Chapter 1. Autumn: Autumn in Hot Spring

Toward a new world 1

The Land of Trees signaled the arrival of autumn earlier than other places. Trees wore their last bright costumes and then the leaves fell off gracefully. The reason why autumn was more colorful than spring, Tsubasa thought, was that forests showed people how to live life better.

Keigo watched the scene outside from the window of Kanalu's office. It was a warm autumn day. In the calm sky, red and yellow leaves were carried away by the wind. Within two weeks, the land would have the first sprinkling of snow. It had been one week since Keigo told his office that his father was sick and took some days off. He thought that by this time, his office must be wondering why his leave of absence was taking so long. Or, they might not have thought about it at all. As he shook his head to try to forget what he did not want to remember, Kanalu opened the door and said, "I am sorry to be late. I was stuck in a meeting." "Not at all. I am sorry to interrupt you during your busy hours," Keigo replied. He hesitated to broach the subject on his mind, as he did not know where to start. Kanalu quietly prepared some coffee.

Kanalu said, "I have gotten the data for your parents' room. I appreciate Tsubasa-kun's help." Keigo replied, "My son is obedient; well, at least he tries his best." Kanalu said, "He is talented. He will have a brilliant future if he builds up his experience."

Though Keigo was about 10 years older than Kanalu, it seemed to him that Kanalu had the greater depth of wisdom. "I feel like confiding everything to him," Keigo thought. "It would be a relief to tell someone." While Kanalu was serving the coffee, he asked Keigo softly, "Is there something you wish to tell me? Please feel free."

Taking a sip of coffee, Keigo began his story.

Keigo was personnel manager of a mid-sized steel company. After the collapse of the bubble economy, the company moved its core manufacturing division to China. The headquarters was transformed into a marketing organization with a network of sales offices all over the world. Keigo's leadership role was self-made, he had risen from a position as steel worker. He lost interest in headquarters functions after the company transformed into a sales and marketing enterprise. However, because of his loyalty to the company, his pride as a steel worker, and his responsibility as head of his family, he continued to work hard.

In the meantime, as competition in Chinese manufacturing grew fiercer, the profitability of the Shanghai plant declined; and as leadership in global marketplace had gotten away from Japan due to its high cost structure, every year Keigo had to urge about fifty people to retire. Young people might be able to survive in one way or another, but the labor market for senior workers was already saturated. Though the lifelong education the company provided was very popular and employees could train for other careers, people who had been steel workers did not want to move to other jobs. It was hard for them to change their mind-set and to maintain a sense of their value in society. Eventually they lost confidence. Under these difficult circumstances, Keigo tried to manage the forced retirements as sensitively as possible.

He was shocked when he saw Yukio Araki's name on this year's redundancy list, since Araki had been Keigo's protégé since he had joined the company just after graduating high school. When Keigo was promoted to assistant general manager, he took Araki under his wing. He occasionally invited Araki to his home, where he stayed overnight like a family member. Tsubasa became attached to him and called him brother. And, like an older brother, Araki played with Tsubasa when he visited.

At the board of directors meeting, Keigo struggled to win support for Araki. "Why is his name on the list? He is still in his 40s. He used to work in Shanghai and has strong relationships in China. He is an important human resource."

"He seems to have some problems at home," replied the head of Araki's department. "His work attitude has been poor lately. We decided to retire him in consideration of his bad influence on other employees." He and Araki's immediate boss had reached a decision. Araki had already been given the hint that he ought to leave.

One night, with all of this in mind, Keigo invited Araki out for a drink. Araki seemed gloomy. He was nervous and tried to cut the evening short. Keigo asked, "Araki, what's happened? Are you having problems with your wife?" "No, I just want to go home now."

Araki headed to a private railway station, and Keigo followed him, though he felt it was wrong to do so. He had a bad feeling that something was going to happen. The train took about 45 minutes from the city center to a quiet neighborhood. Araki entered a house. A glimmer of light shone from the rear of the house. This should have been a happy homecoming.

IMAGE:illustration Suddenly Keigo heard a loud crash of breaking glass. Araki's wife dashed out of the house in tears. Neighbors ran to her. What was happening? Mrs. Araki called out,"Stop him, please! He is misbehaving again."

The neighbors burst through the door and entered the house. Keigo entered cautiously behind them. Inside the house was a truly horrible sight. Araki was on the floor, holding down a young boy pinned beneath him. It was his son, Takashi, a junior high school student. Araki cried out, "Your father has worked hard for you." As the boy struggled against him, Araki continued to throw himself against his son. The neighbors pulled them apart, saying "Please calm down, Araki-san." "Takashi-kun, step away from your father." Takashi extricated himself from his father and rushed panting to his room, locking it from the inside.

Araki tried to kick open the door. His neighbors surrounded him and held him back. A weird silence filled the room. Araki leaned against the door and started crying. Keigo went to him and put a hand on his shoulder. Araki cried and cried like a boy being comforted by his mother in the messy room where broken glasses, cups and empty disposable noodle cups were scattered on the floor.

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