As they continue on their journey, Kino and Hermes stop to take a break in a field filled with crimson flowers- not just because this is a beautiful and peaceful place, but because it holds special memories for Kino. Years ago, before she was known by her current name, Kino was an eleven year old girl, growing up in the Land of Adults. Her life was very ordinary, and no different to that of any other person in the land, until the day the traveller named Kino came to visit her country….
Having come to visit the Land of Adults for three days, the Traveller is searching for an inn, and fortunately for him, the first person he asks is young Kino, daughter of the town’s innkeeper. Taking the Traveller to her parents’ inn, young Kino gets him settled in.
The next morning, young Kino wakes up to see that the Traveller is already outside, working on an old motorrad. The Traveller explains that once the motorrad is fixed, he will ask it if it wants to make a pact with him; the motorrad will give him greater speed than he could manage on foot, and in return, he will be its rider and provide it with balance. Before that can happen, however, he will need some parts, and so the Traveller gets Kino to take him to the shops so that he can stock up on what he needs.
As they walk back from the shops, young Kino is curious as to what the Traveller’s job is, but when the Traveller talks about his journey, she dismisses it as not being a real job- the Traveller is having too much fun for it to be work. In her view, jobs are supposed to be necessary, not enjoyable. The Traveller is a little perplexed by this; everyone he has seen has appeared to be smiling as they work. Kino finds nothing unusual in this- they are smiling because they are adults.
As young Kino and the Traveller watch two parents take a boy to the hospital, Kino elucidates a little more. In this country, childhood ends when a person reaches their twelfth birthday, at which point they undergo an operation that turns them into a perfect adult. From then on, the tasks and responsibilities of an adult are given to them, and even though they most likely will not enjoy what they do, they will still smile- because that is what perfect adults do. As it is the boy’s birthday, he is going off to have ‘the operation’, and in two days’ time, it will be Kino’s turn to go to the hospital as well.
By this country’s rule, the Traveller is neither an adult nor a child, but he is a man, and a man who enjoys what he does- unlike the people of this country, who will happily do even the things they hate once ‘the operation’ has been performed. Young Kino admits that she too has something she enjoys- singing- but as an adult she won’t be able to be a singer. She must follow in her parents’ footsteps and become an innkeeper instead, even if that isn’t what she wants.
The Traveller is troubled by her words, but decides it is time to change the subject. The motorrad is almost fixed, but it still needs a name, and the Traveller wonders what young Kino would choose. After a little thought, they decide to use the name of the Traveller’s old motorrad- Hermes.
Talking with the Traveller has given young Kino much to think about, and the next day, she comes to a decision. Whilst her parents are working outside, she goes outside and asks them if it would be possible to become an adult just by growing up as herself without having the operation. To her parents, this is the worst kind of blasphemy, and soon they and all the other townspeople within earshot have turned on her.
As young Kino goes to the Traveller for comfort, the crowd turn to him, admonishing him for putting such radical ideas into the girl’s head. Deciding that it would be a good time to move on, the Traveller bids young Kino goodbye, but even as he is about to go, young Kino’s father approaches them, a knife in his hand. The Traveller has turned his daughter into a ‘waste of a girl’, and because of that, he must now dispose of her.
As the innkeeper advances on his daughter, the Traveller quickly interposes himself between them, taking the knife thrust that was meant for her. Horrified, young Kino looks on as the Traveller goes down, bleeding from a fatal wound. Confused, her father and the others wonder why anyone would want to do such a thing, and decide to label his death as an unfortunate accident. Now all that remains is for the innkeeper to retrieve his knife from the Traveller’s body, and use it to finish off his daughter.
Still frozen, it seems that young Kino will soon be the next victim of her father’s knife, until suddenly another voice speaks up- the motorrad. It tells her to get on and start it up, and as her father lunges for, she obeys. Whilst the innkeeper harmlessly crumples off the motorrad, young Kino drives away. With some advice from the motorrad, she quickly gets the hang of riding it, and soon she is streaking through the streets and out of the Land of Adults.
Having made it beyond the Land of Adults, the young girl and the motorrad tip over and fall to the ground in the middle of a sea of crimson flowers. Still thinking of the traveller, young Kino absently answers as ‘Kino’ when the motorrad asks who she is, and it takes it to be her name. After a moment’s thought, the girl chooses to accept the name Kino, and tells the motorrad his own name- Hermes. Accepting the name, the motorrad wonders what the two of them should do next…
Now, years later, Kino and Hermes have once more found their way to a crimson sea of flowers, and, just like before, the two of them tip over. As they lie amongst the blooms, Kino cannot help laughing at the recollection of how her journey began.