Janet MatsuokaSurrey, United Kingdom
Chess becomes a pinnacle of understanding whenever one contemplates the nature of life in its entirety and the reoccurring question of one's existence. It's a feeling of enlightenment one could equate to drinking in the fragrance of an unseasonable rose, and discovering for the first time the world abounds in thorny bushes, from which clusters upon clusters of lush blooms unfurled in whorls. To those fond of roses, chess lends opulent bliss.
In the high seaward observation tower of Edo Castle, a Dutch celestial telescope the size of a main cannon from an English man-of-war nested atop a complex French tripod capable of the most most minute calibration. The telescope was a gift from the Dutch government to the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu, some two hundred and fifty years ago. Napoleon Bonaparte had sent the tripod to the eleventh shogun of the dynasty, Ienari, on the occasion of his coronation as emperor of France. Eichi Kawakami's eye was at the huge the telescope. It was not aimed at the cosmos, but at the palaces of the daimyō in the Tsujiki district, less than a mile away. His mind was elsewhere, however.
Contemplating the history of the telescope itself, Eichi concluded that the present shogun, Iemochi, was likely to be the last Tokugawa to hold that high honour. The question, of course, was who would come next? As head of the shogun's secret police, it was his duty to protect the regime. As a devout subject of His Most August Imperial Majesty, Emperor Komei, presently powerless but endowed with the inviolable mandate of the gods, it was also his duty to protect the nation. In better times, these two duties had been inseparable. Now, it was not necessarily so. Loyalty is the most fundamental of samurai virtues; without it, there was nothing. To Eichi, who had looked at loyalty from every possible angle – examining loyalty was, after all, his occupation – it had become increasingly clear that the days of personal allegiance were coming to an end. In the future, loyalty shall be to a cause, a principle, an idea; not a man or a clan. That such an unprecedented thought had entered his mind was a marvel in itself, and yet another sign of the outsiders' insidious influence.