16 June, Nobori Kiuchi

文字数 5,602文字

Plum Wine in an Old House

I was able to take out a lease on this ancient house on one condition: when the garden plum tree bows heavy with fruit, I have to make plum wine. Apart from the main living residence, the property also houses an old, earthen storehouse. Successive generations of residents have customarily prepared their own plum wine from each year’s crop, which was then left to age in the storehouse. The landlord made it clear that following this alcoholic tradition was paramount. To a bachelor in his thirties, the task seemed a daunting study in tediousness. Although I nearly balked on the property for this reason alone, I couldn’t resist the cheap rent, and resigned myself to the arduous chore. After all, plum season only comes once each year.
  Come early June, I harvested the plump green plums. After washing the fruit, I gingerly plucked out each stem with a bamboo skewer, layering the plums in glass bottles with rock sugar, filled to the brim with white distilled liquor. The process was admittedly far less labor-intensive than I had imagined. Nonetheless, a long war of attrition awaited ahead. I would have to periodically check the fermenting fruit, and ensure that no mold had formed over the intervening months in storage.
  The storehouse is dark, illuminated solely by the soft light that streams in from a single small window. Every so often, former residents appear unannounced in the shadows. The first visitor materialized out of thin air, sporting a samurai’s topknot. Although I rudely welcomed my predecessor with an initial shriek of terror, now that five years have passed, we have become amicable acquaintances.
  Kid, have I got stories for you. Why, back in the day, I helped hide the surviving members of Tokugawa’s elite Shōgitai samurai force in this very storehouse.
  As the old samurai was prone to boasting, no conversation with him would be complete without a connoisseurly jab directed at this young upstart:
  I always used vintage liquor to make my plum wine. You’ve got to use the good stuff if you want to respect the craft.
  I hesitantly peered into the trusty earthenware pot he used to brew plum wine, marked with the date, 1866. After taking a quick whiff of the muddy, candy-colored sludge, I had to snap my head away.
  The grandmother in old-timey work clothes is similarly a real stickler. She’s always railing against my technique, criticizing how I clumsily remove the stems, admonishing my supposed heavy hand when it comes to adding sugar.
  One day, I snapped back:
  With all due respect, you didn’t even make a batch of plum wine in the four years you lived here. You’re hardly one to talk.
  She indignantly retorted:
  We couldn’t get liquor or sugar during the war, not even on the black market. What do you expect? We had other priorities. . . .
  Sometimes, I’m visited by a young widow in a maroon


, her hair tied up in a classic bun. She was raised in this house, but left to become the young bride of a soldier when she was only 18 years old. After her husband died on the battlefield in Russia, she led a hard life, and preferred to dwell on those happier days spent in her childhood home. I could always count on her alone for the normal light, neighborly conversation.
  But this year, it seems that even the crotchety old busybodies have softened, and taken a renewed interest in this current tenant’s endeavors.
  The samurai frowns concernedly:
  You know, cholera and the measles were rampant in my day. . . .
  The grandmother offers some grandmotherly counsel:
  The most important thing is that you have enough to eat. Happiness is a full belly. My son lost a leg in the war, but as he always said, ‘I’d gladly trade a leg if it meant not starving.’
  Although well-intentioned, their encouragement gives me the creeps. Yet, it’s hard to argue with such tales of past woes.
  And thus, two weeks pass, with daily visits to the haunted storehouse. I glance at my calendar, and see that it’s June 16th. At this point, I just have to wait, and let the fermentation do the rest. As I affix my own label, 2020, to this year’s batch, the young widow appears.
  It looks like this year’s plum wine is going to be a resounding success."
  Unlike the other residents, the widow does not offer an encouraging word on current events.
  Maybe, we’ll see.
  I stand up, and pause beneath the storehouse door:
  Hey, just tell me one thing. Will I be able to make plum wine again, next year?
  She falls silent for a long moment.
  The plum trees will surely bear fruit again next year. But the plans of mice and men do not age as well as plum wine.
  Her strong, assured voice echoes throughout the storehouse. When I turn around, she’s gone.
  Stepping outside the storehouse, I muse aloud, left to my lonesome:
  Is it just me, or have the skies been awfully clear this year?
  And stretching my tired arms, fill my lungs with the fresh summer air.

Translated by Daniel González/Arranged by TranNet KK

Nobori Kiuchi
Born in Tokyo, 1967. Her novel




(The cat of Myogadani) received critical acclaim, and was later awarded the encouragement prize by the Waseda University Tsubouchi Shoyo Awards. Won the Chūōkōron Literary Award, the Shibata Renzaburō Award, and the Shinran Prize for



(Protector of the path of comb-cutters), published in 2013. Her works include






(Blooming in the firelight), and




(A person of light and fire), among others.




  • 特大
  • 生成り
  • 水色
  • 明朝
  • ゴシック
  • 横組み
  • 縦組み