A man at a crossroads in his life reflects on his past and the choices he has made while desperately seeking a ray of hope for the future.
For the last ten years, 50-year-old Shūichirō Takanashi has been president of Tokumoto Industries, a mid-sized wholesaler of building materials with upwards of 500 employees. Avowing frugality as his credo, he is proud to have successfully steered the company through difficult economic times by reining in expenditures, but now he finds it difficult to maintain his former sense of purpose and drive. With no blood relations left and having lost his wife and son to divorce, he is completely alone in the world. The story recounts events spanning a little over a year before he yields the post of president to a successor and retires.
Takanashi’s predecessor, Michiyo Tokumoto, is constantly on his mind. Tokumoto Industries was founded by her husband Kyōsuke. In 1976, when Takanashi was 11, a company car in which Tokumoto Kyōsuke was riding hit Takanashi’s little sister Atsuko in a traffic accident, and the girl was left with a permanent limp. Two years before this, their father had run off with a young employee of the coffee shop he operated, and their mother died five years later from stomach cancer. The orphans were subsequently supported by Tokumoto Industries, and when Takanashi graduated from high school, he went to work for the company. This was four years after Kyōsuke Tokumoto died and his wife Michiyo had taken over as president at the young age of 39.
Not long after Takanashi begins working at the company, Michiyo initiates a sexual relationship with him, which they carry on secretly for twelve years. Three years after they end their relationship, Takanashi marries Junko Tokumoto, Michiyo’s daughter with Kyōsuke, at Michiyo’s behest. Junko soon bears a son, but it is the child of a man she was seeing before she got married. Takanashi and Junko divorce, but Michiyo taps him to be her successor as president of the company as she herself becomes chairman of the board. Meanwhile, Takanashi’s sister Atsuko disappears while snorkeling in Bali and is confirmed dead at the age of 24, and a private investigator he hires reports back that his father died at the age of 60.
Along the way, the various difficulties faced by supporting characters with whom Takanashi is close?Hanae, who sells urns that purify water from a street stand, and her grandmother Kinue; Mr. and Mrs. Horikoshi, whose son was sentenced to life in prison for murder?deliver a variety of jolts to Takanashi. He makes it through these trials, as well as a takeover attempt led by Tokumoto Industries’ main bank and his own effective removal from office, but as he then lays the groundwork to reopen the old coffee shop his mother had operated, he attempts to take his own life. The result of the attempt is left unknown.