This volume contains eight short stories about people who become caught up in some fixation and find it altering their lives.
The title story centers on two women, Nashida and Hamanaka, who have been close friends since high school. Hamanaka’s black-rimmed glasses and long hair down her back?a style she continues to sport at 32?earned her the nickname of “Wartime” when she was in high school because it was seen as reminiscent of the style adopted by many women during World War II. By contrast, Nashida got the nickname “Postwar” for her bobbed hair. After college, Hamanaka landed a job at a major securities firm and was able to buy her own condo in central Tokyo by the time she was 25. Nashida went to work for a bank and became an asset manager, and had earnings from personal investments as well. The two have made it their custom to get together and catch up over drinks every few months.
One day Hamanaka suggests that they quit their jobs and start a band together, and Nashida agrees. Inspired by their old nicknames, they decide to call the band “World War II.” They are skilled musicians and become popular for being able to play with remarkable intensity while standing virtually still on stage. But ever since puberty, both women have bristled at the way men judge their appearance and treat them as sex objects, and they have often wished they hadn’t been born female.
The two move to residential Kōenji, a short distance west of central Tokyo, into an apartment with no bath. One day when they go to the public bathhouse, Hamanaka tells Nashida a story she heard from the owner of one of the clubs they play, about a man whose feet are on fire. The claim is that his feet are literally aflame below the ankles. They become enamored of this “burning man,” whom they have never met. Then one day he appears at the bathhouse, and creates such a commotion that he ends up having to flee. Nashida and Hamanaka go after him, and find him sitting on the street. Upon seeing him, they feel a warm sensation in their chests. Recognizing in him a man who sees people for who they really are, they fall in love with him. They find a coffee vending machine and buy some iced coffee to cool his feet. After that, they find that their own feet are on fire as well?not because they have walked any great distance, but because they have begun wearing high-heeled shoes, which they’ve never worn before. They also begin paying great attention to their complexions. They exchange a pledge not to criticize each other or laugh at each other for any feminine ways they might adopt. Until this, they had always denied their femininity, but meeting the man with the burning feet has changed them. “Perhaps others will ridicule us, but why should we care about that?” they say to themselves, now completely caught up in the battle of love.
Among the other titles in the book are Aru fūsen no rakka (The Descent of a Balloon), a tragicomic tale set in a world where people suffer from a malady known as “balloon disease,” in which their bodies float into the air when under too much stress; and Sora o matsu (Waiting for the Sky), in which the protagonist picks up a mobile phone someone has dropped, and then becomes increasingly dependent on the text messages that arrive on it.