Takasaki Minako.”
The correspondence that had ended in the spring of his final year of high school.
The very last letter she had sent, still enclosed in its envelope.
He had no regrets about the past—or so he had thought.
But still unable to throw it away, the letter had become a symbol of his weakness.
Remembering the dream from a moment ago, he felt disgust from the bottom of his heart.
“Damn, what was that…” The swear tumbled from his lips.
Though he tried to force himself to open the letter, as expected fear welled up and stopped his hand.
Now is still not the time to open it. The pathetic excuse rattled around his mind.
In the end… cursing his own weakness that prevented him from opening the envelope, he stowed it back inside his bag once more.
But at the same time, his resolve hardened inside his heart.
He turned his gaze to the window outside.
Today’s weather was another beautiful day, without a single cloud.
The grating chorus of the cicadas intensified the heat even more. I can’t believe I was able to sleep like this, he thought, as if astonished by someone else’s actions.
Looking at the clock, the short hand already pointed close to noon.
To sleep so late, he must have been more exhausted than he thought last night.
He let out a small sigh and finally got up to change.
言葉通りに曖昧な関係 “It was literally an ambiguous relationship,” but I felt this spin captured the spirit of these two’s relationship, especially since the later mention of cell phones pretty explicitly dates them as millennials.
Though her exact confession uses 「~が好きでした」, “I liked you,” this can still be a pretty weighty confession in Japanese.
I adjusted the translation to take into consideration that weightiness and the surrounding conversation about love.