“The Man Who Watched the Sea” (novelette) by Yasumi Kobayashi
English Publication History: Speculative Japan 2 (Kurodahan Press, 2011)
Original: Japanese (海を見る人, 2002)
Translated by Anthea Murphy, 2011
Synopsis: The region called Mountain holds a festival every year in which they parade around floats pulled by members of the village. Each year, many people make the trek from the region called Shore to see the exhibition; this is when boy meets girl. As she departs, she promises to return “next year”, but she fails to remember that each region—Mountain and Shore—have different temporal speeds. Through their respective telescopes, the girl lives very slowly while the boy lives very quickly. Eventually, they reunite only to separate once again to experience the pain of departed love. 22 pages
Pre-analysis: We all have the story of the one that got away or what could have been. Like Kajio’s short story “Emanon: A Reminiscence” (1979/2011), a boy quickly falls in love with a girl after a brief but memorable first meeting, only to be separated by time and longing. Almost all emotions can be summarized into a few words at least pictured in a facial expression, but love is the only one that escapes definition, never mind that the Greeks could number the types of love. No one can tell you what it is, only what it feels like—a rough analogy, a logical exploration/explanation of the purest emotion. Again like the Greeks, this love change; in this case, it’s a change from longing to appreciation.
Analysis: In Kaijo’s story, the pang of love is one of separation by time. Here in Kobayashi’s story, however, the boy and girl are separated by more than just time, and even beyond the fundamental natures of time and space, but also by parental chiding—the live apart, they live at different speeds, so their lives are incompatible. Regardless of their differences, they still seek each other out in order to fulfill their emotional motivations. When thy reunite, it’s a bittersweet moment as they know they must leave one another yet again, a division of space and time.
Here, again like Kaijo’s conclusion of a timeless kind of love, the boy gets to realize that the girl’s love is timeless, too, in one sense. In Kaijo’s conclusion, the love the two had shared is carried by the woman through time as an indelible memory of an immortal soul—the relic of their love is a timeless memory. This is similar to Kobayashi’s conclusion, though the memory of their love isn’t an intangible memory; rather, the relic of their love is a light that everyone can see; though this light is visible to all, it’s the boy who knows the source and meaning of the light.