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The Last Master of Go


(The English-language winner of the third annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest, sponsored by the Little Tokyo Historical Society, was Joe Wocoski of Gaithersburg, Md., for “The Last Master of Go,” a futuristic tale that explains how a total lunar eclipse, an earthquake, and the passing of the last go master at the age of 124 are connected to the fate of Little Tokyo.)

In the last edition of the Rafu Shimpo newspaper it was written, “Kazuki Tsukuyomi, the Last Master of Go, lived just long enough to witness the total lunar eclipse of August 11, 2185 and then passed quietly out of existence along with the last remnants of Little Tokyo. Kazuki Tsukuyomi was 124 years old when he died.

“It was in this manner that the long protracted 20-year legal battle over the Japanese American National Museum came to an end. The museum was the last cultural icon left of the Japanese in Little Tokyo. Sadly, in the days that followed, the museum was emptied of all exhibits and then demolished by the city to make room for a new auto-drone parking lot. This day will be easy to remember because of the total lunar eclipse and earthquake at the moment of his death.”

It all started in the summer of 2156. The non-profit Japanese American National Museum Cultural Committee desperately tried to obtain an injunction to stop the demolition of their cultural icon, the Japanese American National Museum. However, this was all to no avail, for no matter what they tried, the result was a legal failure. They even tried to catch the attention of the web news media, but they went unnoticed by almost all.

Finally, the Cultural Committee gave up and focused their effort on saving the artifacts in the museum. The curator, Daisuke, organized the small handful of staff and volunteers to remove as many of the artifacts as possible, before the city demolition crew was to arrive at the museum the very next morning.

On that hot summer day, Kazuki Tsukuyomi put his copy of the Rafu Shimpo newspaper down. He told his wife that he was going to the museum to play a game of go. He then carefully picked up his white and black stones and placed them in their leather bag, got his mat and then left their home. Little did his wife, Uke Mochi Tsukuyomi, know what he was about to do. She was not really paying attention to her husband because she was focused on making their supper.

Very quietly Tsukuyomi, the Last Master of Go, walked into the museum and into the go exhibition hall. He unrolled his mat, sat down on it and placed the first white stone on the antique go table.

At first no one paid him much attention, for they thought he was just sitting there staring at the single stone on the go table. No one had asked him to sit down and start playing go. In fact, everyone there paid no attention to him until it came time to remove the antique go table.

A young volunteer told him that he had to leave but he just sat there unmoving, in deep concentration. Being young and impatient, the volunteer again asked him to leave and still got no response. Thinking Tsukuyomi must be deaf, the young volunteer raised his voice and with this the curator came over. “Why are you shouting? What is the matter?”

Panicked, the volunteer looked at the curator and then at the old man sitting on the floor and pointed at him. “He won’t remove himself from here.”

Daisuke looked down at the old man sitting there and tried to comprehend just what was going on with him. Then he saw the single go stone on the go table. Momentarily, the little old man lifted his head and stared at Daisuke. Immediately, he realized who the little old man was and why he was there. Daisuke ordered to all present in the museum, “Leave him alone and get everyone together.”

Tsukuyomi was the last remaining Master of Go on the planet Earth and he was all but forgotten, as are most things. For him to sit down and to place even one stone on the go table was a supreme act of not only social defiance, but of civil disobedience as well.

Civil disobedience was unheard of in this day and age. To use go as a delaying tactic to protest the demolition of the museum was mind-blowing. In go, minutes turn into hours and hours into days or even months. This made go the perfect delaying tactic. Once the first stone has been placed, the game must continue until the Master of Go places the last stone on the go table to complete the pattern.

Daisuke the curator proclaimed to the crowd of volunteers, “Stop everything you are doing and put everything back. Tsukuyomi has started a game of go and we cannot continue to empty the museum until he has finished.”

Most smiled and some even laughed out loud, but they could all see that Daisuke was serious when he turned to his assistant and said, “Get our lawyer Katsumi here, now.”

Then Daisuke disbanded the volunteers and told a young Japanese boy and girl, “Go outside and bring back the large white marker board and set it up in the go exhibition hall. Stand by it and draw a line down the middle of it with a black marker.”

Together they quizzically asked, “Why?”

The curator Daisuke wisely smiled and said, “Why? To keep score for the game, of course.”

Before Tsukuyomi started his game, the Japanese American National Museum had only a handful of visitors in the last few years and secretly the museum staff wanted to get on with their lives. However, with Tsukuyomi now sitting in the middle of their exhibit, they could not just walk away from Little Tokyo like all the others had done over the years. The Japanese population of Little Tokyo had gradually migrated away to take jobs elsewhere. Mostly to Silicon Valley and San Francisco, where there were thriving Japanese families, cultural events and businesses.

Starting long ago, Little Tokyo had slowly been abandoned and one building at a time had been torn down. Now only the Japanese American National Museum building remained to remind visitors that this was once a thriving Japanese community. Then today Tsukuyomi, the Last Master of go gently sat down in the middle of the exhibit hall and started playing go all by himself.

Finally the museum lawyer Katsumi arrived. She saw the white board with the black line drawn down the middle of it with what looked like a single Japanese number on one side. Then she noticed a little old man sitting on the floor in front of a go table with just one stone on it. Katsumi questioned, “What’s going on here? Everything has to be removed as they are going to demolish this building tomorrow.”

All that Daisuke the curator did was point at the Last Master of Go just sitting there and at the score on the white board. Then Daisuke briefly stated, “Tsukuyomi, the Last Master of Go, has started a game of go. Twenty years ago he was declared a ‘Living American Cultural Treasure’ to be preserved for all to see.”

Katsumi did not understand, so she got out her tablet and took a picture of the little old Japanese man then did an image search of him on the web. She read out loud, “In 2165 President Pedro Pedraza declares the Last Master of Go, Kazuki Tsukuyomi, a Living American Cultural Treasure to be preserved along with …”

At which point she stopped scrolling through the web. Grinning from ear to ear, she looked at the curator. “Daisuke, you got them. I now have a legitimate reason to get an injunction as long as he keeps playing. What a brilliant move, Daisuke!”

Tsukuyomi sat there quietly not really paying any attention to the conversation. Quickly word spread about the demolition injunction. From this point on, whenever he made a move there was news coverage by the media, pundits, web trolls and pseudo-critics.

Dozens of cameras on mini-drones soon hovered around the Last Master of Go. They were like little green and red fireflies in the night. All blinked, buzzed and transmitted their videos instantly to the world abuzz with images of Tsukuyomi. Mini-drones were everywhere in the museum. Most buzzed like tiny flies over his head while others darted to and fro across from him, trying to get any change in his facial expressions. One day his nose twitched and the drones swooped in, but it was only a sneeze, which amusingly went viral across all social media. It seems the media discovered someone to follow.

Whenever he made even a single move, millions of people around the globe knew instantly. In the first year, millions of go games were once again sold everywhere online and even in the few remaining brick-and-mortar super-stores. The museum had even reopened the gift shop and stocked it with, you guessed it, all forms of go paraphernalia and clothing. Their most popular items were the Last Master of Go T-shirts and sipper cups. Best of all, the museum overflowed with legal fund donations to help keep the injunction against the demolition.

Tsukuyomi was still the Last Master of Go because no one could challenge him until he finished his game. Once there was only Tsukuyomi playing go. Now millions of players both young and old played. More importantly, they made their pilgrimage to the museum to see the Last Master of Go and hopefully to witness a move by him.

As the years slowly passed, Tsukuyomi sat there mostly staring at the white and black stones on the table, rarely making a move. His wife, Uke Mochi, lovingly brought him food and he enjoyed her company while she visited him. One day she stopped bringing food. Instead his daughter, Amaterasu, showed up with his lunch pail and he would now eat with her. Yes, his wife had died, but he continued to play his game of go.

The Last Master of Go was very depressed over his Uke’s death and he just sat there, not making a move for 17 days. Just as a city demolition manager was about to go for a cessation order to discontinue the injunction, Tsukuyomi raised his hand, signaling the man to stop. Then graciously Tsukuyomi picked up a black stone and placed it gently in a strategic position on the table.

Two years later, the curator and the city demolition manager both retired, but others quickly took their places because the game was still far from complete and the injunction was still in place.

When Tsukuyomi had started the game he was 104 years old. This year he would turn 124 years old on August 11, 2185 and he was looking forward to seeing the lunar eclipse on his birthday. He planned to complete his game by placing the last stone on the go table during the lunar eclipse.

The score board would record this last stone placement as the 423rd move. This would break the tie to win the game with the stone he hid in his pocket. Only he knew the color of the stone and only he could place it on the go table to complete the pattern most properly.

His granddaughter Tsukiko now brought him his suppers and tonight she showed up with his favorite supper to share with him. She looked at the table and noticed just one more stone was needed to finish his game. Even though she knew the answer, she still very politely asked him, “What are you waiting for? Why don’t you finish the game, Grandfather?”

He smiled broadly, “You know. I am waiting for the full moon to rise high and to bathe us in amber light from the eclipse through the window.”

Tsukiko gave him a gentle kiss on his forehead and replied, “I understand and I love you, you old romantic.”

Every night since her mother had passed away, she brought his food and shared the evening with him. Tonight was no exception, as she spread out their meal, served their food and then quietly said, “Happy birthday, Grandfather.”

He nodded his head as he thought back to how much he missed his wife Uke Mochi, and how they used to sit here after everyone left and how they would hold hands and talk into the night. He knew tonight would be the last night that he would be in this room without her.

He dreaded leaving here but everything had to come to an end, especially this game. He knew it had gone on too long, but he didn’t want to stop it too soon. He had waited such a long time for this night. The total lunar eclipse was happening on his birthday, which was astronomically the most perfect moment to complete his game.

Kazuki Tsukuyomi, the Last Master of Go, said to his granddaughter, “Please turn the lights off. I want to bathe in the amber light of the eclipse.”

His granddaughter Tsukiko got up and switched off the lights. The bright white moonlight bathed the exhibition hall in pure white light. She had never before seen the moonlight so bright. Soon the exhibition hall began to gently become a beautiful amber red color. She smiled at the beauty of the hall as she saw the red eclipse light illuminating everything.

She exclaimed, “Oh, Grandfather, how beautiful it all is!”

How beautiful, Tsukiko thought as she looked down at the table and saw that the white stones and the board had soaked up all of the amber red tones.

Then she realized her grandfather’s hand was in midair clasping something over the go table.

Tsukiko sighed deeply as tears formed in her eyes. She gently reached out to touch his hand and when she did, the last stone dropped on the go table into an empty space and it looked amber red, not black.

He was gone now, leaving Tsukiko alone in the hall. As Tsukiko stood up, she had to catch her balance because the Earth trembled as the Last Master of Go, Kazuki Tsukiyomi-no-Mikoto, ascended into the moonlit heavens.

Joe Wocoski was born in Hartford, Conn., in 1951. He received a BA degree from the UConn in 1973 and an MBA from the University of Hartford in 1975. He had a long career in corporate quality assurance and was a Baldrige examiner in 2013 and 2014. In April 2016, he retired, and is now a full-time author. As an author, he is best known for his word search book series based on the King James Bible and Shakespeare Sonnets. He started writing down his short stories in 2015. Wocoski is currently working on his first science fiction and fantasy short story book, which will be published under the moniker JB Wocoski. 

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