Photo/Illutration A letter given to Megumi Shibuya from her friend during class when she was a high school student was found by a homeless man. (Keiko Sato)

Like most people in Japan, Megumi Shibuya throws out her old paperback books in the garbage collection area where they will be picked up for recycling. 

But one book the 47-year-old woman disposed of from her high school days led her to meet and make the acquaintance of a homeless man, an encounter that touched her heart.

She met the man late one night when she was on her way home in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward. There was no one around.

When she reached the entrance to her apartment building, her eyes met those of a man standing there.

The man had shoulder-length graying hair, wearing a ragged thick coat. She noticed a bad odor emanating from him.

As Shibuya came closer to the entrance, gripping her key in her hand, the man asked her, "Excuse me, you are Mon-chan, aren't you?"

It was her nickname when she was attending an all-girl high school nearly 30 years ago because she had very short hair and looked like a "Monchhichi" monkey doll.

"Yes," Shibuya replied in a slightly high-pitched tone, wondering how he knew her nickname from long ago. 

"Mon-chan, you always put books out in the morning, don't you? I read them," he said, without lifting his gaze from the ground.

He had apparently seen her take out a lot of paperbacks for garbage collection almost every week.

He continued that he would flick through the pages because he hoped to find money that had been stashed inside and forgotten. 

One of the books was a novel whose in-train advertisement was the one he saw when he took the last train before he started living on the streets. So, he took the book to read in his sleeping spot.

Then, he pulled out a piece of paper from the book he was holding in his hands.

"I found this letter tucked away in the book, thinking it wouldn't be anything important, and it didn't really say anything important when I read it," he said. "But I thought that was all the more reason why it could be important."

Shibuya accepted the piece of paper, which was folded into a small square, and opened it.

Written with a colored pen, the letter began with the line, "Dear, Mon-chan."

She remembered that she received it from her friend during class. The sender said she was grateful for a music tape and how much she wanted a boyfriend.

The letter was indeed so unimportant and trivial that it made her laugh. But at the same time, she recalled how the classroom smelled like a mixture of perfume and antiperspirant back then.

The book he had might have been one she read many times during the class.

When Shibuya thanked him, the man said the book made him remember how much he loved reading.

He also told her that he had a goal of selling The Big Issue on the streets, a magazine sold by homeless people, and earning some money to again be able to buy books at a bookstore.

Shibuya said she would buy a copy of the magazine when she saw him, before holding out her right hand to shake hands.

The man started crying, saying, "Do you want to shake hands with me when I'm so dirty?"

Shibuya truthfully told him that she would wash her hands after going into her apartment but that she wanted to shake his hand at the moment. And she held his hand with both her hands.

One spring day several months later, Shibuya noticed a stranger watching her in a busy downtown area in Tokyo.

Looking intimidated, he said, "You're Mon-chan, aren't you?"

It was the man who approached her with the book that night. But he now had shorter hair and was wearing a pair of jeans.

Most of all, he was holding copies of The Big Issue magazine.

Now, every time the latest issue comes out, Shibuya goes to the downtown area in Tokyo where the man sells the magazine.

Recently, the man said he could get his hair cut at a barbershop but couldn't afford to buy books yet.

But now he looks her in the eye and talks to her with a smile

Megumi Shibuya buys The Big Issue magazine from the homeless man every time the latest issue comes out. (Keiko Sato)