The opening work in this collection of seven stories, Kyūsuitō to kame (The Water Tower and the Turtle), was awarded the Kawabata Yasunari Prize for the year’s best short story in 2013. In the title piece, author Kikuko Tsumura transports the reader into a fantasy realm that emerges as an utterly natural extension of reality.
The action begins when the narrator, a man named Mita, dies of heart failure at the age of 72. He has lived a fulfilling life, including in the five years since his wife died, and has no regrets to speak of. But just three weeks earlier he had firmed up the itinerary for his first trip abroad—a visit to the Aran Islands of Ireland with some friends in the neighborhood association—and he is loath to give up those plans, so instead of crossing on over to the other side as he should, he decides to stay in this world.
He is at first somewhat disoriented by his new existence as a bodiless spirit, but as he gradually grows acclimated, he turns his attention to how he might still be able to make it to the Aran Islands in his state of limbo. When he looks in on a neighborhood association meeting where his friends are discussing whether to cancel the trip now that its prime mover has died, he gets sucked in through Vice-Chairman Nakai’s ear to inhabit his body and perspective. Mita realizes he has gained the ability to occupy the body of whomever he chooses.
After hopping several times from one person to another, the perfect opportunity for Mita to get to Ireland presents itself: a wealthy IT mogul and international businessman named Ronald from Rio de Janeiro is scheduled to meet with a client from Dublin named Steven in Tokyo. But when the meeting takes place, Mita botches his intended transfer to Steven, and ends up going back to Brazil with Ronald instead. The time is 2016, and the Olympic Games are in progress. Through a Brazilian javelin thrower named Mateus, Mita gets to know an Irish Olympic Team member named Noreen, and this appears to get him back on the path to Ireland. When the games end, Mateus sets out for the Irish island of Inishmore, which is Noreen’s home.
Events viewed through the eyes of utterly ordinary characters are brought to life by author Tsumura’s humorous narrative style and telling detail, ushering readers into a supremely enjoyable imaginative realm.