Author: Akito Inui
Specifications: ISBN  978-4103178224
125 pages
13.6 x 19.6 cm / 5.4 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd.
Tokyo, 2012
Buy now: amazon.co.jp


Because his parents got divorced shortly after he was born, the narrator, now 26, grew up without ever knowing his father, looking instead to his maternal uncle, Hisashi, as a male role model. The man’s advice had always been to live his life free and easy, “however the spirit moves,” and the narrator takes this as sanction to fall into a drunken and dissolute lifestyle after college—until his uncle chastises him for missing the point, telling him that a person can’t live as the spirit moves when his spirit is dead. He is still stinging from the rebuke, when a dust-covered guitar from Hisashi’s storage shed, which he decides to sell for train fare, turns out to be a rare vintage item and brings him a major windfall. Saying nothing to Hisashi, he uses the money to go on an open-ended journey through Thailand, India, and Nepal. When he returns to Japan a year later, he learns that his uncle died a couple of months before at the age of 55. In accordance with Hisashi’s will, the narrator’s mother instructs him to go to his uncle’s home on a peninsula south of Tokyo to handle the disposition of his effects. As he undertakes the task—his instructions are to dig a hole under the grape arbor and burn everything that will burn—he reflects on his uncle’s life and his interactions with him over the years.

Practicing what he preached, Hisashi’s life had been one of many ups and downs. Unable to get along with his father and his sober, nose-to-the-grindstone mentality, he had left home at 15 and found work as a sort of apprentice yakuza. While manning a food cart, he got into a fight with a customer, who turned out to be connected with a rival syndicate. He was forced to flee to the Philippines, where he became involved in smuggling handguns into Japan. After a suitable interval he returned to Japan and took up a job in sales, but in his free time he taught himself to play guitar and compose songs, and subsequently parlayed a menial job at an upscale nightclub into an opportunity to play with the band. Soon he was composing one hit song after another. When a song that spoke approvingly of adultery made the charts, a stranger who thought Hisashi had cuckolded him stabbed him with a kitchen knife. Following this brush with death, he had withdrawn from the world of popular music and moved to a dilapidated country house with a view of the sea, where he spent time with a motley group of offbeat friends—a former pro-wrestler who played the heel in wrestling matches, a man who had lost his memory and lived without any clothes in a nearby cave, and so forth.

When the narrator is burning Hisashi’s effects, one of these friends sees the smoke and comes by to inquire. This leads to the narrator and several others getting together that night at Hisashi’s favorite local bar for a wake of sorts, sharing memories of the man and singing his songs to the accompaniment of a karaoke machine.

In the end, talking with Hisashi’s friends and reflecting on his life bring the narrator to a new understanding of what his uncle meant by living as the spirit moves. As the story comes to a close, he appears ready to put behind him the utter aimlessness that had prompted his uncle to tell him that his spirit was dead.