From nine tales that portray the varied lives of a swath of people living on the northern island of Hokkaido?a bargirl, a woman who takes in piecework, a strip dancer, a middle-aged civil servant, a poetry instructor, etc.?emerges the story of one woman named Chiharu Tsukamoto whose life touches them all.
Chiharu was raised by her widowed grandmother in central Hokkaido after her unwed mother Sakiko left for the city at 19 to work in the “water trade.” She never knew her father, and her relationship with her free-spirited mother was mostly at long distance as Sakiko bounced around Hokkaido from one city and man to another, with only occasional visits home. As an adult, Chiharu has acquired a stoic personality, and her easily misunderstood impassiveness leads to many ups and downs in her life. In spite of her unsophisticated looks, she, like her mother, has no difficulty attracting men, but anything remotely akin to happiness continues to elude her.
When Chiharu is in high school, a neighbor boy who is home on summer break from his medical university in Asahikawa gets her pregnant, but the young man’s mother persuades her to have an abortion and no relationship develops. Once she is out of school, she moves away from her childhood home, shifting periodically from one place to another around Hokkaido. Her first stop is Sapporo’s Susukino entertainment district, where she works as a dancer. She subsequently finds a delivery job with a supermarket and weds a middle-aged man she meets while making deliveries, but the marriage does not last.
In the next story, Chiharu appears as the daughter-in-law of a couple who run a barbershop in a small port town. Their son had met her in Sapporo when he left home after high school, and the two decided to get married when she became pregnant. She gives birth to a daughter, Yayako, but abandons her family soon after. Her mother-in-law Kiriko steps in to raise Yayako.
In her late thirties Chiharu is attending poetry-writing classes while working at a café-bar in the city of Otaru. She becomes intimate with the instructor while seeking his advice to further her creative passion. Meanwhile, her mother Sakiko, who disappeared many years earlier after secretly taking out a loan with Chiharu’s bankcard, is dying of advanced, untreated breast cancer. Sakiko’s common-law husband seeks Chiharu out at her workplace, but leaves without being able to tell her about her mother. When Chiharu hurries after him with the umbrella he left behind, she is hit by a car and loses one of her legs.
Unaware that Sakiko has already died, the disabled Chiharu heads for eastern Hokkaido to search for her, hoping to live with her. En route in Tokachi, she meets a former editor who has moved there to escape the rat race in Tokyo. Something in her manner piques his interest, and he gently draws her life story out of her in the course of an evening. When she boards the bus to proceed on her way, he immediately turns to his computer to set it all down. His resulting first novel, Stars, becomes the talk of the media, but the woman it is about has disappeared to parts unknown.
In the final story, Yayako has grown to adulthood and is working as a librarian. Unresolved issues from having grown up parentless have her questioning how much stock she should place in her relationship with a man who clearly wants to marry her. Then she learns of her estranged father’s death in Asahikawa, and meeting the woman he spent his final years with brings a breakthrough that lets her move forward with her life.