The first person to set eyes on the spectacle was the owner of the neighbouring orchard, Takeya Ginzō. It was nothing to do with him, but the sight made him gasp. How had Kimura done it? He went to congratulate him, but there was no-one to be seen in the orchards. He searched everywhere but he wasn’t to be found. He wondered what on earth Kimura could be up to at this time of day. He’d recently been annoyed with the insects and the weeds all the time, so would just be annoyed as always no doubt. Then he suddenly had a thought.
Of course, he didn’t know about it yet! He’d have to tell him. He hunted around and eventually found Kimura working in fields he was renting from someone.
‘Kimura. Have you been to the orchards?’
‘Your apple orchards.’
As usual, he inclined his head to one side.
‘There’re blossoms out!’
He couldn’t believe it. He just stood there, a dumbstruck expression on his face.
‘An apple tree in your orchards over on Iwaki has blossom on it. Go and see.’
Kimura’s sluggish reaction gave the impression he wasn’t that excited. He did eventually get on his moped, the old wreck he’d bought from a scrap merchant, parked on a track on the embankment. The engine sprang to life after a number of kicks, and the tat-tat-tat-tat sound of the 50cc engine gradually faded in the distance. With a wry smile, Takeya heard the engine note change. Kimura seemed to have opened the throttle up to full. He could see him hunched over, racing full pelt up the road towards the mountain.
The moped, husband now gripping the handles, wife on the luggage rack, was hurtling up the farm track. Definitely a motoring offence, but neither scared for the law at that moment.
They were still not visible, but both of them were staring towards their orchards.
As usual, her husband stopped the moped some way short of the orchards. If they continued up the track they would reach their orchards, but instead they approached apprehensively on foot, alongside the orchard before theirs, as if they were about to see something terrifying. They looked just like students come to see their exam results. They reached the neighbours farm machinery shed and peeked over from its shade. They saw white blossom. The orchard was an expanse of white blossom. The apple trees, which hadn’t flowered for years, were blossoming en-masse. Anything moving us deeply can render us speechless and leave us with blank expressions. At that moment, rooted to the spot, neither of them spoke a word or moved a muscle.
It was spring, but the breeze on the lower slopes of Mount Iwaki was still chilly. Who knows if it was the wind, but both husband and wife were overjoyed, their eyes brimming with tears. It was nine years since they’d enjoyed the blossoms together like this.
‘I couldn’t look directly at them for some reason. We felt more like we were stealing a look at them from the shadow of the neighbouring shed. Mind you, I was pretty confident inside. The previous year we’d seen seven blossoms. I’d also seen the state of the buds in early spring and reckoned that this might be the year they’d blossom properly. So I was hopeful, but on the other hand I wondered, in my heart-of-hearts, whether the apple trees would forgive me.
I hadn’t seen blossom for years, so I’d become used to not seeing any. Even when I saw the blossom, I felt I was looking at a neighbour’s orchard. There was blossom on every tree. Honestly, I was just so, so happy at that moment. It’s twenty years ago, but I still cry when I remember that time.
When we got back home and told my father and mother the story, we found they’d already been to see the orchards in the morning and knew about the blossom. Ha ha. The only people who didn’t’ know about it were me and Michiko. In the afternoon I went over again, this time by myself. I don’t know how many times I went that day. Come the evening, I went over to celebrate with saké, scattering some on every tree. I went round pouring a little over the roots of each tree. I thanked each one for blossoming. I drank some too. Ha ha ha. I must have drunk more than I scattered! I’ve never enjoyed the blossom so much, either before or since that day. I drank saké, then the fell asleep under the trees, gazing up at the apple blossom. The apple blossom seemed so incredibly beautiful. It looks like cherry blossom, but apple blossom faces upwards. Cherries blossom face downwards, looking at the people who’ve come to see them. Apples don’t heed people, the blossom faces upwards. Which is nobler in a way.’
Kimura smiled wistfully as he related the story. I’ve heard the same story about the day the apples blossomed after nine years many times. Even though it happened about twenty years ago now, Kimura always talks happily about it as though it was yesterday.
It was definitely a climax in his life. It was also a turning point. Kimura’s relationship with apples changed from that day. It was an experience similar to enlightenment, and of all the significant moments in his life, it was by far the most important event, in a very real sense.
‘The things we can actually do as humans are pretty limited really. Everyone talks about how hard I worked, but it wasn’t me who struggled, it was the apple trees. That’s not me being modest. I honestly think so. However hard an individual tries, they won’t produce a single apple blossom. Whether it’s on the tips of their fingers, or the tips of their toes, they just can’t do it. This might seem like common sense. Yet those who think they can don’t understand the real significance of this. When I see an orchard submerged in flowers in full bloom, I really appreciate this. It’s not me who made these trees blossom. It’s the apple trees. Deep down inside I realized that the heroes here are not the people, they’re the apple trees. I thought it was me growing apples. That I’m managing apple trees. All I can do, though, is help the apple trees. I realized this eventually after many failed attempts. And it took an awfully long time for me to realize that.’