Table of Contents:
Chapter 1 – A Chameleon That is Hiding Its True Feelings …9
Chapter 2 – A Penguin That Wants to Become a Swan …53
Chapter 3 – A Flamingo That Stands on One Foot …73
Chapter 4 – A Talkative Myna …129
Chapter 5 – A Cactus That Has a Needle Sticking Out of Its Heart …181
Chapter 6 – A Rabbit With Red Eyes After Staying Awake All Night …219
Chapter 7 – Somewhere in the Corner of the World, I’m Also Alive …243
Chapter 1 – A Chameleon That is Hiding Its True Feelings
Dear Nagasawa Motojirou-sama,
I did not know what I should do with your unexpected letter so at first I paid no attention to it, but I went back to it after a few days had passed, and as I gazed at it, flipping it over again and again, at last, after reading your letter over once again, I came to the decision to write a reply, although such a decision remains a mystery to the just-turned eighteen year old self of mine. Because the truth of the matter is, I know nothing about you. And yet, the letter was undoubtedly addressed to me. There’s nothing more strange than a sudden letter that is received from a person whom one has never met nor seen before, let alone actually writing a reply to such a letter.
When I asked my friends from the orphanage about this, one laughed it off saying it was something that was probably written out of feelings of pity for people in a position like ours, and that it was like a hobby for a person of excessive happiness who wants nothing more than to be of help to someone. The others suggested that it was like a light-hearted signal sent casually like one would an e-mail. Either that, or that it was an invitation for membership from a malicious religious organization, and they even went so far as to warn me against responding.
At first, I also held such suspicions. However, as dawn broke and morning came and the world once again began to show its lively movements…I don’t know why, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the single envelope that was simply resting on top of my desk — and I know this may sound strange when I say this — came from an estate trustee who sent it to me after searching the ends of the Earth for me.
When I thought it like that, the feelings of doubt from the previous night disappeared like magic. It goes without saying that it’s not that I’ve come to completely trust you since I am, just as you mentioned in your letter, a person who cannot trust others, so it is probably more accurate to say that I am writing you this letter without having completely thrown away my suspicions. However, after doubting and doubting and being all doubted out, I ended up once again unfolding your letter.
And as I gazed at the words that were neatly arranged on the page, I’m not sure if you could describe it as a strange feeling of warmth, or it might be better to call it a kind atmosphere, or you could even perhaps refer to it as an understanding concern or attention, oozed out of the letter, and I felt as if there were no ill intentions that existed from the letter itself. It’s not that I’ve confirmed this, but I felt a sudden peculiar temptation to it.
I know that calling it a “peculiar temptation” is an even stranger way to put it, but please don’t misunderstand: I don’t want you to think that I was drawn to your letter due to my loneliness. Of course, I am lonely — it is why I considered suicide. Leaving that aside for later, one motivating factor for writing a reply to your letter as I am doing now, is that despite the fact that you’ve never met me, you seem to know quite a bit about me.
How is it that you, who claims to have never been outside of Hokkaido, can guess so accurately my disposition? It cannot be described as anything other than odd.
Because I have lived in an orphanage for a very long time, I’m someone who is not very good at trusting others; this includes from a religious perspective. My life is one in which I’ve lived believing there is no God or Buddha — well, no, to be more precise: at least, for me there isn’t. It’s probably not that difficult for someone to point out that my inability to trust others stems from this belief, but you went one step further and to add:
“But in actuality, Ririka-san, you are someone who wants so badly to trust others.”
I hate to admit it, but you’re right. What someone like I, who has never trusted anyone in her life and who is incapable of trusting others, wishes from the bottom of my heart is — although I know how frightening and foolish of a thing it is — to be able to trust someone at least once in my life.
I have never loved anyone. And I’m not referring to a commonplace thing such as a sexual love, but rather, I mean more normally — well, you can imagine for yourself what could be defined as loving someone “normally” — at any rate, normally, just loving someone in general; I’ve never been able to do that.
Even towards the group of people in the institution who grew up under the same circumstances, I unfortunately do not hold even feelings of affection. This is why I have to say that for me to write a letter of reply to an unknown entity such as yourself is completely incomprehensible to me.
I’ve never even sent a reply to the letters that I sometimes receive from those I know. If it can be something that can be resolved by a phone call, I resolve it as such, and get things done that way.
It could perhaps be that I am writing this because I have never been told outright that I’m someone who wants so badly to trust others. I think another reason is that there was never a person to pitch such clear-cut words to a stubborn, warped-minded person like me.
You also wrote: “You think all humans are idiots. You think they are all filthy, and you think that humans were born to deceive others, and yet on the flip side, you are someone who has yet to give up the hope of being loved by someone.”
If you had left it at that, I probably would’ve disagreed. However, you added this next line: “But because you do not know how to turn that dream into a reality, you always think of dying.” Although I don’t want to admit to this last line either, you’re right.
I am not an outgoing person. But at the orphanage, if you had to place me in a category, I am probably seen as being one. Although I’m not cheerful, they judge from the surface, in other words, the affable exterior appearance — the mask — that I’ve been endowed with from birth, and the people around me, especially those who work at the Light of Stars Orphanage, have gone on and assumed that I’m a cheerful person. This has driven me to increasing aloneness—no, to further loneliness.
It’s not that I’m somber because I grew up in an orphanage. It’s just that I hate the word “love” to the point that I feel sick to my stomach just thinking about it. It may just be that I’m envious of the joviant and happy-go-lucky personality of the person who invented such a word.
I can’t help but lash out against these actions called “to love” or “to be loved.” But, I don’t rebel against it using violence like the normal lot. No matter what cruel abuse I’ve had to endure in the hands of the employees at the orphanage, I’ve never once attempted to escape from this place. All I did was turn a blind eye to the world around me.
But please, don’t take it the wrong way. It’s not that I just don’t understand love because I am a person who is without parents and who has been abandoned. I just don’t want to be placed in the same category as those pitiful beings who pretend as if they’re loved.
Because if you think about it, 99% of the world is made up of lies, and the figures of those who put on a happy face but entertain lies, and whom, although lonely, pretend not to be as they increase the number of e-mail friends, are so idiotic that I can’t even force myself to take pity on them.
You could also say that I am envious of those who can find solace in fake love. But if I have to put on a paper-thin mask that’ll one day be ripped away from me to reveal my true self anyway, it’s easier for me to live with my dirty, yet true face.
That’s what I’d always thought. That is why my longing towards death stems from death coaxing me with its beautiful notion of escaping from all that is fake.
You also wrote: To long for death is the same as to believe in love.
You also said that if that’s the case, I should try to find true love, and that I should try experiencing a life that is seeped in it.
It was just that I started feeling a bit curious about why you can say something like that, and about what kind of person you are with what kind of grounds you have for being so meddlesome — no, for showing me such sympathy. To be honest, as much as I am drawn to your letter, I also hold the same amount of anger towards it. I also felt a small chill run through me from imagining that there may be a massive malicious organization behind you and that I may be nothing more than a pitiful sheep who has been caught in a trap. Even if I have been caught in such a trap, the present me has nothing to lose. I think that’s why I am able to throw aside those fears to write you this reply.
Although a part of me is furious thinking how you should just mind your own business, another part of me feels a need to write a response to you.
For a person who has lived this kind of life, receiving a letter from someone I’ve never even met before is like the equivalent of receiving a wrong call, and at a first, I saw it as being almost a comical incident. To go one step further, I viewed it as nothing more than a scrap of entertainment for this uneventful and boring life of mine. I first read your letter in part contempt, and the orphanage friends of mine and I went so far as to make fun of and belittle it. In this way, I didn’t even attempt to read the letter closely before tossing it aside on my desk, and it’d gotten to a point that I had almost completely forgotten about its existence.
So why is it that I wasn’t capable of ripping your letter to shreds and throwing it away? Foolish as it may be, it is because the reality of the situation is, I had become intrigued by your letter. Once I opened up your letter for the second time, I read it again and again until the words burned into my retina, and that was the point at which I began to write this letter as I am doing now.
Once I started writing, I don’t know why, but I felt as if a burden had been lifted. It would be too much of an exaggeration to say that I feel as if I was able to become more honest, but as someone who has lived her life bottling up all the things she wants to say inside the pit of her stomach instead of saying them out loud, I feel like I’ve been saved–if only just a tiny bit.
To go back to an earlier topic, I’ve been possessed by this thing called “death” lately, and it has only been a month since I caused an uproar after attempting suicide. Since the start of this year, I’ve thought of killing myself dozens of times. The first time I actually attempted it though was last month, and although death seems at first to be something that comes easily, it appears it’s not something that will take you to the other side unless you go through a complicated procedure — it’s definitely not as simple as it seems.
The part of the letter where you said: “To long for death is the same as to believe in love” pierced my heart. It is a complex line that normal people would probably find extremely difficult to comprehend, but in my current position, the meaning behind such words comes easily. In other words, it is because I did not have the courage to believe in love that I tried to choose the quick and easy conclusion of “death,” although I unfortunately (or should it be “fortunately”?), messed it up.
I’ve only ever seen how one’s wrists are cut in scenes from movies, so there was no way to know exactly how to go about doing it the right way. I only had death on my mind, and before I knew it, I had made cuts that ran along approximately five centimetres across my wrists with a retractable knife. But as I found out, people can’t die from something like that. I know this is an odd thing to say, but humans are pretty tough beings, don’t you think? There was also the fact that I was discovered early.
The others at the orphanage had harsh things to say about what I had done, saying that my actions were nothing more than an attempt to elicit sympathy from others. I guess it can’t be helped to be accused of something like that, since I did cut my wrists in the shared bathroom, and after I had done so, I was at a loss of what to do next, so I just crouched down there, and that was where one of the people who worked at the orphanage found me and promptly called the ambulance. From there, I was taken to the hospital, and because the knife had not gone so deep as to cut an artery, I was not badly injured, but because I had bled quite a bit, I stayed overnight at the hospital.
The head of the orphanage had apparently reported what had happened to the police as being nothing more than an accident as a way to cover up the fact that it had been an attempted suicide, and my first suicide attempt ended with the incident being buried in darkness. The reason for this being that as of late, the Light of the Stars Orphanage is experiencing hardships from being attacked by the press for the abuse the children here have endured for many years at the hands of the head as well as several employees. They feared that if word about my incident got out, it would only serve as ammunition for another line of attack from the press. I know that that this isn’t something that I need to share with you, but since I was a child, abuse has been an everyday affair at the orphanage, and while living under the power of the tyrant, head Sasaki, who doesn’t treat humans as humans, the children lived day-in-day-out in fear, and one after another, they ran away. Among them, there were some who went to the newspaper office, and after explaining to them the circumstances, their story was written up in articles by the press some time last year, and it looks as if those working at the orphanage are now heading in the direction of exercising restraint against abusing the children.
You must be wondering why the abuse wasn’t discovered until they had gone to the newspaper office, but even if a child ran away to seek help at a district or town child guidance clinic (in the past, we’ve also even written to the Governor of Tokyo) or at a police station, not only did they not respond appropriately to our cries of help, they did not believe what we were telling them, and those who had run away would be brought back once again to the orphanage where they would find themselves having to face even worse abuse because of what they had done.
Because it was an endless repetition of such events, I always thought that it didn’t matter if I died. I didn’t do it as a form of resistance. It was the last-resort measure for a person who was giving the silent treatment to society itself.
The funny thing is, I was not yelled at for my suicide attempt. On the contrary, due to the effectiveness of the assessment that the possibility of another suicide attempt at an important time like this would work against them, even the ogre-like head of the orphanage has taken a “let sleeping dogs lie” stance to the situation, and he has gone out of his way to be pleasant to me.
Another reason for this may also be because I am the oldest one at this orphanage. I guess this just means that I’ve reached an age in which society has begun to take seriously the things that I have to say.
However, it’s not that I tried to die to protest the abuse that was happening within the orphanage. My wish to die stemmed from the hopelessness I felt towards human beings themselves, and although it is true that there was some influence from the life I led here, in my opinion, the hatred I feel towards the parents who abandoned me and society as a whole eclipses the impact of any abuse I endured here.
Oh, but I still haven’t sorted out my feelings when it comes to why I’m writing such a long letter to someone like you, whom I’ve never even met before. It must be because I’m lonely. I’m probably playing right into your hands. It must be that I am at such a point of loneliness that I am willing to risk divulging every detail of my life to you, who may be a member of a malicious religious organization. Am I someone who should be pitied? My heart and nerves and soul have become so numb that they won’t do as I say.
Should I mail this letter? Although I’ve written it, I don’t even know if I should. Who are you really? Why did you send a letter addressed to me? Not that it matters now, but I’m still curious to know. However, since I’m not very good at waiting for replies, I don’t plan on awaiting your reply. I just tried writing out this letter with the sense that I’m simply throwing my feelings out into space somewhere. Just that — nothing more. It’s just a meaningless letter.
I don’t know if it is because this is the longest letter that I’ve ever written, but it took quite a while for me to write this. I had to open up the dictionary numerous times, and perhaps its because I had to look up kanji that I’m not used to writing, but I think my writing might be a bit hard to read because of it. Please forgive my sloppy writing.
Dispensing with the preliminaries—
Before I answer the question as to who I am, I think I should first explain why I wrote a letter addressed to you. Shortly after your suicide attempt, I received a single letter from a staff member from the Light of Stars Orphanage. The content read that she wished for me to write you a letter to cheer you up. She had written in detail the circumstances of your attempted suicide and in addition, she also wrote how you were usually a quiet, intelligent child who achieves high grades.
To be perfectly honest, I also grew up in an orphanage. Currently, I am working as an operator of an aerial tramway in Hakodate Mountains, but when I was 5, I was abandoned by my parents, and I was taken in by the Friendship Orphanage in Hakodate. About five years ago, I obtained a full-time position in a company called Hakodate Mountains Aerial Tramway Corporation.
Even though I’m an operator, there is no driver’s seat in a gondola. Rather, my job is to watch and operate the ascending or descending gondola from the operator’s room with the beautiful view that’s located at Fumoto station. And my job isn’t all about operating gondolas either. When I’m not operating it, I also guide the customers who are getting on and off at the Sanchou or Fumoto station. At any rate, it’s my job to make sure that the gondola ascends and descends safely to the top or bottom.
To get back to the original topic, the staff member who asked if I would be your friend was a former co-worker of a staff member who works at the orphanage in which I grew up. It was about a month ago that the former teacher of mine from the orphanage received the letter addressed to me which explained how there was a girl who had circumstances as such and asked if I would be able to share my feelings with her and cheer her up, almost as a big brother would. So in other words, this letter was written shortly after your attempted suicide. I don’t know why I was chosen, but this talk made its way to me. My guess is that this was because I had had a similar experience (this is referring to suicide attempts), and when I was around your age, I had made repeated unsuccessful attempts to kill myself. I was moved by this staff member’s passion, so I offered myself for the role if she really thought I could be of help.
However, in actuality, while I was writing the letter, I became fed up with this meddlesome personality of mine. Because if you think about it, there’s nothing more difficult or troublesome than cheering up someone whom one has never even met before.
I felt a bit ashamed at my conceitedness and lack of responsibility for so easily taking on such a task. Perhaps this was why it took me two days to finish writing my first letter.
If you call me meddlesome, then I am admittedly so, and if you say that I am coming across as a member of a malicious religious organization, you may be right. But at the very least, I want you to know that the world isn’t as terrible a place as you think it to be. I also wish for you to know that your orphanage isn’t completely made up of terrible people.
Although the staff member who contacted me asked me repeatedly to keep her identity a secret, it’s difficult to keep the circumstances of how I came to write to you a secret from you. Because anyone who suddenly receives a letter like that would be surprised and think “What is this?” and they’d become suspicious, don’t you agree? And one of these days, her identity was going to be revealed anyway, so I thought it wise to just open up about the details early on. I am revealing this at my own discretion, but this staff member is someone you are very well acquainted with— Mihara Noriko-san.
And because I have never met her in real life, I can only judge from her letter, but she seemed genuinely worried about you. It appears that she wanted you, who has few friends and who is always off on her own reading a book, to have a way to be connected to the world by bringing you together with an older confidant who has grown up in similar circumstances who can understand your feelings and who is similar to you in age. I guess you’re right that there really was a plot in all this. It’s true. But please don’t put the wrong slant on this– Mihara-san thought things through as best as she could, and this was the plan she finally came up with. And from my point of view, I am not writing this letter volunteer driven out of support for this plan. I am writing this letter (although I am exaggerating this part slightly) with feelings like that I would have towards a younger sister hoping that I (who, although slightly older, has had similar experiences in life) could help you, who is young and who is still leading the same kind of life.
Although this turned out to be quite a long explanation, I wonder if this has given you a better understanding of the circumstances behind why I wrote a letter to you?
At any rate, Mihara-san is the person whom you are closest with at the orphanage, is she not? But since you wrote in your reply that you don’t trust anyone, perhaps this was just a one-sided assumption on Mihara-san’s part. At the very least, however, Mihara-san said you two were very close. She also mentioned to me of the troubles of the person in charge, as well as the issues with the constitution of the orphanage. She also confessed that due to her powerlessness, she wasn’t always able to protect the children. From reading the neatly written letter that she sent to me, I truly believe that she is someone that one can trust.
In half a year, you’ll be of an age when you will have to leave the orphanage, right? Mihara-san was worried about what will happen after you graduate, because she will no longer be able to watch over you. This was how she came to this idea that by you having a confidant, it might be able to serve as some kind of stopper, since she didn’t know if you might decide to attempt suicide again. I think she is consumed with worry about you, who tried to commit suicide without trying to reach out to her for help first. In your view, she may only be sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong, but her contacting me must have been her way of showing concern for your future.
Since with this, I have told you all the circumstances behind why I wrote a letter to you, have I hurt your feelings? Although I am a bit concerned that I may have hurt your pride, to be honest, that letter that I addressed to you wasn’t really a letter that I wrote to cheer you up– it was more rather a letter addressed to the me who tried to die when I was eighteen. Back then, I was pretty cut off from the world around me, and I couldn’t open up to anyone. That’s why, when I wrote: “To long for death is the same as to believe in love,” it was actually something I wanted to say to the me back then, to say that was exactly how I was then.
I took advantage of Mihara-san’s request, either that, or of this coincidental encounter with you, to say to the eighteen year old me who felt utterly alone from the currently 23 year old adult that I’ve become, that in actuality, I was someone who always hoped to be able to trust someone.
Similar cases of abuse also occurred in the orphanage in which I grew up. If I had to be placed in one category or another, I’m someone who knows how to get along in the world pretty well, so I never experienced that severe of a punishment growing up, so I wasn’t the type to always be whining about the conditions of my life, but as I watched the other children being abused, I felt empty-hearted. I couldn’t help but feel as if the abuse that they were enduring was like a sword being slashed in my very direction, and I became fed up with life. At that time though, I didn’t know what it was that led me to seek death. It wasn’t something so straightforward as loneliness — I’m not sure how to put it exactly, but I felt as if I were a can filled to the brim with nothingness or emptiness.
It’s when I got out into society that I became a little, I guess you could say overly forward — or if you put a positive spin on things, I guess you could say able to have a positive outlook on life. I think this was probably due to the good people that I’ve met in the company which I am still a part of. Thanks to the blessed meetings within the company, since then, I have not once considered suicide. I think it’s because I was able to think that the society which accepts me does indeed exist. The job as an aerial tramway operator was the first place to belong that I, who had never had a place to truly belong, was given, so I truly believe this job is a calling of sorts. Currently I am normally –that’s right– I truly am able to live normally.
That’s why I thought that perhaps I might be able to understand at least a little of your feelings, and that I might be able to be able to help you in some way.
It’s true I’m soft-hearted, and I do have a personality that makes it impossible to ignore someone who seems to be living under vaguely similar circumstances, but please understand first and foremost that I did not write the letter to you as a way of pitying you or of deceiving you.
I know I didn’t do a very good job explaining things, so I can only pray that my feelings reach you.
If it is all right with you, would you like to continue exchanging letters for a short while?
It’s not so that I can give myself airs as a senior or as a way of saying we should become friends because we are both alike in that we both grew up without parents. It’s just that I feel as if this is a kind of fate of sorts.
A fate of sorts.
When you imagine how many hundreds and millions of people are on this earth, doesn’t this fill you with wonder? To be able to meet each other with those kinds of odds— I can’t help but think that this is a turn of Fortune’s wheel– a destiny of sorts. For you to write a response to me came about from this fortunate chance, don’t you think? I’ve begun to think that it is something that I, personally, should treasure.
Do you have someone with whom you can say what you truly want to say? I’ve never had a friend like that. Ever since I started this job, I’ve made many friends in this company as well as on the outside. I suffered during the time I was contemplating death because I couldn’t open up about my true feelings to anyone. Although you are someone whom I’ve never met before, I, as someone who can speak from personal experience, would like to tell you that one day, after you have escaped the temptation of death, you’ll discover a world in which you will be glad that you are still alive to experience. Although I know this is very meddling of me to say this…
Now, I can truly say from the bottom of my heart that I am glad that I’m alive. I want to get across these feelings to you, and I would also like to get across to you that your life has only just begun.
Because I am someone who is all alone in this wide, wide world, I think it would be great if I can eventually think of you as someone like a sister. I would like to exchange letters with you with that extent of feelings invested.
We could just e-mail each other, which is the popular way of communicating these days, but letters have a…how should I put it? It’s something that you can touch — at any rate, it’s something that’ll leave a trace, right? It’s something that you can take out from the drawer and gaze at, flip over and smell, and you can even sense the sender’s feelings at that time from their handwriting. Because I would like to treasure all that as much as possible, I’d like to exchange letters with you rather than e-mails. I also think that the bothersome factor of always having to go to the post office to send the letter is something that is important.
However, since just a normal correspondence would be boring, may I suggest that we try out a little experiment? I have worries in life also, and I also have times when I want to open up to someone about the truth– so what do you say that we use this correspondence as a way of creating a secret between the two of us?
In other words, we’ll be making a promise to tell each other in our letters things that we can’t tell anyone else. Oh- this is a pretty good idea. I know this is odd to say since I was the one who wrote this down, but I felt a pleasant shiver down my spine from this spur-of-the-moment idea.
Since we’ve never met each other, I don’t think there’s anything for either of us to fear. You are almost graduating soon, and even though we do have the link of the third party named Mihara-sensei and my former teacher who allowed us to meet, once you’re out in society, those who work at the orphanage will have no influence on you.
Is it possible for complete strangers to talk to each other about only the truth? It’s true that we might not be able to open up to each other at once, but I’d like to try to try to share secrets with you over time.
This is just an example, but what do you think about this idea? We can set up one clear-cut rule: a rule that says we must never meet. This might sound like a ridiculous rule, but I think it’d be fun.
We can both think of this correspondence as being a letter exchange with outer space. If we think that we could meet each other at any point, one of us may develop feelings of love towards the other, and I’m scared of this relationship falling apart. You might never fall in love with me, but even if I were to fall for you, if we make a promise in the beginning that we’ll never meet, I think we wouldn’t even consider looking at each other in such a light. Then, we could maintain a happy relationship that remains truly limited to letters alone. I think that is the one and only way in which we can transcend the gender of man and woman to become true friends.
It’s when people meet face-to-face that problems arise, so if we don’t meet — no, if we promise not to from the very beginning — we’ll be able to achieve a true heart-to-heart exchange. I think this is a wonderful idea in constructing a pure relationship.
This correspondence might continue on for the rest of our lives. Even if it is taking a bit of a high-handed attitude to say something will continue on forever, even if this exchange only continues on as long as the mood strikes us, I think that’s fine as well. I still haven’t found a friend with whom I can tell everything about myself. Perhaps this can’t be helped since I’m still only 23 years old, but I can’t help but long for a friend to whom my heart is linked. And don’t you think it’s a mysterious, wonderful and romantic concept to never meet the person who knows everything about you and whom you know everything about?
If you are willing to jump on board to this idea, I would like to think about putting this crazy idea to action.
Well then, I’ll confess some things to you that I’ve never opened up to to anyone else. First off, I’ve attempted suicide five times. The last time was when I was in grade twelve and that time, I swallowed a large amount of sleeping pills and wavered between life and death for three days.
But this isn’t really a secret, since it was written up in the local paper and those around me are vaguely aware of it. Okay then, how about this? I’ve never gone out with anyone yet. I have been confessed to in the past. It’s only once in a while, but there are women who tell me that they like me, although I don’t know what kind of misunderstanding made them come to such a conclusion. But not once did it ever lead to love. And in this point in time, I’ve yet to ever fall in love with anyone either. Perhaps it’s because of this personality of mine that makes me nervous when I’m face to face with women. Although in letters, I’m able to get across my thoughts fluently like this, I can’t when it’s face-to-face. That’s why — and I know it’s odd to say this — at the age of 23 years old, I am still a virgin.
I never thought I would write something like this in my second letter to you. But to keep true to the promise, I have to be prepared to confess something like this, since after all, it is my wish that we can become close enough to be able to speak in truth alone.
It’s not that I am not able to trust anyone nor am not capable of loving someone, like you said about yourself. I am not so firmly shut as that. It’s that, although I desperately want to love someone, I still haven’t managed to connect well with anyone. I guess I’m just awkward like that. I also think it’s probably more accurate to say not that you’re not capable of love, but just that you haven’t figured out how to love. It’s the same case for me. This is my true self.
I’ll be waiting for your reply. When the mood strikes you — and you need only write me a reply when that happens — please feel free to write to me.
Although this has turned into quite a long letter, I think I will put my pen down here for today. There is a part of me that hopes that you will understand my feelings— since after all, you’re someone who wants so much to trust others.
Dear Nagasawa Motojirou-sama,
I apologize for my late reply. Although you suddenly brought up this idea of writing letters to each other, I’d never been asked to do something like that and not only that, but when I thought of how this all came about due to (and I say this with a hint of sarcasm) Mihara-sensei’s prompting, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable and troubled by such a notion.
It’s true that compared to the other vicious workers at the Light of Stars Orphanage, she’s on the more decent side, but I just couldn’t wrap my mind around her being that worried about me, even though I know that once you start questioning a person’s intentions, it’s limitless. It’s true though that I have grown, and our current relationship is pretty good, but back when I was in elementary school, she was a very spiteful person. Every time she beat me, she would defend her actions saying that it’s because she was treating me as a mother would that she could get truly mad at me like this. Since I was the one who rebelled first, I can understand what would make her want to hit me, but the small scar that I have on my right cheek was one that she caused after stabbing me with a pencil when I was in grade three. There are times when she’s nice and times when she suddenly changes character, and I still haven’t figured out which one is her real face. Well, since it’s almost time for me to say goodbye to this orphanage, that doesn’t really matter now.
However, because this is so, I couldn’t help but suspect that she had an ulterior motive for linking us together; for example, it’s true that it would reflect badly on them if I kill myself when the orphanage is facing criticism from the community for the abuse that happens here. I couldn’t help but imagine that her request to you stemmed from something behind the scenes. Since after all, there are rumours going around at the orphanage that she’s romantically involved with the director of the orphanage. However, it is a rumour, and I don’t know for sure if that is actually the case.
Since there is no end once you start becoming suspicious of someone, I decided to just try asking her directly, and I also talked to her about how I had received a letter from you. She was honest with me and explained to me that she found a kind person who is around the same age as me to whom I could talk because she was worried about me, and she confessed to her involvement on the matter. She even had tears in her eyes when she went on to add that she wanted me to live strongly and not think about suicide, and that she was aware that she went a little too far by doing something like this. Without meaning to, I snapped at her saying how she should just mind her own business.
For some time, I firmly told myself that I wouldn’t fall for her trap, but after two days had passed, I took out your letters from my desk and read over the contents once again– no, actually, I read your two letters over and over again until dawn broke. As I was reading your letters, unrelated to her intentions, I began to feel a desire to continue my correspondence with you. This feeling took a hold on me and refused to let me go all day. And today, I could no longer hold myself back and after returning from school, I started writing a reply to you as I am doing now.
The reason for why I am writing is not because I’m lonely and I just want someone who will listen to my feelings. I don’t think I’m that pitiful. However, although I don’t know a good way to put it, at any rate, there is no denying that a deep need to write a response sprouted from within my heart. I couldn’t help but feel as if writing a reply was something important that I needed to do— as if by doing so, I was trying to find a small light of hope from such an action.
Although I am vexed at the thought of going along as Mihara-sensei intended, at the same time (even though I’m not quite sure why), there is no denying that I have developed a small feeling of hope in the letter correspondence with you, who claims to have grown up under similar circumstances.
In addition, I am also in agreement with the rule you proposed in the second letter you wrote to me. I think your idea of never meeting is a wonderful one. For you to exist only within our correspondence has embedded in that idea the meaning that I am able to communicate with you in a place outside of this dirty world, and for someone like me, who has lived in the world of humans without a place to belong, it is an idea that allows me to feel at ease.
I think that it is precisely because we cannot easily see each other that we will be able to speak only in truth. This is why I think the other idea you had about cultivating a relationship in which we only communicate in truths is another wonderful idea. Although I thought the idea so strange at first that I couldn’t help but laugh, if we truly can have such a relationship, it will be the greatest accomplishment that I have been able to achieve in my life thus far. For someone like me, who cannot trust others, to be able to speak to someone about nothing but the truth, is something that can only be realized from the fulfillment of the promise never to meet. At this current place and time, a part of me wants to make such a gamble.
By following the words written down in your letter, I will be able to directly come in contact with your heart. From every word and every line that is neatly stacked on top of one another within the writing, I will be able to observe every precious contour of your character.
However, at the same time, I feel afraid because I can’t help but feel that if we were ever to meet face-to-face somewhere, in that instant, we’ll be dragged down by this thing called reality, and this sublime relationship will be destroyed. Because of this, if it really is possible never to meet, I would be happy to continue our correspondence. But we must keep this promise at all costs. If either of us are ever to break our promise, then that is the point that this correspondence ends. We must be prepared to agree to something like that from the very beginning.
When I think about it though, it’s very hard to speak truthfully. I can’t figure out right away how or where I should begin— because if you think about it, “the truth” seems to be something that’s easily found, but it’s not, is it? It’s not uncommon to find that the things you thought were the truth turn out to be a lie or a falsehood, and because I’m still not mature as a human being, I still haven’t figured out what would be considered the truth.
That being said, to have someone to whom I can speak truthfully has a ring to it that I can’t help but admire. Until now, I haven’t had a friend with whom I have been able to have that kind of relationship. Even when I trust them and open up to them, they always end up spilling the information to others. I’ve experienced that quite a few times and so, I’ve ended up living my life until now without ever truly opening myself up to anyone.
One day, a thought struck me. Could it be that although the “truth” exists, the moment you tell it to someone, it ceases to remain so, and it is something that will only one day disappear?
This is why I became a person of few words. This is so I could protect the truth. Because by not telling anyone the truth, I was able to put a stop to the truth disappearing. I thought the reason why people lost their sense of selves was because they so easily spoke the truth to others.
However, one day, I was astonished. This was something that I noticed while watching others at the orphanage talking on and on about mindless matters from the corner of my eye. I realized that they weren’t talking seriously– that is, they were not uttering one word of truth. Because they were not serious, what they were saying were, without question, not the truth. It is because they tell each other lies that they haven’t crumbled, and it is because they deceive each other that they have been able to maintain their current relationships. They were living their days deceiving one another by mixing a large dose of unobtrusive lies within the facts. I thought that that kind of performance wasn’t something that I could mimic, so I became increasingly awkward and I clammed up. That’s when they got it in their minds that they were being ignored, and they misunderstood this as me closing my heart off from them and distanced themselves from me. There even started those who began to harass me, and there was a time when I was suffering because of my loneliness, and I was leading a difficult day-to-day existence. At first, I thought that the problem was that I wasn’t good at lying, and I tried talking nonsense like the rest of them, but in the end, I wasn’t capable of even doing that and I became increasingly isolated.
What saved me were books. The infinite number of books which are piled high on top of one another in the library. They were the true friends who would never open their doors unless I took them in my hands out of my own will. There was never a time that they lied to me– no, it’s actually the complete opposite. A good book was of an authenticity that was made up completely of lies. It is through these books that I was able to know the beauty of life. That was around the time that solitude became a friend of mine.
And via these books, I learned the trick to playing alone. With time, solitude became more and more fun. I also began to realize that not all of the books in the library were perfect. Right around the time I was almost about finished reading all the books in the library, I began to realize that there were duds among the gems. However, even those duds were interesting in their own way. I know this is impudent of me to do so, but when I read a book, I do so while criticizing its weak points, and I enjoy doing this as one might playing a game.
Thanks to these books, I, who’d always hated studying, became able to maintain a relatively high position in the grade ranking in a number of subjects. I didn’t even have to study–the information just naturally stacked on top of one another and that in itself was fun, and I began to put effort into my studies.
But after I’ve graduated the high school that I am currently attending, I will not advance to university. Although there were any number of universities I could have gotten accepted to from recommendations, since private universities cost quite a bit, I decided not to. It is the same for public universities too. Although everyone says it doesn’t cost that much, I think they are able to say something like that because they are people who have grown up in normal households. Although the teachers at the orphanage tell me that if I wanted to, I could attend night school or attend while working part-time, but I don’t know how to put it…but I hate this world in which one cannot survive unless he or she graduates from university. I absolutely hate socially accepted ideas that people accept for face value like how women must get married and have children by a certain age. In my eyes, I see it as the ugliest rule above all. I can’t help but think it is something that robs a person of their freedom and ties them down needlessly.
This is why I decided not to advance on to university but rather, chose the path towards full-time employment. Although I like studying, I don’t think university is the only place where one can learn. I want to learn about my own life while working. I don’t have a great ambition or the desire to want to hold a background of having graduated from a university. All I want is to be happy. If I can be happy, I’ll probably be willing to do anything. Because I was born in misery, my current goal is to be happy. The thought of committing suicide came about from the despair I felt that that wasn’t possible, but in the end, because I did not know how I could lead a happy life, I tried to choose the easy path of death. It was like a sudden fit that overcame me.
I am thinking of becoming a childcare worker. I’ve already acquired the license for it after secretly attending a correspondence school. To acquire the license while I was still attending high school wasn’t an easy feat. I think it was even harder than it would have been to study for the university entrance examinations. It is a license that I finally made mine after much hard work.
I still haven’t been able to sort out in my mind exactly what made a person like me, who was abandoned by her parents, choose a path like childcare, so I can’t pin point and say this is exactly what made me decide on this career choice, but I think it is partly because I was able to think that this is a job in which I will be able to come into contact with the happiness of many. And although you might be inclined to think that because I am an orphan, I would want to live my life without seeing that kind of happiness, I’m not like that. I wanted the preschool children, who grew up with plenty of love from their parents, to somehow share their happiness with me. By being in contact with the angel-like children who were born from blissful parents who have only just recently married, I thought I could capture the true nature of the love that I have never experienced.
I have a feeling that just being in that kind of place is enough to feel that happiness, and by interacting with the children, I thought that I might be able to fill the void in my heart, because children are pure, right? I thought that if it were in front of them, I’d be able to show my true self. Since it is a career I’ll have for the rest of my life, I wanted it to have a workplace in which I am capable of showing my true self to others.
With regards to this matter, I’ve yet to speak about it to anyone. My high school teachers are desperately trying to convince me to advance to university. They keep saying how there are schools that would even offer scholarships. Although my high school is a public one, it’s a school that has a high rate of advancement into university, so to maintain that, they want to get me to go to university at all costs. If they find out that a student of theirs who ranks high up in the grade rankings dreams of becoming a child career in a preschool, they’ll probably be taken aback.
But I think that is a wrong way of thinking. Although this is quite an exaggerated statement, the job of a childcare worker is an important one that is even capable of steering the nation. I don’t want to waste my life just so that the school can maintain its outward appearance. Although it is possible to think of getting back at the world by landing a job that has a high salary and that everyone would be envious of, I don’t want my life to end up a lonely one from such a needless and worthless ambition.
One teacher told me that to not go to university when you have the abilities is something that only a person who is throwing their life away would do. Do you think that’s true? Is a university degree something that important?
If you graduate from a good university, you might be called an exceptional person, but what use is that to a person’s life? All I want is happiness. I hold in contempt the way of thinking in which gaining academic qualifications is thought to add luster to one’s life, or to acquire your ranking in life.
I want to search for meaning in my life by interacting with the preschool children. What are your thoughts on this, Motojirou-san? Please share with me your thoughts. It doesn’t matter if your opinion is one that will make me feel dispirited. I am waiting for your thoughts that are void of lies or artificiality.
Dear Toono Ririka-sama,
Please forgive me for not being able to reply right away. The first snow of the winter fell upon Hakodate Mountains and because it turned out to be quite a heavy snowfall, I was swamped with unexpected tasks these last few days. The Hakodate town enclosed in snow differs from the sparkling Hakodate during the summer time, and within the sorrow lies hidden a fleeting beauty– it is seeped in a sadness that cannot really be expressed in words.
I know this is odd for someone like me who has a job as an aerial tramway operator to say, but Hakodate has changed quite a bit compared to when I was a child because of the expansion of the tourism sector. Although the hustle and bustle around the train station and Motomachi area might be a good thing since it has revitalized the quiet town, at the same time, I can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness seeing the neatly re-painted walls of the church, the rebuilt stone steps, and the storehouses made of brick that has been newly decorated with the latest fashion– a feeling like one might feel seeing a pavilion being built impromptu to serve as an exhibition hall.
I am not in support of Hakodate tilting sharply in the direction of becoming a tourist town because of the concerns the community feels about the financial difficulties and the outward flow of the population. It is my view that if they want to develop the place as a tourist destination, they should at least develop the town with more emphasis on its historic atmosphere. I think this because I love this town. What this town has to boast to the world is not its part as a tourism spot but rather, its simple and modest appearance. This is why the winter scenery of the Hakodate engulfed in snow that covers up the excessive development of the tourist sector is Hakodate at its most beautiful.
As I gaze down from Sanchou station at the town that looks like a small miniature town built on sand, my heart aches. Considering the fact that I was born in this town and will die in the same town, I cannot help feeling sorrow — as if my whole life were reflected upon this northern port town surrounded by the ocean.
The orphaned me was taken in and raised by new parents around the time I was in junior high. Although I don’t know anything about my real parents, my new mother and father are both kind people, and in this aspect, I guess you could say I was a little more blessed than you. During the summer of grade 10, my father passed away, and currently, I am living together with my mother.
Although we aren’t related by blood, now, I feel she is more of a mother to me than my real mother ever was. Although there was quite a bit of things that happened in the past for my feelings to have strengthened to such a point, with regards to that, I will talk more about it another time. The reason why I am able to work at the ropeway is because my father had worked there as an operator. Compared to Tokyo, this town is a small one, and there aren’t that many choices one can choose from in life. Although there is a big choice one came make on whether to move to Tokyo or to remain here, it was my view that to leave my mother alone here would have been going against repaying her for her kindness. This is why I did not hesitate in taking up the offer of employment that I received from the person from the company to which my father was employed. That person was a co-worker of my father’s back in the day, and currently, he is in charge of staff matters. He was also a high school classmate of my mother’s, and from these connections, I was able to take on the responsibility of a part of the tourist industry here.
One reason for having given up the idea of advancing onto university was that I didn’t want to place unnecessary burden on my parents. Also, I didn’t want to put to waste the kindness of the person who was not only a friend of my father’s, but who had also introduced me to this job. My orientation towards relying on other people’s help may come as a surprise to someone like you, who is trying to carve out a life for herself, but because I know that I was able to grow up as I have because I have these connections with others, as long as I plan to stay in this town until the day I die, I knew that I could not just ignore these relationships. This is why I did not consider advancing to university from the get-go, and this is why I ended up taking up full-time employment with the Hakodate Mountains Aerial Tramway Corporation.
I think there was also the fact of the difference between growing up in a small city and living in a large city. In the countryside, although there is a laid-back atmosphere, on the other hand, having a close relationship with those around oneself and having a deep connection to customs influence the shaping of one’s future. When it comes to loneliness, it is completely different compared to the big city, but it would be too hasty of a conclusion to say that one “wouldn’t feel as lonely in the countryside as one would in the big city.” This is because the countryside is a world in which one cannot exist unless you maintain the relationships with the people you have come into contact with. I think there is also the bad luck of always having to come into contact with the same faces. If this were the big city, one could probably move to the next town over for a change of pace, but here, whether it be that you’re going out drinking or going out to eat, there will always be someone you recognize there, so in a certain sense, there is no such thing as rumours here. Although it is a frightening thought, it is a town in which everyone knows everything.
I don’t know which is better. For that reason, there is a part of me that made up my mind back when I was still a child that since this was the life I had been given, it is something that I should be satisfied with.
Because of this, I admire you, who is choosing the path to become a childcare worker. To have the scholastic ability and to have the option of attending university on scholarship, and yet deciding instead to choose the path that you want to go down is a happiness that I didn’t get to experience. Currently, Hokkaido is suffering from an economic downturn that is unfathomable to those who do not live here and just being able to find a job during a time like this is something to be grateful for.
To decide your own path in life. Although this is a right, this world doesn’t so easily allow a person to walk so freely. This is why I think that perhaps the current you could be categorized as being happy because of it. Above all, the very fact that you have a strong aim when it comes to your life is in itself a splendid thing.
If I had continued to live in an orphanage as you did, perhaps I may have had a number of paths I could have gone down after graduation, such as moving to Tokyo. However, because I was given a form of happiness through suddenly gaining new parents, now is my turn to live my life supporting them as a way of repaying them from their kindness, and I was not able to make a venture. I attempted suicide once during elementary school and twice after advancing to junior high. It was right after the third suicide attempt that I was taken in by my new parents. Despite knowing that I was a habitual offender of suicide attempts, they were willing to become my parents. I don’t know why. Perhaps they pitied me, or perhaps they had a reason for taking pity on me (I’ve yet to ask my mother about the reasons behind why they decided to take me in. I’ve been scared to ask, so I haven’t yet. Although after a bit more time has passed, I do plan on asking her).
To make a long story short, the reason behind me choosing the normal (in other words, an unambitious) path of a career as an operator of an aerial tramway was my way of repaying the kindness of my parents, who saved someone like me who had repeatedly tried to kill himself from loneliness. Although I’m still not sure whether this choice was the right one, at the very least, before that can be taken into consideration, there is this thing called life I must address, and as long as I am alive, my path is naturally set out for me. This is why I said I admire you, who is able to strongly choose the path that you want to go down. I don’t doubt that that there is no mistake in such a path.
I think child care is a wonderful career field to go into. I’ll imagine a smiling you surrounded by pure and innocent children. But since I don’t know what you look like, it is only an image I conjure up in my head, but in my mind, I can see a vision of you looking happy as you chase after the children. Although your face is still blurry, I’m sure with time, a more cemented image of you will come into being in my mind.
Mihara-sensei did not include a picture of you in the letter that she sent to me. This is why I do not know what you look like. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, because this allows me to imagine what kind of person you are. Part of the joy in a letter correspondence is being able to construct the figure of a person from their handwriting and their way of thinking. It’s the same for you too— please imagine me guiding customers at Fumoto Station. However, please don’t imagine me to be some handsome young man. I’m merely a normal human being and am nothing more than an unsophisticated man living in the countryside.
Christmas is fast approaching— how do people in Tokyo plan to spend this occasion? Here, we decorate a gigantic Christmas tree that’s sent over from Canada (it has to be at least 30 metres tall), and in the past few years, the lighting ceremony for this tree has become a major event in this small port town. Although the lighting ceremony took place in the rain last year, over a thousand people came, and it became a large-scale gathering. The tree is set up in the corner of the busiest pier at Port Hakodate, fireworks are set off, and there’s even a band performance. The festive mood rises to a fever pitch, taking after the lighting ceremony of the famous Christmas tree in New York somewhere.
I plan on taking my mother to the lighting ceremony. She has a chronic illness and has been entering and leaving the hospital frequently as of late. This is why she can’t go out anywhere unless I accompany her. I plan on holding my mother’s hand firmly in mine as we look up at the magnificent lights of the tree twinkling.
Although I am not very supportive of this place becoming a tourist spot, these kinds of events warm peoples hearts, so I am able to enjoy such an event without feeling any ill will.
I’m pretty sure that when the time comes, the brilliance of this tree will be aired on news channels across the nation, so if you have the chance to see it on TV somewhere, please imagine my mother and I at this event. Although I’m not Christian, in that moment alone, I’ll become a believer, and I will pray for your happiness to Jesus Christ.
I pray that you will stay faithful to your beliefs without being distracted by doubts, and I also pray that you are able to make happiness yours! Please don’t let the words of those around you get to you and choose a path that you won’t regret. You only have one life, after all. I am cheering for you from a town in the North where stone pavements abound.
I read what you wrote regarding Mihara-sensei. Since I have never met her, I conjured up an image of her on my own from the impression I received of her from her letter. However, since I’ve never met her, I’ll be careful to keep my imagination in check from now on. At any rate, she has not contacted me since that initial letter and so, I have not contacted her either.
TO BE CONTINUED…
[UP NEXT: Chapter 2 – pg 53-72]