In the boiling heat of summer, a broken remote control for an air conditioner threatens life as we know it in this reality-bending, time-slipping sequel to The Tatami Galaxy.
During a scorching August in Kyoto, our protagonist and his worst friend, Ozu, are locked in a glaring contest in a four-and-a-half-tatami-mat room. Ozu has spilled Coke on the air conditioner’s remote control—the only AC in Shimogamo Yusuisuiso, their famously shabby sweatbox of an apartment building. Vengeful and despairing, our protagonist discusses countermeasures with his secret crush, the reliably blunt Akashi, when Tamura, a strange young man with a bad haircut, appears.
Tamura claims to be a time traveler from 25 years in the future, and shows off the time machine he uses to travel. Our protagonist has a brilliant idea: the sweetest revenge would be to go back one day in time and retrieve the functioning remote control. His simple fix is complicated by Ozu and several others who are also eager to take a ride back in time. But in attempting to alter the past, our protagonist foresees the world's extinction. Even more troublingly, Akashi mentions she’s bringing someone to the upcoming bonfire . . . and it's not him. Only one thing remains certain: it's going to be a very long month.
Obliteration? Salvation? Coca-Cola? Castella cake? What does the time machine hold for our (not quite) heroes? It all depends on which one gets there first.
Translated from the Japanese by Emily Balistrieri
Release date: November 7, 2023
Print pages: 192
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The Tatami Time Machine Blues
I’m going to say it up front: I’ve never had a meaningful summer.
Summer is commonly said to be a season for personal growth. Meet a boy after one summer, and you’ll hardly recognize him! In order to attain that glorious moment when you show off the new and improved you to your classmates, a detailed plan, early nights and early mornings, tempering of the flesh, and academic devotion are essential.
But in my third year living at my lodgings, I was spurred by impatience.
During the Kyoto summer, my four-and-a-half-mat tatami room transformed into a fiery hell on par with the Taklamakan Desert. In this environment, so harsh it’s doubtful life could even be supported, I proceeded steadily toward the collapse of my daily rhythm, my detailed plan turned into an armchair fantasy, and summer fatigue hastened my flesh’s deterioration and my academic corruption. Under such circumstances, not even Buddha himself would be able to attain growth as a person. Ah, even if one’s dreams are dashed, the four-and-a-half-mat tatami room remains.
I had already passed the halfway point of the study period known as “college.” And yet I hadn’t spent a single meaningful summer. I hadn’t built myself into a person who could be of use to society. If I didn’t stop twiddling my thumbs, society would no doubt heartlessly slam its gate in my face.
The breakthrough for revitalization was that civilized convenience: an air conditioner.
* * *
It was the afternoon of August 12.
In my student apartment, room 209, I sat face-to-face with a man.
My base of operations was a room at Shimogamo Yusuiso in Shimogamo Izumikawacho. When I first visited the place on the university co-op’s introduction, I thought I must have wandered into the walled city of Kowloon. The three-story wooden structure caused all those who saw it anxiety; it seemed ready to collapse at any moment. Its dilapidation was practically Important Cultural Property–level. Certainly no one would miss it if it burned down.
If you want to know what is offensive in this world, it’s the sight of two sweaty male college students sitting shirtless in a four-and-a-half-mat tatami room glaring at each other. At that moment, the scorching sun was broiling the roof of Shimogamo Yusuiso, and the displeasure index inside room 209 had reached its peak. With zero shame or concern for my reputation, I left the window and door open, but even when I turned on the basically antique fan I brought from my parents’ house, it only pushed the hot air around the room; I was so warm my consciousness was growing fuzzy. Did the man squatting before me really exist? He wasn’t a grimy mirage only purehearted I could see?
Mopping my sweat with a hand towel, I spoke to him. “Hey, Ozu.”
“. . . You rang?”
“Are you alive?”
“Oh, don’t mind me. I’ll be dead before long,” he said with a cold stare. His grayish, unhealthy-looking face was slick with sweat, which made him gleam slimily—he looked just like a freshly birthed Nurarihyon.
The student apartments were peaceful and quiet in the afternoon. The cicada cries that had been obnoxiously loud in the morning had ceased altogether, and the silence made it feel as though the flow of time had stopped. Many residents had gone home to their families; not many idiots spent midsummer days cooped up in a four-and-a-half-mat tatami room.
Probably the only other person in the ramshackle building aside from Ozu and me was my neighbor in room 210, the perpetual student Seitaro Higuchi. The previous night, we had solemnly held a wake for my air conditioner. At dawn, Higuchi snakily intoned an error-riddled version of the Heart Sutra before blurting, “If you clear your mind, even a four-and-a-half-mat tatami room is as refreshing as Karuizawa—katsu!” as if to jolt us toward enlightenment as he repaired to the room next door. We hadn’t seen him since. I was amazed he could sleep so soundly in this hellish heat.
Ozu said he wanted a mango Frappuccino, so I poured some salty, lukewarm barley tea into a little cup for him. Ozu slurped it like an ill toad sipping muddy water.
“Ahh, this is awful . . . just awful . . .”
“Shut up and drink it.”
“I’m sick of getting my minerals the same way they did in the Edo period.”
I ignored his sad moaning.
Earlier, I wrote “a wake for my air conditioner.”
It’s only natural that some of you wise readers would dubiously wonder what that was supposed to mean.
The air conditioner we mourned throughout the night was a fabled appliance that had been installed in room 209 in ancient times. The civilized convenience, so at odds with the atmosphere of a four-and-a-half-mat tatami room, was almost surely installed without the landlord’s permission; it was a historic heritage that spoke volumes to that former resident’s great courage. As the only four-and-a-half-mat tatami room in the building with an air conditioner, 209 had become the envy of all the residents.
I first heard rumors of room 209 two summers ago. A longtime student wearing only his briefs, whom I encountered in the common-use kitchen, whispered into my ear as I sweat, “My good sir, apparently this building has a four-and-a-half-mat tatami room with an air conditioner.” At the time, the “four-and-a-half-mat tatami room with an air conditioner” that the student—who introduced himself as Seitaro Higuchi—mentioned sounded like some kind of far-off dreamland, like the legendary isle of Avalon where King Arthur is said to have spent his final days. I never imagined I would have the honor of moving into it two years later.
But despite moving from the first floor to the second expressly for the air conditioner, I was able to benefit for only a handful of days.
That was all the fault of the man before me, Ozu.
* * *
Ozu was in the same year as me. Despite being registered in the Department of Electric and Electronic Engineering, he hated electricity, electronics, and engineering. At the end of freshman year he had received so few credits, and with such low grades, that it made you wonder whether there was any point to him being there.
Because he hated vegetables and ate only instant foods, his face was such a creepy color it looked like he’d been living on the far side of the moon. Eight out of ten people who met him walking down the street at night would take him for a yokai goblin. The other two would be shape-shifted yokai themselves. Ozu kicked those who were down and buttered up anyone stronger than him. He was selfish and arrogant, lazy and contrary. He never studied, had not a crumb of pride, and fueled himself on other people’s misfortunes. There was not a single praiseworthy bone in his body. If only I had never met him, my soul would surely be less tainted.
“I can’t believe you ruined my life.”
“But all I did was spill Coke on your remote.” Ozu wiped his slimy face and cackled. “I’m sure Akashi’ll figure something out for you.”
“The point is, you should think about what you’ve done.”
“Why should I have to do that?” His expression said he found the suggestion entirely unjust. “This is what they call joint liability. Saying we should film a movie here was Akashi’s bad, leaving the remote where you did was your bad, and the one who left out a half-drunk bottle of Coke was in the wrong, too. The one most at fault is the one who declared, ‘I’m going to get naked and dance’—which was you.”
“I don’t recall saying anything like that.”
“There’s no getting out of it now. You worked us all into a frenzy, didn’t you? Anyway,” he continued blabbing, “if the whole thing becomes inoperable just because some Coke got spilled on the remote, that’s pretty shoddy design. Yet here you are trying to put all the blame on me—‘think about what you’ve done’? I’m the one who’s the victim here!”
The Nurarihyon had a point: it was strange that the unit itself didn’t have any buttons. If Akashi’s attempt to get the remote repaired failed, we would have lost the only way to turn on the air conditioner, and I would have to spend the rest of the summer in a broiling four-and-a-half-mat tatami room. Agh, if I had known this would happen, I wouldn’t have moved. It was cooler on the first floor.
I stood up, wrung my hand towel out in the sink, and put it over my shoulder.
“This year I was finally supposed to have a meaningful summer. I was supposed to escape this depraved lifestyle and turn over a new leaf as a good man. That’s what the air conditioner was for!”
“Nah, your prospects there are nonexistent,” Ozu replied.
“How dare you!”
“I’ll do everything in my power to corrupt you, you know. What does an air conditioner have to do with leading a meaningful student life, anyway? I won’t have you underestimating me.”
I sat back down and glared at him. “You find this funny, don’t you?”
“I’ll leave that to your imagination, ooh-hoo-hoo.”
Ozu and I met our freshman year in the imaginary train club known as the Keifuku Electric Railroad Research Society. In the two and a half years since, Ozu had been standing in every dark corner of my embarrassing youth. A Mephistopheles leading students with bright futures to a barren wasteland, that’s what he was. Spilling Coke on the remote could very well have been part of his plot. After all, he was a man who fueled himself on other people’s misfortunes.
I whipped him with my wet hand towel. “How about showing some semblance of remorse?!”
“The word ‘remorse’ isn’t in my dictionary. Heh-heh-heh,” Ozu chuckled, whipping me back with his own hand towel.
As we got into a rhythm, exchanging blows—“You little—!” “I hardly felt that!”—we started having fun. Having smacked each other’s meager physiques for a time, Ozu finally shrieked, “Uheegh!” and curled into a ball.
“Oh, you surrender?” I said whipping him even more vigorously, and he put up his hands and screamed, “Hold up, time out! Someone’s here!”
When I turned around, I found Akashi standing outside the open door. She had a big bag over her left shoulder and a bottle of ramune in her right hand. She was watching us with the earnest gaze of an elementary-schooler absorbed in observing morning glories.
“Oh, the idiocy of friendship,” she murmured, taking a slug of her soda.
* * *
Akashi was a year behind us. She belonged to the Ablutions film club, and contrary to her cool appearance, she was a lovable character who mass-produced absolutely uncool, trashy movies. According to Ozu, who was also an Ablutions member, even within the club, people weren’t sure how to appraise her as a director. No praise was spared for her utterly professional work ethic that saw her film three projects in the time others did one, but when it came time to touch on what garbage they all were, everyone modestly zipped their lips.
Paying no mind to the hazy estimation from her peers, Akashi set about producing a storm of work fit for literary giant Balzac, if he had been reborn into the world of bad cinema. The previous day from early morning until after three p.m., she had filmed a lame sci-fi-slash-period-flick at the landlady’s house, which was located behind the apartment building.
Akashi put her bag down in the doorway of the four-and-a-half-mat tatami room. “What were you doing?”
“We’re going insane from the heat, ooh-hoo-hoo.”
“For a second I thought it was some kind of sex act. It seemed like something I shouldn’t be watching, but the door was wide open . . .”
“It was an act of love.”
“Anyway, please forget it, Akashi.”
“Understood. I’ll forget it. I’ve forgotten it.”
Ozu and I hurried to make ourselves presentable, and Akashi quietly entered the room.
Was the old man at the electronics store able to bring the remote back from its baptism in loathsome Coke? As I watched with bated breath, Akashi sat upright and pressed her palms together: “I’m sorry for your loss.”
I felt all the energy leave my body. “So there was nothing he could do?”
“I left the remote with him, but he told me it would be pretty much impossible. It’s an old model—so old he was surprised to know someone was still using it. He said it was definitely time to buy a new unit.”
“If I could do that, I wouldn’t have this problem.”
Ozu leaned back arrogantly and said, “Well, Akashi, I’m very disappointed in you. ...
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