Go Ue Nana Ue Go
5 over 7 over 5
くろい いま, しろい いぜん
Kuroi Ima, Shiroi Izen
Now Black, Was White
Yin and Yang are here, black, white
This, the game of life
‘Kyoto, Mae Prefecture, Irazawa Nagachō’ read the address. It had been delivered early that day by an imperial messenger and still sat on a low bench, held closed by a deeply stamped seal.
Nagachō returned to his lodgings after the sun had reached its zenith. He slipped the Ashida off his feet before entering and carefully placed his Boken, wooden training sword, upright beside them, just inside the entrance. He took off his training robes and clothed himself in a short Kimono, belting a wide Obi around his waist.
The letter still sat where he had left it that morning. His duty to training was more important to him than a quick response to the Castle. He knelt down next to the low table and opened the letter, the seal cracking as he did so.
Your presence is requested for a Go match between yourself and Honinbo Takame, for his majesty, Tokugawa Iemitsu Cun’s entertainment. The match will be held tomorrow mid-day. Our hospitality is extended tonight for your enjoyment.
Over fifty years ago Iemitsu’s grandfather Ieyasu, the then head of the Edo Shogunate, had financed Honinbo Sancha to set up a Go Academy. Iemitsu Tokugawa was still the school’s top patron and, as a Go master of the second level, Nagachō was expected to attend one or two of these matches a year. He had never played against a Honinbo though; the highest level of Go master normally only played a level seven or eight master. He was curious to see how many stones handicap would be given him.
The way to Nijo Castle was not long but Nagachō had to make his way through the narrow and busy local trading streets. Shoppers crowded them, and merchants selling fruit and fish and rice, some with barrows of produce others standing in low ceiled shops. At the centre of the market district Nagachō stopped for a while and listened to a man playing a Shamisen, his fingers briskly and rhythmically brushing over the strings. Nagachō’s father had once played this low class music when Nagachō was young, but his own skill at the Go academy and hence his rising place in society had set him apart from this world. At times he missed it but it was not something he would go back to. The samurai training that he attended each day let him feel a little closer to his old place in life; he wasn’t fully comfortable with how high he had risen in society.
The upward sloping streets stopped abruptly a short way from the Castle’s walls, a slightly crooked line, shops and houses daring each other to encroach just that little more. Nagachō went to the closest gate. It was bamboo and small, not meant for stopping an invasion, instead as a definition between the outside and the inside of the Castle’s estate. A guard in colourful but functional amour questioned Nagachō and let him in, directing him to an inner building.
Nagachō had seen Nijo Castle up close before but was always impressed at its magnificence. No cost had been spared in construction of its main buildings and a new structure was being built by Iemitsu, already standing four stories high but not yet finished.
The meal was exquisite, the food and the entertainment. Each guest was served by a maid, chosen not just for her beauty but also finesse and conversational skill. During the meal Nagachō spoke to Iemitsu about the next days tournament, inquiring if Honinbo was at the feast, but was told he would not arrive until the next day.
After the food Nagachō was lead away by the maid who had been serving him.
“Irazawa San, I am Hana Makura. Though please just call me Hana. I have been instructed that you must rest early this night as your game tomorrow will be a taxing one.”
She led him to a room a building across from the one he had just eaten in. They both slid their shoes off and entered. The room was not ornate, a bed, a wooden tub and Go board.
“Hana San, do you play Go?”
“I do. Though I am only an amateur level three.”
“Would you have a game with me? I need something to ease my mind. I would take a five stone handicap.”
“Would you like to wash before, Irazawa San? I will help you.”
Nagachō removed his clothes and sat down in the large tub of water, as he now found to his delight, hot water. Hana picked up a smaller bucket and scooping water from the larger, poured it over Nagachō. The bathing was relaxing but as she scrubbed his back with a brush and massaged with her hands he was also invigorated.
After drying himself and putting on the light silken Kimono that was provided they both knelt at the Go table. Hana placed five white stones on the intersections of the lines upon the board, one in the centre and two each at diagonal corners. Nagachō relaxed as he moved into familiar territory. He looked forward to the conclusion of this game, and to the initiation of the next.
Meditate your decisions
Play your life on stage
Tatami matted floor. Brush painted pictures of fish and flowers and plants hang on engraved wooden walls. Paper windows, some open, some closed. Silence. Not the absence of sound but the kind of noisy silence made by a stream or distant waterfall. Concentrated silence. Two men kneel on cushions, facing each. Between them a wooden board, elbow height, thick and on four short feet. Next to each person a bowl of stones, one of white, the other of black. The men place the stones upon the intersecting lines, one and then the other. The yin and yang of colour shifts, more black more white, as they encircle each other, the encompassed falling off the board.
Time does not exist here, only the game. No honour, just the rules. They concentrate only on the game. Each move strategised. The future of the game in their minds, no other future is necessary. Not that they are in their own private world. They are conscious of their surroundings, of their opponent, of the board, but only the game matters. The last piece is placed upon the board.
Friendship, companion for hire
D’you want sex with that?
White: It’s time for me to go. The cleaners are already here and I’ve got to be back here for work early tomorrow.
Black: OK. We’ll finish the game using email?
White: OK. Sorry, I must go.
Black: Thanks for the game.
White: The pleasure was mine.
Hiroyoshi closed the game of Go he had been playing. His opponent was a friend, working the same salary job in the next district. Yoshi enjoyed playing him and looked forward to meetings for games face to face. The man he had been playing had introduced him to a Go club and Hiroyoshi had been meaning to attend again one night but hadn’t found time yet; he was anxious about physically seeing again the people he’d been playing online.
He opened his web browser and went to the Enjo Kosai board he’d been frequenting. He wasn’t quite sure how he’d started. He’d read about Enjo Kosai in the newspaper. The article was about the ‘alarming rise’ in the practice of young high school girls going on ‘compensated dating’; older men paying these girls for dates. At first Hiroyoshi was only slightly interested but had been talking to a girl now for a few weeks and she’d had finally suggested they meet, tonight, but she hadn’t as yet said when, or where. He checked his private inbox.
[unread] Hashi — Meet tonight
Chopstick, the web name suited her he thought, the avatar she had chosen a little dancing chopstick. Hiroyoshi used his full name on the board, Kamai Hiroyoshi. He felt it was more honest. Hashi seemed to like that too, telling him that it made her feel more trusting of him. Not trusting enough to tell him her name though.
Shall we meet tonight? You can take me to dinner. We will have fun. I will message your phone when I am close to Nijojo-mae station, on the Tozai Subway Line.
She wrote in English as she normally did when sending him private messages. Maybe it made it seem more secret, or maybe she was just practicing what she had learned at her tourism high school. Either way it gave the messages a sense of secrecy to Hiroyoshi.
Outside it was getting dark, half the sky in deep blue, the other already dusted with stars. Streetlights and ground floor shops colourfully illuminated the footpaths, everywhere else only a cold grey light. The buildings were all low, not many past three stories. They hugged the ground, waiting for the next earthquake. Hiroyoshi had been to Tokyo a few times for work and was always surprised to see so many skyscrapers. He’d wondered how they survived even the small tremors.
The station was only a short walk from his office and Hiroyoshi felt the need to stretch his legs after being cramped up all day in his office. As he got closer to the station the scenery changed. Still cramped streets and low buildings but these were for gaming and gambling, theatre and entertainment, the light with garish phosphorescent flicker. He walked too close to the automatic doors of one of the many Pachinko parlours and the smashing together of millions upon millions of tiny metallic balls creating a thunderous hissing cacophony.
Beep beep, Dajaaah, announced his phone.
<Message From “firstname.lastname@example.org”>
At the eatery, across from the station (Maemi Exit 2) I will meet you. The name of the place is Darinku-Ski.
She sat at a table for two in a tight corner of the restaurant. She was still in her uniform: straight pressed sailor top and tie and, he guessed, short black skirt and long white pulled up socks. He knew it was her, though she’d never sent him a picture. He had told her once that he liked the look of the uniform.
She looked startled as if she hadn’t seen him approach.
“No. Oh sorry, yes. Kamai San?”
“Yes. I’m glad you could make it. Please call me Hiroyoshi. Sorry, sorry, call me Yoshi.”
A smile crossed her face.
“And you can call me Yuki.”
He hadn’t known her name until then. He liked it.
“Yuki Watanae,” she said slowly, giving Hiroyoshi a quizzical look.
Hiroshi realised he’d been standing up and promptly sat down on the seat opposite Yuki.
The meal was average and the conversation uninspired. She spoke about her school, how much she liked English classes, how she wanted to visit America or Australia or England when she graduated. He listened and then talked about his work, his interest in Go, and she feigned interest back.
Hiroyoshi started to feel out of place. He felt that people were looking at him over his shoulder, though he knew no one would take any notice. Everyone would turn a blind eye to anything that did not concern them and would give him privacy to do what he wanted. Yuki spoke at him more; he thought about his wife, but only for an instant. She was in Nagora, home, happy, and she would never know what he was doing, so why did he think of her?
They left together still passing conversation idly. They walked through Onishō Baku Park without direction, neither quite sure where they were going. Hiroyoshi offered his jacket to Yuki when she started to shiver from the cold and she accepted it. They came out again onto the street, another bright strip of entertainment and leisure. Yuki stopped and stared at the strobing neon lights of a soapland.
“After I graduate I might start work as a masseuse in a soapland and start making some real money.”
Yuki looked Yoshi in the eye, for the first time he realised. Her face was a mask of innocence.
“Should we go somewhere more quiet?” she stammered.
He wasn’t too sure what to say. Had this been what he was expecting? Slowly Hiroyoshi nodded his head.