This collection of linked stories, set in a shopping district of the old shitamachi merchant and artisan quarter of Tokyo, tells of a complicated love triangle between two brothers and the woman they have both been in love with from an early age.
The three main characters all graduated from the same high school, with Yūta Ikeuchi and Mihiro Hayakawa in the same class, and Keisuke Ikeuchi two years ahead of them. They grew up together on the same street, where the boys’ parents owned a liquor store and Mihiro’s parents ran a stationery shop. At 29, Mihiro is now a preschool teacher, Yūta works in a real-estate office on the street he grew up on, and Keisuke is a systems engineer for a large company. Keisuke and Mihiro have been in a relationship ever since he asked her to be his steady when she was in tenth grade, and they are now living together. Yūta had also been on the verge of confessing his love to Mihiro, but his older brother beat him to the punch. Although the death of the boys’ father three years ago led Keisuke and Mihiro to put off wedding plans, nobody doubts that they will eventually tie the knot. Mihiro finds her sexual desires building to inordinate heights, and she can’t wait to start a family with Keisuke, but the endless demands of Keisuke’s work have rendered him unable to perform, and this has begun to affect their relationship. One summer day when Mihiro is desperate to make love but Keisuke turns her away, she goes to see Yūta at his apartment and all but rapes him to gain her sexual release.
The following year, Mihiro and Keisuke set a date in May. After undergoing fertility treatments, Mihiro becomes pregnant, but soon has a miscarriage. In the meantime, though still unable to get Mihiro out of his mind, Yūta begins dating Risa, a woman he got to know while showing her apartments available to rent. She is older than Yūta and has a boy in grade school. Her first husband, a doctor, divorced her for running up large debts at pachinko, and she is still addicted to the game, turning to it whenever her work becomes too stressful. Yūta envisions marriage, but Risa ultimately decides to remarry her ex instead. Then Mihiro leaves Keisuke, declaring their engagement over, and rushes into Yūta’s arms. As the end of the year approaches, Yūta visits the lonely Keisuke in Osaka, where his company has sent him on extended assignment, and tells him that Mihiro is pregnant and they are engaged to be married.
The story offers a realistic and engrossing portrayal of the state of relationships between men and women in today’s Japan, touching on such themes as sexual incompatibility, domestic violence, child neglect, and prostitution.