A young man struggling to make it on his own after college is prompted by an experience with his great-grandmother to make a new start.
Kyōhei, loosely modeled on the author, is 25. Since graduating from a top university in Tokyo he has been working for a famous architect in his design firm, but the endless hours he is expected to put in for a mere ?30,000 (about $300) a month are beginning to wear him down. The story begins when he receives word from home in Kyūshū that his grandfather is dying. This is the man who had always told Kyōhei he would be the sort of person who contributed to other’s lives when he grew up.
Surrounded by the gathered family members, his grandfather breathes his last. Kyōhei’s great-grandmother Tokio, now in her 90s, still lives in his grandparents’ house. Though generally in good health, she suffers from dementia and is given to wandering. The day after the funeral, Kyōhei accompanies Tokio on a walk. It occurs to him that he could take her out for a spin in the old orange Volkswagen?as his grandfather had been doing on a daily basis. Helping her into the back seat, he drives according to her directions, and they end up at a park overlooking the ocean. There she utters the single word, “Yamaguchi.” It is the name of the prefecture where she had lived for many long years as the wife of a labor leader for the coal mines. Kyōhei interprets this not as a manifestation of her advancing dementia, but rather as a sign that her mind is still working in its own unique way, and that at that moment she had in effect traveled to Yamaguchi inside her memories, across space and time. Inspired, he decides to launch a hired car service called “Wandering Taxi,” targeted especially at those who suffer from dementia, that escorts the elderly on their outings down memory lane.
This proves to be easier said than done. His parents are against the idea, his application for a business license is turned down, and nursing homes dismiss the idea out of hand saying, “What if you get into an accident with one of our residents?” As Kyōhei grows increasingly disheartened, he is approached by a taxi driver interested in his services. The man asks him to take his mother to “M31.” Kyōhei drives her about in the Volkswagen looking for leads, and is finally able to determine that “M31” refers to the Andromeda galaxy . . .
Author Kyōhei Sakaguchi has shown a knack for training his eye steadily on the weak and vulnerable, finding bold and perspective-altering twists in their stories. Those sensibilities are amply on display in this work with autobiographical elements similar to an I-novel. One gets the sense of a genuinely fresh talent at work.