The latest novel in the international bestselling Before the Coffee Gets Cold Series, following four new customers in a little Tokyo café where customers can travel back in time.
In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café that has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.
From the author of Before the Coffee Gets Cold and Tales from the Cafe comes another story of four new customers, each of whom is hoping to take advantage of Café Funiculi Funicula's time-traveling offer. Along with some familiar faces from Kawaguchi's previous novels, readers will also be introduced to a daughter, a comedian, a sister and a lover, each with something they wish they had said differently.
With his signature heartwarming characters and immersive storytelling, Kawaguchi once again invites the reader to ask themselves: what would you change if you could travel back in time?
Release date: November 15, 2022
Publisher: Hanover Square Press
Print pages: 256
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Listen to a sample
Before Your Memory Fades
“Why are you in Hokkaido?”
Kei Tokita’s voice sounded tinny coming from the handset.
“Hey, relax, it’s okay.”
Nagare Tokita was hearing his wife’s voice for the first time in fourteen years. He was in Hokkaido—Hakodate to be exact.
The city of Hakodate is full of Western-style houses, dating from the early twentieth century. Those houses, dotted throughout the city, have a unique architectural style, characterized by Japanese ground floors and Western upper floors. The Motomachi area—whose name means “original town”—located at the very base of Mt. Hakodate, is a popular tourist destination. Its old-town charm is enhanced by such popular historic sites as the former public hall, a rectangular concrete electricity pole—the first ever erected in Japan—and the redbrick warehouses in its historical Bay Area.
Kei, on the other end of the phone line, was far away in Tokyo, at a certain café that offered its customers the chance to travel through time. It was called Funiculi Funicula. She had traveled fifteen years into the future from the past, in order to meet her daughter. In that Tokyo café, she only had a brief amount of time before she had to drink her cooling coffee. As he was far away in Hokkaido, in northern Japan, Nagare had no idea how far her coffee had cooled already. He was therefore careful to stick to the matter at hand.
“There’s no time to explain why I’m in Hokkaido. Please, just listen.”
Of course, Kei was well aware that there was no time.
“What’s that? There’s no time? I’m the one with no time!”
She sounded upset.
But Nagare paid no attention.
“A girl is there, right? Who looks like she might be in middle school.”
“What? A schoolgirl? Yes, she’s here. The same one who visited the café about two weeks ago—she came from the future to get a photo with me.”
It had been two weeks ago for Kei, but she was referring to something that for Nagare happened a whole fifteen years ago.
“She’s got big round eyes...and she’s wearing a turtleneck?”
“Yes, yes. What about her?”
“Okay, just calm down and listen. You’ve accidentally traveled fifteen years into the future.”
“Like I told you, I can hardly hear what you’re saying.”
A howling gust of wind had struck Nagare just as he was about to tell her something crucial. It was blowing a gale down his phone, making it next to impossible to communicate. Pressed by the lack of time, Nagare hurried.
“Anyway, that girl you’re looking at,” he said, his voice now louder.
“Eh? What? That girl?”
“She’s our daughter!”
The phone in Nagare’s hands fell completely silent. Then instead of Kei’s voice, he heard the middle pendulum clock in Funiculi Funicula begin chiming a familiar dong, dong. Letting out a small sigh, he began explaining calmly.
“You agreed to travel ten years into the future, so you think that your child will be about ten, but there was some kind of mistake and you traveled fifteen years. It seems ten years, fifteen hours and fifteen years, ten hours got mixed up. Just look at the time of the middle pendulum clock. It says ten o’clock, right?”
“We heard about it when you got back. But right now, we are in Hokkaido for unavoidable reasons that I won’t go into because there’s no time.”
Nagare had rattled through this explanation. But now he paused.
“Anyway, you don’t have much time left, so just have a good look at our all-grown-up, fit-and-well daughter and return to your present,” he gently stated and hung up.
From where he was standing, Nagare could see all the way down the straight, sloping street to the sprawling blueness of ocean, and the sky beyond which seemed to crown Hakodate Port. He swung back on his heel and walked into the café, setting off the bell.
Hakodate boasts many sloping streets. Nineteen of them have been given names, including Twenty Astride Rise, which stretches up from Japan’s oldest electricity pole, and Eight Banner Rise, which starts near the redbrick warehouses of Hakodate’s touristy Bay Area. Others include Fish View Rise and Ship View Rise, which climb up from the Hakodate waterfront. Farther over the hillside are Cockle Rise and Green Willow Rise, which climb up toward Yachigashiracho, meaning “head of the valley.” But there is one sloping street that the tourist maps don’t show. Locals refer to it as No Name Rise. The café where Nagare was working was halfway up No Name Rise.
Its name was Café Donna Donna, and a peculiar urban legend was attached to a particular seat in that café.
Apparently, if you sat on that seat, it would take you back in time to whenever you wanted.
But the rules were extremely annoying and
a terrible nuisance:
There is nothing you can do while in the past that will change the present.
The only people you can meet in the past are those who have visited the café.
In order to return to the past, you have to sit in that seat and that seat alone. If the seat is occupied, you must wait until it is vacated.
While back in the past, you must stay in the seat and never move from it.
Your journey begins when the coffee is poured and must end before the coffee gets cold.
The annoying rules don’t end there either. Be that as it may, today once again, a customer who has heard this rumor will visit the café.
When Nagare returned from his phone call, Nanako Matsubara, sitting at one of the counter stools, came straight out and asked, “Nagare,
why didn’t you stay in Tokyo? Do you still think it was a good idea to come here?”
Nanako was a student at Hakodate University. Wearing her light beige top tucked into her baggy trousers, she looked kind of trendy. Her makeup was lightly applied, her hair loosely permed and tied back with a scrunchie.
Nanako had heard that Nagare’s deceased wife would be visiting from the past to meet her daughter at the Tokyo café. Considering it was a one-time-only chance to meet the wife he had not seen for fourteen years, Nanako thought it was strange Nagare decided to greet her over the phone rather than see her in person.
“Yeah, maybe,” Nagare replied vaguely as he walked past her and went behind the counter. On the stool next to Nanako sat a sleepy-looking Dr. Saki Muraoka holding a book in her hand. Saki worked in the psychiatric department at one of Hakodate’s hospitals. Both she and Nanako were café regulars.
“Didn’t you want to see her again?”
Nanako’s inquisitive eyes stayed focused on Nagare, a giant of a man nearly two meters tall.
“Sure, but I had to respect the facts.”
“She came to see her daughter, not me.”
“It’s fine. I admit it has been a while, but my memories are still very much alive...”
What Nagare meant was that he would do anything he could to make the time between mother and daughter more precious.
“You are so kind, Nagare,” Nanako said admiringly.
“Jeez!” he retorted, as his ears flushed red.
“No need to get embarrassed.”
“I’m nothing of the sort,” he replied, promptly disappearing into the kitchen to escape her.
Taking his place, Kazu Tokita, the café’s waitress, appeared from the kitchen. Over her white shirt and beige frilly skirt, she wore an aqua apron. She was thirty-seven years old but had the air of a younger person on account of her free-spirited and happy-go-lucky demeanor.
“What number question are you up to?”
Now that Kazu was once again behind the counter, the subject of conversation changed.
“Um, question twenty-four.” It was Saki, sitting next to Nanako, who replied. Showing a complete lack of interest in Nanako’s conversation with Nagare, Saki had instead been reading her book attentively.
“Oh, yes...” Nanako chimed in, as if suddenly remembering, and she cast a furtive eye at the book in Saki’s hands. Saki flicked back several pages and read aloud.
“What If the World Were Ending Tomorrow? One Hundred Questions.
There is a man or woman with whom you are very much in love.
If the world were to end tomorrow, which would you do?
1. You propose to them.
2. You don’t propose because there is no point.
“So, which is it?” Saki had pulled her gaze from the book and was looking at Nanako, sitting beside her.
“Um, I’m not sure which I would do.”
“Come on, which?”
“Well, which would you do, Saki?”
“Me? I think I would propose.”
“I don’t like the idea of dying with regrets.”
“Oh, I guess that’s a fair point.”
“Eh? Nanako, are you saying you wouldn’t
Pressed to answer, Nanako tilted her head. “Oh, I don’t know,” she stated softly. “Well, maybe if I knew for certain that he loved me, I would. But if I wasn’t sure how he felt, I probably wouldn’t.”
“Really? Why not?”
Saki seemed unable to accept what Nanako was saying.
“Well, if I knew he loved me, I wouldn’t be presenting him with a dilemma, would I?”
“No, I guess not.”
“But if he had never thought about me in that way before, then proposing would force him to think about me differently, and I would hate to add to his worries.”
“Oh, and that does actually happen, with men, particularly. Like on Valentine’s Day when some guy gets chocolate from a woman he had never thought about before. Suddenly he becomes all conscious of her.”
“I’d feel pretty rotten if I caused someone extra worries just at the time the world is about to end. I also wouldn’t like it if I didn’t get a reply. So, although proposing to someone might be meaningful, I don’t think I would do it.”
“I think you’re taking it too seriously, Nanako.”
“Definitely! It’s not as though the world is ending tomorrow, anyway.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
This chatter had been shuttling back and forth since before Nagare had gone outside to take the phone call.
“What about you, Kazu, which would you do?” Nanako leaned forward on the counter. Saki also looked toward Kazu with much interest.
“Hello! Welcome,” Kazu called out automatically in the direction of the café’s entrance upon hearing the bell. In an instant, she put on her waitress face. On seeing that, Nanako and Saki were no longer pressing her to answer the question. But rather than a customer entering the café, in walked a girl wearing a light pink dress.
“I’m back!” she called out energetically.
Her name was Sachi Tokita, Kazu’s seven-year-old daughter. She was lugging a heavy-looking tote bag on her shoulder and gripping a postcard in her hand. The postcard was from Koku Shintani, her father and Kazu’s husband, who was a world-renowned photographer. He had married into and hence taken the surname of the Tokita family but still worked under his own name. His job involved constantly zipping around various places in the world taking landscapes, and he only spent a few days of each year in Japan. Shintani therefore made picture postcards of the photos he took and frequently sent them to Sachi.
“Welcome back!” greeted Nanako. Kazu was looking behind Sachi at the young man following her in.
“Good morning,” said one Reiji Ono, a part-time employee at the café.
Wearing casual attire of denim jeans and a white T-shirt, Reiji was a little out of breath. Beads of sweat had formed on his forehead, a clear sign he had climbed the hill in a hurry.
“We just happened to arrive at the same time,” Reiji said to explain why he had entered with Sachi, not that anyone had asked.
Reiji disappeared into the kitchen, from where he could be heard greeting Nagare. They were about to begin preparing for the busy lunchtime period, which would start in two hours.
Sachi took a seat at the table next to the large window that commanded a stunning view across Hakodate Port. She appeared to be treating it as her own private study booth.
There were other customers in the café besides Nanako and Saki. An old gentleman in a formal black suit was seated at the table closest to the entrance, and a woman roughly the same age as Nanako was at a four-seater table. She had been there since opening time, doing nothing but gazing dreamily out the window. The café opened rather early at 7:00 a.m., to catch the tourists visiting the morning market.
Sachi heaved the tote bag she was carrying onto the table. Based on the unexpectedly loud thump, something heavy was obviously inside.
“What’s in there? Have you been to the library again?”
Nanako sat down at the seat opposite her as she talked to Sachi.
“You certainly like books.”
Nanako knew that on every day Sachi didn’t have school, her routine was to visit the library first thing in the morning to borrow books. Today, her elementary school had a special holiday to commemorate its foundation. Sachi gleefully began arranging her newly borrowed books on the table.
“So, what kind of books do you read?”
“Hey, I want to know too! Which books do you like, Sachi?”
Dr. Saki Muraoka got off her stool and came over.
“What did you get? What did you get?”
Nanako reached out and picked up one of the books lined up on the table.
“Imaginary Number and Integer Challenge.”
Saki did likewise.
“Apocalypse in a Finite Universe.”
“Modern Quantum Mechanics and the Non-Miss Diet.”
Nanako and Saki took turns reading the titles aloud.
“Problems of Classical Art Learned from Picasso.”
“The Spiritual World of African Textiles.”
As they took hold of each book, expression vanished from their faces. They were more than a little stunned by the book titles. There were still some books whose titles they had not read left on the table. But neither felt like going for them.
“Well, er, they’re certainly all very difficult looking books!” remarked Nanako, wincing.
“Difficult? Are they really?” Sachi tilted her head with uncertainty.
“Sachi darling, if you can understand these books, I think we are going to have to start calling you Dr. Sachi!” Saki sighed, staring at The Spiritual World of African Textiles. The book was similar to the medical literature that someone like Saki, working in psychiatry, would read.
“She’s not interested in understanding them. She just likes looking at all the interesting writing,” said Kazu from behind the counter, as if to console the two adults.
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