A few months ago, Eriko was murdered by a stalker who had grown obsessed with her but then was “Shocked to find out that this beautiful woman was a man.” As he was stabbing her in the nightclub, Eriko beat him to death with a barbell. Mikage, who had already moved out, doesn’t hear the news until months later when Yuichi finally calls to tell her. He couldn’t bring himself to do it sooner. The first thing Yuichi says is “She died fighting,” and Mikage is stunned as she pieces together the news. Mikage feels her insides drop as she realizes Eriko is gone. Yuichi keeps asking Mikage to forgive him and Mikage interrupts, saying she’s coming over. Without betraying a shred of emotion, Yuichi says he’ll drive Mikage home after.
The second half of the story explores bereavement through characters grieving Eriko’s death. The murderer attacked Eriko because she was transgender, underscoring the horrific violence that people in this community often face. However, Yoshimoto makes it clear that Eriko is no less empowered in death. She fights back and kills her attacker, remaining a strong figure—and the central matriarch—in the story, even after death.
Mikage frantically tries to recall the last time she saw Eriko. Was it the day Mikage moved out, when Eriko cried a little? No. It was late one night when they bumped into each other in a supermarket. Mikage jokingly teased Eriko about looking masculine, and Eriko quipped back that she had “a smart-ass for a daughter.”
Through Mikage’s memory of the supermarket, Yoshimoto shows that Eriko really does think of Mikage as a daughter. Even though they are not related, they are still family. Eriko continues to care for Mikage from a distance, showing that their bond is not diminished when Mikage moves out. Eriko is also comfortable enough in her womanhood that she is not threatened by Mikage’s teasing.
Mikage tries to throw together an overnight bag, but all she does is run around opening and closing drawers. Eventually she manages to grab a toothbrush and a towel and runs out in a daze. When Mikage comes to, she finds herself walking in the street with tears flowing down her face. She feels like she’s choking and can’t see. Everything is distorted, but in a beautiful way. She feels powerless as energy rushes out of her body and dissipates into the dark night. Even though she lost her parents and grandmother, Mikage has never felt more alone than in this moment. She wants to die. She knows she won’t though, and will live in sadness forever, but she focuses on Yuichi and keeps walking.
Yoshimoto captures here the immediate sensations that arise in the first stages of grief, focusing on the moment when a person first hears the news of a death. Physically, Mikage is in shock, manic, and feels disoriented. She also doesn’t seem to have control of her body, which is functioning almost independently of her. Emotionally, Mikage feels lost and alone. Mikage’s pain is represented by the dark night, which, at this point, has no symbolic points of light within it, suggesting that Mikage can’t connect with any joy right now.
Mikage rings Yuichi’s doorbell, feeling hopeless. When he answers the door, she can’t help but smile. She’s genuinely glad to see him. Yuichi was afraid Mikage would be angry, but she laughs the thought away and he relaxes. Yuichi explains that he felt functional for the first time today. When Eriko died, everything went dark and he went blank. Eriko was everything to him—“She was my mother, my father.” The funeral was chaos because the murderer’s family showed up and it caused a brawl. Yuichi explains that Mikage was on his mind the whole time, but he just couldn’t bring himself to call her. He was out of his mind.
Yoshimoto shows, through Yuichi’s actions, that grief can be self-destructive. Yuichi avoided Mikage even though she could have helped him through the funeral, as he did for her. Yoshimoto also shows that grief can make people feel blank, numb, and silenced by pain, as represented by the metaphor of everything going dark. Yuichi’s reflections about Eriko show that she was the encapsulation of a whole family in one person.
Mikage looks Yuichi deep in the eyes and finds herself saying that for some reason the two of them always have death around them. It’s funny that in the expanse of the universe, this pair became friends. Yuichi jokes that perhaps they should start a “destruction worker” business and move in with people whom their clients want dead. His sad, cheerful face radiates a “dim glow.” Outside the window, tiny points of light flicker through the dark. Yuichi reflects that he’s an orphan now, as tears stream down his face. Yuichi says he desperately needed Mikage, to make him laugh. Mikage takes Yuichi’s face in her hands, and softly thanks him for calling her.
Yoshimoto shows that Mikage is able to bring Yuichi down to earth a bit by making him laugh and making him feel like they are connected so that Yuichi feels less alone. These two things help lift Yuichi (and Mikage) out of abject despair, which is metaphorically reflected by the sky which is no longer completely dark but punctuated with the tiniest flickers of light. Yoshimoto re-emphasizes that uncontrollable crying is a visceral part of the grieving process.
Yuichi hands Eriko’s will to Mikage, and goes to bed. It’s a cheerful letter joking about the silliness of a will but acknowledging its necessity, just in case some crazy person who doesn’t understand Eriko’s “dazzling” body kills her. Eriko says she’s trying to write like a man, but is a woman “body and soul” and a mother “in name and in fact.” Eriko warns Yuichi not to contact his grandparents, but to lean on Mikage instead. Eriko says she’s loved her life as a man, as a woman, and as a parent to Yuichi and Mikage. Eriko asks Yuichi to tell Mikage not to bleach her leg hair in front of boys because it’s indecent. Finally, Eriko jokes that it’s great being an only child because she’s leaving everything to Yuichi except the nightclub.
Eriko explicitly states that she is in every sense a woman despite having lived part of her life as a man. Yoshimoto legitimizes transgender womanhood through Eriko’s confident assertions about her gender, her beauty, and her status as a mother. Yoshimoto asserts that family bonds are formed through consistent nurturing, which is shown by Eriko’s continued motherly nurturing of Mikage in her will with the joke about personal grooming. Finally, Eriko’s confident assertions show that not even her death can undo her empowerment, which establishes a link between womanhood and power.
Mikage is wearing Eriko’s sweater and her heart lurches as she thinks of the smell of Eriko’s perfume fading. Mikage lays on the sofa, thinking of the sound of Eriko’s slippers clattering about the kitchen. Mikage misses Eriko so much that she feels she’ll go mad. She wonders if she woke Yuichi up with her crying, or if he woke up from a bad dream. Mikage reflects that a “door to the grave” opened that night.
In this passage, Yoshimoto describes sensory components of memory to show that grieving someone is very much wrapped up in missing their smell and their sound. The kitchen symbolizes Eriko’s vitality in life, which is reduced to a memory now that she has died.
Mikage and Yuichi sleep into the afternoon. As they sit next to each other watching TV, Mikage has the “strange sensation” that they’re orphans. Yuichi wonders if Mikage will go home, and Mikage thinks perhaps after dinner. Yuichi is suddenly excited, and urges Mikage to make a feast. Mikage leaps into enthusiastic action, rattling off a shopping list for Yuichi, who jokes about her bossiness. Yuichi leaves, and the apartment feels silent, as if time has stopped, the way it always does when someone dies. Mikage stares out of the window at the grey fog outside. Mikage misses the “light” that Eriko emitted, which has been replaced with a dark “heavy shadow of despair.”
Yoshimoto shows that in times of tremendous grief, and particularly when faced with the disorienting strangeness of making sense of somebody’s death, sometimes the only thing that will bring a person back down to earth is a simple, everyday task, because that action is grounding. The idea of shopping for and eating a meal seems to revive Yuichi, reconnecting him with the rhythms of daily life. Mikage, however, still feels lost and painfully sad, which is symbolized by the absence of Eriko’s “light” and the dark hopelessness that surrounds Mikage.
Mikage looks up at the ceiling. When Mikage’s grandmother died, she thought things couldn’t get worse. Now Eriko’s dead, and things are worse. Mikage wonders if adulthood is just understanding that pain won’t kill you and you can still go on. Mikage feels hollow. Eriko’s face flashes in front of her eyes, and her heart twists. Mikage starts cleaning the kitchen, which is dirty and dark. As Mikage scrubs every surface, she starts to calm down, and she wonders why she connects with kitchens so much. Standing in the kitchen, she feels as if she’s turning a corner, and starting anew.
Yoshimoto makes it explicit that sometimes the only way to push through pain is to do a simple, immediate task, no matter how small. The action of doing something that’s part of their regular routine—be it eating a meal or cleaning the kitchen—reconnects a grieving person with the feeling of living, one moment after another, until they push past the darkness. Yoshimoto symbolizes this idea with Mikage cleaning Eriko’s kitchen, which calms her. It focuses Mikage’s mind on something tangible and gives her the strength to keep going.
Over the summer, Mikage had learned to cook. Mikage cooked so much that Eriko and Yuichi had thought Mikage had gone crazy. The more she cooked, the more she tempered her initial chaotic enthusiasm with calm control. Then Mikage landed a job as a cooking teacher’s assistant. She thinks she got the job because she attacks cooking with intense joy. Many people live within their comfort zone, shielded from the knowledge that everyone is really alone. But Mikage cooks with a fierce knowledge that she will die, which makes her feel truly alive. Inching her way through the dark at the brink of despair, the moon’s light appears and a special kind of beauty permeates the heart.
Through her cooking, Mikage is able to achieve a true connection with joy. Just as Eriko said earlier in the story, Mikage’s experiences with pain and suffering allow her to experience bliss, which brings her cooking alive in a way that people who have always just been comfortably happy cannot understand. Mikage’s knowledge of death was once a source of existential angst, but here, it enables her to experience a fiery happiness. Yoshimoto thus explains that moonlight (or joy) is most beautiful against a dark sky (which represents the presence of suffering).
Yuichi arrives with the car full of shopping bags and cajoles Mikage into helping him carry up all the things he’s bought. To distract Mikage, Yuichi points at the moon, which is shining brightly, and asks if she thinks it affects her cooking. It must, because for her, cooking is an art. Mikage thinks Yuichi speaks as if he understands her deeply. Suddenly, Mikage feels that all she needs is Yuichi, and she’ll be alright. The feeling passes in a flash, and Mikage is confused. She’s dazzled by the light from his eyes.
Yoshimoto continues the moonlight metaphor to show that Yuichi also understands Mikage’s passion for cooking. Yuichi also knows loss, so he understands the way that joy and suffering can exist alongside one another. Mikage feels a deep connection—and perhaps even a jolt of romantic love—with Yuichi, which is once again symbolized by the light shining from Yuichi’s eyes.
As Mikage cooks an enormous feast of stew, salad, pie, vegetables, and all sorts of things, she avoids the topic of Eriko’s death. It feels unreal, and she needs to approach it gently and slowly. For now, she thinks just of her and Yuichi and the present moment, and she feels safe. They eat over wine, and Mikage notices that Yuichi is very drunk. He’s been drinking every night and having nightmares about Mikage yelling at him. He felt all he needed was Mikage to come over, but he was afraid she wouldn’t be able to stand the pain of Eriko’s absence in the apartment. Mikage feels she deeply understands Yuichi.
Yoshimoto subverts patriarchal gender dynamics by showing that Yuichi, despite being the dominant male character in the story, is in distress, and it’s Mikage’s presence that is, in a sense, saving him. Now that Eriko, the most empowered figure in the story, has died, it’s Mikage who starts to embody the empowered role in her dynamic with Yuichi, while Yuichi is relatively weak and struggling to cope with his grief.
Yuichi asks Mikage to move back in. Mikage asks if Yuichi means as a lover or a friend. Yuichi can’t think straight and doesn’t know. Even though they both know death well, Yuichi doesn’t want to get Mikage entrenched in his grief. Mikage, who’s about to cry, tells Yuichi to stop talking like that. The apartment feels silent, heavy, and lost without Eriko. Mikago imagines her and Yuichi standing side by side, staring into the depths of hell. Mikago doesn’t know if they can build a life from that “dreadful” place. Suddenly, realizing how melodramatic her daydream is, Mikage starts laughing. Yuichi has fallen asleep, and Mikage cries and cries as she does the dishes, feeling lonely and left behind in the dark.
Yoshimoto shows that grief can have profound and long-lasting effects on the way a person thinks and makes emotional decisions. Mikage wants to embrace a relationship with Yuichi but is afraid that their shared experiences of grief means that they won’t be able to connect with joy.
Mikage wakes up to the telephone ringing. She answers and the other person hangs up. It must be a girl. Mikage gets dressed and slips out to go to work without waking Yuichi, agonizing about whether she should come back and stay the night. Luckily, a well-timed distraction arises: Mikage’s boss wants Mikage to join her on a three-day research trip to the Izu Peninsula. Mikage immediately agrees, thinking a break is just what she needs right now.
Mikage is afraid of getting dragged down into the same dark state of mind that Yuichi is in as he processes his grief, so she agrees to a change of air, which might be just what she needs to reconnect with some normalcy. Yoshimoto implies that Mikage might have a rival for Yuichi’s affection with the cryptic phone call.
Mikage starts work with her coworkers Nori and Kuri, who are sweet, affluent, well-trained, polite young ladies. Mikage enjoys prepping food with them in the light-flooded kitchen. Suddenly, a girl named Okuno walks in asking for Mikage. Okuno tells Mikage to stay out of Yuichi’s life, because their half-relationship is making him stuck in his life. Mikage is deeply hurt and pushes back, firmly telling Okuno she knows nothing of Mikage’s history with Eriko and Yuichi. Okuno turns around curtly and leaves. Nori and Kuri comfort Mikage, saying she’s done nothing wrong with Yuichi. Mikage suddenly feels tired.
Mikage enjoys her work in the kitchen, which is captured by the way it’s bathed in light. Okuno’s sudden intervention shows that Mikage’s bond with Yuichi is something that most people cannot understand. They’ve mostly lived as siblings and as friends, but Mikage’s anger at Okuno informs the reader that Mikage is developing stronger feelings for Yuichi, even if the situation is complicated due to their shared grief over Eriko.
That evening, Mikage is cooking curry at Yuichi’s when he walks in. Somehow, she can’t meet his eyes. Mikage tells Yuichi she’s leaving for a work trip and he offers to drive her home. On the way, Mikage suddenly decides she wants to get tea with Yuichi. Unquestioningly, he takes her to a café. All their past tea-drinking moments seem to mingle in the air. Yuichi admits that nothing tastes of anything to him and recalls how Mikage was the same when grieving her grandmother. Mikage hopes that the glow of light surrounding them in the warm coffee shop warms his soul.
Yoshimoto shows that grief can also stunt sensory experiences, as both Yuichi and Mikage experience an inability to taste things when grieving. Similarly, Mikage felt like she couldn’t see when she learned of Eriko’s death, emphasizing how the mental anguish of grief is wrapped up in physical sensations and experiences. The loving bond between Yuichi and Mikage is represented by the glow in the coffeeshop.
Yuichi opens the door for Mikage and they joke about how Eriko insisted on having the car door opened for her, even though she “was a man.” Suddenly a heavy silence falls on them. It occurs to Mikage that Yuichi must have opened the door for Okuno too, and she suddenly becomes jealous. She feels like they are two streams of light floating towards a “critical juncture” in the dark. As they walk toward the station in the cold, Mikage buries her face into Yuichi’s arm and smells his sweater. He stays still, allowing Mikage to linger, and smiles, saying they’ll go for tea again when Mikage’s back. They say goodbye, and Mikage wonders if she or Okuno is winning.
Mikage’s flash of jealousy shows that she is starting to experience romantic feelings for Yuichi and feel more hopeful about building a positive bond with him despite their experiences with suffering. Yoshimoto symbolizes Mikage’s realization with the imagery of two streams of light in the dark.
Mikage recalls a bittersweet memory. Eriko was watering the plants, looking “thrillingly beautiful” in the light. She talked about the time when Yuichi’s biological mother was dying of cancer and wanted a plant to connect her with light and the sun. Eriko was “A typical male, at that time.” A few days later, Yuichi’s biological mother asked Eriko to take the plant—a pineapple—away, so that it wouldn’t be colored with death. When Yuichi’s biological mother died, the pineapple died too. Eriko realized that the balance of “pleasant” and “unpleasant” things in the world would always remain the same. Eriko decided to “embrace a muddled cheerfulness” about life and become a woman. Mikage wonders why everyone dies, and wonders if happiness is just getting through it all.
Mikage’s memory expands on Yoshimoto’s philosophy about the balance of joy and suffering in the world (which Yoshimoto imparts through the voice of Eriko). Eriko understands that it is impossible to eradicate pain—suffering is ever-present in the world, and even if a person tries to ignore it, they will eventually feel its effects, just as the pineapple still withers even though Eriko takes it away. Eriko’s ability to accept the presence of pain is what allows her to make peace with life, connect with her path to joy, and transition to life as a woman. Yoshimoto thus shows that peace of mind and lasting happiness arise when pain is not avoided but embraced as part of f life.
Mikage is packing. Suddenly Chika—Eriko’s coworker at the club (who wears drag but isn’t explicitly female)—calls, saying they need to talk. They meet for ramen and Chika explains, in her colorful and dramatic way, that Yuichi came in last night in despair and looked miserable when Chika suggested he find Mikage. Suddenly, Chika realized that Yuichi and Mikage are in love. Chika gives Mikage the address of the inn she sent Yuichi to, and tells Mikage to go get her man, teasing Mikage about being a virgin. Mikage thinks about how much sadder her connection with Yuichi is than Chika thinks. Chika talks about Eriko’s murder and sobs loudly. Mikage is moved and walks Chika back to the club, wondering what on earth to do about Yuichi.
That Chika wears drag—but doesn’t necessarily identify as female—highlights the fluidity of gender identity. Through Chika’s sobbing, Yoshimoto once again shows that unexpected crying is a central component of the grieving process.
The next day, Mikage goes to Izu with her colleagues, feeling relieved but guilty about a break from the complicated highs and lows of her relationship with Yuichi and her grief about Eriko, who was the “dazzling sun” whose light illuminated them both. Mikage yearns for peace. Mikage wanders through the town in the evening, looking for food, feeling light and elated at the adventure of being in a new place. She wonders if she should just travel forever, untethered to anybody, but she knows she’s not free: she’s connected to Yuichi’s soul.
Yoshimoto represents the fierce happiness that Eriko brought to Yuichi and Mikage as the light of the sun, whose force is truly missed. Mikage’s musings about traveling capture another element of the grieving process: the desire to run away from a place of pain. In acknowledging her connection to Yuichi, Mikage realizes that although she often feels alienated and alone in the world, she really isn’t.
Spotting a light, Mikage enters a near-empty eatery with relief, and orders a hearty meal of fried pork in broth. Spotting a telephone, Mikage calls Yuichi, who chuckles when he realizes Chika’s meddling. Yuichi’s voice feels faraway, and Mikage misses him terribly. Yuichi jokes about how tofu is the only food near his inn. Mikage jokes about how Chika is obsessed with tofu and they both laugh. Mikage muses about how they’re both hungry under the same night sky and it hits her that she and Yuichi are approaching a soft turning point amidst all the death that surrounds them: either they will remain friends, or they will shift into something else, but this is the moment.
Once again, the metaphor of light as a source of joy directs Mikage toward something that will make her happy: here, a good meal. Mikage drives the action with Yuichi by calling him, indicating a shift from a more traditional patriarchal picture in which men are actively driving the plot while women are more passive. Mikage recognizes that she is at a crucial juncture with Yuichi: either she needs to spring into action, or the moment will pass, and their connection will fade away.
Mikage asks Yuichi when he’ll be back, and he lies, saying soon. Mikage knows he will try to hide away and shield his depression from her as long as possible. They joke a little more and say goodbye, just as Mikage’s pork is ready. Suddenly, she feels exhausted and utterly lonely as the dark night falls hard and fast. Mikage feels something is ending and she wants to fight for it, but she doesn’t know if she has the strength, and feels hopeless. She digs into the pork and is suddenly exhilarated because it’s insanely good. In fact, she realizes, it’s perfection. Mikage thinks to herself, “if only Yuichi were here.” Without thinking, she orders another order, to go.
Yoshimoto sets up the approaching climax of the story as an inversion of the traditional patriarchal narrative: there is no damsel in distress in this story, but rather a man in distress. Mikage wants to help Yuichi, but the pain of his loss permeates her and she feels low (represented by the dark night falling around her). As before, Yoshimoto shows that taking care of the body is often what is needed in times of pain, seen through the way that the pork revives Mikage and lifts her mood.
Mikage finds herself in the street, holding a steaming box of fried pork, wondering what to do now. A taxi approaches so she gets in, deciding to go with it, and speeds far away to Isehara, where Yuichi is staying. The taxi driver jokes that it must be a matter of love, and Mikage smiles sheepishly. She dozes off under the light of the full moon, and wakes when they arrive, feeling more awake than her body. The taxi driver advises Mikage to try some tofu while she’s here and she laughs. Mikage gets out in the bone-chilling cold, with the pork in her backpack.
As Mikage springs into action, her mood is more hopeful, represented by the full moon, whose moonlight now shines in the dark night that fell around Mikage a moment ago. Yoshimoto’s approaching climax mirrors the start of her story. Mikage, bereft with grief and unable to act for herself, was revived by Yuichi and Eriko. Now, Mikage is taking action to comfort Yuichi who is the one struggling this time.
Mikage approaches the inn, which is locked. She finds a payphone and calls, but there’s no answer. She looks at the waterfall next to the inn, which is illuminated with green lamps, and ponders the dark windows. Somehow, she just knows that the window in the corner reflecting the green light is Yuichi’s. Mikage climbs up onto the ledge, and keeps climbing towards the window, until she finds herself somehow dangling off the side of the building, fingers numb, and backpack sliding slowly down her back. With no other option, she wills herself to pull up her upper body, despite a jolt of pain that shoots through her arm, which is now bleeding.
Once again, the light reflecting on Yuichi’s window guides Mikage towards the people that make her happy. Yoshimoto continues her inversion of a patriarchal narrative: Mikage, taking on the role of the hero, climbs the building to rescue the person in distress (in this case, Yuichi). The reader realizes the strength of Mikage’s feelings for Yuichi through her determination to reach him.
Laying in a puddle on the roof, Mikage looks up at the glowing moon and realizes everyone’s in the same position: we all think that we have choices but really, we act unconsciously. She decides this isn’t “fatalistic”—it’s more like we decide through “instinct,” and that’s how we sometimes end up rolling in a puddle on a rooftop with pork takeout in a backpack, looking up at the moon. She decides the moon is beautiful, gets up, and knocks on Yuichi’s window.
Yoshimoto, speaking through Mikage this time, deepens her philosophy about times when people feel stuck: they just have to act. Even without knowing exactly what to do, the best thing to do is press forward and focus on the immediate task ahead, and things will get better, even if it seems they won’t. So, even though Mikage is bleeding on a rooftop, she’s able to smile about it because she’s doing something instead of letting the situation (and, by extension, life) pass her by.
Yuichi is stunned as he opens the window, and rubs his eyes. Mikage says she came to deliver some pork, because she had some and it didn’t seem fair that he didn’t. Yuichi says this feels like the dream they shared and Mikage laughs, asking if she should sing the song. Yuichi’s eyes have a distant look and Mikage is afraid. He seems different. The atmosphere is like a dark tomb and she wants to leave, afraid of being dragged into his pain and being extinguished. Mikage calmly finds herself saying she knows Yuichi is trying start a new life, away from the pain, and it’s no use lying to her, but he should eat some pork first.
The dark, tomblike atmosphere reflects the way Yuichi’s pain scares Mikage. She worries it will be too strong for her to bring some joy into it, and it might even drown out her own joy. Reflecting the philosophy Yoshimoto just articulated, Mikage finds herself acting without really thinking about it and focusing on the immediate task ahead: getting Yuichi to eat some pork. Yuichi, as before, is struggling and lost, while Mikage takes the lead.
Mikage’s chest is heavy in the “tomblike” atmosphere, and she wants to cry. Suddenly Yuichi notices Mikage’s bleeding arm and but she tells him not to worry and he starts eating the pork, which is delicious. As he eats, Mikage’s spirits start to lift, and the “glittering crystal” of their warm and happy memories together lights up and she knows it will keep them going. She thinks about the swish of Eriko’s skirt, the color of a dragonfly, the sharp tug of Eriko tightening her obi, a comic book that Yuichi gave her, the meals they ate, and many other things. Mikage thinks, “Truly happy memories always live on, shining.”
The food—which nourishes Yuichi’s body—lifts his spirits, and by extension, Mikage’s. As before, Yoshimoto shows that basic physical comfort can ease a troubled mind, even if for a moment. The light of the glittering crystal represents the happy memories between Yuichi, Eriko, and Mikage. Mikage finds a way to connect with them through her pain, and they shine a light on the darkness. Mikage is starting to understand what Eriko said: that accepting pain while making room for joy (or, accepting a balance of dark and light) is the key to peace and lasting happiness.
Yuichi and Mikage joke around and the mood feels easier. Mikage tells Yuichi that she doesn’t want to lose him. They’ve seen the heaviness of death together, but who knows if things will get easier or harder. Mikage wants to experience it all with Yuichi, when he’s feeling better. Yuichi explains that he was cold with Mikage because he wanted her to see him when he’s more “manly.” Mikage quips that Yuichi should “smash a truck against the wall with [his] bare hands” and they joke about increasingly absurd shows of manliness. Yuichi’s eyes start to sparkle, and they say goodbye.
Yoshimoto makes her gender inversion of a patriarchal narrative explicit. Mikage is the one saving Yuichi, and not the other way around. Yuichi’s fear of seeming unmanly exposes how damaging it can be for men to deny their vulnerability. Yuichi and Mikage subvert the association of masculinity and power with absurd clichés. Mikage, the female protagonist, in the end, is the empowered figure who saves Yuichi.
Mikage wakes up at her inn to a raging, windy snowstorm outside the window. Looking out, Mikage truly feels that “Eriko is no more.” She gets up to start another day. That evening, after a feast with her colleagues, Mikage walks in the icy town toward the beach. She’s freezing as she watches the dark, “jet black” waves glittering with dots of light from the lighthouse far away, which forms a path of light towards Mikage. She feels a “sweet sadness” and thinks to herself about how much pain and joy there will be to come, with or without Yuichi. When Mikage gets back to her room, Yuichi calls, sounding happy. They joke about food. He explains that he’s back in Tokyo and he’ll pick her up at the station when she comes back.
The last moments of the story show that Mikage finally understands and is able to embody Eriko’s philosophy about life: pain and joy will both always exist in the world, and the best thing to do is accept the pain in order to celebrate the joy. Mikage is symbolically able to let go of Eriko and embody this philosophy of “sweet sadness” herself. Whatever pain lies ahead, Mikage knows it will not break her. She will be alright because there will also always be joy. Mikage’s ability to make peace with the balance of both is symbolized by the lighthouse’s beam cast across the dark ocean waves. The story ends on an uplifting note, as Yuichi is also able to push past his grief and keep going, ready to move forward with a future with Mikage.