Disclaimer: Hikaru no Go was created by Hotta and Obata, I am merely borrowing their characters. No money was made in the creation of this work and no disrespect is intended to the creators and owners. This is a piece of fanwork written by a fan for fans. Please support the real artists, the creators.
Journey of Illumination
By Lady Lark
Chapter Three – Preparations for the Race
April 20, 2002
Akari absently shook off her umbrella as she glared at the sky above. It had been raining for three days straight and she was getting extremely sick of it. Her mother had been lamenting that nothing was getting dry and the pile of dirty clothes and linens only kept growing. Akari sympathized, but she hated the rain for another reason. It made walking to her Go class a miserable experience of wet feet and tangled hair.
Pulling her galoshes off her feet, she gratefully slipped into the visitor slippers provided. She knew she was almost an hour early, but she hoped that she would have the chance to talk to Shirakawa-sensei privately.
She walked upstairs. When she reached the landing, she noticed that one of her elderly neighbors, Ueda-san, was watching a match on the television there. Akari glanced at the screen and noted that the players weren't anyone she had heard of.
She shrugged and briskly walked to the door of the classroom. Opening it, she was pleased to see Shirakawa-sensei up front setting up the diagram board.
"Good afternoon, Sensei!" she called, closing the door behind her.
"Akari-chan, it's good to see you again," he greeted, glancing over his shoulder at her. "You haven't been to class in a long time."
"I'm sorry, Sensei. I didn't mean to miss, but I had entrance exams to take . . . ."
"Ah! Say no more! I remember what those were like. I almost lost my mind because of the stress." He motioned around his head for emphasis. "I couldn't tell if I was wearing the right shoes or not unless someone pointed them out to me. You don't know how many times my principal caught me wearing my slippers home and vice versa."
She smiled, thinking that she hadn't been so stressed out over the entrance exams. Although her mother claimed that she went through several jars of umeboshi in the weeks leading up to taking the exams, but she didn't know what her mother was talking about considering that she had no memory of eating the salt pickled plums.
"I'm glad you understand," Akari said gratefully. "It's been a busy time." She paused, realizing that he had inadvertently given her an opening to ask the questions that she wanted. "Sensei, when did you decide to become a professional Go player?"
Shirakawa paused in his set-up, turning to face her. "Is there any reason why you are asking?" he asked, giving her a sharp look
Biting her lip, she nodded. "I didn't mean to be rude. But lately I've been thinking about the future . . . and what role Go will play in it. I know that I'm not the best player. But I really love the game, and I wanted to know . . . well . . . " she trailed off, uncertain how to proceed. She met his gaze, her eyes pleading with him to understand what she was saying.
"Ah, I see," he said softly. "To answer your question, I decided in high school to pursue a career in Go. However, my sensei didn't make that same decision until he was in college."
She let out the breath that she hadn't realized that she had been holding. "So I don't have to make up my mind now. But I thought that you had to decide to become a pro before you turned eighteen."
"No, you can't become an insei after eighteen. In fact, once you turn eighteen, you can no longer remain an insei. But you can still take the Pro Exam until you are thirty."
"Oh! I didn't know that."
"Akari-chan, do you want to become a professional Go player?" he asked gently.
She glanced at her hands before replying. "I think so."
"Is this because of Shindou-kun?"
She started and looked up at him in surprise. "What? No!"
He chucked at her shock and vehement denial. "I'm glad to hear that. So why are you thinking of becoming a pro?"
"Because Go is the one thing that I enjoy doing and can see myself doing for the rest of my life. I love the game, and want to do something to contribute more to it than just play for fun."
"I am very pleased to hear that Akari-chan. But you know that you are nowhere near good enough yet, right?"
"I know. That's why I wanted to talk to you. I want to find out what I need to do in order to have a chance of becoming a professional player." She paused, and drew a deep breath. "I . . . I figured you could help me." Suddenly she bowed deeply. "Please assist me, esteemed sensei. I'm begging you."
Shirakawa placed one warm hand on her shoulder and forced her to straighten up. "Akari-chan, of course I will help you."
"Really? I don't know if I can thank you enough. What do you suggest?" she asked, eagerly.
"Hmmm . . . why don't you take a seat while I think about this?"
She pulled up a chair at the table across from him. From her pocket, she brought forth a mini-notebook and pen.
"You were prepared, weren't you?" he asked with a laugh. She blushed and made to put them away when he stopped her. "No, don't put them away. I was just teasing you. It's a good thing that you are so open to advice."
Smiling, she readied her pen.
"When you first came to my class three years ago with Shindou-kun, I was pleased to see young people being so interested in Go. Shindou-kun obviously had something. Something amazingly special and I felt honored to be his first teacher. But you were also special, too."
"I don't think so, sensei," she said with a small shake of her head.
"Oh, you aren't a prodigy like he is, but you still have improved dramatically since I first met you. Did you know anything about Go when you came that first day?"
"No. I'd never held a stone until then."
"And now you are one of the better players in my class."
She preened under his praise for a moment, then quickly sobered. "But I'm still not strong enough."
"No you aren't, and to improve you are going to have to work and make several sacrifices."
"I know. I am prepared." She had been waiting for this. She knew that by making this choice she was not only going to have to sacrifice all of her free time. But she would be forced to spend less time on school. Also, though the thought pained her, she knew that by making this choice, she would have to give up the Go Club. She deliberately refused to think about Mitani and his reaction to Hikaru's decision. She knew she wasn't prepared to think about it just yet.
"Good. First you need a one on one teacher."
"Two of my friends mentioned this. But how do I get one?"
"Good question, I notice you didn't ask me . . ." he trailed off, inviting her to fill in her explanation.
She flushed and dropped her gaze. "I didn't think you had the time and I didn't want to presume you would be willing teach me."
Shirakawa studied her briefly before responding. "You're right, I don't have the time. I am competing in the Meijin League as well as the preliminaries for the Honinbo league. On top of teaching this class and continuing my own studies. But, if I did have the time, I would be happy to have you as my student."
"So you aren't upset I didn't ask?"
"No, I'm not," he agreed. He then motioned to her notepad, and she readied herself for taking more notes. "There are three ways you can get a teacher. The first is having another professional recommend you to someone. I can check with my sensei and see if he would take you on as a student, but I don't think you want to join my group."
"Because Shindou-kun is studying under Morishita-sensei as well."
She blanched and shook her head. "You're right. I don't think it would be a good idea. Hikaru would probably think I was chasing after him, and . . .."
"You don't need to say it, Akari-chan. Hikaru takes you for granted and he doesn't necessarily think before he speaks."
She nodded. She was relieved that she didn't have to explain that while she still cared about Hikaru, his callous remarks hurt her more than she should let them.
"So that eliminates the first option. Second, you can go to the Go Institute and ask and see who is taking tutors. But . . . you are not guaranteed of getting a good teacher that way. In fact, I wouldn't recommend it for you at all."
"Because I am a girl."
Suppressing a grimace, Akari acknowledged his words. Male chauvinism was alive and well in Japan. Most older men would refuse to teach her on principle, viewing the game as a man's domain. Even though women had been playing Go since the Heian era.
"So what would you recommend?" she asked, in a subdued voice.
"Well, several Go clubs and companies put on seminars and conventions. One thing you can sign up to do is play tutoring go with the visiting professionals. I would do that, since not only do you get to meet them but you get to see their playing style."
"That makes sense. I'll have to check them out."
"Do that. At the same time, I would suggest playing against stronger players than you have been."
"I know I need to do that. But I am not really comfortable going to go salons. And while I play in my school's club, only four or five of the players are strong enough that I need a handicap to beat them."
"What is your ranking in the club?" he asked curiously.
"Well I am currently ranked third out of five among the girls," she said with a small blush. "One of them only started playing this year and the other was like me and started playing in junior high."
"And the other two?"
"I haven't played them yet," she answered quietly.
"Ah. I see. Congratulations Akari-chan. But you understand why you need to play against stronger players, don't you?"
"Yes, I do. It's the only way for me to get stronger. But other than in salons and at school, I don't know where to find these stronger players."
"Hmm . . . have you tried online? I know that a lot of the insei are playing online, as well as some of the younger pros. I've even heard of higher ranked pros playing on some of the Go servers. I don't play online myself, but one of the members of my study group swears by it."
She nodded. "I don't have a computer at home, but one of my friend's older sister works at an internet café."
"Good. So that is an option for you."
"Um-hmm. Are there any other ways to play against stronger players?"
"Well, you can always go to the Go Institute and play in the salon there. Most of the players there are amateurs hoping to run into a pro or two, but many of them are still pretty good. And who knows, you may run into an insei or even a pro there."
"What about becoming an insei, I know I'm not strong enough now. But how do you become one?"
"Are you thinking about becoming an insei first?"
"I think it would be a good idea. I would like to meet other players my age. Besides I saw how much being an insei meant to Hikaru, I'd like to have that same experience."
"You are setting a difficult goal for yourself, Akari-chan. You are not even close to the strength of the weakest insei."
"I know, but if I work hard, maybe it could be possible." She gave him an earnest look full of determination. "I have to try."
"And I'll help you as much as I can," he soothed. "To become an insei, you need three kifu from games you have played."
"Ah! I remember that! Hikaru needed those, so he played a three-way game against Kaga-sempai, Tsutsui-san, and Mitani-kun. When he was done, Tsutsui-san recorded their games. So I need three of them?" At Shirakawa's nod, she started musing out loud. "I have a lot from the go club, since I try to record all of the games I play. Maybe one of those. . . "
"You're going to want ones that show your strength," he said, interrupting her thoughts. "So I wouldn't use any of those. But keeping track of your games is a good idea. It will give you an idea of how much you improve over time. Once you get a teacher, they can evaluate where some of your major weaknesses are from them. After you get your kifu, you need sponsorship from a professional player."
Akari looked dejected. "How will I get that?"
"Well, since I can't tutor you full-time, I would be happy to sponsor you. When you, and whatever teacher you find, deem you're ready."
"Really! I don't know how I can thank you! I'm honored."
"It's the least I can do."
"You've done so much already!"
"And I was happy to help. I am pleased some of my students want to become professionals. It makes me think that maybe I am doing something right by being a teacher."
"You are a wonderful teacher! I've learned so much from you."
"It makes me glad to hear that."
Akari glanced at the clock on the wall behind his head. "I'd better take my seat, the rest of the class will be arriving soon. I know that Ueda-san was watching a match when I came in."
"I think that she comes here early so she can do that. From what I gather, she only gets the broadcast networks at home. She was absolutely devastated when Touya Meijin retired. She was a big fan of his. But I think that she has transferred her affections to Ogata Jyuudan, one of the Meijin's students."
"I think he was one of the people I saw playing today."
Just then the door to the classroom opened. A couple of middle-aged housewives started spilling into the room, commenting on the game that she had seen on her way in.
"Did you see that move he made?"
"Ogata-sama is so bold!"
"And young, don't forget young!"
"How could I? If I were only a few years younger . . . "
"But you're not!"
"Don't depress me."
Akari smiled at the middle-aged women's banter. They sounded so much like the girls in her class at school, that if she hadn't known their ages, she would have thought that they were a bunch of love-struck teenagers.
"I think I'd better take my seat, Shirakawa-sensei."
The young pro laughed. "This isn't high school with assigned desks. Sit where you want."
She flushed, even after attending class for over two years; she hadn't felt comfortable enough to move closer to the front. So she had been sitting in the very back of the room.
"Thank you," she said softly, putting away her pen and paper.
She pulled up one of the goban and readied herself for class, determined to get the most out of it.
The next day, she slept in, relishing the opportunity to get a full night's sleep. When she woke up, she stretched languidly and glanced at the alarm clock by her bed. It was already past ten o'clock. Sundays didn't come often enough for her tastes.
Flipping off the covers, she got out of bed and started performing a series of stretches. When she was done, she padded down the hall to the bathroom to finish the rest of her morning ritual including brushing her teeth and hair.
As she was finishing up, she heard a knock on the door. Looking up from the sink, she spat out the foamy toothpaste.
"Hurry it up in there! Some of us have to use the toilet."
"Hang on! I'm almost done."
"If I pee out here, you get to clean it up!"
Akari ran the tap and rinsed her mouth out. "Ew! Gross! I did not need that visual!" She replaced her toothbrush and opened the door to see her older sister, Natsumi.
"About time! Another five seconds and you would have had huge mess to clean up."
"I don't know why you're so impatient. There's a toilet downstairs."
"That one's for guests, you know that. Besides, that tune it plays when it flushes is creepy."
"And you're blocking the door. Move!"
Akari stepped back into the hallway, and Natsumi slammed the door.
"Mou! You didn't have to be rude!" she cried, sticking out her tongue.
She stomped back to her room, and flung open her closet. She yanked down a long-sleeved shirt and blue jumper and tossed them on the unmade bed. Still annoyed at her sister, she pulled out her underwear drawer and lifted out the first bra and panties she found without checking to make sure that they matched, like she normally did. She got dressed quickly, determined to make it downstairs before her sister was finished getting ready.
As she neared the stairwell, the aroma of miso soup floated up to her and her stomach growled. She grimaced ruefully. She was not one of those people who could skip breakfast and make it all the way to lunchtime on just a cup of coffee.
She reached the bottom of the stairs and walked into the kitchen.
"Morning, Mom! Breakfast smells wonderful."
Her mother paused in her stirring the pot of soup and turned to face her daughter. "Good morning, Akari-chan. How is my baby this morning?"
"'Mo-om! I wish you would stop calling me your baby! I'm almost 16!"
Fujisaki Naoko clutched her hands to her breast dramatically. "But you'll always be my baby girl in my heart. When you have children of your own, you'll understand."
"You're being silly."
"It happens to all of us as we get older. I think it is a sign of my approaching senility."
"You're not old, Mom, just silly."
"Thank you very much."
She looked around the kitchen. "So what can I do to help?"
Naoko lowered the heat on the stove so that the soup wouldn't boil and started dropping squares of tofu into the pot. "Well, you can finish setting the table and pull the umeboshi out of the fridge. If you want, we can also have an omelet."
"Hmmm . . . I think traditional is what I am in the mood for this morning. So we have any other pickles?"
"I think the rice bran daikon are ready and there is one more jar of salt pickled carrots."
"I'll slice the daikon and put out the carrots then."
"That sounds good, baby."
Akari puttered around the kitchen setting out the finishing touches for breakfast. She was checking the rice cooker to see if it was done, when Natsumi joined them.
"He took Prince for a walk this morning saying that he needed a break from all of the women in the house," Naoko replied, adding sliced green onion and dried seaweed to the soup. "If you want to make the tea, honey, we should be ready to eat in a few minutes."
"What about Papa?" Akari asked.
"He can have cold soup."
From the hallway, a man's voice could be heard. "You hear that, Prince? They're plotting against us in there."
Akari glanced over to the doorway and saw her father dressed in a jogging suit grinning at his family.
"Welcome back, Darling."
Fujisaki Shinobu flushed and rubbed the back of his head. "Um, I'm home."
"Mou, you would think that you would have better manners, Darling. Your parents are the politest and most traditional people I have ever met. How did you become so rude?"
"It's all your fault, Dear. Your increasing beauty has taken my breath away. And with our two lovely daughters, well I was rendered speechless."
"Nice save, Daddy," Natsumi interjected dryly.
He flashed her a gamin grin. "I'm glad you liked it."
"Hmph! I don't think you've ever managed to grow up."
"Naoko-chan, how can you say that about your dear husband who loves you oh so much?"
"You're both so silly," Akari muttered.
"Who me?" both her parents said in unison, then laughed at the identical response.
Flipping off the stove, Naoko addressed her family. "Breakfast is ready if you want to sit down. Natsumi, honey, pour the tea. Can you serve the rice, baby?"
"Okay!" both girls replied, scurrying to do their appointed tasks.
Naoko ladled the soup into four bowls. Picking up two, she set them on the table. "How was your walk, Shinobu?" she asked.
"It was good. Here let me get that, you sit down," he replied snagging the remaining bowls from the counter before his wife had a chance to come get them. "I saw Aizawa attempting to jog around the block. He should have taken up exercise years ago, not after his doctor ordered him to."
The family sat down and as one said, "Itadakemasu!" Akari snagged a pickle and set it on her rice, while Natsumi lifted her bowl and started blowing on the hot soup.
"Um-hum. Anything else happen while you were out?"
"Well I saw Hikaru-kun on his way to the station. He waved, but we didn't talk."
Akari stiffened at Hikaru's name and set down her chopsticks. She hadn't seen him since graduation. She hoped he was doing well, but she hadn't quite gotten over the strangeness of not attending school with him anymore. They had first met in the local pre-school. Hikaru was being picked on by one of the playground bullies when Akari and Natsumi intervened. Natsumi chased the other boy away while Akari made sure Hikaru was alright.
The little boy had tried to shrug it off, but he was near tears. Silently, she had handed him a piece of lychee candy. He took it from her warily. But from that small incident, a long lasting friendship had been born. All through elementary school, the two had walked to and from school together and the trend continued in junior high. They weren't best friends by any means, but they knew each other and hung out together. Akari felt his absence greatly because it, more than anything else, signaled the sunset of her childhood.
For several moments, the rest of the family didn't notice her silence, eating and chatting amiably. Finally her mother looked up and noticed Akari's subdued demeanor.
"Are you feeling all right, baby? Does your stomach hurt?"
She shook her head. "I'm okay, Mom. When Papa mentioned Hikaru it hit me that he's pursuing his career and I'm still in school. I just realized how much things have changed."
"Oh, baby. You miss him."
"It's more than that," she said, stirring her soup with her chopsticks. "He's doing what wants to do. Racing towards his goal, and I still feel like I am at the starting line."
"Uh-oh, Akari's having a life crisis. Everyone brace yourselves."
"Natsumi!" Shinobu admonished.
"You were saying, little princess?"
She sighed. She knew that she had to have this conversation about her future with her parents sometime. She just hadn't planned on it being so soon.
Before she had the chance to think of how to broach the subject, her mother asked, "Did you really want to go to Kaio High School, baby? Because it's still not too late to transfer."
"We've talked about this, Mom. The tuition is too high."
"Your father and I could work something out. We've discussed my going back to teaching at the university full-time and your father is in line for a promotion at his office."
Akari shook her head. "I don't think changing schools will help, in any case. I know what I want to do, it's just a matter of doing it and getting the training to be able to do it. Changing schools won't affect it either way."
"What do you want to do?"
"I want to be a professional Go player."
"A what?" her father asked in a confused voice.
"A Go Player, Darling, like Hikaru. Is this because of Hikaru, baby?"
"No, its because playing Go is something I love to do," she denied. "I love the competition. I love the discussion about techniques and moves. I love the infinite possibilities inherent in the game. I love that it is a tie to our past. I want to be a part of its future and I don't think I would be content with just sitting on the sidelines. I want to be a participant, even if it is only helping the stars shine. At least, I can say that I was a part of their journey. Even if I didn't shine so brightly myself."
Her parents stared at her; identical expressions of amazement were etched across their features. Akari averted her eyes, and went back to studying her soup. It had separated once more. She stirred it once before bringing it to her lips. She was pleased that it was still warm, although not as hot as she liked.
Her sister shook her head and reached forward to grab a slice of daikon. "Damn. I don't know what to say, sis. I've never seen you this passionate about anything."
"I love the game," Akari said with a shrug. "I'm just not very good at it."
"I can see where that would present a problem," her father joked.
"Darling! What would help?"
Akari blinked. She hadn't expected this response. Based on what Hikaru went through, she had assumed that her parents would oppose her decision. "Well, a lot of it I have to do on my own," she answered warily. At her mother's encouraging nod, she continued. "I need to find a teacher and stronger players first."
"Anything we can do to help?"
"You don't have a problem with me wanting to do this?"
"Princess, your mother and I decided a long time ago whatever you and Natsumi wanted to do with your lives, so long as it wasn't illegal or destructive, we would support you however we could." He paused, leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes. "My parents forced me to give up my dream, and I have always had that regret that I never tried to pursue it. I don't want you to have the same regrets I do."
"Papa . . . "
"I agree with your father, Akari," her mother interrupted. "My parents were the exact opposite of his. They supported my career, even though it was unusual to have a female want to be a college professor. Especially in mathematics. I knew I had a lot of obstacles to overcome, but they helped me as much as they could."
"'Mom . . . "
"So, what can we do to help?" her father repeated.
"I've talked to my sensei and one of my sempai and they both recommend getting a one on one tutor. They've also both suggested playing stronger opponents."
"That makes sense. So what do you need to do this?"
"I would like a computer so that I could play online against other players. I'm not comfortable going to Go salons, they are full of old men and cigarette smoke. I felt out of place. And while I could go to an internet café, it isn't as nice as being able to play at home. Eventually, I will need a go board and stones. But they don't have to be the expensive kind; a folding one would work fine. I just need something to play and lay out kifu on."
Her mother nodded in understanding. "And getting a teacher?"
"I'm going to have to do that on my own."
"And after you find a teacher?"
"Well I am going to try to become an insei."
"What's an insei?" her father asked.
"It's a student of go," Akari replied. "They are trained specifically to be the next generation of pros. The Japanese Go Institute hosts the classes and the students are not quite amateurs but they aren't pros yet. It is one of the stepping stones to becoming a pro. Although you can only be an insei until the age of eighteen."
"And you are almost sixteen." Her sister pointed out, with her mouth full of rice.
"I know, I have to make up a lot of ground to even stand a chance of making it. But I am going to do it!"
"We understand," her mother soothed.
"Akari, have you thought about what you are going to do if you don't succeed?"
Glancing at her hands, she replied to her father. "I hadn't really thought about it. I suppose try to go to college, maybe become a teacher. I really don't know."
"How is this going to affect your school work?" Naoko asked and Akari winced. She had hoped that they wouldn't ask that question.
"It's probably going to drop my ranking a bit," she answered honestly. "I am going to have to focus on studying the game more and schoolwork less."
"Are you likely to fail any classes?"
She flinched again. "I hope not. But I honestly don't know. When Hikaru was an insei, he had to miss one afternoon a week and spend all of his Sunday at the Go Institute for class. He missed even more when he was taking the pro exam. Since the exam lasted for something like three months. Luckily some of it was over summer break, but still it really hurt his schoolwork."
"But you are a better student than Hikaru, sis," Natsumi said in encouragement.
"He's a better Go player though," Akari countered. "So I don't know how much that would make a difference."
"Hmmm . . . this is what I propose," Shinobu started. "For the next two years you do everything you can to become an insei and then a pro. But, if you aren't an insei by the time you turn eighteen, then I want you to enroll in cram school and focus all of your energy into getting accepted at a decent university."
"You mean you'll let me do this?" she breathed in amazement.
"We supported Natsumi here with her desire to become a fashion designer. That's why we sent her to that special high school and are now supporting her in her internship. It's not the career we would have chosen, but she's happy and she's doing a good job," her mother pointed out.
"It's true, Akari-chan. You weren't around when I had this conversation with them, but they made me a similar offer."
"To be honest, baby, I was wondering when this would happen and I hoped it would happen sooner rather than later. I didn't want to see you turn into one of those aimless people who wander from place to place, job to job, and are never really happy and just scraping by."
"I would have never considered Go as a career choice, though," Shinobu interjected. "It seems pretty far-fetched."
"I didn't think about it myself until I saw Hikaru do it. I love the game, I really do. Even if I don't make it, I won't stop playing," she vowed. "But I think I have a real chance."
"Well you have time, little princess. Just make sure to let us know what we can do to help."
Naoko picked up her rice bowl and poked at its contents with her chopsticks. "I think breakfast has well and truly gotten cold. Akari. Natsumi. Can you two clean up the kitchen? I want to talk with your father for a bit."
Natsumi nodded and Naoko and Shinobu rose from their chairs. Shinobu gave Akari a quick squeeze on the shoulder before following his wife out of the room. Akari breathed a sigh of relief. She was amazed about how well her family had taken the news as well as how supportive her parents were being.
Getting up from her chair, she glanced at her sister who flashed her a quick grin. Nodding in response, Akari started gathering up the dishes and taking them over to the counter to be loaded in the dishwasher. Natsumi poured the leftover soup into Prince's food bowl, and the large German Shepherd started slurping at the liquid.
"Are you sure this isn't about Hikaru?" Natsumi asked suddenly.
Akari sighed. If she had known that ever since she had made up her mind to attempt to make it playing Go that she would be asked that question at every turn, she would have investing in a large wooden placard reading 'No I am not chasing after Shindou Hikaru! Stop asking me that question!' She tried to imagine herself walking down the street wearing the sign and giggled at the visual. Then, she caught her sister's concerned expression and the smile slipped from her face.
"Sis, I didn't decide to become a pro to chase after Hikaru." Natsumi looked over at her skeptically. "Really. Hikaru showed me the game, but the desire and the love are mine. I could have quit when he did and instead concentrated on my studies or other clubs if I didn't love the game. I could have quit again when Tsutsui-san graduated. By then it was down to me, Kumiko-chan, and Natsume. If I had left the club then, Kumiko would have left with me and I don't know if Natsume would have been able to keep the club going. He's not as strong as Tsutsui-san."
Akari paused taking a deep breath, reliving the memories of that time. "It was hard getting the club back up to full strength, both Kaneko and Mitani joined the team reluctantly. But in the end, we did it. And we participated in tournaments. We were never as strong as the other schools who had full-time coaches, but we held our own. It took Kaneko-chan and Kaga-sempai to make me realize that despite how I got interested in the game, that it was something I wanted to do. It's not something for me to do to keep hold of Hikaru. But something I do for myself."
"But what about the crush you had?"
"I got over it. He grew up and so did I. I still care about him, I always will. He is my oldest friend. I can't change that Hikaru has been a huge influence on my life. But he isn't the driving force behind my decisions. Not anymore."
"Akari . . ."
"Let me finish, please. You were always the outgoing one, Natsumi. The tomboy. I was your shy little sister. For a long time, Hikaru and then Kumiko were my only real friends. But Go changed that. I can now talk to people and have faith in myself. It's made me into a better person."
"You really have given this a lot of thought," Natsumi said, placing the last pan into the dishwasher and closing the door.
"Not really, a lot of it I hadn't managed to put into words yet. I just knew that this felt right and that I was doing this for myself and no one else. But I hadn't really pinpointed why."
"You know that it isn't going to be easy?"
"I don't want it to be. It would cheapen it somehow."
"Well, I think we are done here," she said glancing around the kitchen. "Is there anything you want to do today?"
"I need to pick up a copy of Weekly Go and see if there are any seminars going on around here sometime soon."
"Remember how I said I needed to find a teacher. This is one place to start looking."
"Oh, I see. Well, good luck!"
"Thanks. I'm gonna need it. I have a feeling that finding a teacher is going to be very difficult."
Her sister gave her a strange look then changed the subject. "So, Akari, have you decided on what you want to do for your birthday?"
Wow! I want to thank everyone who reviewed. It's really great getting this feedback. I am not big into thanking people individually – mostly because I feel that people get left out more than others. So instead I am going to address some of the things brought up in the reviews.
The chapters for this fic are likely to be very long, but that is because I have most of the story planned out to encompass certain themes and events and I don't think I can move on until they have been dealt with. Which can take up multiple scenes. As of right now, there are seventeen planned chapters and at least one planned side story from another character's POV – although there may be more but as of right now I am focusing on the main fic itself, which is told entirely from Akari's POV. So ultimately I know where this story is going and how it is going to end up. It should be interesting.
I've never thought of Akari as a weak character – underused – but not weak. In the anime she is shown standing up to Hikaru and she asks him to never come back to the Go Club because it hurts Mitani too much. That is something that had me goggling that she potentially sacrificed her friendship for the club. Yet later in the series, she comes the closest to pin-pointing what is wrong with Hikaru after Sai disappears. After playing Go a bit I began to realize just how hard the game is to learn and improve at. Her dedication to the game and the club is something to be admired. But she does have a long, LONG, way to go. And her way is not going to be as easy as Hikaru's because she doesn't have the ghost of the world's most famous go player as a teacher and because she isn't a prodigy. But she'll get some help and from some unexpected quarters, I don't want to give away too much though.
This fic, unlike most of my other stories, actually takes place in Japan – so I am trying to be true to the culture as much as I can. I can't do a few things – Like the fact that in Japanese it is VERY rude to say 'No' to anyone – but I am trying to impart that a bit. Little things like the kinds of pickles that the Japanese eat and the fact that they find musical toilets the epitome of class.
I have a few thank you's. First Troy Thomas for staying with me as a beta. I really appreciate that. I also want to say thanks to Mediaminer's FFRG as well as my friends who live/lived in Japan for some of the cultural aspects.
Thanks to my readers for staying with me. There should be one more groundwork chapter and then it should speed up considerably. Think of this as Fuseki – the opening moves. I hope this isn't moving too slowly.
Let's see the only other stuff is that I am working on the next part. While doing research for this fic I discovered that Go in Japan is like Golf or Nascar over here – it has it's own TV channels. I thought that was too neat not to include.