This is the story of a boy named Hajime, growing up in Japan, and trying to find meaning in his life. The book starts out with Hajime in grade school, and is a school outcast because he is an only child. In the 1950s, when he was growing up, only children were extremely rare in Japan and were frowned upon. People assumed Hajime was spoiled and arrogant, which was not the case. .
Hajime became friends with his neighbor, Shimamoto, who also happened to be an only child. The spent all of their time together, and spent many afternoons at Shimamoto's house, listening to her father's records. A favorite was Nat King Cole. Probably one of the reasons they were such good friends was because they were two of a kind in that culture, being only children.
When Hajime was twelve, his family moved to a different city. He thought of Shimamoto very often, and went to visit her twice, but eventually they lost touch. However Hajime still missed her very much and thought about her constantly. The book follows him through high school, when he has a girlfriend named Izuzi, whom he eventually cheats on and ends their relationship. Hajime then goes away to college, and graduates, feeling that something is missing in his life. Throughout his twenties, he works for a textbook company. He hates his job and is very lonely.
His life changes when he meets his wife, Yukiko. They marry, have two daughters, Yukiko's father, who works for a construction company, helps Hajime get a building to start a bar and restaurant. Hajime eventually becomes very successful and eventually opens up another location. .
He believes his life is perfect until Shimamoto walks into his bar one night. He has never forgotten her, and instantly falls in love with her all over again. There is a mystery surrounding Shimamoto that neither Hajime, nor the readers ever fully discover. We know that she does not work, but wears expensive looking clothing. We also know that she had a baby girl who died a year earlier, but is not married.