At the young age of 38, Kōsuke Hashida is chosen to head the personnel department of a company that belongs to one of Japan’s largest conglomerates. A rising star on the corporate fast track, he is engaged to be married to 28-year-old Rui Fujiyama, daughter of an oil company president and niece of his own company’s head, Ōgigaya. One day Hashida comes to the aid of a junior-college student, Kaori Nakahira, when the owner of the bar she works at is giving her a hard time. As their friendship grows he is soon giving her advice on finding a job, offering emotional support, and helping her out in a variety of other ways. Having been abused by her mother and older brother as a child Kaori is mentally fragile, and she remains terrified of her brother, who continues to try to approach her.
Hashida’s smooth-sailing career encounters choppier waters as he gets drawn into a power struggle within the company. An exposé appears in the newspaper about political shenanigans orchestrated by Ōgigaya to curry favor in connection with oil field development in Indonesia. As Hashida conducts his own investigation of the matter it comes to light that some 200 million yen in political funds have gone missing, and there are calls for the president’s ouster. Although Ōgigaya is indeed guilty of embezzling the money, he manages to save his own skin by shifting the blame to his loyal aide Suruga; he resigns as president to become chairman of the board. Having been thrown under the bus by his boss, Suruga commits suicide in despair, and Hashida is so disillusioned with Ōgigaya that he quits the company.
The now jobless Hashida tries to break off his engagement with Rui, but her love is strong, and she refuses to let him go: they begin a new life together. While Hashida and Rui are away on a trip, Kaori is attacked by the brother who has been stalking her, and a blow to the head leaves her in a vegetative state. Although Hashida has always been concerned about Kaori’s safety, he regrets that he has been out of touch with her while things developed with Rui. When he rushes to the hospital to see her, her fiancé Yanagihara reveals that the person Kaori really loves is Hashida. Yanagihara gives Hashida a letter addressed to him from Kaori in which she states her determination to stand on her own two feet, without Hashida’s help. Realizing for the first time what is really important to him, Hashida breaks up with Rui; vowing to remain at Kaori’s side until she recovers consciousness, he decides to file marriage papers.
The story of ill-fated love between hero and heroine shines like a single fleeting ray of light amidst the dark realities of corporate culture in this strong debut work by an author who has subsequently gone on to win the Naoki Prize.