Getsugyo - 1.1
At the end of a narrow street was an orange light. It belonged to the antiquarian bookshop, “Mukyuudou”.
T/N: “Mukyuudou” means something like “Temple of Eternity”.
Taichi Senagaki stopped and lit a cigarette.
Twilight was approaching. Darkly condensed groves ran on both sides of the street, which were rare nowadays considering the distance from the city center. There were streetlights as well, but even they were concealed by the trees. The lamp of “Mukyuudou”, as if having foreseen Senagaki’s visit, illuminated the dimly lit street with a faint glow.
The lamp was like a lighthouse, guiding ships through the misty harbor. The small red fire between Senagaki’s lips flickered as if signaling permission for a port call.
The street gradually tapered off as he drew near “Mukyuudou”. When traveling down this street in the daytime, your perspective would become distorted, as if the destination felt much further away than it was in reality, but today, things like the width of the street after sunset were trivial. You could concentrate on the walk as you relied on the outside light alone.
“Mukyuudou” was located at the northern end of a narrow road, running north to south. The sense of oppression Senagaki felt from both sides of the groves vanished, and gravel touched at his feet. A gravel road much like a farm road, running east to west before the grounds of the antiquarian bookshop.
A wooden sign hanging at the entrance to the store emerged in a white halo. The words “Mukyuudou’s Rare Books” were inscribed in colors of the night.
Senagaki crossed the gravel road in three steps and laid his hands on the door of a cool iron gate. The small, belly-high gate made a shrill scream-like sound but opened up without any noticeable resistance.
The shop’s glass sliding doors were shut and the black sunshade curtains had been drawn as if the preparations to close had already been made. Senagaki peered inside through a gap in the curtains. No signs of movement from anyone, however, at this time his friend shouldn’t have retired to the main building yet. He guessed that his friend was probably in the library at the back of the store, and knocked on the glass.
”Heey, open up, Mashiki!”
His loud voice could make the glass tremble, and there were riotous footsteps inside. Senagaki noticed the cigarette in his mouth had grown short, and hurriedly pinched it between his fingers. The moment he leaned over and tried to grind it out onto the stepping stones at his feet, the curtains flared, and light spilled from within the store.
Mashiki Honda looked down sulkily at Senagaki, who was crouching, and shut the curtains in silence.
”Hang on, how can you be so heartless?”
Senagaki beat repeatedly on the glass door with both hands, raising his pathetic voice, “Mashiki-chaan, please open the doors! I brought meat, c’mon, meat.”
The curtains opened up once more, and the lock on the door fell away. At last, Senagaki pulled open the doors to Ama-no-Iwato.
T/N: Ama-no-Iwato (天岩戸, literally “heavenly rock cave”) is a cave in Japanese mythology. According to the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters), the bad behavior of Susano’o, the Japanese god of storms, drove his sister Amaterasu into the Ame-no-Iwato cave. The land was thus deprived of light.
Mashiki was dressed up in refined Japanese clothes as usual with a casual maroon kimono and thin, black sash. He looked like a swordsman from another era, but the outfit suited his pale complexion.
”I told you not to smoke, didn’t I?”
His almond eyes narrowed, tawny irises colored in displeasure.
Senegaki put both hands up in an act of play-surrender.
”Got it, got it. I ditched the cigarette, see?”
Saying that, he touched the light-colored hair falling upon Mashiki’s pale forehead. “Worrying about my well-being like always.”
”Don’t be foolish.”
The curt shake of Mashiki’s head had a temperature of absolute zero that made even ice seem a bit warmer. His hair slipped away from Senagaki’s hand.
”I don’t care where or to what degree you do it, but I will not endure any smoking in this house, that is all.”
Saying just that, Mashiki headed towards the center of the store to a space where bookshelves met the ceiling. The lights were still on inside, but the fire had gone out and it felt chilly. Senagaki kept his black coat on and came in after Mashiki.
Mashiki arranged his shoes neatly at the doma and ascended to the attendant’s booth. Then he took a black hanten coat from under a zabuton pillow. Proud and elegant, when Mashiki put on the hanten, his unapproachable aura somewhat vanished and his defenselessness shone, unchanged from their school days. Senagaki joined in and took off his shoes before entering the attendant’s booth. Mashiki glowered and looked up at Senagaki’s face, which was slightly higher than his own.
T/N: Doma (dirt floor) refers to the space between indoors and outdoors in a Japanese house. Used as a workshop, kitchen, or storage space, this feature of traditional architecture is both rare and popular in our modern times.
Hanten (袢纏; also半纏,半天, or袢天), a short winter coat, is an item of traditional Japanese clothing.
”You’re planning to have dinner here again.”
”But look how I brought meat with me today.” Senagaki brandished the small paper package that was dangling in one hand.
”I’m finding you to be more and more distasteful. The only time you bring me a gift is when you’re bothering me for favors and whatnot.” Shrugging his shoulders, Mashiki pushed his way through the navy blue shop curtain, “Make sure you pick up the cigarette butts tomorrow.”
“I get to stay over? Lucky me.”
As Senagaki teased, a cherry blossom pink tinged the slender nape of Mashiki’s neck.
Inside the shop curtain was a library. The room spanned about eight tatami mats in length, and books were overflowing from the shelves, piling up into heaps on the floor. This was Mashiki’s workroom, so to speak. Here, he arranged and classified various things, from items that were bought and haven’t been displayed yet, to ones he was binding together to take to the marketplace, and those to be published in the catalog.
The wooden floorboards were cold to the touch. Senagaki gazed at the mountain of books while alternating his steps and rubbing the soles of his feet. “Whaddaya think, find anything good?”
”I suppose so. I found the complete works of Ayuzawa.”
”The ones from during the war?”
”No, the post-war editions published by Toueisha. Quite beautiful books, too.”
Mashiki seemed pleased and asked if Senagaki wanted to see them. Senagaki nodded with a grin. Mashiki dug through the mountain of books excitedly and brought out a complete box set of thirteen books, each cover carefully wrapped with paraffin paper.
The two crouched down before the complete works laid out on the floor.
“These are amazing. Did you do the covers?”
The paraffin paper was a thin, semi-translucent paper that, when used to cover books, could defend against yellowing from the sun or clinging tobacco residue to a certain extent.
”No, the previous owner did it.”
Senagaki watched as Mashiki’s delicate fingers stroked the books lovingly, and picked up a middle volume.
“I didn’t buy them just for decoration, though. I’m truly going to read them. Still, they are lovely, aren’t they?”
You can tell if a book has been read or not by the subtle resistance of the pages when opening them. The pages softly unfolded in Senagaki’s hands without the least bit of damage. Senagaki was astonished.
”They’re certainly in good shape. We don’t get many like this.”
A faint smile appeared on Mashiki’s face. His gentle gaze, never aimed at Senagaki, was fixed on the books at hand. Senagaki carefully placed the books back in the box and returned it to Mashiki.
”These couldn’t have been from the market. Did you buy them?”
”They’re from Tanabe-san in the fifth neighborhood.”
Mashiki returned the complete works to their original place in the shade of the bookshelves where the sunshine didn’t reach. “I heard these were the cherished belongings of his deceased daughter. The other day he called my home and said, ‘My wife and I are not going to live much longer. I can’t die without seeing with my own eyes who these books go to.’”
”So basically your work has been recognized.”
Mashiki shook his head.
”A person like me still has a long way to go compared to my grandfather.”
Senagaki laughed and rose to his feet. ”Well, compared to the famed Old Man Honda of the used book world, we wouldn’t even be considered chicks. We’re eggs.”
Mashiki was twenty-four and Senagaki was twenty-five. In the used book industry, it’s said that after ten years of apprenticeship, one can finally stand on their own and open up a store, but the two of them were far too young. The standards for buying books and the prices at which they are sold are left to the values and abilities of each store owner. If the shop owner doesn’t give it their all every day, they’ll be swept off their feet by customers in the blink of an eye and become the laughing stock of their competitors. One wrong move and both stores and customers will be charmed by old books, turning into kids as they cluster to the specialty saké known as “collecting”. If one doesn’t confront books with their own eyes, they may be misled by the price standards of other stores and end up losing money. Despite the Chimimōryō that run rampant in the used book business, these two men have managed to survive until now.
T/N: Chimimōryō (traditional Chinese and Japanese: 魑魅魍魎; simplified Chinese: 魑魅魍魉; pinyin: Chīmèi wǎngliǎng; rōmaji: chimimōryō) is a term that refers to monsters of the mountains and monsters of the rivers. Also, the latter half of this paragraph was confusing for me, but I tried my best to translate it, even if the meaning is obscure.
”So you’re not taking this set to the market.”
”I’m selling them in the catalog, that way I can report who has them to Tanabe-san.”
”Saying who bought them is against the rules.”
Mashiki glared at Senagaki slightly. ”I don’t need you to tell me what the rules prohibit in buying.”
”That’s so cruel. Even though I’ve always bought from you at a fair price.”
Ignoring Senagaki’s theatrics, Mashiki quickly advanced to the inner parts of the shop. “We’re doing hotpot tonight. Go fetch the vegetables you want from the garden.”