Row Your Boat

Miyako had not expected to find herself in Yamagata Prefecture. All her life, she thought she would build her career in Tokyo and settle down there, but when her fiancé finally offered her a ring on her 29th birthday, she could not bring herself to say yes. The following day, she hurriedly boarded the train and never looked back. It did not make sense to her why she acted that way. All she knew was that she had to leave.

Not knowing yet what to do with her new life, she walked aimlessly around the city. Certainly, she would never go back. Although she could not explain her reasons for leaving, she felt like a different person. Overnight, it seemed that she had shed her old skin, like a snake preparing for a new stage in life.

Her mind was filled with so many questions, of which she had no answers to. If only life was a classroom with scheduled lectures and exams. If only there was an actual answer key for each person’s conundrums. Try as she might, she could not find answers. For now, all she could do was to surrender to uncertainty.

Without any plans, she was free to spend her time however she wanted to. She decided to lay down the grass and watch the clouds. She was in the middle of a daydream when it started to rain. She was in the middle of a meadow, with no shelter nearby. Instinctively, she walked briskly to her north, or what seemed north to her. No matter how many steps she took, it felt like she was still in the middle of the field. Her feet were getting wobbly, and she started to feel exhausted, yet she continued to walk. She realized that raindrops no longer touched her skin, and when she looked up, she saw a man holding a yellow umbrella up for her. Strangely, she was reminded of her own umbrella back home.

“A lovely lady like you shouldn’t spend weekends alone in a beautiful meadow like this,” the man told her. Miyako could not think of a reply, so she remained silent. “I’m Toshio, by the way.” The man extends his arm. “Sorry for the odd introduction. Most people find me strange.” “No worries. I’m Miyako. Thank you for sharing your umbrella with me.”

Somehow, they found shelter. “What were you doing in the meadow all alone anyway?” Toshio asked. “I ran away from home this morning, and I do not intend to come back. I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to do nothing for now,” Miyako replied. “You know, there’s a small island just past Mogami River. Not a lot of people know about this because it’s difficult to spot.” “What’s there to do on that island?” “There are baby dragons there, and if you befriend them, they’ll teach you how to fly. You can even be their master.” “Really? That’s amazing!” “Yup, and in that island, you won’t need anything else. Food is abundant and shelter is easy to find. I can take you there if you want,” Toshio offered. Miyako loved the newness of the situation. She may not have plans ironed out, but now it was easier to move forward, especially with someone by her side. Combining the money they had in their pockets, they purchased a little boat from one of the fishermen by the shore. Ecstatic, they rode the boat in no time.

“There’s only one pair of paddles,” Miyako announced, disappointed. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll navigate and keep you company while you row,” Toshio replied. Luckily, Miyako used to go fishing with her father on Sundays when she was a little girl. Although several years have passed since she last held paddles, she clearly remembered how her father guided her on how to control water as they meandered along the stream. Keeping this memory in mind, she began rowing along the Mogami River.

“Careful now. This river may look calm, but eel monsters live in the depths of the water,” Toshio warned. Miyako gulped. Sensing his companion’s nervousness, he said, “We’ll get there soon enough, don’t worry. You’re going to love it there, Miyako!”

The rowing took longer than it should. The sun was already about to set. Miyako could no longer feel her arms, having rowed the entire afternoon. They needed to find the shore of the island soon, before it gets dark. Toshio guaranteed her that he knew the way. “Toshio, where are we going?” she asked.

There was no answer.

“Toshio, which way should I row?”

Still, there was no answer. Miyako heard the eel monsters swimming underneath.


She looked back and saw Toshio fast asleep at the far end of the boat. She wanted to reach him, but she couldn’t stand and let go of the paddles, lest they’ll sink. Who knows how deep this river is? What if there is an undercurrent? And how about the eel monsters?


The sun had already set. Slightly moving the paddles to keep them afloat, Miyako looks at the sleeping Toshio, feeling lost and desolate.

Author’s note: I began writing this piece earlier this year, but only got to finish it now. I’ve only been to Japan through Haruki Murakami’s novels and Google Street View.

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