The prizewinning title story in this collection is set in Nagasaki in August 2000, 55 years after the atomic bomb killed tens of thousands in the city. The narrator, Hidenobu, watches as his father, Shunji, purchases his old childhood home?despite his having little time to live, as cancer has spread throughout his body?and sets about remodeling it.
Shunji is a talented entrepreneur, having built up a successful local supermarket. He appoints Sagari?a man he has known since childhood, and who has made a successful business of marketing the "holy water" welling up from a spring at a local shrine known as "the Lourdes of Japan"?as the successor to his company, and calls Hidenobu away from the bank where he works to learn under Sagari's tutelage. Sagari soon becomes something like a new-age religious leader, gaining the support of the local residents. Hidenobu, however, comes to doubt Sagari's management methods. It turns out that both Hidenobu and Sagari are the descendants of Christians who betrayed their companions in the face of government suppression of their faith in the early Edo period (1603?1867). Shunji, who drinks Sagari's holy water in the hope of easing his pain in his last days, wishes for nothing more than to hear a performance of the oratio, the prayer handed down by word of mouth two and a half centuries ago. The story becomes a piercing exploration of the true meaning of pain and salvation.
In this collection, Seisui is presented alongside three other tales nominated for the Akutagawa Prize, including Jeronimo no jujika (Geronimo's Cross), Seirai's debut work on the themes of atomic bomb exposure at the end of World War II and the suppression of Christianity four centuries earlier.