A Sentimental Journey: Princess Kikuhime Memorial Journey

Chapter 1. Jealousy of Benzaiten-sama

“Let's break up.”
Hayato said this out of nowhere on a bench in Inokashira Park, where were meeting for the first time in a long while.
“Really? Why?”
The plum blossoms in the plum orchard a short distance away were in full bloom.
I thought he would propose on a beautiful spring day like this…
Having such excitement, I suddenly felt unsteady.
“Are you unhappy with me in some way?”
“No, I have nothing to complain about.”
Hayato looked unsure.
He would not have broken up with me if he had no complaints.
I was not convinced.
“I really cared about you, Hayato. You ate all the clams my family sent over the other day.”
I am from Saiki City, a very rural area in Oita Prefecture.
The local delicacies my parents sent from time to time had always ended up in Hayato's stomach.
“Fukuko, your hometown’s local products are the best, and you are an excellent cook. The miso soup that you made with iriko (Japanese anchovy) was really delicious,” he said.

“The oden soup with kelp and shiitake mushrooms was even better.”
“I'm not talking about the food.”
“Well, yeah...”
Hayato slumped down.
I thought he was a good man the first time I saw him.
Hayato, who grew up with a father who was a doctor and a mother who was a flight attendant, is a gentle person by nature, unruffled by the world.

“Please tell me if there is something you don't like about me. I want to improve. Let's be positive.”
I expected him to reply with a gentle “Yes.” But Hayato shook his head.
“Fukuko, you don't have to change,” he said. “I just can't keep up with you.”
“What do you mean?”
I was surprised.
“For example, the other day, I went to your parent's house for the first time, right?”
I nodded. It was our second dating anniversary.
It was just as we were beginning to think about getting married when Hayato said he wanted to visit my parents and introduce himself.
“You offered the souvenirs I bought to your ancestors at the altar, right?”
“Yes, I did. What's the problem?”
I tilted my head.
“Actually, it's not a problem. It's just that I didn't grow up in such a spiritual home.”
My eyes widened. I had never thought of myself as a spiritual person.

“You talked to your ancestors' remains, didn't you? You said something like, ‘Hayato-san brought your favorite food, Grandpa. Please eat it,’ right?”
“Wait a minute.”
I got it now.
“To me, that's not a spiritual gesture.”
“Really? There is another thing, Fukuko. You mumbled something when you were cooking rice.”
“That wasn’t mumbling. I just thanked the god Kojin for letting me cook delicious rice again today.”
“I don't really understand that kind of thing.”
Hayato cut me off briskly but decisively.
“You said you found that sort of small-town side of me interesting, right?”
“At first, I thought it was something new. In fact, even now, I don't think it's a bad thing. But when it comes to marriage, you know...”
Hayato trailed off.
“I think it would create misunderstandings,” he said.
“Hayato, I don't want to force you to do anything.”
I clenched my fists.
At the same time, my mind flashed back to when we first met. I had nothing but pleasant recollections of my dates with the city-smart Hayato.
Was I being selfish?
“My house doesn't have a Buddhist altar, a toko (alcove), or even a Japanese-style room. It's just a plain city apartment.”

“You have heated floors, don't you? That's good. We’ll find a middle ground.”
I puffed my chest out.
“Well, let me put it another way. Would you do it if I asked you to abandon your family’s grave?”
I was taken aback.
I said, “You can't just abandon it.”
He said, “Of course not. That's the whole point, I think. We will never be the same. I think it would be less painful if we broke up now.”
Hayato stood up and held out his hand.
“Let's shake hands for the last time and say goodbye.”
He looked into my eyes and smiled at me.
That was the decisive moment.
Standing up fiercely, I pushed his hand away.
“This is too much. I’m not even going to talk about it.”
Hayato backed away.
“I don’t want to see you again, not even in my dreams.”
I turned around and walked away from Inokashira Park.

“Sanae, come out if you’re there, will you?”
It was 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning.
I was shouting into my phone in front of the intercom of a luxury apartment in Toyosu.
“What's with you so early in the morning...”
I heard a scratchy voice over the intercom.

Soon after, the gate was unlocked, and I quickly went inside.
Sanae Wada is my only childhood friend in Tokyo. We went to the same high school together.
I know that she graduated from the economics department and wanted to become an accountant. However, I have no idea what she is doing now, even though she told me about it.
As I got off the elevator, a bleary-eyed Sanae appeared out of nowhere.
“How could a healthy adult come out in public dressed like that?”
I looked at her in amazement. Her hair was shaggy, her lips were chapped, and her feet were only in slippers.
“Hey, a healthy adult would not come to someone's house in the early hours of Sunday morning.”
Sanae opened the door and let me in, despite my complaining.
“I heard you broke up with Sasaki?”
Sanae cut in as she took off her slippers. She was utterly merciless.
“Yes, I did. I was so pissed off that I yelled at him not to come into my dreams anymore. I'm still bitter about it, though.”
Sanae opened the door to her one-room apartment with a sigh.
The curtains had yet to be opened, and the room was dimly lit.
“I just can't believe it,” I said, “What will I tell my parents? He just came to our house the other day.”
“Isn’t it a good thing?” she said. “I mean, it was rough, but maybe breaking up is the right thing to do.”
Sanae sat down on the bed.
“I'll take that as a sign that I've minimized the damage done to you.”
She went to the window in silence and drew the curtains. There was a loud riffling sound, and light flooded in. It was a dizzying sunny day.

“Could you at least make me a pot of tea?”
“Go ahead, make yourself at home. I only have tea bags. Can you make one for me too?”
Sanae didn’t move.
I had no choice but to rummage through the kitchen cupboards. Behind the mugs, I found a familiar tea can.
“Hey, I found some Inbi tea!”
Inbi tea is a tea produced in Saeki. It is produced in the Bansho River, a clear stream where Genji fireflies live.
“Really? I forgot about it! My grandma sent it to me, but I don't have a teapot,” Sanae answered as she was lying down, seemingly unwilling to move.

I checked the expiration date on the Inbi tea packaging and found it was still within safe limits.
While the water was boiling, I fished in the cupboard again. As she said, she didn’t have a teapot, but I found a small colander and decided to use that instead.
“You should at least buy a teapot!”
I twisted my head to give her a lecture.
“A teapot for brewing tea for one person is a waste. By the way, I don't have any teacups either. Use a mug.”
I was absolutely mortified. Indeed, there were no teacups in the cupboard, just a mess of mugs.
I sighed.
“When you said you moved to a townhouse, I wondered what kind of life you were leading. It seems rough, huh?”
“Hey, let’s not talk about me right now. You came here to talk about your misery, didn't you?”
I sagged. She was right.

“You believed that this time, at last, he was going to propose, didn’t you?” I mumbled as I warmed my mug and carefully brewed some tea.

Sanae was stretching her legs.
“I was wrong, wasn't I?”
“Well… OK, I'm not sleepy anymore. Look, I've been surfing online every night this week.
As I brought the tea to the glass table, Sanae finally sat up.
“I discovered a jinx that says couples who take a boat ride in Inokashira Park will break up! It is said that the goddess Benzaiten, enshrined by the pond, is jealous.”
“That's absurd!”
Sanae did not take it seriously.
“It's just a matter of probability,” she said. The more people go to a place, the greater the denominator, so it's only natural.”
“I wonder if that's true.”
I raised my eyebrows.
Sanae got off the bed and sat in front of the glass table.
“I remembered something about Benzaiten-sama; there was a temple called Dainichiji in Saiki. Do you remember it?”
“It was on the way to school, wasn't it? Right next to the cigarette shop?”
I nodded. Dainichiji Temple, located in the Funato-cho district of Saiki, is a Shingon sect temple dedicated to the god Benzaiten.
“We used to do all kinds of pranks at Dainichiji, remember? We played tag and hide-and-seek within the temple grounds. I wondered if Benzaiten was jealous of our friendship.”

I spontaneously whispered. Sanae sipped her tea.
“I don't think there's a single bit of cause for concern, though, right? I mean, it’s a god, isn't it? It's not like he's possessing people.”
“But we both can't get married.”
I looked into her eyes.
“I mean, we are both quite smart and charming, right? We are not ugly either.”
“You have high self-esteem, don’t you?”
Sanae looked dismayed and put her chin on her palm.
“I mean, we are twenty-nine years old already. Why are we both still single when we are almost thirty?”
“Don't tell me it's because of Benzaiten-sama's wrath?
“I think so.”
I shook my head. Then, as if hitting a billiard ball, I aimed at Sanae's weak spot.
“I know you want to get married someday, don't you?”
I know that she does. I know that Sanae, a self-proclaimed “conservative” person, is not so different from me when it comes to her dream of getting married.
“Well, 'someday,' yes. And even if I fail, I want my grandmother to see me in my wedding gown at least once.”
“Then it's settled. Come with me next week.”
I gulped down my tea.
“Where are we going?”

Sanae looked really confused.
“It's obvious, right?” I said. “To Dainichiji Temple!”
“Why should we go to Dainichiji Temple next week?” Sanae exclaimed loudly.
She really looked puzzled.
“You know the legend of Kikuhime of Dainichiji Temple, don't you?”
“It's a story about a disfigured princess who prayed to Benzaiten to be restored to her beautiful form, right?”
“Well, you really summed it up in a nutshell. If we make a proper offering to Kikuhime, I am convinced everything will go well.”
Sanae spat out her tea.
“She was from the Edo period. And it's just a legend. I don't even know if she existed or not, and I have never heard if she has a grave or not.”
“That's why we're going,” I told her firmly.

“Look, I'm going to go there and see for myself. It's the biggest undertaking of my life. But I want you to go with me.”
“You’re kidding, aren't you?”
Sanae drank her tea. It must have gotten cold by now.
“I'll make you another pot of hot tea. Please! Let's return to Saiki for the first time in a while.”
“Look, one cup of tea is not enough for you to pay me for a day. You're an idiot, as usual.”
In the sunlight streaming in through the window, Sanae laughed out loud. It was the first time in a long time that I had heard Sanae's cheerful laughter.

Chapter 2. To Saiki, Oita Prefecture, an isolated island on land!?

In front of the “Tower of the Sun” at Haneda Airport, Sanae shouted so loudly that even passersby were surprised, “Fukuko! What's up with those dark circles under your eyes?”

“I made a lot of preparation... Sorry, I'm late! You've been waiting for me for a while, right?”
I apologized, wiping the sweat from my face with my handkerchief.
“I was on the train two trains before the scheduled arrival time.”
“Then your schedule must have been wrong in the first place.”
Sanae was very blunt, but she carried my suitcase for me.
“What about your own suitcase? Have you checked it in yet?”
Sanae was only carrying a small bag on her shoulder.
“I only have this. What did you pack for a three-day, two-night trip?”
Sanae started walking.
“Let’s check in now. We don’t want to miss our flight.”
Our departure time was 12:30 p.m. We had less than 30 minutes before departure. Not only did we not have time for a leisurely lunch, but we also barely had time to check-in.
Sanae knew Haneda Airport very well, as if she was accustomed to taking business trips.
“The boarding gate for Oita is always located far away,” she said. “This time, the boarding gate is 89, so it's at the end of the airport. We have to take a bus from the bus lounge.”
I was surprised. It had been several years since I came to Tokyo, but this was the first time for me to take a bus from the boarding gate.
“Is it crowded because it's a back-to-back holiday?”

“I don't know. I guess the flight to Oita isn't very popular, so it's placed at the back.”
Sanae took giant strides, and I struggled to keep up.
When we reached the boarding gate, people had already arrived to board. It was hard to believe that this was an unpopular flight.
“It’s a full flight today despite going to Oita,” Sanae muttered mockingly.

Having a little time to kill, we rushed to the kiosks.
After purchasing a simple boxed lunch, priority boarding started almost immediately.
“It's kind of exciting, huh?”
I smiled at Sanae. Then Sanae looked anxious for the first time.
“Fukuko, are you all right? You seem to be in a pretty bad way.”
I smiled bitterly. Sanae's observational skills are outstanding. I could never match her.
“I'll tell you when we're inside. I might fall asleep, though.”

“Do you know the author, Kado Tachibana?” I asked Sanae as the fasten seatbelt sign went off.
“I have never heard of him. What kind of author is he?”
Even Sanae, with her encyclopedic knowledge and strong memory, didn't know about him. I took out a book from my bag at my feet.
“He writes books of sutras. And not just any sutras.”
“Wow, where did you get such an old book?”

Sanae looked at the book with a look that suggested she didn't want to touch it.
I thought, “If we're going to make offerings to Kikuhime, we must do it in the most appropriate way, right? I went to the library to look for something and happened to find this.”
I flipped through the pages.
“The book describes in detail the method of ancestral memorial services, which requires eighteen copies of the sutras.”
“Unbelievable. So the dark circles under your eyes were there because you…”
I nodded gracefully.
As you can imagine. I’ve been staying up all night every night reading sutras.
Sanae looked up exasperatedly.
“We decided on the date of the trip last week. It takes over an hour to write one copy of the sutra, right? How did you manage to write that much?”
“Well, Sanae, you're half right, half wrong. I haven't written all of them yet. I had to prepare the ink before I could write. It took me two hours to finish one piece.” Sanae looked up and let out a crazy voice: “No way!”

Without thinking, I pulled Sanae closer to me. Just then, a flight attendant walked by.

The flight attendant was puzzled but smiled and took our drink order.
“Two iced coffees, please,” Sanae replied as if nothing had happened.
She accepted two cups of coffee from the flight attendant and gave one to me.
“You didn't have to use ink, did you? A calligraphy pen would have sufficed, right?”
“No, it won’t do,” I said. “It’s written here in detail.”
I opened the section where the point was explained.

“Our bodies are sustained by the combination of carbon and hydrogen. The Heart Sutra needs the same vibrations. The ink becomes alive when it is polished.”
“But a brush pen is also ink, right? It’s made from polished ink, right?”
Sanae didn't even read the text and furrowed her brow. I was at a loss for words.
“Well, seems like I can't convince you, so if you're interested, you can read it yourself. You are smarter than me, Sanae.”
Sanae shook her head as if to say, “Whatever.”
“I can't help it. Since we’re here now, I'll go along with you as long as I have to.”
“That's the way it should be.”
I handed the book to Sanae after putting on sticky notes to mark all the important parts.
“All right, but you need to sleep. You won't be able to do the sutras in the plane, anyways,” she said.
I closed my eyes.

“We got our luggage. Let’s get on the bus as soon as we can!”
After getting off the plane, Sanae collected my luggage while I stopped at the toilet.
“Sorry, I didn't book the bus ticket! Let's buy it and then get on the bus.”
I trotted along with Sanae.
The electronic information board for the airport bus was in front of the arrival lobby.
I looked up at the board and couldn't believe my eyes.
“The next bus leaves at 5:50! It's not even three o'clock yet!”

Sanae immediately rushed to the information desk. However, she came back thoroughly disheartened.
“The bus service has been reduced due to Covid. I didn’t know about it. There are only three buses a day to Saiki. It seems that no buses are connected to our flight.”
I was surprised, too.
To begin with, the only way to get to Saiki from Oita Airport is by car or bus.
We’re useless drivers, so we have no choice but to take the bus to get around on our own.
“It's unbelievable that we have no bus connection now. Access has become less and less convenient.”
Sanae frowned at my comment.
“Don't mumble like it's somebody else's problem. Why didn't you make an appointment?”
“It was a mistake leaving it to me, wasn't it?”
She scolded me, but I could do nothing about it now.
“Realistically, what are we going to do? Can’t one of your parents come to pick us up?”
Sanae's bold suggestion startled me.
This trip back home was a total secret. I knew that if I dropped by my parent's house, I would be bombarded with questions about my breakup with Hayato.
“My father works during the week, and my mother can only drive me around Saiki City,”
I retorted in a low voice.
“I see. I heard that your mother can't even change lanes. Why don't we take the bus to Oita Station and change to the JR train?”
Sanae didn't seem to be thinking about asking for help from her parents and immediately started looking up transfer information.
I looked up at the electronic information board again. The bus to Oita Station was about to leave in fifteen minutes.
“We’re cutting it too fine. There aren’t many JR trains for one thing, and it’s going to be a hassle to carry our luggage around at Oita Station.”

“Taking the bus to Oita Station will get us there faster, but it doesn't make much difference. It will be night before we arrive anyway, and we can't do much today. Shall we just take it easy?”
I strongly agree.
I was already tired and not in the mood to go wandering around Oita Station.
“We came here from Tokyo, so the shopping is probably underwhelming, don’t you think? How about relaxing at a footbath instead?”
“Three hours is definitely a long time. There's nothing else to do, so let's just linger around.”
We headed for the footbath in the airport, complaining along the way.

When we arrived in Saiki, it was pitch black. The stars were shining in the night sky.
Saiki Station, with the mountains in the background, seemed to blend into the darkness. We were the only two people walking on the street.
“We finally arrived. It took all day.”
We got off the bus and stretched.
“It feels like being on an isolated island. Now I understand why this place is behind Beppu as a tourist destination.”
Sanae agreed with me.
“So, where is our hotel?” Sanae asked me as we picked up our luggage from the bus driver.
I paused for a moment.
“I… forgot to book it.”
Sanae looked at me in disbelief. I braced myself.

“Why? You had so much time to do that!”
“Look, I had a lot of trouble with the sutras... I thought that in Saiki, everywhere would be empty. But when I checked on the bus just now, even Kinsui-en and Central Hotel were fully booked! Unbelievable!”
“Now is not the time to be surprised! What about Hotel New Saiki?”
“They went out of business a long time ago.”
Sanae's eyes widened.
“We're in trouble! You should call your parents and ask them to let you stay at their place. I'm not going to sleep outdoors on Mt. Shiroyama!” Sanae barked.
But I refused to go to my parent's house.
“I don't want to stay at my parents' house this time! Don't worry. We won’t spend the night outdoors.” But Sanae was not listening.
“What do you mean I don’t have to worry? I don't need your baseless confidence!”
Sanae was really angry. I was at a loss and looked around.
Then I saw a dazzling sign I had never seen before.
“Hey, Sanae,” I said loudly. “There's the new Hotel Route Inn in Saiki!”
A few minutes' walk from Saiki Station, a brand-new Hotel Route-Inn stood tall.
“It's a lifesaver. Let's go now! Run!”
Sanae pushed me along.
The parking lot of the Hotel Route Inn was nearly full, and we anxiously made our way inside.
Even though it was already around 8 in the evening, people were queuing at the reception desk, where there were only two members of staff to serve them.

“What if we don't get a place to stay?”
Anxiety filled my heart. After waiting for a while, it was finally our turn.
“Do you have a room for tonight?”
I watched the staff's every move as if praying to God.
“Tonight? For two people?”
The young female staff member looked at us alternately with a curious look on her face.
“Yes, that's right!” Sanae replied in a loud voice.
Her voice was so intimidating that it sent a shiver down my spine.
The hotel staff was checking her screen. The moment felt like an eternity. Eventually, the hotel staff looked up.
“There is a twin room available. Would that be all right?”
Sanae and I looked at each other. I made a fist pump in my mind.
“Yes, please!”
We said it at the same time.
At least we had secured a place to stay for the night. All that remained was to work on the remaining sutras.

Chapter 3. Time to go to Dainichiji Temple!

“Sanae, it's time to get up! Come on. We forgot something.”
I shook Sanae's body in the room at Hotel Route Inn.
“Huh? Are you up already?”
Sanae rubbed her eyes and sat up.
“I didn't sleep. After all, it took me until morning to finish the sutra.”
“No way! You were writing all night?”
I nodded. It was hard work to finish eighteen sutras in one week.
I should really be writing in a bright, clean room with a relaxed mind.
But I thought, “Isn't it impossible for a modern career woman to do this during the day? There’s no need to be so nervous.”
Sanae was unusually supportive and consoling. So I decided to take it to heart as well.
“I think you should sleep now, don't you?”
Sanae stretched and fell back asleep again.
“I'm not going to sleep. If I sleep now, I'll sleep until noon.”
“Today is a day off, so why not?”
“Breakfast time will be over soon, you know.”
I pointed at the breakfast ticket on the bedside table. Sanae was surprised. “It's a buffet, right?”
Sanae started to change her clothes at lightning speed.
“Yes, it is. It's a business hotel, and if you don't get there early, they'll run out of the good stuff on the menu.”
Actually, they might well replenish the buffet. I exaggerated. Sanae dashed to the sink.
“So, what did you forget?”
Apparently, even though she was half asleep, she had heard what I was saying.
“Six ancient coins.”
“Six ancient coins?”

Sanae came out of the washroom as she was brushing her teeth.
I said, “Yesterday, you read the book by Tachibana-sensei, didn't you? Of the eighteen sutras, six will be buried in the ground, six will be washed away in water, and six will be burned. For the sutras to be buried in the ground, we need six dumplings and six ancient coins.”
“I read it, but don't tell me you're seriously going to go that far?!” Sanae exclaimed with a muffled voice while still brushing her teeth.“We are doing it right, aren’t we? It said that when you make an offering, you must do it by putting everything you have on the line.”
I sat down by the bedside. I was ready to go out for breakfast.
“You have to cross the Sanzu River to become a Buddha, right? You need money to cross the river, but I left it at home.”
I was filled with sorrow.
“I wonder where we could buy those ancient coins. Maybe a thrift store?”
Sanae returned to the washroom, gargled, and reappeared.
“I'm sure there are thrift stores in Saiki. But I'm also pretty sure they don't sell ancient coins,” Sanae said flatly.

I slumped.
“What should I do? Is there anywhere else you can think of?”
Sanae folded her arms and raised her eyebrows. I meditated for a while and thought about it.
“If you really need them, can’t you buy them at a funeral home? I think I remember putting them in my grandfather’s coffin when he died.”

“That’s it, Sanae! I'll just call them and ask about it!”
I checked my watch. It was just past 8 in the morning, but businesses in the countryside started early.
I looked up the phone number for the Central Funeral Home and called them right away.
Immediately the call was connected. An elderly woman's voice answered.
“Thank you for calling. This is the Ceremony Hall.”

“My name is Matsumoto, and I'd like to ask you if you have any ancient coins,” I asked in a sudden polite tone.

“Ancient coins?”
The woman sounded surprised. I felt a sense of disappointment; she probably didn't have any.
“It's the ancient money you need to cross the Sanzu River. I need six of them.”
“Oh... I'm sorry, but we don't sell them.”
No luck. I thanked her and hung up.
“No, they don't have them.”
“I see. I can't think of anywhere else,” said Sanae.
Sanae seemed to have given up on the matter as she drew out her eyeliner.
“What should we do? If we don't have the six coins, we won't be able to cross the Sanzu River.”
I was at a loss.
“I'm sorry, but may I express my opinion without you thinking that I’m judging you?”
Sanae put down her eyeliner and looked back at me.
“I honestly think you've already crossed the Sanzu River. I mean, you are from the Edo period, right?”
I was miffed. I ddin't want anyone to make light of my views at this moment.

“Don't say anything that would detract from the purpose of this trip!”
“All right. Well, let's think of it this way. Kikuhime was a person of high virtue, wasn't she? So, let's hope she will give us a bonus for the ferry fare.”
“Ew!” I exclaimed.

“Just because it's written in the book doesn't mean you have to follow every detail. Think about it. Your family used to offer tea to the gods every morning, didn't they? But now you live in a house without an altar. You just mumble a few words of thanks when you cook rice, don't you?”
I wondered why Hayato, Sanae, and the others were so obsessed with the god Kojin but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything back.
“All you have to do is say it nicely. ‘I am genuinely sorry that I could not bring you the money this time. But you were very virtuous during your lifetime.
It is something that not everyone can do, and I hope that you will show your experience. There must be someone nearby who can help,’ or something like that.”
I rolled my eyes. She is indeed someone who is making a living in Tokyo.
“I feel like it’s not the right thing to do.”
“Look, nowadays, you can't bury ancient coins on someone else's land anyway. Let's just say it was a good thing that you didn’t bring them.”
Sanae used an eyelash curler and quickly applied mascara. I'm done with my makeup. Let's go eat breakfast now.

It had been a long time since I had eaten in my hometown. Even though it was just a buffet at a business hotel, it somehow tasted delicious.

“Maybe it's because the water is different here,” Sanae suggested while eating her second bowl of rice of the morning.

“Saiki's water certainly tastes good. But last night, when I brewed a pot of tea with the water in my room, to my surprise, it tasted awful,” I mused, suddenly recalling the episode.

Sanae laughed and sipped her miso soup.
“You're so picky when it comes to the flavor of tea, you know. It was because it was a tea bag, wasn't it?”
I tilted my head.
“I don't know. The weather is terrible. I wonder if we can actually perform the spiritual bonfire,” I muttered to myself as I looked out the window.

“It really is,” Sanae said. “It had been sunny for the past few days, though.”
Sanae was eating fruit punch and yogurt. She’s been eating quite a lot.
“I'm a girl who brings out the sun, you know. It's always sunny on important days for me.”
“Is that so? You only go out on sunny days, don't you?”
Sanae grinned. I pretended to hit her.
“According to the weather forecast, it's supposed to be raining from midday onward.”
Sanae was doing a lot of research, apparently. I grunted.
“What do you think? I'm inclined to fulfill our main objective first…”
“As you wish.”
Sanae stood up. I thought she was going back to her room, but she brought two cups of coffee.
“After coffee, let’s go back to our room. It's time to start our journey!”
I clasped my hands as I looked at the coffee offered to me.

“'I'm so sorry. I can't drink coffee. It upsets my stomach.”
“Is that so? Come to think of it, do you usually drink Japanese tea or black tea?”
Sanae stood there with a blank look on her face.
We've been friends for decades, but she didn't know that until now?
I stood up. I needed another set of milk and sugar for Sanae.

Back in our room, the rain showed no sign of stopping.
We packed our bags and went over our plans for the day.
“Before going to the temple, let's stop by a florist,” I said. “We need to make an offering of shikibi (Japanese star anise).”
“I know, I've read the book,” Sanae said. “Which florist do you want to go to?”
There are no florists around Dainichiji Temple. I told Sanae about a flower shop I had researched earlier.
“I think the Tanaka flower shop is a good place to go, but I’m not sure if they sell shikibi.”
“It is written in the book that it doesn't matter if it's not shikibi as long as it is not sakaki or pine, right? I'm sure Saiki's florists will have some floral offerings,”
Sanae concluded optimistically.
“And what about the dumplings? And the candles and incense?”
Sanae's inspection was meticulous. If anything, I should have had her read the book before we set out on our trip.
Sanae was surprised when I said with pride, “I brought a set of candles and incense sticks. I also made dumplings.”

“By yourself?”
“Who else would have made them other than me? It's easy. You just add water to some flour, roll it into a ball, and boil it.”

“I wouldn't even think of making them. You're really amazing, huh?”
I was elated by Sanae’s praise.
“I think I have everything prepared.”
“Except for the six coins. Shall we go?”
Sanae stood up. I pulled out my room key card.
We left the room and headed for the elevator.
“There's nothing we can do about the weather. Let's take a cab to the florist,” Sanae suggested as we got into the elevator.
Sanae is quick to make decisions, and I agreed.

“Before we go any further, just to confirm, you haven't booked a hotel for tonight, have you?”
Sanae stared at me. I shrank.
“You guessed right.”
“I thought so.”
After getting off the elevator, Sanae went to the reception counter hurriedly. The woman from last night was not there.
Instead, there was a man there who seemed to be full of energy.
“Excuse me, we would like to stay one more night. Are there any rooms available?” Sanae quickly confirmed.

“Unfortunately, we are all booked up for today,”
the man responded. Sanae and I looked at each other.
“Not even one room?”

When I bit down, the male staff politely bowed his head.
“I am very sorry that we could not accommodate your request!”
So finally, we couldn't get a reservation even at the Hotel Route-Inn? I looked at Sanae's face with a gloomy feeling.
However, Sanae was quick to change her mind.
She said, “That's OK. Can you call a cab for me? Any company is fine.”
Sanae even had a business smile on her face. She is a wonderful woman.
“Of course. Please wait at the lobby.”
The staff made a phone call right away.
Sanae moved my suitcase and sat down on the sofa in the lobby.
I wondered what kind of lecture she was going to give me this time. I stood behind Sanae, feeling nervous.
Sanae turned around. She was about to open her mouth.
“Madam, your taxi has arrived!”

The taxi driver was an elderly man who seemed to be in good spirits.
“Good day! You are going sightseeing today, right? Where are you from?”
The driver spoke to us in a friendly manner as he carried my luggage. Sanae simply nodded and climbed into her seat.
“We are from Tokyo.”
I took the initiative in answering, and the driver began chatting happily.
“Tokyo! I knew you pretty ladies came from the city. So, where are we going now?”
“Please take us to Tanaka, the florist’s in Jonan.”
When I indicated the flower shop, he looked at me strangely. I laughed awkwardly.
“We're here to visit our ancestors’ grave. We are originally from Saiki,” I explained somewhat cryptically.
He was full of praise for our efforts.
“You went all the way to pay respect to your ancestors! I'm so proud of you. I hope it stops raining soon!”
I nodded.
“Really, it would be great if it would stop raining right now.”
The driver continued to talk one-sidedly after that, as if on the radio.
He was a nicely talkative man even though he was wearing a mask. Sanae did not say a word during the entire conversation.
We parted from the driver in the parking lot of the flower store.

The store seemed to be thriving. Inside, we saw many fresh flowers, wreaths, swags, and other items.
“Do you think they have shikibi?” Sanae whispered to me inside the stylish store.
I was thinking the same thing.
At the end of a narrow aisle, two female staff members were working side by side.
I said hello and immediately asked them.
“We would like to buy two pieces of shikibi. Do you have any?”
“Yes, we do. Please wait a moment.”
One of the staff members went out of the store. After a short wait, she returned with a pair of bundled shikibi in her hands.
“They’re quite big, aren't they?”
My eyes widened. The book said two pieces of shikibi, but it would be hard to ask for just two.
“Are you paying a visit to a grave or something?”
“Well, we… we are going to make an offering to Jizo-sama (the patron saint of dead children).”
It is challenging to explain to people about the memorial service for Kikuhime. The shopkeeper glanced at me with a puzzled look on her face.
Sanae spoke up from the side.
“I'm sorry to ask this, but can you split one bunch into two? They are bigger than we expected.”
Sanae skillfully persuaded her.
“Sure. I'll have them ready for you right away.”
The shopkeeper undid the rubber bands that had tied the bouquets and quickly put them back together. A smaller bundle was immediately completed.
When we paid the bill, the shopkeeper gave me a pleasant smile and said, “It's hard to visit on a rainy day, but I am sure Jizo-sama will be pleased.”

In the pouring rain, we passed through the gate of Dainichiji Temple.
“I think I'm going to tell the head priest that I'm going to do a memorial service first. We'll also have to ask about the bonfire.”
I looked back at Sanae. Sanae was holding the shikibi for me.
“It's the least we can do. I'll go with you.”
We headed first to the temple office.
The temple office was built as if it were someone's home.
“I remember that the son of Dainichiji Temple priest was two years younger than us in elementary school.”
“Yes, I remember him. I don't know if he took over the temple or not.”
We folded our umbrellas and pressed the bell.
For a while, there was nothing. As we stood up straight and waited, we heard someone's footsteps coming from inside.
“Please open the door and come inside.”
It was a woman's voice. I opened the sliding door with a rattling sound. Inside stood a slim woman.
“Excuse us, my name is Matsumoto.”
I walked up to the earthen floor and bowed.
“We have come from Tokyo to pay my respects to the legend of Princess Kikuhime.”
I did my best to speak the words I had prepared in advance.
In fact, I recognized the woman in front of me.
She was the mother of the son of a Dainichiji Temple priest. In other words, the wife of the chief priest.
But I kept the fact that we were from Saiki to ourselves. The woman's eyes widened.
“From Tokyo? You’ve come a long way. Welcome!”
The woman smiled graciously and sat down in the doorway.
“Thank you very much. If it's all right with you, we would like to ask a few questions about the memorial service.”
The woman straightened her posture when I asked.
“Of course. I will answer to the best of my knowledge.”
“I have practiced sutra copying for this memorial service.”
“We would like to hold a memorial service using the method of a person named Kodo. Do you know Mr. Kodo Tachibana?”
The woman seemed puzzled by my sudden question.
“I am sorry. I don't know much about him…”
“He wrote what should be done afterward, not right after writing the sutra. In making offerings to the ancestors, one must write 18 copies of the Heart Sutra, bury six in the ground, burn six, and wash away six.”
I said exactly as the book explained, but I was unsure. I'm just not good at speaking logically. I should have asked Sanae to talk first.
“What is the meaning of burying them in the ground?”
The woman tilted her head slightly.
She said, “You have to visit Princess Kikuhime's grave and bury them, either in front of it or behind it. “But Princess Kikuhime does not have a grave, does she?”
I felt sweat forming on my forehead. From behind me, I could also feel Sanae's cold gaze on me.
“It is said that she was the daughter of a chief retainer, but as you said, she does not have a grave.”
“If we cannot trace where her grave is, perhaps we can make a wish to Jizo-sama... We hope to bury or burn the sutras within the precincts of Dainichiji Temple. Would that be possible?”
I gathered up my courage and made the request. However, I must have seemed quite abrupt.
“You are welcome to pay your respects here, but... Does that mean you will burn the sutras on the temple grounds today?”
“If possible, yes,”
I said in a slightly veiled tone. The woman was surprised but remained calm.
“The head priest isn't here today. I don't know if there might be a good place somewhere in the tomb to burn or bury it. I'm sorry.”
I realized that I had come here wholly unprepared.
“Please don't apologize. It was our fault for visiting you so suddenly. I should have told you beforehand.”
Trying to keep my fragile spirit intact, I asked her a question.
“If the chief priest is not here, will it be difficult to hold a spiritual bonfire today?”
“Well, it is raining now.”
My heart sank. There was no point in coming if it was going to be like this.
At that moment, Sanae, who had been standing silently behind me, intervened.
“Does Dainichiji Temple accept requests for conducting bonfire rituals?
“We don't set a fixed price or date, but we can arrange it for you.”
I felt my eyes brighten up.
“Then, since we will only do the memorial service now, could you keep the last six copies of the sutra for us? Would it be possible to burn them together with the ones from the temple during the temple's bonfire ritual?”
Sanae politely repeated her question. The woman smiled.
“In that case, I will ask the chief priest to do it for you. Please ring the doorbell again when you have finished your memorial service.”
“Thank you very much! We are really grateful from the bottom of our hearts.”
Behind me, Sanae bowed profoundly and took out an offering from her bag. I hurriedly followed Sanae's example.

“Sanae, thank you! I'm glad we could work something out.”
I thanked Sanae as we left the temple office. Sanae scolded me while opening her umbrella.
“You just kept talking without getting the point at all,” she said. “I felt so irritated standing behind your back. With a speech like that, that lady wouldn't understand anything, would she? I don't think you could ever work in sales.”
“Okay, I'm not in sales. So can I be forgiven?”
“Only after we decide on a place for the memorial service.”
Sanae started strolling ahead of me.
The grounds of Dainichiji Temple are not that large.
After entering the temple gate, you will see the Daishido Hall on the right. On the left side is the Gomado Hall. The main hall is at the back, and a statue of Yakuyoke Daishi stands at the center of the temple grounds.
“Wait a minute! This Yakuyoke Daishi statue is different from what I remember. It was way dirtier.”
Sanae stopped and looked up at the statue.
“I'm not going to be so rude as to call it dirty,” Sanae said. “But now that you put it that way, it actually looks shiny.”
The figure holding a tin can in his right hand and a bowl in his left is still the same as I remember it. However, the color of the statue is different.
The Yakuyoke Daishi, in my memory, had a more lichen-colored surface battered by the rain.
“I remember it now. I heard that it collapsed during last year's earthquake. They must have rebuilt it.” “I see. It must have been hard on the temple.”
We looked around the temple grounds.
“Since Princess Kikuhime's grave is not here, I think we have no choice but to make our wish to Jizo-sama,” I muttered.

“There are many Jizo statues around the temple office, but the candles will go out quickly without a roof, right?”
“That’s right. It's impossible to do without a roof,” Sanae said. “The letters on the sutras would also be blurred. Kannon Hall has a roof, so I think that could work.”
I glanced over at the hall of the Goddess of Kannon. The Kannon, called “Fureai Kannon,” is enshrined in a small hall.
Beautiful offerings of flowers were arranged in a flower stand.
“The fire wouldn't go out in the Kannon Hall, but there wouldn't be enough space for the sutras,” I said.
I dismissed the idea in favor of a space for offerings.
“I guess the only possible location is in front of Yakuyoke Daishi. It's a little off from the way it's described in the book, but it is the only place where we can get it done,” I suggested as I looked up at the Yakuyoke Daishi.

We found shelter from the rain and a set of incense burners in front of the Yakuyoke Daishi. “All right then, why not? Here, we can see six Jizo statues and other Jizo-sama. They will watch over us.”
Sanae agreed. Once we had decided on the location, all that remained was to carry out the plan.

We walked back to the statue of Yakuyoke Daishi and folded our umbrellas.
I pulled my things out of my suitcase.
“First, three sets of sutras and dumplings.”
I handed them to Sanae, who placed them in the right places.
“Two candles and incense. Lighter.”
“We have incense and lighters here, too.”
Sanae pointed to the ones belonging to the temple.
“I guess you can use them, but since we brought them with us, let's use our own. Next is the shikibi.”
“Oh look, the flower stand is full.”
As I had also felt at the Kannon Hall, Dainichiji Temple is well cared for. There were lush green shikibi branches in the flower stand.
“So, what now?”
I took the flowers from Sanae.
“It would be bad for the temple to force it into the flower stand. Let’s just stand them up on the ground, shall we?”
I crouched down and gently placed our flowers on the ground.
“As long as it can be held in place without falling over, this is fine,” I muttered to myself.

“Now all we need is some water, right? Did you bring your teacup?”
Sanae told me to take out my water bottle quickly.
“I didn't bring a teacup because I didn't want to risk it breaking.”
“Are you going to offer the whole bottle?”
Sanae rolled her eyes.
“I’ll pour it into the flower stand as an offering.”
The stand was already filled to the brim with water. But since it was water, it would not matter if it were to overflow.
The preparations were ready.
“I'm going to light the fire now. Let’s be especially solemn from this point on.”
I held the prayer beads in my left hand, bowed, and put my palms together. Then I lit the candle with a lighter.
The sound of the rain seemed a little more distant.
One by one, I lit the incense sticks. In total, six incense sticks were placed in the center.
“I pray to the Great Master of Yakuyoke Daishi, the Jizo-sama of Dainichiji Temple. I, Fukuko Matsumoto, am here today to take this opportunity to offer a memorial service for Princess Kikuhime. Please help us fulfill this service with your blessings.”
These words were slightly formulaic. I said them in one breath.
“Spirit of Princess Kikuhime, who passed away in Saiki, please come to this holy shrine with us.”
According to the book, if I said these words, the Spirit would be present in the leaves of the Japanese star anise, no matter where she had died.
I closed my eyes, listened carefully, and said with all my heart:
“I, Fukuko Matsumoto, am here to offer you a memorial service today, February 24, 2023, an auspicious day. Please pass on the merits of the Heart Sutra and leave all the thoughts you left in this world. I pray for you to rest in peace.”
After bowing my head for a short while, I looked up. Sanae was also looking solemn.
It was still raining. I turned to Sanae.
“Thank you. This is the end of the first memorial service. Let's go back to the temple office to think about where we can bury and wash away the remaining sutras later.”
We began to pack up quickly.
Under normal circumstances, we ought to have buried the six sutra copies here. However, we couldn't dig in front of the Great Priest of Yakuyoke Daishi’s statue.
The incense sticks would be fine to be left there. I put the other luggage into my suitcase, leaving only the six sutras in my hand.
“We can't leave the shikibi behind, can we?” I asked Sanae.

“Shouldn’t we wash them away together later?” Sanae responded with a straight face.

“That’s right! I almost forgot!”
Sanae crouched down and took the shikibi in her hands.
“Are you sure you are not forgetting anything? All right then, let's go back to the temple office.”
We went back to the temple office, left the six copies of the sutra there, and headed out of Dainichiji Temple.

Chapter 4. Rewards and penalties

“I am so tired. Yet, we haven't even accomplished half of our goal yet,” Sanae muttered as she walked along the paved road.

“I understand. Do you want to take a break? Let's think about the river where we will wash away the sutra copies and the place where we will bury them while we take some rest.”
On the way from Dainichiji Temple toward Saiki Elementary School, we found a cozy-looking tea shop.
“Tsunagu Teahouse? It's so stylish, it looks almost out of place in Saiki.”
Sanae looked at the menu on the sign with interest.
“I feel a little cold now, so I think I'll have a latte.”
We opened the door.
The waitress was a girl much younger than us.
Although Sanae had said she wanted to warm up, she immediately ordered a strawberry parfait. After much deliberation, I ordered a drink that I had never seen before, “amazake and matcha.” I was told that it was a blend of matcha and sweet, low-alcohol sake.
“I didn't recognize it for a moment because this place was so new, but then I realized this place is managed by Tsurumi-en,” I said to Sanae as I looked at the sign inside.

“Ah, OK, Tsurumi-en. It looks really nice now, doesn't it?” Sanae whispered into my ear.

Tsurumi-en was an old, small tea shop on a street corner. I used to go there to buy sencha (green tea) for my grandmother.
“So, they built the Cherry Blossom Hall and improved the roads in this area. The old neighborhood is gone. It's a little sad, but that's just the way of the times, isn't it?” Sanae muttered.

I was 18 when I left Saiki. Ten years have passed since then. The old buildings had been torn down, and new stores had been opened.
“The old townscape remains in my heart. But I wonder if only those who have left the town feel that way. I think those who live in Saiki build new things in response to changing times. I think that is how this town will go on,”

I said thoughtfully.
“The strawberry parfait is ready.”
Sanae was the first to be called.
“Look, doesn't it look delicious?”
Sanae brought the parfait across with a happy look on her face.
“Go ahead and eat it before it melts.”
I looked back at the counter and saw that the waitress had just poured hot water into a tea bowl. She carefully mixed the tea with a tea whisk. My expectations were high.
“The amazake and matcha is ready.”
After a while, it was my turn.
“What does it taste like?”
Sanae seemed to be very interested.
I took a sip. The bitter taste of matcha and the sweetness of amazake gently filled my mouth.
“It’s unique. I have never tasted anything like it before. Would you like to try it?”
When I explained the taste, Sanae immediately said “No, thank you!”
“Why not?” “Because you never offer something to others when it tastes good, and you keep it all to yourself. I know that.”
I was offended.
“Hey, why did you say that? You didn't even know I don't like coffee.”
“Because it's true. Anyway, where can we wash off the sutras? It's hard to carry the shikibi in the rain like this.”
Sanae poked at the shikibi propped up at her feet.
This was not the time to be relaxing at a tea shop. I snapped back to reality.
“What should we do? The book said it must be a well-flowing river. I guess it should be the Bansho River.”
“But we'll get in trouble if we throw so many shikibi branches down the river. We could get in trouble for illegal disposal. Things are stringent these days,” Sanae said as she nibbled on her strawberry parfait.

“Will there be people around?”
“If it was the Bansho River, there would be. Many people run and stroll along the embankment,” Sanae said while continuing to eat the parfait.

“You don't have to wash them all away, do you? Originally, it was written that we only needed two pieces of shikibi. Why don't we just shed a few leaves?”
As Sanae made this suggestion, I shut my eyes. At that moment, a good idea flashed into my mind. “I have an idea. Can we take a little detour?”
Sanae looked at me.
“Is this one of your crazy ideas? Scary... Can you wait until after I finish my strawberry parfait? I'm in a happy mood now.”
I put on a big smile and waited for Sanae to finish the parfait.

“Before we go to the Bansho River, I want to stop by my grandmother's house. Is that okay?” I asked Sanae as soon as we left Tsunagu Teahouse.
“Of course, it’s okay, but didn’t you say you wanted to avoid stopping by at your parent's house?” “My grandmother is very tight-lipped. If you ask her not to tell my parents, she will keep her promise,” I replied confidently.

“Your grandmother's house is in Jonan, right? That's perfect since it is on the way to the Bansho River. I'll be waiting for you at Ikefune Park,” Sanae confirmed.

“I won't take too much time, but I'm going to pay respect at the altar at my grandmother’s house. I'll take some shikibi with me. It would be strange to visit only Kikuhime-sama and not greet my ancestors, wouldn't it?”
We walked past Sendomachi and on to Jonan.
“Even Ikefune Park has changed!”
Sanae said out loud at the intersection by the park where we used to play. It had been stripped of its playground equipment and turned into a three-story emergency shelter.
“Hmph. I wonder if it is possible to protect people from tsunamis at this height. But I suppose it is better than nothing,” Sanae said to me with a grudging smile.

“I guess this was all they could build with the limited tax money they had. Hey, I'm going to hurry up.”
I took the shikibi from Sanae.
“Take it easy. I’m going to look at the disaster prevention shelter.”
Sanae waved her hand and turned her back to me.

The entrance to my grandmother's house is located next to its kitchen door. The front door was locked, so I went around to the kitchen door and opened it.
The kitchen door of my grandmother's house was rarely locked, which would be unimaginable in Tokyo.
I took off my shoes and went in without permission.
My grandmother had hearing problems, and I feared she couldn't even hear me.
“Who is it?”
A voice echoed from somewhere. I looked around, and there she was. My grandmother was cleaning the bathroom.
“Oh, Fuku-chan? You scared me.”
“Grandma, it's been a while!”
She washed her hands and went back to the kitchen.
“I didn’t know you had come back!”
Of course she didn't know. I didn't even tell my parents.
My grandmother immediately started boiling water.
“I don't need tea because I have someone waiting for me. I brought you some shikibi.”
I immediately gave her the plants. My grandmother was surprised.
“Why did you bring shikibi?”
“I went to pay a visit to the temple for something, so the priest gave me the shikibi. If you like, you can use it for the altar.”
I was thinking of pulling out just enough branches from this bunch to get what I needed and giving the rest to my grandmother.
She said, “Thank you. You can leave it on the table.”
“Alright. I’m going to go and offer the incense, okay?”
I went to the room with the family altar. My grandmother followed me and lit the stove.
After we finished praying, my grandmother, who was standing behind me, asked me, “Which temple did you visit?”
I hastily concocted a lie.
“Dainichiji Temple. I had to do a favor for someone and had to come back here in a hurry. I wanted to stop by Mom and Dad’s house, but I didn't have time. So, don't tell them that I came here today, will you?”
I looked at my grandmother. Then she let out a breath.
“Don't lie in front of our ancestors, Fuku-chan.”
I gaped at her.
“Why did you say that….”
“I could tell. You are not a good liar, Fuku-chan.”
My grandmother spoke quietly.
“No one would judge you if you suddenly came home alone, not even me. You can come back anytime. This is your home.”
I was at a loss for a reply.
“Grandma, I'm....”
I was about to tell her that Hayato had dumped me, but I suddenly realized that she probably had already seen through it all.
I had just returned home for the New Year's holiday and took Hayato with me two weeks later.
Even my grandmother must have assumed that the next time I returned home, it would be to announce our wedding.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” my grandmother said kindly. “You don't have to say anything you don't want to say.”
The warmth of her words touched my heart so deeply that I began to cry for the first time since Hayato and I broke up.
“I'm sorry, Grandma. You probably expected more of me.”
I am not even sure now whether I ever liked Hayato or not.
But perhaps I only wanted to get married.
Perhaps my desire to get married and make my family happy had taken over me.
“You don’t have to worry too much about your family,” Grandma said. “I pray only for you to be happy every day.”
She took my hand. Her hand was wrinkled but soft

When I returned to Ikefune Park, Sanae was sitting on a bench waiting for me.
She said, “You could have taken more time.”
I shook my head.
For me, the time I spent with my grandmother was really rewarding.
“I’ve rested long enough! Now, let's finish the job!”
I stretched, and Sanae stood up from the bench.
We walked to the embankment together.
“How long has it been since I've been up here?”
We used to play on the embankment after school, and it was a place filled with natural scenery.
Here, I learned that field horsetails could be eaten and red spider lilies are poisonous.
The Bon Odori dance and the Mid-Autumn Meigetsu Festival were all held on the banks of the Bansho River.
We climbed the embankment, looked at the river, and gasped.
The Bansho River was much smaller than we had imagined.
“This is definitely not a strong-flowing river,”
I said frankly.
“Is it a divine punishment? It was raining earlier, so why is the water so low?”
Sanae said loudly.
I silently walked down the embankment.
At one point, I approached the riverbank. However, the water level wasn't what I expected. To get to where the river was flowing, we had to go further down the stone steps on the riverbank.
“I can't go there. I’m wearing pumps today,” Sanae exclaimed after catching up with me.

Indeed, the stone steps on the riverbank were wet and covered with algae. I also looked at my feet.
I wasn’t wearing pumps, but these sneakers are pretty new.
I resigned myself to looking for somewhere else.
I slumped my shoulders in disappointment.

Chapter 5. Bounty from the sea and the mountains

There is nothing simple about this.
I was starting to feel uneasy about not fulfilling our mission of honoring Princess Kikuhime, despite our efforts to do so.
“But we still have half a day to go, so let's be patient. Let's have lunch soon,” Sanae said to me cheerfully.

“You had a big bowl of rice for breakfast and some cake a while ago. Are you hungry again now?” I asked Sanae in surprise.

“It's already past noon. You can't win a war if you're hungry. If I don't eat something soon, I'll lose my fighting spirit.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“I don't know what you’re fighting against, so losing your fighting spirit is not a huge problem, you know?”
As I blurted this out, Sanae explicitly slowed down her walking speed.
“I can't walk anymore.”
Like a robot, Sanae stopped moving.
“Okay, okay. Let’s go eat sushi or something.”
Sanae was acting like a kid, and she was delighted with my suggestion.
“I’ve been waiting for so long! Nishiki Sushi, Makoto Sushi, Fuku Sushi! Which one do you want to go to?”
I pulled my smartphone out of my pocket and did some research.
“Nishiki Sushi was closed due to Covid.”
Sanae jumped up in surprise.
“I thought it would be the best option since it's located closest to here.”

“That's too bad. Look, there's a sushi restaurant called Kamehachi Sushi. It’s on Instagram!”
I showed her an Instagram picture uploaded by the owner of Kamehachi Sushi.
Sanae suddenly looked excited.
“That’s it! Let’s go to Kamehachi today!”
We still hadn't washed away the shikibi branches, and we hadn't found a place where we could bury the sutras either.
But we decided to have lunch first.

“That's too bad. Look, there's a sushi restaurant called Kamehachi Sushi. It’s on Instagram!”
I showed her an Instagram picture uploaded by the owner of Kamehachi Sushi.
Sanae suddenly looked excited.
“That’s it! Let’s go to Kamehachi today!”
We still hadn't washed away the shikibi branches, and we hadn't found a place where we could bury the sutras either.
But we decided to have lunch first.

2 We arrived at Kamehachi just before one o'clock. We came in time for lunch, but the parking lot was full.
“If it's full, our chances don’t look good... I can’t believe we will become lunch refugees in Saiki City.”
However, despite my concerns, Sanae ran into the restaurant.
I heard a cheerful voice say “Welcome! For how many people?”

“Two, please.”
Sanae made a peace sign and had a big smile on her face.
“Yes, I understand. Please come in.”
The man, who seemed to be a sushi chef, confirmed the size of our party and immediately escorted us inside.
“Thank goodness…”
I was secretly relieved, as I had been worried that we might not be able to find lunch.
“Here is the menu,” he said. “Please call me when you are ready to order.”
As soon as he left, Sanae leaned forward and started looking at the menu.

There was an old saying, “Saiki’s lord awaits at the back,” referring to the abundance of seafood in Saiki City. Everything is delicious here, from amberjack to horse mackerel.
“Korabo-don, anago sushi… I’m struggling to choose.”
“Really? I've already decided. I made up my mind the moment I saw it. I’ll have the sushi set with sesame dashi udon!”
Sanae flicked the menu with her fingertips.
“You can only find this dish in Saiki.”
I looked at the menu.
Sesame dashi soup is one of Saiki's local dishes.
It is made by grinding grilled lizardfish and mixing it with soy sauce and sesame seeds. At first glance, it looks simple, but the fish has many small bones, so it takes a lot of patience and time to actually make this dish. Even I can't make it on my own.
“I'm going to order the same set,” I said.
We both ordered the same dish.
As we waited excitedly for the food, Sanae asked me what we were going to do afterward.
Since we've come all the way to Saiki, let's do a little sightseeing.
“Sightseeing in Saiki?”
I was astonished. I wondered if there was anything even worth visiting.
“We can go to the Doppo Kunikida Museum or the Tourist Exchange Center. They didn’t exist when we were in high school, right? I've always wanted to see them,” Sanae chattered happily.

But I couldn't fully agree with her idea.
“What about our memorial service for Princess Kikuhime?”

“Why don't we bury the sutra at Mount Shiroyama? You see, Saiki is the land associated with Princess Kikuhime. The symbol of Saiki is Mount Shiroyama. Anyone would think it's best to bury them there,” Sanae responded at the speed of light.

Just as I was pondering this, the food arrived.
Softly, the fragrant aroma of sesame seeds drifted through the air.
“If you eat the sesame broth, you will feel a million times stronger. Let’s stop thinking about it and eat the noodles before they expand,” Sanae said cheerfully as she split the disposable chopsticks in two.

3 After leaving Kamehachi Sushi, we went to our old school, Saiki Kakuji High School.
A banner displayed at the school gate read, “This year, a player from Saiki City has been drafted second in the professional baseball league.”
“Apparently he was running and training at Shiroyama.”
I had heard about this on the news.
“That’s awesome! He must be really gifted, coming from a humble school like this.”
Sanae was impressed as she looked up at the banner.
After passing the high school, we came to Yokenji Temple at the foot of the mountain. The plum blossoms were just at their best, and as I was taking pictures, a monk approached me.
He said, “I'm sorry, but we can't let you in today.”
I was about to reply abruptly, “I knew that.”
Yogenji is a temple for ascetic practices and does not accept visitors. It even refused to allow middle and high school students to visit the temple for field trips.
However, it was the first time I had met such a kind monk in front of Yogenji Temple, so I simply replied, “Thank you.”

I bowed my head, and the monk smiled.
“You can stay in front of the gate. If you try to get as close as you can, maybe you can see a little bit of what's inside.”
It was my turn to break into a smile.
We walked to the gate, bowed to the monk, and parted.
“You know, you should try to find a man like that, not a pompous one.”
After the monk disappeared, Sanae gave me a toothy grin.
“What? A monk?”
I walked down the cobblestone path, feeling loopy.

The Doppo Kunikida Museum is also located at the foot of the mountain, next to Yogenji Temple.
As the name suggests, this is the residence where the Meiji-era novelist Doppo Kunikida lived when he was young.
When I walked up to the front of the building, I saw a peach-colored banner displaying the Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival).
Because of my heartbroken state, I had forgotten that it would soon be the Doll Festival.
“I guess we've come at a good time?”
Sanae was bouncing with excitement as if she had already forgotten all about the memorial service for Princess Kikuhime.
I chuckled and went inside.
To be honest, I did not expect much.
However, I stopped near the entrance to the Japanese-style room.
There were many local hina dolls arranged on a red carpet.
It's a sight to see so many of them lined up like this. How wonderful!
Sanae was also quietly admiring the dolls.

After touring all the rooms on the first floor, we went outside.
As soon as we entered the garden, we stopped again.
“This view…”
Sanae looked surprised. The sight was familiar to me too.
We saw neatly-cut plants at the central pond. A hut with a tiled roof. A large sasanqua tree.
“Was it in elementary school when we strayed from the hiking route and came down here?”
I asked, and Sanae nodded.
“I think it was the only time I was ever scolded by a teacher,”
Sanae said.
We stood still for some time.
Back in our elementary school days, we would often climb Shiroyama as part of our lessons and other activities. It was a time of freedom. The teachers didn’t keep such a close eye on us, so we went off and almost got lost on forest paths. One time, we discovered this garden.
At that time, the Doppo Kunikida Museum hadn’t been built; only a mansion was here.

Sanae blurted out, “Encounters refer to events like this, right?”
It was a beautiful view, the kind of view that I would like to keep looking at forever.

5 After leaving the Doppo Kunikida Museum, we went to the Tourist Exchange Center across the street. “Is it okay for us to come in?”
Through the open doorway, I could see a little of the back room. There were many elderly women gathered inside.
“I think it's okay. Let's go in.”
We took off our shoes, went inside, and then stopped. Even the Tourist Exchange Center was decorated with countless hina dolls.

A woman noticed us coming in and spoke to us with a friendly smile, saying “I'm sorry, it’s very crowded today.”
I shook my head.
“It’s all right,” I said. “Is there a gathering today?”
“Oh, it’s not really a gathering. Didn't you get a pamphlet about the 'Hina-meguri’ event to celebrate the Doll Festival tomorrow? We're here today to put up the decorations.”
I looked around again.
Everyone was arranging the dolls and decorating them with flowers.
“We thought the event was already underway. We didn’t mean to bother you,”
I apologized, and the woman smiled cheerfully.
“Well, don’t worry. The exhibition is almost ready. Please take your time to look around.”
The woman smiled and went back to work.
Unlike the Doppo Kunikida Museum, fresh flowers were arranged among the dolls at the Tourist Exchange Center.
“I used to think that it's foolish to use history to promote a city,”
Sanae whispered as she looked at the dolls one by one.
“Why?” I asked her discreetly.

“Because there is no such thing as a city without history, right? So, I thought it would be difficult to attract people with history or cultural assets. You can’t be unique and stand out among others. You can't expect to make a profit. However, I changed my mind today.”
Sanae took out her smartphone from her shoulder bag and started taking pictures.
“Why is that again?”
“Each doll has a history… a story. There is the background of the doll's creation and the hopes and wishes of the person who inherited it. Also, don’t forget the wishes of the people who display them here.”
Sanae took pictures from various angles. It was as if she was trying to burn them into her mind.
“By the way, you know that I earn three times as much as you do, right?”
“I didn't think it was three times as much, but…” I replied reluctantly.

“Maybe more than three times? In Tokyo, it's hard to get by without any connections, right? Recently, it’s been hard to judge things only by rationality, such as profit and loss,” Sanae said indifferently.

“The bile was getting stronger by the minute,”
I said honestly. Sanae laughed.
“I thought I was protecting myself by criticizing people. But maybe it was a curse.”
Sanae put her camera away in her shoulder bag and asked me: “Hey, do you think Kikuhime's offerings have lifted the curse?”

After leaving the Tourist Exchange Center, we headed to Mount Shiroyama.
We were sure that somewhere on the mountain, there was a place where we could bury the sutra.
However, that hope was quickly dashed. At the trailhead of Mt. Shiroyama, under the torii gate, there was a group of high school students in jerseys who appeared to be from the track and field club.
They raced up the mountain at the signal of a whistle.
“They’re so full of life.”
Sanae was stunned.
“It's impossible to bury the sutra on the trail with all these kids.”
High school students run free like birds. The sight of them was overwhelming, making me squint.

Chapter 6. To distant places

Looking up at the Yagura-mon gate, I felt nostalgic for the Shikyodo.
After stopping by Sanyokan, we passed through the gate of Saiki City History Museum.
As we passed through the open living room of the Mori clan, while looking at it sideways, Sanae looked up at the sky.
“We need to do something,” she said. “The sun is beginning to set. I wanted to go inside the museum, but maybe we should leave it this time?”
I checked my watch. It was already around four o'clock.
“Really, I didn't notice the time. We must complete the offering before sunset, no matter what.”
We stopped in front of the museum.
“But how are we going to finish it? If we can’t use the Bansho River and Shiroyama, I can't think of anywhere else,” Sanae pondered as she folded her arms.

I bit my lip.
A strong-flowing river. A place with soft soil where I can dig a hole.
Where? Where can we find them?
I explored my memory.
There must be places like those.
“Hey, how about the park bridge? At the Budokan…”
I opened my eyes and watched for Sanae's reaction.
“Where the gymnasium is? The place where we used to build a secret base and play?”
“Yes! You remember it well.”
I felt a shiver run down my spine. I was just recalling the day I had built a secret base under the bridge.
“I don't know if it’s just a coincidence or not, but it's strange that I completely forgot about it. Doppo Kunikida Museum, Shiroyama, and the park bridge. Those are all the places we know well, right?” Sanae muttered, and I nodded vehemently.

“All the faded memories came back to me. It was as if I was being guided by Benzaiten-sama.” I feel proud of myself.
Anyway, we had to head for the Nakae River now.

2 By the time we reached the park bridge, the sun was beginning to set.
We put our belongings on a stone table and hurriedly began to prepare.
“First, we must wrap up the dumplings and bury them in the ground, right?”
Sanae tried to confirm this in the book, but there was no time to open it again. I shook my head.
“Did you bring a shovel or something?”
“Yes, but I only have one. I'll dig. Is there anywhere we can bury the sutras?”
We left our bags behind and wandered around the area. Under the bridge. Tree roots. Under a bench. “Why not here? The soil looks soft.”
I pointed to a spot overlooking the river. The soil was damp from the rain.
“No one is around now, so let's hurry up and bury them.”
As soon as I called out, Sanae went back to the table to get the dumplings and sutras. I dug a hole.
Before I knew it, Sanae was crouching down next to me with a set of sutras in her hands.
Neither of us talked while we were digging. Once we had dug deep enough, Sanae buried the sutras.
“Dear Princess Kikuhime. I am sorry for not being able to enclose the six sutras. We pray that you may cross the river safely.”
Sanae quietly put her hands together. I followed Sanae's example.

To make offerings to the ancestors, the 18 copies of the sutra should be purified with fire, earth, and water. Then the souls will become Buddhas.
The time had finally come for me to throw the six sutra scrolls into the river, according to Tachibana-sensei's method.
I took the last six sheets from my suitcase and handed them to Sanae. Sanae quickly wrapped them with the shikibi.

We both approached the riverbank.
“It's low tide at this time of day, right? I wonder if it will flow.”
I was worried.
“It's better than the Bansho River we saw a while ago. We can't throw them in, so let's go by the water together.”
Like the Bansho River, we also had to descend a flight of stairs to approach the river's surface.
Sanae took the lead. I followed her, feeling a bit tentative.
“It's slippery. I'm scared.”
“Don't worry. If you slip, you'll just get all muddy.”
I held her hand and somehow managed to get down to a place just next to the water.
We stood side by side and looked at each other.
“At last, the time has come,” Sanae said wholeheartedly.

I sat down.
“Okay, let’s do it.”
“Yes, please.”
I placed my hand near the water and gently removed the shikibi that wrapped the sutras.
We joined hands and watched the shikibi drift by for a while.
Sanae was the first to open her mouth.
“At one point, I really wondered what was going to happen, but I guess we can say that it ended well, don’t you think?”
I looked up to the heavens. And then I realized something.

“Look, the rain has stopped!”
It was still raining when we entered the Doppo Kunikida Museum.
I had no idea when it had stopped, but the sky looked pretty.

Chapter 7. The benefits of travel

“Oh shoot! I totally forgot!”
Sanae shouted while holding her head in her hands as she successfully finished handling the sutras.
“What's wrong? What did you forget?”
I asked as I reached for the handle of my suitcase.
“It's where we're staying tonight!”
Sanae stared at me. I started talking involuntarily.
“Is there somewhere we can book now?”
I pulled out my smartphone from my bag and started searching. A cheap inn immediately appeared.
“Hey,” I said, “there seems to be a guesthouse in Uchimachi, and it's unbelievably cheap!”
“I don't care what the price is as long as we have a roof over our heads.”
Rushed by Sanae, I immediately called the guesthouse.
“Hello.” I told them that two women wanted to make a reservation for the night.
“Yes, we have space for you. By the way, you will share the room with three men and one woman tonight. Would that be all right?”

The woman said it straightforwardly, and I quickly took my ear off the phone.
“We have a bit of a problem. It looks like we’re sharing a room with some men. Sanae, what do you think?”
If possible, I wanted to say no. I didn't want to share a room with complete strangers.
Sanae looked shocked.
“Well, we’re not married yet, you see?”
“You’re right.”
I felt relieved. I hung up the phone after politely declining. Then Sanae held out her smartphone in front of me.
“How about this place? We’ll have to go back to the station, though...”
I looked at Sanae's smartphone. Business Hotel Seifuso.
“The area around the station is outside the school district, so I don't know much about it. It doesn't look like a business hotel from the pictures, but I think it looks nice, don’t you? Also, we'll probably take the bus from in front of the station tomorrow.”
“All right. We’ll stay there tonight, then.”
This time Sanae called. We chose a room without meals.
We went to a convenience store to buy breakfast and dinner and headed to Seifuso.

Seifuso was not far from the Hotel Route Inn, where we stayed the first night.
“It's slightly bigger than I was expecting…” Sanae said as we walked up the stairs and entered Seifuso.

There was a nostalgic atmosphere and the reception counter was empty.

“Are you sure you have booked a room here?” I asked quietly.
I was worried.
“Who do you think I am?” Sanae retorted. Then she shouted to the back of the room, “Excuse me!”
“Oh, I'm sorry for keeping you waiting.”
A good-looking young woman, who looked like she could be mistaken for a high school student, appeared from inside. She was wearing a happy coat, and this place looked less and less like a business hotel.
“I made a reservation just now….”
“You must be Ms. Wada, right? Thank you for calling.”
The woman interrupted Sanae and proceeded to the reception desk, where the check-in process, despite appearances, was very efficient.
“Your room is on the third floor. We are sorry, but the hot water stops running at 11 p.m., so please finish your bath before then. Also, we do not have an elevator here, so please take the stairs.”
“I understand.”
Sanae smiled and accepted the key to our room. It was a metal key with a key chain, the type that is rarely used in hotels nowadays. I walked up the stairs dragging my suitcase along.
“I really don't feel like walking anymore. I didn't realize they don't have an elevator,” Sanae groaned as she jangled the key.

The third floor was dark and quiet.
“I'm going to take a quick shower and have some beers!”
When we reached the front of the room, Sanae tried to turn the key, but it wouldn't turn.
“What's wrong?”

I stared at the doorknob from the side.
“I don't understand. It won't turn.”
Sanae scrambled to turn the key as hard as she could.
“Wait! It's going to break!”
I hurriedly stopped Sanae and tried turning the key myself.
“You’re right. It doesn't turn at all.”
“Look, if I can’t open it, I don’t think you can either.”
Sanae got very angry.
“Did she give us the wrong key? I'll go downstairs and check.”
I took the key and went downstairs again. At the counter were two male customers who looked like backpackers. They were filling out the receptionist's form while still carrying their backpacks, and they stared at me when I suddenly appeared.
The woman who checked us in asked me “What’s wrong?”

“We can't open the door. The key won't turn at all.”
One of the backpackers laughed as I said this, and I wiped the sweat from my forehead, feeling annoyed.
The woman at the reception desk quickly checked the room number on the key ring.
“Please wait a moment. I'll go with you upstairs.”
She finished checking in the backpackers and called me over.
“I'm sorry for making you walk up and down the stairs so many times,” she said.
“It’s okay.”

The woman was taking small steps yet walking very quickly. I hurriedly followed her.
She said, “The guests who stayed here the other day lost their key. The key was recently remade, so getting in might be a little difficult.”
When the woman reached the room, she inserted the key into the keyhole.
“It's hard, but if you turn it tightly….”
Both Sanae and I were transfixed by the woman's slender hand.
She unlocked the door and turned on the light. The room was much larger than we had imagined, and two sets of futons had been prepared for us.
“I'm sorry we couldn’t open the door in the first place…”
I hung my head in embarrassment.
The woman shook her head.
“On the contrary, I’m sorry I did not explain well enough. Please enjoy your time.”
The woman bowed her head and walked out of the room.

“This is the first time I’ve been unable to open the door to a hotel room.”
Sanae plopped down on the futon without taking a shower.
“Hey! You'll make the futon dirty. Go and take a bath first!” I scolded her while checking the room.
There was a tokonoma (alcove) and even a kotatsu table. It was just like a house.
“Look! The bathroom and the toilet are separate!”
“This is better than Route Inn!”
Sanae sat up and started fiddling with her smartphone.

“Well, let's finish some work before we get to the beer!”
“What are you doing?”
I was curious and sat right next to Sanae.
“Well, since you can’t really be trusted with anything,” she said, “I'm sure you haven't checked the time for our return trip, have you?”
I couldn't even say a word.
“If we don’t book now, we won't be able to return to Tokyo. I will meet with an important client the day after tomorrow, so I can't be late.”
Sanae wrinkled her nose and looked at her smartphone.
“Sanae, you are very good at making arrangements.”
“Look, ninety percent of work is preparation. Those who can’t prepare well usually cannot perform their jobs well. Job hunting is no different.”
I leaned forward and made a joke: “Is it the same with marriage?”

“Don't ask me. Look, there are only three buses a day to the airport. Our bus will leave Saiki Station at 8:55.”
As soon as she finished checking, Sanae immediately turned off the screen of her smartphone.
I counted backward and thought about my wake-up time.
“Hey, we will have enough time to sleep.”
“I guess so. You didn't sleep last night, so you should get some sleep tonight,”
Sanae said as she opened the beer she had bought at the convenience store.

The bus to the airport arrived a little late, but it left on time.
Still, it did not affect our transfer, and we had time before our flight departed.
We relaxed at the airport, eating lunch and looking at souvenirs.
“I wonder why the return trip goes by so fast,” Sanae muttered as we boarded the plane and fastened our seatbelts.

I agreed: “We spent a long time waiting for the plane at the airport and wondered what to do, but time flew so fast.”
Shortly after the flight attendants checked our luggage and seatbelts, the plane started moving.
“The only thing I regretted a little,” Sanae suddenly muttered, “was the burning of the sutras. I would have liked to see that. I heard that the ashes would scatter if the gods understood the words. If not, the ashes will turn black and harden.”
I looked at her in surprise.
“That was written in the book, but do you really believe it? The Sanae I know would have said, 'If you burn it, it will all turn to charcoal.’ Is there anything wrong?”
Sanae didn't answer my question, instead gracefully ignoring it.
“By the way, did you put Kado Tachibana's book in your checked-in luggage?”
“No, it’s there in my bag. Why?”
“I want to read it again. When I return to Tokyo, I'll try copying the sutras!”

Sanae looked shy, and I gaped at her.
“What's with that look? Do you think I can't do it?”
“I was a little surprised that you are even thinking of performing the ritual…”
I took out the book from the bag I had put aside.
I went on this journey after a failed love. In other words, it was a sentimental journey.
Actually, I don't know whether Princess Kikuhime's memorial service went well or whether Benzaiten-sama put me in a good mood.
But something seemed to get through to my old friend sitting right next to me.
I handed the book to Sanae.

The End