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Shoko Murakami                                                                      

I met Shoko Murakami at Ghirardelli Chocolate Company’s store in Monterey, California, to do this interview. We exchanged pleasantries, I bought us chocolate sundaes, and we sat at a small table outside. She started the conversation.

Shoko: I hope you do not think your offer of ice cream was what brought me here.  

CRF: No, but I thought I might as well invite you to someplace I knew you’d like.

Shoko: I would also enjoy the gelato in Italy and the weather is more pleasant there this time of year.

CRF: That’s easy for you. Pop, I’m in Italy. Pop, I’m at the North Pole. I’m not flying to Italy for a one-hour conversation!

Shoko: [smiles] How have you been? It has been a while since we last spoke.

CRF: My life is good. The family is healthy and happy. I’ve been taking a rest from writing and doing some things I’ve been neglecting for a while. It’s nice to get caught up.

Shoko: That is good to hear.

CRF: Let’s talk about you, and let’s start with Izumo. It was in a bad state the last time we spoke. How are things now?

Shoko: Izumo is well acquainted with death in battle, although so many casualties at once is rare. However, the many civilian deaths were hard to accept, for everyone. While it is not our duty to protect the civilians, we still bear the responsibility that our failure allowed so many innocent lives to be lost. So it has been a time of mourning, of rebuilding, and of acceptance.

CRF: Have the gods recovered?

Shoko: The lesser gods, those who lost many or all of their worshipers, have remained silent and may be that way forever. Only their followers can awaken them, so we shall see. The gods of Izumo are still strong. They were not silent because they became weak, as some declared. I believe their silence was a response to our own weakness. They abandoned us when we abandoned ourselves.    

CRF: And have the Gatekeepers recovered?

Shoko: They are stronger now than ever before. Their resolve and honor are heightened. Also, Jason-san’s lessons of war were not discarded. All students now learn his special techniques.

CRF: So the Special Forces were disbanded?

Shoko: Yes, but I believe changes will be made to the structure of the Gatekeepers eventually. The new ideas were not all bad.

CRF: Can I assume you’re a Gatekeeper again?  

Shoko: The Grand Elder [Shoko’s grandfather] persuaded me to return. Well, perhaps commanded is a better word! He told me I was being selfish, that I have much knowledge and it is my obligation to teach others. [Laughs] And I commanded Sakura to return too. She is stubborn but I … I was touched by her loyalty after my fall from grace.

CRF: Yes, I think she would do anything for you. Is she still your apprentice?

Shoko: I no longer have apprentices.

CRF: Why? What position are you in now? What’s your rank?

Shoko: My rank is … undefined. I teach, and I fight. That is all. 

CRF: I think there must be more to it than that. You’ve traveled across to meet me and you’re wearing western clothing [jeans and a white t-shirt]. I’m thinking not just anyone can still do that.  

Shoko: The Grand Elder softened his view on crossings. It is still necessary, as it always was throughout our history, but it is highly monitored now. I ask permission every time I cross. And yes, I do enjoy wearing these clothes once in a while, and I still like coming here. I have many good memories from here … even after all that happened.

CRF: Do you still blame yourself, even though no one else does?

Shoko: The blame is mine to carry if I so choose. Others cannot decide that for me. But I have moved forward. My devotion to the gods and my duty are the only things I think about now.  

CRF: I can see you’ve changed. You’re more serious, even sad.

Shoko: Sad? [shakes her head] I just grew up. The way I acted ... I was too young and too cocky to lead others. I thought I was untouchable. Infallible. I have learned my lesson and that is all I wish to say about this matter. 

CRF: Okay. Uh, let’s see here … Oh, have you ever gone back to San Francisco?

Shoko: I have a few times, but I have been careful. I do not know if Junya can still sense me, or even wants to.

CRF: Then why go?

Shoko: You know I am crazy about those cable cars!

CRF: Still?

Shoko: Probably forever. I mean, it is not like I can ride them all the time.

CRF: You know, I always wondered if you acted scared the first time you rode them with Junya, just to make him feel more … confident.

Shoko: I was honestly scared of them! The hills are so steep. What if it crashed? And jumping on and off seemed risky. As for Junya, his confidence is his own issue, but that day he was quite self-assured. He was even kind of cool, the way he spotted the men following us.

CRF: Do you know what he’s been doing since you left him?

Shoko: I assume he has continued his life. He has school and his Grandfather’s business to think of. And with Bartholomew gone…

CRF: For now at least.

Shoko: Make no mistake, Bartholomew is dead. I killed him myself.

CRF: With Junya’s help. You were in bad shape before he intervened and knocked Bartholomew back.

Shoko: Perhaps, but we both know Junya would have never killed Bartholomew. Not even for me. He is weak that way.

CRF: Do you miss him?

Shoko: I think of only the gods now.

CRF: You didn’t answer my question, Shoko.  

Shoko: What difference does it make? All of that is in the past.               

CRF: True, but love isn’t … Don’t look at me like that. You two were really close.  

Shoko: Perhaps love is like this ice cream. It was wonderful but now it is gone.

CRF: But I bet you’ll be thinking about it later.

Shoko: You are annoying me now and I am leaving. Thank you for … whatever this stuff was you bought me. I have already forgotten what it was.

CRF: Liar. 

Book One of the Award-Winning The Gatekeeper's Son Series

The Shokunin Publishing Co.
348 pages
ISBN: 978-0-3-9937776-0-8

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Released October 1, 2014