Volume 2 Chapter 2: 18:47:32 I (Part 1)

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Volume 2 – Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu, Sono Ni

Chapter 2 – 18:47:32 I (Part 1)

 

Spring came, and after making it through the term-end examinations, the spring break, the opening ceremony on the first day of the next school term, and the change of classes, Sudou Akira officially became Class 2-4, seat number 14. She had a new classroom, a new desk, new textbooks, a new homeroom teacher and new classmates.

At that time, Sudou Akiho had two seeds of discontentment.

Firstly, her new homeroom teacher Kawaguchi Taizou, who was single and thirty-five years of age, was someone she found rather disagreeable.

Secondly, Shimamura Kiyomi, who sat next to her, was of a very, very gloomy character.

The former was still okay. After all, the teachers she disliked outnumbered the ones she liked by far, anyway. Sudou Akiho was like any other soldier trying to make it through another day of fighting in a student’s life, and she could, at the very least, make use of techniques such as aposematic coloration and biological mimicry in order to co-exist with disagreeable homeroom teachers.

Rather, what she found truly aggravating was the latter.

Kiyomi at that time looked like she was perpetually enveloped in a black, sinister aura. Akiho could, just by sitting next to her, feel her lackluster mood spreading over to infect hers, much like a contagious disease. When Akiho tried to speak to her, Kiyomi would only reply as much as it was necessary, and during the breaks in between periods she would absentmindedly stare out of the window at nothing in particular. There Kiyomi would sit in complete solitude amid the blur of unfamiliar faces after the seat shuffle during the class change, and she didn’t bother to even look like she was trying to make new friends.

 

Akiho, however, disliked giving up on anything so easily.

She began to look for opportunities to speak to Kiyomi. She would pretend to forget to bring her textbook so that she could ask Kiyomi to share hers with her, and during lunch breaks she would invite her to eat their lunch boxes together.

The first thing that changed was not Kiyomi’s attitude, but the way Akiho saw her. She started to see, by observing Kiyomi’s body language and speech patterns, that Kiyomi might be a cheerful person at heart. Akiho began to wonder if Kiyomi had been an open, outgoing person by nature, but had something that was troubling her, causing her to constantly feel depressed.

She started asking around Kiyomi’s former classmates if they happened to know of anything, but even she herself found it weird that she was going to such lengths for Kiyomi. In retrospect, there might have been a certain inevitability that she would join the Journalism Club.

After a great deal of asking around, Akiho finally got her hands on the truth that Kiyomi had kept hidden from everyone.

 

—hey, I just realized this, but Kiyon-chan, you live in my neighborhood, don’t you? And you know, my parents have a taste for jogging late at night, and I heard from them that they haven’t seen Kiyo taking your dog on a walk recently. I mean, I haven’t really talked to Kiyo much, but I have seen you put a photo of a dog in your purse just once, and since Kiyon-chan’s dog is old and feeble, I was thinking that, maybe—

That day after school, Akiho had invited Kiyomi to a coffee stand near the school. She had intended to casually broach the topic and draw the truth out of her, but just one stab and the walls Kiyomi had erected all around her crumbled, all at once. Kiyomi burst into loud sobs in public, and all Akiho could do was to apologize repeatedly to her for sniffing about and poking her nose into her business.

Her dog was a complicated mixed breed that was closely related to the Irish Shepherd1, and his name was Juubē. The photo of him in her purse was taken quite some time ago, and shortly after Juubē began to find going on walks troublesome and sleep the whole day away. According to the vet, the immediate cause of his death was a lung infection, but if you take his fifteen years of age into account the main reason for his death might have been old-age.

However, to Kiyomi who was fourteen years of age, fifteen-year-old Juubē was a being that had been living with her since before she could remember, and his death was her first experience with a ‘death in the family’.

Sounding like an entirely different person, Kiyomi wouldn’t stop speaking of the times she spent with Juubē even through her tears. Akiho surmised that she had suffered considerable damage after her beloved dog died, and since it coincided with the rapid changes that came with the going up of a grade and the class change, Kiyomi had been driven into emotional instability. Akiho nodded repeatedly at everything Kiyomi had to say to her, thinking that getting her to talk about it today would help her get over Juubē’s death.

Yet somewhere inside her heart was a curious sort of guilt.

The fact that she wished for Kiyomi to recover her spirit might have been an excuse that Akiho told herself to justify her actions. She had a nagging feeling that there might be something else inside her that led her to mercilessly uncover the truth about something, even if that something turned out to be someone else’s sadness or suffering. A desire for the truth, just to fulfil an ugly curiosity on her part.

She couldn’t stop thinking about it, and those thoughts weighed heavily on her.

Perhaps that was the reason why Akiho was at a loss what to do when arrived in school as usual the following morning to find Kiyomi sitting all by herself, her eyes red and swollen from crying.

Looking at how Kiyomi looked then, it seemed to Akiho that she had spent the entire night crying, while thinking about how to berate her for her lack of decorum the next day.

However, that was not the case.

As it turned out, more than half of Kiyomi’s tears were tears of joy. She clasped Akiho’s hands in hers and launched into a speech so impassioned that she attracted wide-eye stares from those around her, who had no idea what was going on.

Last night, Juubē came to say goodbye, she gushed.

She had climbed into her head after saying goodnight to Juubē’s kennel, like she always did. Then, she woke in the middle night upon hearing someone call her name, but she was unable to move. This was her first encounter with kanashibari, sleep paralysis, but for some strange reason, she felt no fear. Shortly after, she felt something curled up beside her on the bed, and heard a voice speaking directly to her inside her head.

 

—My name is Juubē. I lived for fifteen years and I had a blessed life. My death was not anyone’s fault, and everyone tried their best to save me, even till the very end. However, there was someone who wouldn’t stop grieving over my death, and she was the youngest amongst the humans I knew. I would feel sorry for her every time she cried, which was why I am unable ascend to the heavens. When day breaks I would like to tell her that I was happy being able to run alongside with her. If only she would be able to slowly forget about me—if she could, then I would have had no more regrets left in this world.

At that time, the reactions of those who were listening varied greatly. Most simply looked taken aback. Some laughed derisively at her story, some looked on in disgust, and some wept in sympathy.

“What are all of you doing? The bell has already rung.” a voice rung out from behind Akiho.

Kawaguchi Taizou, single and thirty-five years of age, had been standing behind her without her knowledge, with sour look on his face.

In that moment, Akiho, as a soldier who had fought many battles in the everyday life of student, reacted splendidly. 1) Kawaguchi reached the classroom just a few moments ago. 2) He did not fully understand what was going on. 3) He had seen Kiyomi crying, and he suspected that she had been in a quarrel with someone. Akiho extracted all these information in a single instant just by reading look on Kawaguchi’s face. She immediately burst into bright smile like a lightbulb switching on and said something in the direction of “Yes, yes, nothing happened here, we’ll return to our seats now” in an attempt to control the situation.

However, Kiyomi, in her highly excited state, was unable to grasp the situation as well as Akiho did. Instead, she chose to embark on the worst course of action she could have taken. She tried to explain to Kawaguchi that she was in fact, not crying because she was quarrelling with Akiho, and of all the things she could have said she chose to repeat her kanashibari story for Kawaguchi to hear, when he was already in a foul mood.

 

She didn’t even get to finish it.

“Stop your foolish talk!!”

Kawaguchi exploded even before she was even halfway done. Kiyomi jumped up in shock, before standing frozen in place and looking like she had been beaten to a pulp.

—someone who would go around spouting nonsense just because some animal of theirs keeled over and died would never amount to anything.

Akiho remembered very clearly that Kawaguchi had said something along those lines.

Even now she was unable to recall the exact words he used. Perhaps it was because of the magnitude of the emotions she felt then; she couldn’t deny that all she remembered was the extremely horrible impression that Kawaguchi left on her, and that in actual fact Kawaguchi might have said it in a way that was more appropriate.

When she reflected on it afterwards, she thought that Kawaguchi might have just been as riled up as Kiyomi at that time, and he had panicked after realizing that he had lashed out at Kiyomi in his irritation. But he was in public eye then and couldn’t very well take his words back, thus his senseless rant after that.

At that point of time however, Akiho simply did not have the composure nor the reason to break it down. Furthermore, Kawaguchi wouldn’t stop spouting one pretentious statement after another to Kiyomi, who could no longer move. He went on and on about REM sleep and hypnagogic hallucinations in a tone of voice that dripped heavily of an inflated sense of self-worth, and of a self-righteous ‘duty’ to enlighten the benighted masses.

She thought she knew how to co-exist with her disagreeable homeroom teacher.

 

She secretly believed that her mimicry of a good, well-behaved student was good enough to be amongst the top five in the country, and never thought that there was a warrior so close to her that would tear her pretense apart so early in the semester, in the first week. It turned out that the world was vast and she was young, and it was most likely the latter that nearly caused her folly.

—blood rushed to her head.

Just as she decided to take on this losing battle, Kawaguchi closed his mouth like he had recalled something important. With the instinct of a martial artist who could feel someone’s gaze on him, he spun about to his left to look behind him.

Right in front of Kawaguchi was a boy who sat two seats to the right and three seats down from Akiho’s seat. He was leaning against his desk was a disapproving look on his face.

If Akiho had to sum up her first impression of that boy, it would be ‘ordinary and boring’. Furthermore, when Kawaguchi glared at him in return, anyone looking could see that the boy quailed under his gaze.

With a menacing smile on his lips, Kawaguchi said: “What is it, Asaba? You look like you have something to say.”

That boy looked down for an instant, before looking at Kiyomi and then immediately returning his gaze to Kawaguchi. He clenched his teeth, like he was trying to muster his courage.

“—excuse me,” he began.

 

“What?”

The boy quietly took a deep breath before continuing.

“Scientifically speaking, I believe that sensei may be absolutely correct.”

Anyone would try to curry favor with a stronger party by feigning stupidity. Akiho thought that she had no choice but to speak up in Kiyomi’s defense, but before she could open her mouth,

“Just that, sensei being correct has absolutely nothing to do with sensei having foul mouth.”

Silence ensued.

A blue vein pulsed on Kawaguchi’s temple.

Everyone watched with bated breath at the impending death sentence. The outcome of the battle was obvious. After all, it was a student pitted against a teacher, in a fight arena that was a classroom. The ‘slave’ would most definitely be torn from limb to limb by the ‘devil’ Kawaguchi in a show of cruelty.

Again, the reactions of those present varied greatly. Some stood dumbfounded at the shocking state of events, some jeered mildly, some sat up straighter as if to say, “This person is remarkable!”, and some averted their gazes in fear of getting embroiled in the conflict.

Someone knocked discretely on the sliding door of the classroom.

“—Kawaguchi-sensei, may I?” said Morimura the History teacher, in a Tōhoku accent he could never quite get rid of.

 

Nobody knew how long Morimura had been standing there. He was peeking in through the door which was half open and timidly scanning the classroom, which was brimming with tension.

The bell for the first period rang, and everyone relaxed.

Well then, I shall now leave this class in your hands, muttered Kawaguchi, but as he departed from the classroom Akiho was sure that she saw on his face the relieved look of person who had been rescued from a very tight corner. She probably had the same expression on her face, too.

Be quiet, go back to your seats, Morimura urged as he clapped his hands, and Akiho proceeded to placate Kiyomi, who was on the brink of tears. The classroom was filled with the sounds of chair legs scraping against the floor, textbooks being thrown on desks, sighs and muted whispers.

—hey, who was that just now? Was there someone like that in our class?

—you mean, Asaba? Asaba, seat number one.

—are you friends with him?

—nope. I only remembered his name because he was seat number one, that’s all.

—don’t be an idiot. Don’t you all know? There is this person called Suizenji from the Journalism Club, remember? He the one who is always seen walking closely behind him…

—ah, I remember now! I was wondering if I have seen him someone before. Hmmm, I didn’t know that he was that person, and that his name was Asaba.

Akiho sat Kiyomi back in her seat, and then secretly turned to look behind her.

 

Two seats to the right and three seats down from her seat was the back of that boy called Asaba. Perhaps he could hear the students whispering about him all around him, perhaps he could not. In any case, he got into his seat like nothing happened, and dropped his gaze on his open textbook and notebook. Suddenly, he tilted his head, and scratched the back of his head vigorously where a fly had landed.

Akiho wondered what his first name was.

 

 

Then came summer, and by then Akiho had come to understand so well that it almost hurt, that the behavior Asaba displayed that day was atypical and completely out-of-character.

During the summer vacation,

“A—kihooo!”

Someone slapped the top of her head, bursting her thought bubble.

“Ouch! Sheesh—”

Akiho, who had been resting her chin in her hands, turned around to come face to face with Kiyomi’s beaming face.

“Hey, I was talking to Chika and the girls just now, and—”

After that morning, Kiyomi was a whole new person. The black, sinister shadow from before had disappeared, and she even looked like she had grown taller. She might have indeed grown taller after being set free from emotional stress, or that she had previously hunched her back and looked down so often that she looked much shorter than she actually was.

 

In a rush of words she said, “It seems that Nishikubo and Sawaki and the gang were talking about setting up an okonomiyaki shop. Won’t you join us too, Akiho?”

Her eager rambling reminded Akiho of the barking of a house dog in high spirits. Without knowing what Kiyomi was talking about, Akiho said:

“—shop?”

“To put it more accurately, a street food stall.”

“—stall?”

“Come on. I’m talking about the Festival of the Rising Sun. If we were planning to do something we’ll have to submit the proposal real soon, or we won’t meet the deadline for submission.”

Ah—

So that was what she was talking about, Akiho thought. The Sonohara Middle School Festival, commonly known as the Festival of the Rising Sun, was to be held on the twenty-seventh and the twenty-eighth of September. That was eleven days away, counting today.

—but, about that,

“I’ll pass.”

Kiyomi made an exaggerated show of surprise.

 

“Why———?!”

“Erm, but. The Journalism Club has an activity planned, and I think I will have my hands full with that.”

“Eh?! The Journalism Club is planning to do something?”

“Yeah.”

“Even though you guys are a guerilla group?”

“Yes, even though we are a guerilla group.” she answered, followed by “It doesn’t matter here if we are one or not, does it? Anyone could volunteer to help with our school festival, so doesn’t that make every group a guerilla group, too?

“So what is the Journalism Club planning to do?”

“Ah, about that, we haven’t decided, actually. We have to decide soon, though.”

Kiyomi brought her face even closer to Akiho’s, till it almost touching. Akiho instinctively leaned back.

“—Akiho, you haven’t been hanging out with us lately.”

“What?”

Kiyomi drooped her head in a big show of disappointment.

“You stopped hanging out with us as often after joining the Journalism Club. We don’t get to go home together after school now, and even when I called during the holidays you were mostly out, too. I’m really sad, you know.”

“A-About that, well. Anybody who is involved in club activities would be as busy, too.”

Kiyomi raised her face abruptly.

 

“Is Asaba that great?”

Akiho thought that she did not flush red.

At least, she did not intend to. She was used to being teased about Asaba, after all. Letting out a small sigh,

“You’re saying that again. Look, I don’t particularly care about—”

Kiyomi stared at Akiho’s expression like she wanted to bore a hole in her face before suddenly breaking into a satisfied smile.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. You’ve always liked making those class newsletters, and your goal now is to turn Sonohara Radio Wave Newspaper into a proper school newspaper, right?”

And, upon spotting someone else behind Akiho, Kiyomi decided to evade further counterattacks by going over to where that person was, but her voice could still be heard. Ah, hey there, we’ll be opening an okonomiyaki shop for the coming school festival, so…

Akiho sighed, very audibly.

Even if she did not flush red, she knew she could not keep her feelings under wraps. The reason Kiyomi would poke fun at her by constantly bring up Asaba’s name in their conversations was because she enjoyed seeing the slight waver on Akiho’s face whenever Akiho’s attempts to hide her feelings fail. Probably. Akiho just knew it.

She rested her chin on her hands once more.

—you’ve always liked making class newsletters. Your goal was to turn Sonohara Radio Wave Newspaper into a proper school newspaper.

 

Those were not lies.

Even back then in Elementary School, she would monopolize the making of the class newsletter. Furthermore, she had yet to give up on her plans to promote the Journalism Club into an official club and carry out a reform on the content that was published in the newspaper.

This was something she had not discussed with Kiyomi nor anyone else, but she did consider entering a profession that was related to mass communications in the future.

She wouldn’t call it an aspiration or a goal as it wasn’t a desire that had fully taken shape. Moreover, she didn’t know what she had to do to move forward on that path, and even if she did move forward on that path she wasn’t very clear as to what exactly it is that people in that profession did. Yet, a wispy feeling of “how nice it would be if that came to pass” had always been there, at the bottom of her heart.

 

It was lunch break, and her eyes swam about the classroom. Their seats have not been switched since then, thus two seats to the right and three seats down from where she was, was—

Careless and Unguarded sitting in his seat, gnawing at a yakisoba bread roll while reading a magazine.

Akiho knew. She didn’t need to look to know that the magazine he was reading was the serial publication ‘Banding Heads’ that the weekly magazine ‘Burai’ carried. Hanamura would buy that magazine and bring it to school, and Asaba would always borrow it from him to read. Asaba read manga like this: one particular series would have his full, undivided attention. Once he was done reading that series he would thumb through the rest of the magazine and glance briefly at the pictures in it before putting the magazine aside. The yakisoba bread roll he was eating now was his second favorite; if there was melon bread he would most definitely choose to eat melon bread instead. He buys the pack of orange juice sometimes, but then again sometimes he doesn’t.

Akiho thought that it was natural that she would know all of these.

After all, she was in the same club as he was.

The public address speaker in the classroom sputtered to life and two bars of the melody of the school song played, followed by the sound of Head Teacher Tashiro’s voice.

“Iriya Kana-san of Class 2-4, you have a call from Satou-san, so please make your way to the staff room immediately. Iriya Kana-san, you have a call from Satou-san so please come to the staff room. End of announcement.”

Since Tashiro has had to repeat such announcements many times, he seemly strangely used to making them. He sounded like a train operator stating the name of the next station he would stop at, and it was almost creepy how smug he sounded at his own eloquence. In fact, he sounded so smug that those listening to his announcements might have no idea what he was saying if they were not used to hearing him speak.

To everyone in the classroom during lunch break, however, that broadcast was a common occurrence.

They were used to hearing it.

Before the announcement, Iriya had been sitting at her desk and staring out of the window. On her desk was her English textbook and notebook, which she had diligently prepared for the fifth period. When she heard the broadcast, Iriya put away the textbook and notebook in her bag and stood silently from her seat, looking like she was in no particular hurry. Threading past students and desks with absolutely no expression on her face like she was the only person in the classroom, Iriya left, almost melting away as she disappeared from sight.

 

It was likely that Iriya would not return to the classroom again today.

After lunch break was fifth period, and after that sixth, and even after cleaning time had ended more than half of the forty-two students in Class 2-4 would probably not even notice that she had disappeared. Even if someone pointed it out, he or she would get a “so what?” and a questioning look in return.

The teachers learnt to do the same. They would glance at her empty seat and simply shrug their shoulders, but do nothing more.

In the beginning at least, it was different. The teachers would say: “Iriya-kun had to go home due to some special circumstances so would someone please show her your notes after this”, and everyone would be extremely curious as to what ‘special circumstances’ she might have.

After she became an outcast in class after her ‘go away’ remark, no one would ask her about her absences to her face. The students around her were not aware that the curiosity they harbored from the very beginning was the sort that was full of ill will; since the only thing they cared about was the enjoyment they derived from irresponsible rumor mongering, it was more convenient that the truth remained hidden.

Eventually, they lost interest.

Curiosity born of ill will never persists, which is why it is difficult to deal with. It is precisely because such curiosity would not persist that a person on the receiving end of someone else’s ill will would have to remind the offending person by telling him: “You’ll be sorry for this!” If not, that curiosity would wane. And Iriya would never say “You’ll be sorry for this!” to anyone.

With the sole exception of the Incident at the Shelter, Iriya had not caused any large problems for the class. As long as there was no sudden, unwonted input from the outside, Iriya will not produce an abnormal output. If you left her alone she would be no different from a pebble. Once the initial interest in her ‘transfer student’ status started to fade, all that was left around the ‘pebble’ was disregard and indifference. Again, the students around her were not aware that they no longer paid any attention to her.

 

There were exceptions; a handful did not ignore her. Of those who took notice of her, if one were take away the spiteful remarks that the girls made about Iriya behind her back simply because they didn’t like the fact that the ‘pebble’ was rather pretty to look at, and the simpering smirks of the boys who simply enjoyed looking at a pretty looking ‘pebble’ from a safe distance—

Only Asaba and Akiho remained.

As Akiho watched him, she saw that Asaba was the first to react to Tashiro’s announcement. He looked up from the weekly magazine ‘Burai’ and his eyes followed Iriya as she held her bag into her hand and cut across a corner of the classroom with no expression on her face. When she neared Asaba’s seat, Akiho saw a certain kind of resolve ripple across his back. Perhaps there was something he wanted to say to Iriya. Yet Iriya stubbornly refused to look his way, Asaba did not convert his resolve into action, and Iriya disappeared out of the classroom door.

The hustle and bustle of the classroom during lunch break continued without a pause.

No one sat at their desk with their eyes casted down. No one stared out of the window. There were sounds of running footsteps all around and boisterous laughter, talk of the school festival, talk of the fifth period which was English, and talk of the television drama someone saw last night. Playful shouts rang out in the corridor, and someone slammed his back on the door through which Iriya left the classroom by, and the glass in the window on that door rattled with a harsh noise.

Asaba was staring hard at the door which Iriya left the classroom by.

And Akiho continued to watch Asaba as he stared at the door.

 

All of a sudden,

“That makes sense now.”

It was Kiyomi.

“I guess you must be having a hard time, too. Alright! I got it. We’ll be grilling okonomiyaki without you, okay?”

This time, Akiho thought she flushed red.

She was furious was herself for not being able to hide it.

“Hey———!!”

She turned around and tried to hit Kiyomi on the head, but Kiyomi swung to the side and avoided the blow. She then cackled like an evil witch before taking to her heels. Akiho lifted herself off her chair to chase after her, but she sat herself back down after feeling rather silly. Afraid that he might have heard them, Akiho nervously returned her gaze to Asaba only to find him in a conversation with Nishikubo. Since Kiyomi said that Nishikubo and gang were the ones who wanted to set up the okonomiyaki stall, Nishikubo was probably inviting Asaba to join in the effort, too.

That wouldn’t do, Akiho thought.

Asaba would be busy with the activities the Journalism Club had planned. He didn’t have the time to do things like grill okonomiyaki.

Since Asaba was rather absent-minded, he might think thoughts like “I could simply do both”, and accept Nishikubo’s invitation. She would grill him about it later, and if she found that he had agreed, she was ask him sharply:

“Which is more important, okonomiyaki or Journalism Club activities?”

 

Akiho played the simulation of herself driving a half-hearted Asaba into a corner again and again in her head. She was getting more and more worked up now, and she could feel her shoulders growing tight with tension. It was then Kiyomi’s words slipped into her mind.

—that makes sense now. I guess you must be having a hard time, too.

She was absolutely right, Akiho thought.

The tension in her shoulders melted away. Her snorts of fury turned into sighs of resignation. The preliminary bell rang; there were 5 minutes more till the end of lunch break.

As to what she really thought of Asaba, well, Akiho herself didn’t quite know, either.

 

 

Sonohara Middle School was located in the rural countryside, and it was an old school, too. For instance, its grounds were huge but the school building was shabby-looking. And every old school would, for better or for worse, came with something called ‘tradition’. For instance, its corridors were traditionally messy.

That being said, the clutter had become even more horrifying in recent times. There were odd papier-mâché sculptures strewn everywhere and tables and chairs pulled from some prep room stacked in high piles. Stuffed at the end of the corridor were signboards still under construction, stage props, blackout curtains and the like.

The Festival of the Rising Sun, the forty-seventh Sonohara Town Ritsuenbara Middle School festival.

This festival was an event that drew attention not only from those inside of the school but from the town as a whole, because the izakaya chains running along the main street of the town had car parks. In other words, the public transport system was still very under-developed and car ownership levels were abnormally high. It was in the nature of the locality that you could not go anywhere at all if you did not have a car, and because of this, the township gradually allowed the contradiction of having carparks in front of izakayas. This was how rural Sonohara Town was. You could probably safely declare that people living in the area would be strangely pumped up about going to a mere school festival “simply because they had no other better forms of entertainment”, but even if you were to discount for that fact, the elaborateness of the Festival of the Rising Sun and the excitement surrounding it was still on a markedly different level from the regular school fair.

The first thing you would see that sets the Festival of the Rising Sun apart from the rest was that “all day long, all activities were voluntary”. The program didn’t even dictate that the clubs were to split their activities, say, cultural clubs on the first day and sports clubs on the second day. Activities which required a lot of moving about were carried out on the grounds or in the gym, and festival-goers may gather in the school building for activities like haunted houses, self-produced films or stage plays. Most proposals for activities got approved, and students were free to do whatever they liked wherever they liked in the two-day period. They could choose to dominate the food stall business, they could do nothing but sit at the sitting area for the films and plays for the entire length of the festival, or they could storm into the pro-wrestling ring and punch each other out in fistfights.

 

There was of course, a contrivance involved.

School festivals were supposed to be prim and proper school events. How then would “most proposals for activities get approved”, and how could the students “do whatever they liked in the two-day period”? In order to successfully execute an event with that large a degree of freedom, wouldn’t the students need a certain management capability that was beyond usual capability of the average middle school student? 

The contrivance was a traditional one.

It was called the Committee of the Rising Sun, and its official name was the Festival of the Rising Sun Executive Committee.

One should not hold the members in contempt thinking that they were nothing more than fierce young boys in their good, old formal jackets with stiff collars and an armband on the sleeve. Instead, they were an elite corps of true-born soldiers with both intellect and physical stamina. Their style was traditional; nothing less, nothing more.

In Sonohara Middle School, becoming part of the Committee of the Rising Sun was more difficult than becoming the President of the Student Committee. The members of this committee generally wore the usual school uniform to blend in with all the other students, but when the festival drew near they would suddenly all be wearing the formal jacket with the stiff collar. Even after the festival came to a finish without any complications, through demobilization and post-mortem right up to when an official notice that “the event has ended” was circulated among the members of the committee, all members would use honorifics in all conversations with the rest of the student body. They would also refer to themselves as “Me, myself”, greet students with “Fight on!”, and they would break into a run after taking three steps.

There was no way those pasty-faced fellows from the Student Committee could go up against such a committee.

The Committee of the Rising Sun’s stand was that “they were nothing more than the Executive Committee of the Festival of the Rising Sun”, making it clear that their role was separate from that of the Student Committee. However, if you were to ask any student, to whom the difference in power between the two committees was as clear as day, they would tell you that the Committee of the Rising Sun was the Student’s Committee in the shadows, one that pulled strings from behind the scenes.

 

There were even rumors that once a student stated that he or she served as a member of the Committee of the Rising Sun, that student could choose to enroll into any high school they wanted in the neighborhood.  It was difficult to completely write off this rumor if you consider the strength of the connections the committee had with important people. Year after year, around forty or fifty members committee OBs would be heavily involved the planning and administration of the festival, and they were the reason that the food stalls would proffer food that was cooked by professional chefs, the Festival Guide would find its way to every nook and cranny in the town, and the local radio station would do a cover on the festival on the evening news on the same day.

The current committee, like the festival, was the forty-seventh, and the forty-seventh Head of Committee was Kasuga Keiichi of Class 3-4, seat number 11. The number of members in active service was said to be around thirty, but then even the teachers did not have a good grasp of the exact number of members he commandeered.

These were, for better or for worse, upheld traditions of the school.

Just that, there was also no doubt that ‘tradition’ was one of the important elements of a ‘festival’ that made them interesting.

Every year, the people of Sonohara Town, parents of the students included, flock to the Festival of the Rising Sun. It wasn’t uncommon to see Japanese Self Defense troops and American troops in attendance, too. Some of them even brought in proposals of their own and asked if they could participate in the festival as well.

Hence, with the behind-the-scenes support of a powerful task force called Committee of the Rising Sun, the festival retained its high level of freedom, and every year the students would go on a rampage and played to their hearts’ content.

Eleven days remained to the opening of the festival.

 


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Translation Notes:

1 Irish Shepherd: There are Irish Setters, Irish Wolfhounds, and German Shepherds, but what is an Irish Shepherd? Some cross between the aforementioned breeds, perhaps?