The year is 1970, and Japan is about to see an end to the spirited economic growth that carried it through much of the postwar era. Six short stories adopt the perspective of a young boy and girl who live in a run-down area of Osaka, a thriving center of commerce. The title work is the tale of a boy and his sister who lost their father years earlier. The boy clings to the words his father spoke to him when his sister was born: "No matter what happens, you've got to look after her." Now that Fumiko is growing older, the brother is beginning to see his protective role as a losing proposition.
The narrative opens with Fumiko, then aged seven, begging her ten-year-old brother to humor her in "the biggest wish I'll ever ask of you." She believes that she is the reincarnation of Kiyomi, a woman stabbed to death at age 21 while working as an elevator attendant, and she wants to visit Kiyomi's bereaved family. The brother grudgingly agrees to comply with her wish, and the siblings embark on a train journey to meet Kiyomi's father and hand him a hana manma?a child's play meal made of flower petals. Kiyomi's family are astonished: making hana manma had been one of her favorite pastimes as a child. The coincidence, and others like it, frighten the brother so that he is only able to relax once Fumiko makes it to her own 22nd birthday safely . . .
In each superb story of the collection, author Minato Shukawa bewitches the readers with his talent, drawing us into the tales with a touch that never reveals whether the narrative is a recounting of facts or a trek into fantasy.