Six years after the tsunami, the wreckage still washes up along the Kushiro coast.

There’s detritus from the sea with no connection to the Tohoku devastation, but Jun knows what he’s looking at when he finds a scratched and beaten-up kokeshi doll, reduced to driftwood, or a shredded book bag with sodden and indecipherable scraps of notepaper inside, or a plastic tiara, or a broken hair clip, or a sealed tumbler half-filled with acrid black coffee; there’s no mistaking the basic history behind sun-bleached sales banners and T-shirts, or balding plush animal baubles – pandas, penguins, frogs – that once hung from the phones of those who drowned or were made refugees in their own country.

Jun lives with his mother in a house on the outskirts of Konbumori. It’s a three-minute walk to the beach. When the wind is right he can hear the waves lap up to the shore; to him the sound of waves is like the sound of silence, except in storms, when the breakers thunder and pound and pull, like hands that slap upon a table cloth before tugging it at the edges. Storms remind Jun how easily the sea can change, how easily it could claim them, how grotesquely human it is in temperament.

Following the tsunami, the town performed a formal clean-up of the beach. Volunteers came in from other parts of Hokkaido, some from as far away as Sapporo: well-meaning urbanites whose bubbled lives had been untouched by the quake, who felt guilty and slightly restless, left out of the apocalyptic drama that had unfolded elsewhere – and they made pilgrimages to Kushiro’s shoreline over the course of a few months, collecting every non-natural item they could alongside the locals. Neat piles were made, separated by size and type of material, while items of perceived sentimental value, for which there was a chance a surviving owner or rightful inheritor might be located, were bagged and taken away to the community centre.

The washed-up items that Jun keeps for himself have no marks that would identify the owner (such items are exceptionally rare), yet for each one that he stows away in his collection, whether or not the town officials would approve his keeping them, he knows the former owner is dead. He can’t say how. He knows it in the way he knows, when he enters an empty room, that no one else has been there for quite some time.

Today Jun arrives at the beach hidden under the hood of his dark green windbreaker, and scans the shoreline to see if anyone else is there. An old man or woman strolls across the sand and broken shells in the far distance, but that’s all. Jun is effectively alone.

He goes down to the tideline and walks parallel to the water, combing for treasure. Within an hour he’s found the cap of a Pocari Sweat bottle with two neat holes in the top, like owl eyes, a Yu-Gi-Oh! card sealed in a plastic sleeve, a plastic tag with a purple bunch of grapes imprinted on it, probably once attached to actual fruit in a grocery store, and a small Hello Kitty keychain with five links of the chain itself intact but the metal ring missing. Everything else that may or may not be tsunami debris is of little concern to Jun: shingles, warped boards, splinters of prefab wall; he’s interested in the things that were used, things that were held or fondled by warm hands, things that were noticed – not pieces of construction material, not the drab broken bits of furniture that could never be identified.

He examines his finds. The Pocari cap was barely worth picking up. It could have come from anywhere, anytime, and while the holes are too perfect not to be man-made, they suggest nothing more to him than a bored boy with a nail and hammer. He pockets it so he can throw it in the bin at home, if only so that it won’t catch his eye on some other day.

The Yu-Gi-Oh! card is not perfectly sealed in its sleeve. Water has leaked in and made it sodden, but the deterioration is minimal, and the sharpness of its colours suggest it’s been adrift for months at most, not years: this simply blew out of someone’s hands a few towns down the coast. The grape tag is also not old, its condition too pristine, and even if it had been at sea for six years, what of it? No one had ever valued a tag on their fruit. He pockets it along with the Pocari cap and Yu-Gi-Oh! card, destined for the bin.

But the Hello Kitty keychain is different.

A quiet surge of excitement wells in Jun’s breast. Kitty is depicted in samurai garb, albeit with a heart-shaped eye patch, and even with most of its paint gone the figurine is immediately familiar. After a moment’s thought he has it: Masamune Samurai, from Sendai. He owns the same one, or one that is nearly identical, tucked away in a bottom drawer where he’s stashed the relics of that hateful year of his life. This keychain, then, was almost certain to have come from Sendai, carried to Hokkaido by the waves. This is treasure.


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