He was heading towards the subway station when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see a young man, about his own age, with long black hair tied back in a ponytail and an outrageous outfit consisting of a mesh vest over a patchwork shirt and pinstriped trousers. An expensive-looking camera with a large lens was hanging from a camera strap around his neck.
"Excuse me," the man said with a smile. "But may I take your photo?"
Akira blinked. "My...photo?"
"I know it sounds strange, but please, give me a chance to explain. I'm a photographer for an online magazine where we post photos of Tokyo street fashion. Your ensemble is really quite original, and I'd like to put up a photo of your outfit. With your permission, of course."
Akira looked down at what he was wearing: his favorite sweater vest over a shirt and corduroy slacks. It didn't seem interesting or original.
Observing his hesitation, the man added, "I assure you, it's not a joke or a prank. That color combination will be in vogue on this spring's runways. You've been remarkably prescient in your choices."
Akira said, still puzzled, "Well, I suppose a photo couldn't hurt--"
"Excellent! You won't regret it."
The man didn't ask him to strike a particular pose; instead he just had Akira stand in the middle of the sidewalk while he stepped a few paces back and adjusted the lens on his camera. Akira stood very still, hands at his side, feeling a bit awkward as passersby gave them curious glances. He looked back at the camera.
"No need to smile, just stay as you are. On one...two...three!"
The flash went off a few times, as the man snapped several photos. Akira tried not to fidget.
"Thank you very much," the man said with a bow. "Here's my business card. It has the address to the website. The photo will go up this weekend, so please visit if you would like to see how it turned out."
Akira took the card, automatically bowing in return. The man, grinning, turned on his heel and disappeared into the crowd.
"Have you found it yet?"
"Just a second, I'm still looking," Akari called back.
"You know, I really need to go soon!"
"I know it's in here, somewhere!"
Hikaru sighed and uncrossed his arms. He glanced at the table next to him and picked up a magazine. It had a glossy cover featuring a teenage model of indeterminate gender wearing half a dozen scarves in a range of neon colors. He rolled his eyes but opened the magazine anyway and flipped idly through the pages.
He was about to toss it aside when a photo caught his eye. A young man, with chin-length hair, was looking owlishly at the camera. His face was pale, his chin sharp...but surely, it couldn't be Touya. What would Touya be doing inside a trendy teenage fashion magazine? He glanced at the article's title--"Top 10 Up and Coming Designers to Watch"--and then held up the magazine so he could study the photo more closely.
Touya, no, the Touya-lookalike was wearing a button-up shirt patterned with pink flowers over a pair of grey plaid trousers. He had a sober navy blue blazer tucked neatly over one arm, in just the same way that Touya held his suit jackets. In fact, Hikaru was sure he had seen Touya wear that exact same blazer last week at the Ouza preliminaries.
The caption read, "T. A., a frequent customer at Takara Yoshi's boutique in Daikanyama, models some of his latest designs."
Hikaru was still gaping, when Akari came in, waving a book above her head. "Look, Hikaru, I finallly found it! Thanks again for lending me the book. We learned a lot from reviewing the tsumego problems, just like--"
She paused. "Hikaru, are you all right? What are you looking at, anyway?"
He swiftly closed the magazine. "Nothing. Can I have my book back now?"
Akari handed him the book, eyeing him with some suspicion. "Hikaru--"
"Oh, and uh, I'm going to borrow this from you. If you don't mind. Got to go now, I'm late for study group." He slipped both book and magazine into his backpack and ran for the door.
Akira found the business card in one of his pockets while he was preparing to do his laundry. He stared at it for a moment in some confusion then remembered the strange encounter from the week before.
He went to the website address listed on the card. Much to his surprise, it looked quite professional, with a clean, spacious design and only a few ads placed unobtrusively in the sidebar. Photos occupied most of the front page: one shot after another of women and men, festooned in a myriad of colors and patterns, each with their own irreproducible style.
Akira scrolled down the page. The people featured in the photos were not especially beautiful or attractive; a few were tall and slim like professional models but most were just ordinary people of all shapes and sizes. But their clothes were far from ordinary.
Beribboned and laced Lolita outfits with bows and ruffles in every corner. Tight snakeskin leggings beneath mesh tops and fluorescent dyed hair. Holes cut asymmetrically out of sagging sweaters. Jeans patched together from several different vintage pairs.
Akira had seen people wear such outfits before, out on the street, but there was an inexplicable quality to people in these photos. Something about their calm, neutral expressions, something about the way they wore their clothes. Something about the clothes themselves, which seemed to belong together even when combining the most unlikely colors or textures. There was an orderliness, a sense of deliberation and control, which emerged from even the most chaotic-seeming outfits, like the patterns hidden within the stones of a game in late yose.
His eye fell on a photo near the bottom of the page. It was a young man wearing a yellow shirt with small white polka dots underneath a dark blue argyle vest. It took him a second before he realized that he was staring at himself.
He had never particularly paid attention to what clothes he wore before. He liked certain colors and certain patterns, but he had not given much thought to the clothes themselves. He looked at what he was wearing in the photo and could not figure out what he had in common with the other people on the page, with their creativity and flair. Akira looked rather dull in comparison.
Feeling pensive, he closed the browser, but not before bookmarking the site.
"Look, I'm telling you that it has to be him!"
Waya shook his head. "No. No way. I don't believe it. It makes no sense."
"I know it doesn't make sense, but I'm not mistaken. It really is Touya!" Hikaru looked at Isumi, who was ducking his head in embarrassment as if he was trying to hide from the rest of the restaurant, and shoved the magazine page under his nose. "Don't you agree, Isumi-san?"
Isumi sighed and only gave the page a cursory glance. "I'm sure it's only a coincidence, Shindou. I mean, remember Le Ping? You saw him at the Hokuto Cup. He looks exactly like Waya."
"We're not talking about Le Ping or Waya though. We're talking about Touya."
Waya rolled his eyes. "What, you think no one else in the world could possibly look like Touya?"
"It says T. A. right below the photo. That can't just be coincidence. Someone who looks exactly like Touya Akira and has T. A. for his initials?"
"There are a lot of Japanese names that could fit those initials," Isumi pointed out.
Hikaru scowled and rolled up the magazine. It was getting a little frayed after being carried around in his bag for the past several days. "I know I'm right. I just have to prove it," he grumbled, half to himself.
Waya snorted. "Shindou, sometimes I worry about you and your fixation on Touya."
"I'm not...I'm not fixated!"
At that, both Isumi and Waya burst out laughing.
"Right, Shindou. You keep believing that," Waya said, with a pitying look, and Hikaru resolved to beat him by at least three moku at their next official match.
Akira remembered the photograph of himself at odd moments, when he was walking outside and passing by stylishly dressed people on the sidewalk. Out of the corner of his eye he would glimpse someone wearing a bright long scarf or an embroidered shirt and suddenly remember the image of himself on the website, wearing that yellow polka-dotted shirt.
One day, while he was heading home after his last tutoring session, he noticed a mannequin in a store window featuring a bright blue shirt and pinstriped slacks with red suspenders. He paused. It was a small but trendy-looking boutique, with a glass storefront through which he could see more mannequins in unnatural poses and bright, eye-catching outfits.
Akira went inside the store.
When he came out, an hour and a half later, he carried a small glossy bag that featured the designer's logo in large serif font.
He went home, said hello to his mother in the kitchen, and retreated to his room before she could comment on the bag. He took out the pair of bright red suspenders and tried them on over the shirt he was currently wearing--a sober light blue in color--and frowned. Then he changed into the yellow polka-dotted shirt he had worn before and draped the suspenders over it. Better, but not quite.
He looked through his closet, sifting through the hangers of shirts and suit jackets and formal dress pants. He stopped at a dark pink shirt. It was solid in color, but the hue felt right. He put it on, then tried the suspenders again.
He studied himself in the mirror, then went rummaging through the drawers for a gray fringed scarf which he draped around his neck.
He smiled at his reflection. "Maybe I should wear this tomorrow."
At their next regular game at the go salon, Hikaru made a point of noticing Touya's clothes.
He was wearing pale blue jeans--wait, when did Touya wear jeans?--with an old-fashioned tweed jacket. With elbow patches. Hikaru shook his head. Surely someone who wore something like that couldn't be featured in a fashion magazine.
They took their seats and played a game, which sparked their usual argument, which went from snide comments about each other's mistakes during the game to a replay of their last official matches to a surprisingly civil discussion of Ogata-Juudan's defense of his title last week. Hikaru leaned back in his chair, feeling content. He had won his game against Touya and was now arguing with him about go. All was right with the world.
Touya said, "Well, I still think Kurata-sensei didn't read far enough ahead, but let's agree to disagree."
"When do we ever agree to disagree?"
Touya just gave him a quelling look and began to clear the board. "I've got to go. I'll see you at the same time next week?"
"You don't want to grab a meal before you go home? Your parents are still out of town, no?"
Touya's hands stilled for a moment then resumed collecting the stones. "I just wanted to drop by a store before its closing time today."
"A store?" Hikaru said incredulously. "You're going shopping?"
"I go shopping quite frequently," Touya said, not meeting his eyes.
"Wait, shopping for what? Where?"
"Is that really any of your business?" Touya snapped, then stood up. "I'll see you next week."
Of course, that meant Hikaru had to follow him.
"Oh, hello again, Touya-san. It's always good to see one of my best customers."
"Hello, Takara-san." Akira smiled with some embarrassment. "I like the clothes here."
The designer preened. "Of course, you like the clothes here. I designed them. For people of discerning taste and style like yourself." He stepped over to a rack of paisley shirts in muted neutral tones and picked one in Akira's size. "You might be interested in my newest line for the fall. I call it, 'Khaki Symphony.'"
Akira held the shirt up against himself and eyed it critically. It might go very well with the red suspenders.
The doorbell tinkled, as another customer entered the store. Akira looked up automatically and was startled to recognize the photographer who had first taken his photo on the street so many months ago. He was once again carrying a camera, but it was now tucked against his side.
Takara exclaimed, "Nishiyama-san, it's been simply eons! What have you been up to?"
"Not much, not much. I haven't come by this neighborhood in a while. Wanted to see what the kids were wearing." Nishiyama glanced around the store when he noticed Akira, still holding the paisley shirt. "Hello, you look familiar. I never forget a face. Have we met?"
Akira said, with some surprise, "Er, yes, actually. You took my photo a couple of months ago."
The photographer looked him up and down. "Still got an eye for the interesting color combinations, don't you? If I see you around on the street, I just may stop you for another photo."
Akira flushed. "Thank you."
"You might want to stop by the secondhand shops in Koenji. They have some vintage items that might appeal to your style."
His style. Akira blinked. He hadn't realized he had a style of his own. "I'll be sure to look there."
"Don't drive away my customers, Nishiyama-san! They should be buying new clothes to keep up with fashion now, not the fashion from twenty years ago."
"It's not about the trends, Takara-san; it's about style," Nishiyama said with a grin. "You don't become fashionable by wearing what other people wear. Take this customer of yours, for example. Most other young men his age would rather be dead than caught wearing argyle, particularly in that shade of purple. But he enjoys patterns and vivid colors, and he's figured out how to put them together in a way that no one else can quite imitate."
Akira's face grew even redder. "I don't know anything at all about fashion," he said, half in protest.
"That's exactly it," said Nishiyama. "You don't need to know anything. Street fashion is what the people are wearing, not what the big-name designers and magazines are telling them to wear. Make your own style."
"Nishiyama-san is a populist," sniffed Takara. "But I on the other hand would be quite happy to become a big-name designer and tell people what to wear."
They continued to bicker, as Akira left the shop, mulling over the photographer's words.
Hikaru put on his hat and a pair of sunglasses, as he followed Touya into and out of the subway, then shadowed him from a half-dozen paces behind. Touya walked through the streets of Shibuya, looking not at all out-of-place, much to Hikaru's surprise. Instead, his straight posture and fast-paced stride made him seem confident and assured, even though he was wearing a tweed jacket that looked like it should belong on a man twenty years older.
Touya stopped suddenly in front of a store, forcing Hikaru to duck behind a street lamp. He peeked out to see Touya disappear into the shop. It was one of those tiny, expensive boutiques where the fashion-conscious would go to buy one-of-a-kind clothes that no one else was wearing. What was Touya doing in such a trendsetting shop?
A few minutes later, Touya walked out, a shopping bag in hand, and a vivid burgundy scarf, knit in thick wool, wrapped around his neck.
Hikaru continued following him. After a while, he realized that the people pointing at Touya and whispering behind their gloved hands were not ridiculing him but wondering where he bought them. Hikaru overhead a pair of young women dressed in lime-green striped socks and lace-trimmed skirts saying to each other, "Look, I told you, cable scarves are still in!"
He shook his head in amazement. Then he realized that Touya was nowhere in sight. He stood on tiptoe to search the crowds bustling past on the sidewalk, when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
It was Touya, of course, eyebrows raised. "What are you doing, Shindou?"
"Are you following me?!" Touya asked, exasperated.
"Hey, you used to follow me around all the time! To my school, to my games, to the Institute--"
Touya said, "That's different! That was about go! Why are you following me around now?"
"I was just...curious." Hikaru crossed his arms. "You were behaving mysteriously."
"I was not!"
Touya sighed and pinched his nose. "Let's not do this outside. There's a cafe across the street."
"Good, I'm cold."
They went into the cafe and settled down at a small table in the corner. Hikaru stared with narrowed eyes at Touya, who bristled under the scrutiny. "What?"
Hikaru pointed an accusing finger at him. "You actually look...kind of cool. Trendy and hip...like an artist or something. In your old man clothes. It's so weird!"
"They're not old man clothes! They're vintage."
"Whatever. It's weird. I always thought you had the fashion sense of a...of a middle-aged housewife, but you're really a fashionista, aren't you?"
Touya frowned. "I wouldn't call myself a fashionista--"
"I saw your photo in a magazine," Hikaru blurted out. "A teen fashion magazine."
"Oh," Touya said, looking embarrassed. "You saw that?"
"Are you some kind of model now?"
"No, I just happened to be conveniently there, while the magazine was interviewing him. I do drop by Takara-san's shop fairly often. I've bought a lot of his designs."
Hikaru shook his head. "I have no words. Touya Akira, 4-dan, go pro and prodigy...is into fashion. What is the world coming to?"
"It's no different than playing go," Touya said. "There are really only a very few rules, but a lot of conventions. And as you learn how to play, learning how to break those conventions is what makes you a creative player rather than just a dull one. Great go players develop their own signature styles; you can recognize Kuwabara-sensei or my father from a single glance at their kifu."
Hikaru laughed. "I guess I just never expected you to be interested in anything outside of go."
Touya rolled his eyes. "Believe it or not, there's a lot you don't know about me, Shindou Hikaru?"
"Oh yeah?" Hikaru leaned forward, looking Touya in the eye. "That sounds like a challenge."
"There's a lot I don't know about you either, Shindou," Touya said quietly.
They stared at each other across the cafe table. Finally, Hikaru said, "Maybe we should hang out more. Not just for go games, I mean."
"To do what?"
"I don't know. Go on one of your shopping expeditions. Eat a meal. Watch a movie. Play games at the arcade."
Touya snorted. "The arcade?"
"Hey, one of the things you don't know about me yet is that I'm a champion at DDR." Hikaru tilted his head. "How about it?"
Touya gave him a small smile. "I'd like that."