It is early autumn, and Sadako rushes home from school one afternoon with good news. She runs into the kitchen to tell her mother that she has been chosen from the bamboo class at school to be on the school relay team. If she wins the big race, she will be a shoo-in for the junior high school team next year—to be on that team is what Sadako wants more than anything else in the world. That night at dinner, Sadako is too excited to eat, and as the days pass by she can think only of the relay race. She practices every day at school and often runs all the way home. Her older brother Masahiro times her one day using their father’s watch, and Sadako’s speed surprises and impresses her whole family.
Sadako, a born runner, has finally been given the opportunity to show her talent off to her friends and family. Being selected to take part in the relay race is a major milestone for her, and seems to signal the continuation of her good luck and happiness. The race metaphorically represents forward motion for Sadako, as she attempts to outstrip and escape the atmosphere of pain and tragedy that lingers over her family, her friends, and her hometown.
Finally, it is the day of the big race. Sadako is nervous and afraid her legs won’t work at all as she surveys the parents, families, and friends gathered to cheer her and her opponents on. Sadako tells her mother that she is afraid, and Mrs. Sasaki tells Sadako that while it is natural to be nervous, Sadako is sure to run fast once the race starts. Sadako, grateful for her parents’ love and support, takes her place at the starting line.
In this passage, as Sadako confronts her fear and nerves right before the big race, her family is shown to be supportive and empathic. Though they have chided Sadako for seeming frivolous or disrespectful in the past, they support her pursuit of her passion and want her to know that they are behind her every step of the way.
Sadako runs the race, and after she crosses the finish line her heart is still thumping. She feels faint and dizzy as her classmates surround her, shouting that her team has won the race. Sadako shakes her head and the dizziness goes away. All winter, Sadako continues working hard to improve her running, but sometimes after a long run she has dizzy spells. She decides not to tell her family about them—she needs to do all she can to qualify for the junior high racing team. Sadako tells herself that the dizziness will go away, but as the weeks go by it only gets worse.
Sadako experiences triumph and happiness, but something is off. Symbolically, even though she has success as a runner, she can’t run away from the pain and trauma all around her—literally, she has a sinking feeling that despite the good luck signs all around her, something is very wrong inside of her. In this way, the book connects Sadako to her city and her people: both moving on from a terrible past, and still connected to and unable to escape the legacy of that past in ways both emotional and physical.
On New Year’s Eve, Sadako hopes that in the New Year her dizzy spells will go away. On New Year’s Day, the Sasakis visit a local shrine. Her mother is dressed in a fine silk kimono, and she promises that as soon as their family can afford it, she will buy one for Sadako as well. As the Sasakis mingle with throngs of happy people visiting the shrine, Sadako forgets about her secret for a little while. At the end of the day, she races Masahiro home and wins easily. As she crosses the threshold into her house, she passes the good luck symbols her mother has placed at the door to protect them all in the new year, and Sadako wonders, with a beginning like this, how anything bad at all could happen in the new year.
Though the dizzy spells scare Sadako and leave her with a sinking feeling deep inside, as the New Year rolls around she is once again plunged into an atmosphere of happiness, remembrance, and togetherness. That she can’t believe that anything all that serious could be wrong once again emphasizes her innocence. And at the same time, it emphasizes the horror of the violence of war, and nuclear war in particular, since readers know from the prologue that, in fact, Sadako is going to die of leukemia. The book makes it clear that Sadako deserves her innocence, and yet is clear-eyed in the way it shows how war and its legacy don’t acknowledge innocence and are, instead, inescapable.