A Forest of Steel and Wool – MIYASHITA Natsu

During the performance, I tried to listen out for Mr. Itadori’s signature tonal colour, but it was impossible. If the piano’s tone did have a colour to it, then I’d say it was essentially blank. Because of this, the pianist was free to manipulate the piano’s timbre so that the sound reached our ears exactly as he intended. Even though I was just sitting there listening, I felt an excitement, almost as if I was a part of, or completely at one with the music.

If you didn’t know better, you wouldn’t know that it was Mr. Itadori who had tuned the piano, and whose sound was being demonstrated today. But I knew. This sound was the sound I was chasing. A sound that’s curated for the player. A sound that best draws out the skills of the pianist. No one thinks about or cares about the tuner. But that’s fine. Even if the player is praised, it’s not a testament to their playing, it’s a testament to the music itself.

The concert came to a close. I was in a state of bliss similar to inebriation. I joined the flow of people making their way out of the concert hall and as I followed the crowd I spotted my boss.

“So how was it? Your first ever concert?”

“It was really good.” My answer came out concisely, my brain having no time to think of a better one. “The piano was really amazing.”

“I see,” my boss said, beaming. “Liking the piano, liking music… That’s the heart of the job.”

I honestly wondered if there was anyone in this world who wouldn’t have liked that performance.

“Well, the piano loves Itadori a little too much, if you ask me.” I followed my boss through the hallway and came out to the foyer. He went on, “You should’ve heard our maestro tonight, the only word on his lips was ‘Itadori! Itadori!’ I doubt he had any time to even relax during that performance.”

“Wait, is Mr. Itadori friends with tonight’s pianist?”

“Didn’t you know?” my boss questioned, raising his eyebrows to make a show of his surprise. “Whenever he comes to Japan he always asks for ‘Mister Itadori.’ While Itadori was over there improving his craft, our pianist tonight took a real shine to him. Itadori even used to join him on his European tours, but since coming back to Japan he’s developed a bit of a phobia of flying. Even now he can barely take domestic flights. Which is why he waits for the pianist to come here, to this tiny out of the way town.”

“But don’t you think that’s such a waste?” The words came out of my mouth before I could stop them. “He should be out somewhere much bigger than this backwater town! Wouldn’t it be better for Mr. Itadori to make use of his skills and tune pianos somewhere more people could hear him?”

“You really think so?” said my boss, letting out a laugh without slowing his pace. “I’m surprised you think so, Tomura. Is there something Itadori would gain from heading out to the big city? Don’t you think that we and the people of this town, are far more fortunate for him being here? Of course, that includes you too.” He glanced at me as he said this and I noticed that his eyes weren’t smiling anymore. He went on, “We have wonderful music here. And it’s fortunate that the people who live here, in this tiny town, can enjoy that. We should be the ones that people fly to to hear Itadori’s amazing work.”

He was exactly right. Even though this is what I felt every day, when I tried to explain myself I just ended up saying the opposite. Mountains and towns. Countryside and city. Big and small. I had got caught up in a meaningless value system without even realising it. We needed to continue what we were doing here. I needed to hold onto that pride.

“The concert was so amazing, I just wished more people could have heard it…” I explained meekly.

“I know,” nodded my boss, the smile returning to his face.

Translated by Arthur Reiji Morris

Original title 鋼と羊の森 (hagane to hitsuji no mori)

*Extract from the complete work

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