Project 3

Creation of stories all around Japan

Time Arrows

“Time Arrows” by Masatomo Tamaru

Translated by Sharni Wilson

Naoki had not been back for a long time, but as he stepped off the bullet train at Hiroshima Station, he felt nothing.

Been a while since I was last here.

Since his move to Tokyo after high school, he’d only returned once a year or so, mainly to catch up with friends, using his childhood home in Hatsukaichi as a place to sleep and nothing more.

Naoki’s mother had died young; he and his younger siblings were raised by their father, Tetsuo, with the help of their neighbours and paternal grandparents who would visit from Miyajima.

Although Naoki didn’t feel his father had done much “raising”.

Of course he was grateful to his late grandparents and the neighbours who’d taken the trouble to look after them. But his father had worked from morning till night, almost never home; whenever there was no one to help, Naoki had been left at home alone with Yukako, his sister, and Kazuto, his brother. They had taken the odd family trip, but life in general had been so hectic, he could hardly remember getting any attention from his stern father.

Slowly but surely, Naoki had come to believe: Dad couldn’t care less about me...

He left home as soon as he could after graduating from high school. He didn’t miss the constant bickering with his sister and brother either.

Now, as an adult and a parent himself, he understood with painful clarity how difficult it must have been to bring up three children as a single father. Still, it was hard to reconcile this reality with his childhood feelings of alienation.

So when his father informed him of the diagnosis he had received, and that he didn’t have much longer, Naoki found himself thinking coldly: I see. And the first thing that sprang into his mind, before any concern for his father, was a dread of all the impending paperwork.

When he met Yukako and Kazuto online to decide on the rest home their father would be moving into, he realized they felt the same way.

Kazuto got in first. “I’ll go along with whatever you two decide.”

That set Yukako off. “What’s that?” she snapped. “You’re going to push all the decision-making and responsibility onto us?”

“No, that’s not what I meant at all,” Kazuto growled. “Don’t jump to conclusions.”

Naoki tried to intervene. “Oi you two, can’t you give it a rest at a time like this—”

“Don’t you dare talk down to us when a time like this is the only time you wanna play oldest son,” Yukako retorted. “I mean, you skipped off to Tokyo to do whatever you pleased; from now on you should be the one looking after Dad.”

“Come off it, don’t give me that. You two moved out at the exact same age I did,” Naoki countered. “Besides, I can’t be coming and going all the way from Tokyo to Hiroshima. I’ve got a family.”

Yukako sighed. “From Osaka the travel time is about the same, and I have my hands full with my family too. So then, Kazuto, you should be well able to take care of things. You’re single, so it won’t matter that you live in Osaka.”

“Huh…?” Kazuto spluttered. “You can’t assume I’ve got time to spare just because I’m single.”

“You said you’d go along with whatever we decided.”

“I didn’t mean like that...”

The squabbling didn’t let up until they had to call it a day.

More days passed but they were unable to agree; finally, while they were still wrangling, their father let them know that he had decided on a home to move into in Hiroshima.

Not long after that, Naoki got a call from him.

“Can you come see me? There’s something I need you to do for me.”

His father had never asked him for anything before, but what with the work Naoki had on and his family, he was always pressed for time, so he hesitated.

But then his father mentioned that he was asking Yukako and Kazuto to come as well. “I need all three of you for this.”

That made it very hard for Naoki to refuse. If it turned out that I was the only one who didn’t go, they’d never let me forget it, he thought. Also, he didn’t like the idea of things going on without him.

Naoki had no choice but to agree. Soon after, he spoke with Yukako and Kazuto and set a date to visit the home.

At Hiroshima Station, after Naoki had arrived on the bullet train he headed straight for the south exit and took a tram from there. He got off the tram in front of the rest home; Yukako and Kazuto were there waiting for him. “Wonder what he wants...” he grumbled to them.

Yukako said, “Must be to do with the arrangements for his funeral or grave, something like that.”

“Don’t bring that up now; it’s morbid,” Naoki said.

“But aren’t these important conversations to have?” she protested.

“True, but—”

“Even if we sort out the funeral arrangements, his grave will be in Hatsukaichi with Mum’s, right?” Kazuto interjected. “He looks after her grave now… So who’ll take care of the graves then?”

“That’s the responsibility of the oldest son,” Yukako said.

Naoki objected, “Don’t use your position in the family just because it suits you.”

“Well, I’d consider taking on the grave maintenance if I could get a bigger slice of the inheritance.”

“Me too,” Kazuto chimed in.

“As I said, now is not the time to talk about—” Naoki began.

“I’m not serious, okay,” Yukako scoffed. “Though to be honest a windfall would be very welcome.”

“Since you mention it, I wouldn’t mind if—” said Naoki.

“Oh, come to think of it,” Kazuto interrupted, “that might be what he wants to talk about today—his estate? It happens in dramas all the time. The scene where they bequeath their property.”

“Oh no, so that’s why we’ve been summoned?” Yukako groaned. “I’m not ready for that!”

“No, we don’t know for sure...” said Naoki.

The three of them walked along, muttering to each other as they went, until they reached the door to their father's room. Naoki checked that the name plate said Tetsuo Mishima, knocked on the door and entered.

“Oh, you came. Sorry it’s such a long way.” In spite of his illness, their father seemed to be in good health and spirits; Naoki felt a slight sense of anticlimax.

Tetsuo did not express any emotion at being reunited with his long-absent family; he cut straight to the chase. “What I want you to do is...” Unexpectedly he raised his hand to his head. He plucked out three hairs and passed one out to each of his puzzled children. “I want the three of you to take these and go to the island of Innoshima. There’s a craftsman there who makes time arrows. It’s already arranged, so all you need to do is take my hairs there.”

“Time arrows?” Naoki asked, not following. “What’s this all about...?”

“Never mind, you’ll understand once you get there,” Tetsuo said. “So how about it? Will you go?”

Naoki felt an all-too-familiar exasperation rise. Being curt and abrupt was among his father’s many faults, in Naoki’s opinion. “I don’t really understand... but anyway, let’s say it’s important. Do all three of us really need to go? What if one of us went instead?”

But Tetsuo wasn’t having it. “I know you’re busy, but it’s just this once. If you can do this for me, I won’t have any last regrets. And I’ll have my estate sorted out by the time you get back so we can discuss that then.”

Naoki exchanged glances with his sister and brother. It was obvious no one wanted to go; he didn’t either. But seeing that his father meant it, he nodded wearily. “We’ll go...”

Once they had left the room, the other two rounded on him. “Why did you have to go and agree!” “You can’t just decide for us!”

“He’s not long for this world; we can’t exactly turn him down...” That shut them up, so Naoki pushed on. “Okay, let’s get going while it’s still morning.”

“Huh?!” “Right away?!”

“Better to get it over with. At least, it’s gotta be easier than having to come back again. As long as you two don’t have anywhere you have to be.”

They thought about it.

“...I guess I can,” Kazuto admitted sheepishly.

“...I’ll just have a word with my husband. It would be awful to end up disinherited because of this.” Yukako briefly excused herself; she soon returned. “I can go.”

Naoki pulled out his smartphone to look for a rental car.

On the way to the island of Innoshima, the three had almost nothing to say. Yukako slept in the passenger seat while Naoki drove; Kazuto played games on his phone to pass the time.

They didn’t have a real conversation until they reached the Shimanami Seaway, the long and beautiful road that crosses over the sea to the islands.

“The sea!” Naoki cried out when he saw the view from the bridge.

Kazuto matched his tone. “Wow, the Seto Inland Sea, it’s been ages...”

Yukako had woken up. “Hasn’t changed at all...”

Infused with deep indigo blue, the calm sea glittered with reflected sunlight. Dotted here and there were islands, with small boats slowly crossing between them.

“Didn’t we take a trip to Innoshima once upon a time?” Yukako murmured.

Kazuto nodded. “Cycling. Dad made me come along too, even though I was too little really; it was so hard to keep up.”

“You know, he was the only one who was into it,” Yukako said. “That hill up to the bridge was so steep, I almost died.”

Naoki jumped in. “Remember when we were cycling around on the islands and found a self-service fruit stall? Kazuto, you got off your bike to beg Dad for hassaku oranges and made him buy some; Dad carried them in his basket so he had to pedal for all he was worth.”

Kazuto cocked his head. “Did that really happen?”

“Yeah, I remember,” Yukako reassured him. “But weren’t they dekopon oranges, not hassaku?”

“Oh really?” said Naoki.

“Oh, they might’ve been setoka...” Yukako pondered.

“Whatever, like it matters!” Kazuto mocked.

The mood in the car relaxed a little with the banter.

It was past noon when they arrived on Innoshima; the three of them grabbed a bite to eat before going to see the craftsman their father had told them about.

The craftsman’s workshop was up in the mountains.

Naoki pressed the doorbell button. “Hi, this is Naoki Mishima, I called this morning...”

“Ah, I’ve been expecting you.” The door opened; an older man in traditional samue work clothing greeted them. He explained that he was the craftsman who had taken Naoki’s call. “Your father commissioned them in advance, so they’re ready, apart from the finishing touches. Come in and welcome.”

Once the craftsman had shown them into a room, each of the three took out the strand of hair that Tetsuo had entrusted to them. “We brought these...”

“Thank you.” The craftsman took them with great care.

Naoki asked him, “What do you need these for? I mean, in the first place, a time arrow—”

“Let’s discuss that when I show you the finished articles. That will take at least an hour, so feel free to relax and enjoy a cup of tea.” So saying, he vanished into a back room which seemed to be his workroom.

It was precisely one hour later when the craftsman returned. “Thank you for your patience.” He proffered three long, slender boxes of paulownia wood, passing them out one by one to Naoki, Yukako and Kazuto. “Inside each box is a time arrow. Go ahead and open them.”

Naoki and the others did so. What was revealed was indeed an arrow. But this was no ordinary one. The entire arrow—head, shaft, fletching and nock—shone with a dazzling brightness.

“Do you know the saying: kōin ya no gotoshi?” the craftsman asked.

The three nodded. It meant “time flies like an arrow”.

The craftsman went on. “In an echo of these words, our clients’ bygone days are given concrete form as arrows. That’s what these time arrows are. My family has crafted them here for generations. My predecessor worked on your father’s father’s time arrow—that is to say, your grandfather’s. As a young apprentice, I was looking on from the sidelines, but I remember. Well, anyway, since you’ve come so far, first I invite you all to touch the time arrows for the full experience. Looking at them won’t tell you what is penned up inside.”

“Uh...” Naoki glanced at Yukako and Kazuto. Both of them looked as baffled as he felt.

Bygone days, given concrete form as arrows... Naoki couldn’t understand what the craftsman meant by that.

The arrow in the box he held was an enigma; he sensed there was something special about it, like a tool used for sacred rituals. If his grandfather had also had one made, it was most likely a kind of traditional good luck charm.

He was completely sceptical of the notion that bygone days could somehow be turned into arrows. Must be their marketing slogan or something...

Naoki looked at his sister and brother. They still looked bewildered, but both were poised to pick up their arrows.

May as well try it… he thought, and laid hold of the time arrow.

The effect was instantaneous. An overwhelming sensation swept over him—as if his whole body were being drawn towards the time arrow. His field of vision filled with dazzling light; instinctively he closed his eyes...

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Project Participating Authors

  • Okinawa Prefecture Kumiko Takahashi

    Kumiko Takahashi

    Writer, poet, lyricist. Born 1982 in Ehime Prefecture.
    Takahashi was active in music before turning to writing fiction. Her works to date include the short story collection Gururi (Surroundings) (Chikumashobo), essay collection Tabi wo Sutosu (Kadokawa), and poetry collection Konya Kyōbō Dakara Watashi (Brutal Tonight Therefore It’s Me) (Mishimasha). Takahashi engages in many forms of performance, including poetry readings, writing lyrics for singers, and scripts for modern puppet plays.

    Mom’s Celestial Robe of Feathers

    Ruri cleans the garage and finds something that was once very important to her mom. Ruri realizes that before she became a mother, her mom had dreams of her own, and Ruri wants to support her in that. The traditional Ryukyu theater piece Mekarushi brings tears to Ruri’s mom’s eyes, and she reaches a big decision.

  • Hiroshima Prefecture Masatomo Tamaru

    Masatomo Tamaru

    Born in 1987 in Ehime Prefecture. Graduate of the Faculty of Engineering and the Graduate School of Engineering at the University of Tokyo.
    A leading writer of contemporary Japanese flash fiction (short shorts), Masatomo Tamaru served as chief judge for the Botchan Literary Award. He is active in many capacities and holds creative writing workshops all over Japan. Among his many works are the short story collections Umi-iro no Bin (Sea-coloured Bottle) and Otogi Kanpanii (Fairytale Company). He frequently appears in the media and was featured on the popular documentary Jounetsu Tairiku (Passion Continent).
    Official website:

    Time Arrows

    Summoned by their ailing father, three adult children return to their childhood home of Hatsukaichi in Hiroshima Prefecture. When they arrive, their father asks them to go to the island of Innoshima to collect time arrows made by a craftsman there. The three time arrows trigger a profound change in their strained family relations.

  • Kumamoto Prefecture Nako Mori

    Nako Mori

    Born 1997 in Kanagawa Prefecture.
    Mori received an award for excellence in the book category of the 2019 Hoppy Happy Awards and won the grand prize in the 2020 Book Shorts Awards.

    Dancing Girls

    Second-year high-schooler Himawari doesn’t have any particular dreams or goals but feels pressured to do something other than laze around with her best friend Sumi. To achieve a breakthrough, the pair make up their minds to join that emblem of summer in their home prefecture of Kumamoto, the Otemo-yan Open Dance...