Chapter 1. Autumn: Autumn in Hot Spring
In the darkness of the night
Tsubasa's father was in a bad mood, his mother talked and talked, and they were both worried. They were impatient to bring the grandparents back to Tokyo within three days, so they would not have to cancel their plans beyond the weekend. "They can come back home and visit hot springs as many times as they like," said Tsubasa's father. "They should come back home. I wish they had not created this fuss. They should not say that they do not want to leave the hot spring. You know, they are not children." "No, father, they did not say that they would not go back to Tokyo," replied Tsubasa. "They simply said that they wanted to live there." "That is the problem. We need to think of our reputation as well. Even if they decide to live there, they need their belongings. They should return to Tokyo at least once. "Who do they think is going to prepare their things for moving?" "If they decide, I am sure they will return to Tokyo to prepare for their move." "Tsubasa, you are on their side. Do you want to kick them out?" "No."
It was dark outside. They could see the bountiful river and leaves that had turned vivid colors during the day. Tsubasa was alarmed when he saw the reflection of his father's face in the train window, somehow exhausted, dark and sad.
It took 15 minutes by taxi to the Village of Wind and Forest. The taxi driver spoke to Tsukuba and his parents enthusiastically. "You are lucky to visit the hot spring here with the whole family. It is very nice for a family trip. This is the best time to see the autumn leaves. The outdoor village hot spring bath is white as milk and good for the health. Enjoy, and warm yourselves up!"
Tsubasa made agreeable responses to the driver and looked at his quiet parents. Seeing the deep forest of Takafu-cho for the first time, they might have felt that they did not know how to handle the situation. Did the grandparents really want to live here? They were originally from southern Japan, and here would be a lot of snow. Tsubasa saw dark shadows again cross his father's face.
The grandparents welcomed Tsubasa and his parents at the entrance of the log house. They cheerfully thanked the taxi driver who carried their luggage inside. It seemed his grandparents had changed in only week. "Thanks for coming," said Grandfather gently but firmly. "Let's talk tomorrow since now it is too late. You're probably exhausted from a long train journey after work. Why don't you take a bath first? The administration building has a big common bath and an outdoor hot spring bath. It's only a three minute walk." It was obvious that he had no intention of talking that night.
Tsubasa's grandmother smiled at them and prepared some towels. She looked healthy, with a good complexion. Tsubasa and his parents saw that this was not the time to argue, and went to the bath.
The hot spring here was sulfurous and very acid, with a pH of 2.7. The hot water tap looked oxidized and decayed. Tsubasa's mother was not happy with that because she liked clear rather than authentic hot spring water. Tsubasa did not know much about hot springs, but he felt that this bubbling milky water looked like the real thing. Tsubasa approached his father, who was in the far end of the bath. He appeared to be crying. Tsubasa gasped with surprise and said, "I will get out of the bath now." His father grunted approvingly. Tsubasa was speechless. Worrying about him, he returned to the big public bath. He could see his father through the glass. His father had soaked his head in the hot spring several times. He might have hurt his eyes due to the sulfur content of the water; in any case, they always turned red after he bathed.