[Kanto]

Sep. 20th, 2014 10:32 am
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Attention to Go Players


They flew in from Frankfurt to find themselves ambushed at Narita by the paparazzi, at seven in the morning.

While Go would never draw widespread attention among most Japanese (who usually reacted with bemusement to the concept of a Go pro), now and then, there were exceptions. Unfortunately, the exceptions tended to what certain narrow-minded people regarded as scandalous and outrageous.

"Touya-sensei, have you heard the latest rumours about Touya Kouyo-sensei?" asked a male reporter who looked too old to be running the paparazzi circuit. "How about you, Shindou-sensei?"

Hikaru didn't know who it was and he didn't care since the reporter wasn't from Go Weekly. The focus on Touya-sensei was probably just one another of those idiotic rumours fanned by tabloids seeking to increase their circulation, he thought. He had encountered too many of them (rumours and reporters) to be alarmed by anything they said. Besides, Akira would have received a phone call from his father if anything were truly amiss. He glanced over at Akira, who was wearing the usual polite mask of a person who was wishing that every single reporter in Tokyo would drop into a pit.

"Excuse me, let us pass through," Akira said with a little bow that was not a bow, and tried to walk past them.

"Yeah, stop bothering us," Hikaru said, dragging along his luggage, then grabbed Akira's arm and waded through the small crowd, taking pleasure in the way one or more photographers had to jump out of his way.

They settled into a taxi and Hikaru leant back with a minor grumble. He had been sitting down for more than fifteen hours, and he would like some real ramen, a game on his own goban, and then his own bed. Though possibly not in that order. He glanced at Akira, who was checking his phone. "Nothing happened, right?" he asked.

Akira scrolled through what must be news headlines, then shook his head. "My parents are still in Tokyo," he said. "Although 'Touya-sensei was seen checking into a hotel in Kobe late last Friday alone'," he quoted blandly. " 'Is Touya-sensei's marriage on the rocks?' " Akira finished with a twist of his lips.

"What, again?" Hikaru exclaimed. "And why Kobe, anyway?"

Akira's shrug indicated that he didn't care. Go pros travelled all the time. But he then frowned in thought. "I heard from Amano-san that there was a Go event in Kobe last week."

"Doesn't seem like Touya-sensei's style to go all the way to Kobe for a Go event," Hikaru said, but shrugged. It was a possibility.

"Come to think of it, I heard that Ichiruyu-sensei was also travelling to Kobe last week," Akira said. "He used to be from the same study group as-"

"-as Touya-sensei," Hikaru said, nodding. "I think I heard Morishita-sensei mention that. He was in a different study group. Huh, I bet that's why Touya-sensei was in Kobe, for a reunion or something."

"That would have been an interesting meeting."

Hikaru made a face. "It's probably more like a gathering of retired Go pros who still can't forget who made pro first. I bet they just get together to compare how many titles they have. No thanks."

"They aren't as juvenile as you, Hikaru." Akira sounded amused and bemused at the same time. "Older pros are more mature."

"Hah! Tell that to Kuwabara-sensei," Hikaru retorted. "Okay, maybe not Touya-sensei," Hikaru acknowledged, rubbing his chin in speculation, going through in his mind the number of older pros who were likely to have a reunion in Kobe. "I can't see that happening. I bet Touya-sensei's classier than that. But I can't say the same for the others. That old man from Fukushima, for example-"

"You're babbling."

Hikaru pouted for all of five minutes, before he fell asleep.

***

Someone was shaking him awake. Hikaru grumbled and tried to pull his pillow over his head, but there was no pillow, and his nose met the smell of pine air-refresher. Huh. It smelt like the inside of a taxi. He opened his eyes to see Akira standing outside the taxi. "Hikaru, are you coming in with me, or are you going home first?"

"Huh?" Hikaru rubbed his eyes. His mind felt as heavy as cotton. Damn jag lag. "I'll come in. May as well greet Touya-sensei properly," he said. "And I've got kifu-" he interrupted himself with a huge yawn "-of that game with Mike Chiang that I want to show Touya-sensei."

"All right." Akira went around to the back, presumably to supervise the unloading of their luggage, while Hikaru yawned again and stumbled out of the taxi. Half-leaning on him, they made their way into the Touya residence.

"We're back!" Akira said, and Hikaru echoed him blearily. Akira looked at him in amusement. "You don't even live here."

"I could live here," Hikaru said loftily. "If I wanted." He liked living in his grandfather's place, though. He had a soft spot for the place where he had first met Sai. There was also Torajiro's goban in the storeroom, which made him feel incredibly secure, for some reason.

The sound of steps made them look up. "Welcome back, Akira-san," said Akira's father, then he blinked. "And Shindou-kun. Both of you look exhausted!"

"Long flight. Good morning, Touya-sensei," Hikaru said, attempting to bow and was saved from lurching to the ground by Akira's arm around him.

There was a chuckle from Akira's father. "Come in," he said, "Would you like some breakfast? Akira-san?"

Hikaru brightened. "Can I have ramen, please, Touya-sensei?" He ignored Akira's elbow at his side. "There was no ramen in the whole of Germany," he said.

"He's exaggerating," Akira said, pulling first his luggage into the house, then Hikaru's. "Though not by much. Would it have killed you to try some German food?"

"I tried it. And I didn't like it." Hikaru walked past him into the house, slightly more awake now and his attention focused only in the direction of the study, then wondered if he should barge in, just like that.

Akira caught his hesitant actions and said, "Yes, Mother should be inside at this time. But I thought you wanted to eat ramen."

"Later," Hikaru said, then caught the resigned look on Akira's father. "Um, maybe it's too early." Probably seen too many young pros anxious to prove themselves to Akira's mother to the exclusion of everybody else. Although Hikaru hoped that he wasn't coming off as one of those nuisances.

"Go on," Akira's father said encouragingly. "It's fine." Despite not knowing about Hikaru's connection to Sai, Akira's father had always understood that Hikaru's attachment to Go went deep. But then Akira's father had Akira to learn from, too.

Hikaru nodded, sheepish. He had to get used to the fact that they didn't think of him that way.

"Go ahead, then," Akira said, giving him a light push.

"Huh." Hikaru rubbed the back of his head, half-aware that he reverted to a bashful teen whenever he had to see the ex-Meijin. He approached the study and knocked softly. "It's me, Hikaru," he said.

A moment, then, "Come in, Shindou-kun."

Hikaru slid open the door, and entered. The tatami room was, as usual, bare except for some low shelves of kifu and poetry. At one end of it was a beautiful old goban, and behind it was Touya-sensei, with both bowls of stones at her fingers. There was a game that glowed intriguingly from the goban, and the combination was like something out of a painting. Hikaru realised he had been staring when he heard Akira huff a breath of amusement behind him. His neck turning red, Hikaru hastily bowed. "Good morning, Touya-sensei," he said.

"Good morning, Mother," Akira said.

"Akira, Shindou-kun, come and look at this game."

"Sure, Touya-sensei!" Hikaru brightened and scrambled to sit down opposite the goban, Akira following but at a less boisterous pace after sliding the door closed.

Well, it looked like Touya-sensei had a more interesting time than Hikaru would have imagined, meeting up with old friends and rivals in Kobe. Someone had managed to unearth a kifu showing a game that a historian from Kyoto University believed to be between Shuusaku and an unknown lady, or at least Touya-sensei's friend, the historian, had assumed it was a lady by the script. Shuusaku -- if it was Shuusaku, Touya-sensei cautioned, but Hikaru had caught the excitement in her voice too -- had given the lady a significant handicap, but it seemed she, too, had been an experienced and skilful player too. Unfortunately, part of the kifu was damaged and Touya-sensei had been trying to reconstruct what happened in the upper left corner.

Delighted and thrilled at the thought of tracking down another of Sai's games, Hikaru spent the rest of the morning discussing the kifu with Touya-sensei.

---


"Shindou, this is Ikeda Kei, one of this year's new pros," Ogata said. He was standing with a boy who looked about eighteen, dressed in a suit that probably cost what Hikaru made in a month. Good looking, if you liked them delicate-jawed and intellectual-looking, thought Hikaru with an inner grin, with hair that was little too long but gave him an artfully casual look.

"This is Shindou-sensei," Ogata introduced. "You've probably heard of him. He'll be joining in the study session as well."

Hikaru resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at Ogata. Despite the years, he was still a little wary of Ogata, and their repeated meetings over the goban in the title games didn't diminish that.

Ikeda bowed, "Shindou-sensei, pleased to meet you."

A bit disconcerted at the extreme formality, Shindou bowed too. "Pleased to meet you too," he said. "Is this your first time to Touya's place?"

Ikeda nodded, but he seemed unusually excited at Hikaru's question. "It's an honour to be here," he said. "I look forward to meeting Touya-sensei as well."

"Akira? I thought you'd have met him already, he was at the Beginner Pros ceremony-" Hikaru cut himself off as Akira came up to them. Ah, wrong Touya.

"Ogata-san, you're here. Ikeda-kun, good evening."

Hikaru was amused to observe the boy's excitement sharpen even more upon seeing Akira. Ogata only said, "Good evening, Akira. Ikeda, we better go in."

Ogata led Ikeda further into the house, towards the Go study. Hikaru stifled a grin and met Akira's eyes.
"So… Ikeda-kun's one of those, huh?"

Judging by his expression, Akira was not amused.

Privately (and not so privately), Hikaru thought it was hilarious. He had had a healthy respect (and fear) of Touya-sensei since the first time he met the person Sai would refer to as his eternal rival. But while it was true that Touya-sensei's personality was impressive and charismatic enough to make people think they were in the presence of a movie star, Hikaru had seen Touya-sensei too, in the moments when she was fully focused on Go. When she played with Sai. In those moments, she was one of the best Go players in the world, every hand a sublime move.

Her absolute dedication to Go was well-known, as were the many (frankly distracting) media references to her frequent travel trips for Go games. Now and then, reports recurred of how Akira's main carer had been his father rather than his mother, even the way she mixed around with mainly male company.

("But all of the older pros are men, like Kuwabara-sensei." "Yes I know, Hikaru.")

Then there were her fans. Oh, the fans. So many, and so dedicated. Even years after the retirement.

"Are you coming in?" Akira asked.

"A moment." Knowing that the first fifteen minutes of any study session with new students was filled with introductions, Hikaru opted to delay his entrance. What was more, this was a combined study session of both Touya-sensei's students and Ogata's students, so it would be even more crowded. Akira probably guessed his intention, and followed as Hikaru headed for the kitchen.

"Shindou-kun! Just in time to try my new recipe. Akira-san, have you eaten dinner?"

"Touya-sensei! Really?" Hikaru glanced around and saw that Akira was on his heels. Ah, well. Akira didn't like the acolyte parade any more than Touya-sensei did. "Is it ramen too?"

Akira's father nodded and chuckled. "I'm thinking of adding it to my new book, but it needs another taste tester. I'm afraid Kouyo's getting sick of ramen."

How could anyone get sick of ramen? Hikaru thought. From what Hikaru knew, Akira's father had been a manager in a hot spring ryokan before he married an up-and-coming female pro. Everyone had assumed that eighteen-year-old Takeuchi Kouyo would stop being a pro once she was married, or at least when she had a child, and the extremely conservative side of the Go world (which was about all of it at that time, according to Kuwabara-sensei) was scandalised when Touya Akihito quit his job to be a homemaker instead. He had stated that he planned to be a freelance food critic, but the unspoken reason was to take care of the home so that his wife, upcoming Go pro, could focus all her time on her career. It upended a lot of convention in those days.

Over the years, Akira's father had published numerous home cooking recipe books that had been well-received and had gained some publicity that way, but it was nothing in comparison to his wife Touya Kouyo who had once held all Go five titles in Japan.

They sat down at the dining table to eat: Hikaru, Akira, and Touya-sensei, and were joined halfway by one of Akira's students Uchida Yuri, who was sixteen-year-old with a not-so-secret crush on Hikaru.

"Have you met Ikeda already, Shindou-sensei?" she asked with a conspiratorial air when she sat down with her own bowl of ramen.

"Uh-huh," Hikaru said, intent on slurping all his broth.

"Is he good?" she asked with an air of testing out the competition. Uchida was a new pro last year and was ambitious, which Hikaru approved of, but prone to make snap judgments, which he did not.

"Play him yourself," Hikaru said. He found a sliver of salmon beneath of the dregs of the soup, and popped it into his mouth.

"Not today," Uchida said with a snort. "He's hanging on Touya-sensei's every word, and I think he wants to play with Touya-sensei."

"Ah," Touya's father said. "When I saw him come in just now, I thought-"

Uchida nodded. "Yes, he's one of those."

Akira did not roll his eyes, but his sentiment was clear.

All four of them contemplated, in their own ways, about Touya Kouyo fanboys.

Frankly, if Sai hadn't been such a huge Go manic, Hikaru thought, he'd probably be one of those fanboys. In fact, back in the days when he was still to enter the Go profession, Hikaru had assumed that one of the reasons that Sai wanted to play with Touya Kouyo was that he was attracted to her, and the fact that she played Go like a dream was just icing on the cake. Hikaru, too, had been overwhelmed by Touya-sensei's intensity from the first time they met. It didn't help that Sai was so focused on her as his eternal rival. It wasn't until his Beginner Dan game that Hikaru could look past all the glamour that surrounded the then Touya Meijin.

Then again, Hikaru always had Akira to focus on.

The problem was that Touya Kouyo was gorgeous. She was tall, imposing with vibrant eyes and a serious demeanour. Akira definitely took after his mother in that regard. She had long, straight hair that flowed like a river down her back. She wore kimono to title games, and she looked like a goddess when she was seated in front of a goban. Even if she were not famous, most people (men, that is) who met her for the first time were intimidated by her beauty, her confidence, and the way her gaze could pierce into you. She had been photographed more often than any other pro in the world, and even those who knew nothing of Go knew that they had seen her picture somewhere, is she an actor or something?

With that kind of unasked-for fame came invented associations with high profile businessmen, politicians and other Go pros. The Touya marriage was rumoured to be on the rocks more often than not. Some people pitied Touya Akihito, while some thought he was hen-pecked. After all, beside his eye-catching wife, Touya Akihito looked plain and boring.

The fanboys, usually motivated by Touya-sensei's Go skills or by the novelty of a woman who could play genius-level Go (Hikaru figured it was both), tended to gather around the Go Institute or at Go events, hoping for a chance to be introduced to her and be invited to her Go study sessions. They had a tendency to hang on her every word and gesture, often ending up annoying anyone else who might be in Touya-sensei's presence, such as her husband or her son.

Then there had been all the hullabaloo when Akira's relationship with Hikaru became clear and the public had realised that Touya Kouyo's prodigy son was gay and wasn't that because he didn't have a female's proper nurturing influence when he was young?

Hikaru couldn't blame Akira for being so blasé about the reporters.

A newcomer entered the kitchen. "Here you are. Touya-sensei, good evening."

Akira's father nodded. "Ashiwara-sensei, good evening. Have you just arrived?"

Hikaru looked up at the good-natured smile on Ashiwara's face and nodded a greeting before wiping his mouth. "Ashiwara-sensei." Akira and Uchida added their greetings.

"Yes, I just got in. But Ogata-sensei messaged that he wanted to see Akira, so I came looking for him."

"Would you like some, Ashiwara-san?"

Ashiwara shook his head. "No thanks, I've had dinner. Come on, Akira. I think Sensei wants you to explain your game last month with Ko Yeongha to the others."

"You better go, Akira-san," Akira's father said.

They made their way to the study, and entered to see Ogata discussing a game with Touya Kouyo-sensei. They were already surrounded by the other students. Silently, Hikaru and Akira went to sit at the side, trying to catch a better view, and the one of the students moved silently, his gaze never moving from the goban. Hikaru saw that it was Ikeda, shrugged inwardly, and shifted closer.

Ah. It was a game between another player and Touya-sensei that Hikaru had seen the week before he and Akira left for Germany. Hikaru studied it again. He'd known that Touya-sensei had been studying Shuwa's techniques, contrasting it with Shuusaku's for the past year, and it was interesting to see the effect here.

"This was where Park-sensei surprised me," Touya-sensei was saying of the fight in the lower left. There was a distinct tone of fondness in her tone. Ikeda, in front of Hikaru, leant closer. Park… ah, probably Yeongha's student, Hikaru remembered. The Korean pro's students really didn't care that Touya-sensei was a woman, and Touya-sensei had a soft spot for that.

"It would have been faster to cut through here," Ogata suggested, pointing to a spot exactly one step below.

"Perhaps," Touya-sensei said, and she looked up. "Ikeda-kun, what do you think?"

"Um." Hikaru could hear Ikeda swallow at the question. "I-I think he was trying to fortify the territory here," he made a swipe over the lower section of the goban. "Without drawing notice to it. Otherwise this section could be in danger."

"Very true," Touya-sensei said, smiling directly at Ikeda. Hikaru was certain he could see the tips of Ikeda's ears turning red.

"Too unsubtle, though," Ogata sniffed. "Sensei saw through the attempt in no time."

"But it was a good attempt. Next time, Park-sensei will be more cunning, I'm sure," Touya-sensei said with a smile.

Hikaru had to agree with Touya-sensei's assessment. He'd played with that student of Yeongha's before, too. Wait- he leant forward. "This is a variation of Shuwa's technique, isn't it?" he said in sudden comprehension. It hadn't been obvious to him until just now. "He was working on a counter for Shuusaku's fuseki, and came up with a series of feints."

"Except Park-sensei adapted one of them even further," Akira pointed out, catching on as well. "He saw that if he started from the centre, Mother would catch it immediately, so he-"

Everyone looked again. "Now that you mention it," Ogata said, starting to frown.

"I wondered if anyone would comment on that," Touya-sensei said, and nodded. "Yes, I suspected that Park-sensei was trying that, but it still surprised me. He must have studied hard to find a way for it to work."

Hikaru nodded, running through the permutations in his mind. He had studied Shuusaku's techniques, of course, and in recent years he had begun to study those of his contemporaries as well. Sai had been developing his technique with Torajiro, building on the skills he had honed in the Heian period. Later, he would do just the same with Hikaru, building on the skills he had honed before. Hikaru gave a tiny sigh, feeling a wave of nostalgia for Sai and caught Touya-sensei looking at him curiously. Nothing, he shook his head very slightly. The last thing he wanted was for questions about Sai to recur, especially in front of Ogata.

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Ikeda's puzzled frown. Ikeda was probably new to the undercurrent of Sai's mystery, not that anyone in the room was about to enlighten him, Hikaru thought. He suddenly realised that Ikeda was the only one wearing a suit: all the others, even Ogata, were dressed much more casually. Then again, Ikeda must have felt some pressure to stand out at his first study session with Ogata.

Akira next demonstrated his game against Ko Yeongha. Compared to Park Hanjeong, Ko's technique was far more refined and displayed an understanding of strategy that Hikaru reluctantly admitted was breathtaking. Still, Akira was well able to hold his own against the Korean pro, and Hikaru gleefully pointed out where a slight hesitation on Ko's part had allowed Akira to expand his offense.

"It was a good game," Touya-sensei said. "I see that Ko-sensei has improved again." By that comparison, so had Akira. She looked pleased, almost admiring.

Akira nodded. "Yes, Ko Yeongha's skills have reached a higher level than before," he said.

"But he's still inferior compared to you, Touya-sensei!" Ikeda said, a little too loudly.

Inwardly, Hikaru grimaced. Touya-sensei's skills were incomparable, that was true, but for someone to denigrate another pro's skills so baldly simply to curry favour with Touya-sensei was painful to observe. Ko's skills were of a very high level; and Touya-sensei himself knew it. Who was to say that Ko could not surpass Touya-sensei one day? (Not if Hikaru had anything to say about it, though.) A stealthy glance around the goban showed that Ogata looked mildly pained, behind his neutral expression, Ashiwara looked like he was biting his lip, and Akira looked pissed off beneath that bland look.

As though Ikeda had not spoken, Touya-sensei only said, "He is an extremely skilful player; I would like to play with him the next time he's in Tokyo."

Akira nodded. "He said the same, Mother."

And that seemed to be that. The study session broke into smaller groups after that. Uchida cornered Hikaru, demanding to see the game with Mike Chiang that Hikaru played in Frankfurt, and as Hikaru laid out the game on one of the spare goban she half-giggled, half-snorted, "What a prize, that Ikeda."

"Uchida." Hikaru glanced up, and decided to concentrate on remembering the game.

"When he said that, I wanted to sink through the floor. Super embarrassing."

Come to think of it, female fans of Touya-sensei tended to be one of two types: either they admired Touya-sensei for being one of the strongest players in the world who was also a woman, or they took her as an example of how a woman in the (still) male-dominated world of professional Go could be successful. Hikaru had, up to now, been thankful that Uchida seemed to be free of any hero worship of Touya-sensei, but he reflected that perhaps it was only because he had been unobservant.

"And I don't know how Touya-sensei remained so calm, I would have slapped-"

"Uchida."

"What?"

Hikaru only said, "Touya-sensei, this was the game I was planning to show you the other day."

Uchida's face as she turned back to see Touya-sensei was priceless.

Date: 2014-09-21 01:52 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Thank you for opening my eyes to the amazing notion that Touya Meijin could be Touya's mother. I hadn't know how bad I needed it before I read this!

[Aoi]

Date: 2014-09-30 09:11 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This was pretty much amazing. That's all I've got to say.

[Kanamara]

Date: 2014-10-03 11:13 pm (UTC)
coffee_flowers: (Default)
From: [personal profile] coffee_flowers
WOW. I really really like the idea of this story.
And it's so sweet and lovely to read.
Of course female Touya Meijin would have tons of fanboys (and fangirls?)

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