American Go E-Journal » Go Spotting

GO SPOTTING: Yojiro Takita’s New Film

Saturday June 25, 2011

Yojiro Takita’s next film has an interesting historical connection to the game of go. Takita (r) – who won an Oscar in 2009 for Okuribito (Departures) – is adapting the novel ‘Tenchi Meisastsu,’ about a 17th century astronomer and mathematician. The film is an adaptation of To Ubukata’s novel of the same name, based on the life of Shibukawa, who later took on the name of his father, champion go player Yasui Santetsu, first head of the Yasui house. The novel has won literary awards in Japan on its way to selling 380,000 copies. It was published by Kadokawa, which is collaborating with Shochiku on the movie. Tenchi Meisastsu — which roughly translates as “insights into the universe” — is being shot at Shochiku’s Kyoto studio until the middle of August, and is slated for an autumn 2012 release.
- based on Gavin J. Blair’s story in The Hollywood Reporter, with thanks to Ramon Mercado for spotting the reference.

Categories: Go Art,Go Spotting,World
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GO SPOTTING: The Origin of Atari

Monday June 13, 2011

Many go players know that video game pioneer Atari was named after the go term, but how many know that this was actually the second choice for the company’s name? “Sente” was the first choice by Nolan Bushnell (r) and his partner Ted Dabney, according to By Any Other Name: The Origin of Atari on the CHEGheads Blog by Shannon Symonds, Acquisitions Cataloger for the International Center for the History of Electronic Games. “Both in print and on camera, Bushnell cited the strategy game Go as his favorite game of all time,” Symonds notes. After their original choice, Syzygy, turned out to already be trademarked, “Bushnell provided the state with three new names from which to choose: Sente, Atari, and Hanne. All three reference moves in Go.” Symonds also reports that “In 1984, Atari created a subsidiary company called Tengen, which translates to “the origin of heaven” and is the very center point on a Go board.”
- thanks to Jeremiah Parry-Hill for spotting this

GO SPOTTING: Go: A Novel/George Hoshida’s Go Sketches

Sunday June 5, 2011

Janice Kim’s article about go stones in a Japanese internship camp (GO SPOTTING: ‘The Archaeology of Internment’ 5/9) prompted roving E-Journal contributor Peter Shotwell to send along some excerpts from Holly Uyemoto’s 1995 book Go: A Novel, which focuses on generational differences among Japanese-Americans. The sketches below — which are not part of the novel — are from the George Hoshida Collection on the Japanese American National Museum website.

I used to not like Uncle Mas very much. He bored me… I always found Uncle Mas drab, a frog on a log. It requires no stretch of the imagination to picture his tongue popping out suddenly,  catching a fly or a raindrop. But one day, my grandmother told me a story about Uncle Mas that changed the way I saw him for good…

Before he became a naturalized citizen, [Ojiichan, another uncle] carried a copy of the Constitution in his wallet and took it with him everywhere he went. He quoted from it freely. After Pearl Harbor… Ojiichan brought out his Constitution and cited the Fourth Amendment rights [but they] took him away, the Constitution neatly folded again and put back in his wallet.

Ojiichan was a great go player [but] deemed a Japanese cultural item, the government barred Ojiichan from taking his old go table with him into camp, so he made one… He learned to shape and polish quartz veined with orange borax, and obsidian black and bright, with edges that cut metal and skin. Uncle Mas was fascinated with the go board. He begged Ojiichan to let him play with it. Ojiichan told him not to go near the board… Later, he brought down the go board and the stones, smooth quartz and biting obsidian, and asked my grandmother, ‘Where is he?’ He then set about teaching Uncle Mas how to play—not the five-in-a-row kind of go that children and Westerners play, but the real thing. Uncle Mas learned quickly. He had an aptitude for strategy: in the end, both too much so, and not enough. Ojiichan’s friends would gather around, joke, give Uncle Mas hints, and make friendly wagers about how many moves it would take Ojiichan to win. The nightly face-off between Ojiichan and Uncle Mas became community entertainment.

Uncle Mas winning was never a question, but one day it happened. About six months after he started playing, he beat Ojiichan. And Ojiichan made him swallow one of his own stones. This was Uncle Mas’s victory, and his punishment. Uncle Mas thought Ojiichan was joking, but he wasn’t. He insisted Uncle Mas swallow the stone. Uncle Mas reasoned that as the winner, he should choose whether or not he had to swallow the stone. Ojiichan said it was his ‘tadai no gisei o haratte eta shyori,’ his conquest, having exceeded his master, and his punishment for the same reason—the Japanese equivalent of Pyrrhic victory.

Uncle Mas swallowed the stone, and he stopped playing go…after his big win, he made himself scarce…The next time my grandmother saw him was when she was called to the infirmary after Uncle Mas had been found in the latrine trying to pass a huge fecal boulder. He was rushed to the hospital and operated on. The doctor said he would be fine. There were no fresh fruits and vegetables to speak of in camp. Most meals consisted of mutton and either rice or potatoes. The camp doctor assured Ojiichan and my grandmother that constipation was entirely normal in camp, but it seemed that there had been an inorganic stoppage of Uncle Mas’s bowels: during his operation, the doctor extracted one perfectly round, flat, knife-edged obsidian stone.

‘Remember that story about Uncle Mas?’ I asked my mother one day. ‘The go stone Ochiijan made him swallow?’ ‘Nobody made anybody swallow anything,’ my mother said.  ‘Then why does Uncle Mas have a bad stomach?’  ‘Because he can’t express himself.’ ‘You mean, talk?’

When he was released from the camp infirmary, Uncle Mas was whole again, except that he stopped talking… A week later, he suddenly slumped over. He was rushed back to the infirmary. There were lots of cuts in Uncle Mas’s large intestine; they had ruptured and were bleeding. The doctor removed four feet of Uncle Mas’s large intestine and sewed him up again. ‘Don’t you remember?’ I prodded my mother. ‘Grandma told me.’ ‘I was a baby then. Besides, sometimes she just liked to tell you stories.’

But Uncle Mas still has terrible troubles with his stomach, and he still refuses to play go. I saw him studying Ochiijan’s fancy table once. Uncle Mas ran his hand over the top, touched the carvings, and, pulling back in order to see, squinted at the inlaid grid. He opened the drawers and studied the stones. He held one of the smooth black onyx in his palm, rolling it back and forth. And then he walked away.
- excerpted from Go: A Novel, by Holly Uyemoto

Sketches from the George Hoshida Collection on the Japanese American National Museum website. George Hoshida (1907-1985) was born in Japan and at the age of five, his family settled in Hilo, Hawaii. As an active practitioner of Judo, Hoshida was active at the local dojo. This led directly to his arrest by FBI agents on the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor as a potential saboteur. Unlike most Japanese Americans living in Hawaii, Hoshida was incarcerated for the duration of the war, first at Kilauea Military Camp and Sand Island in Hawaii and later in mainland Justice Department internment camps at Lordsburg and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Eventually, he was able to rejoin his wife and young daughters, but only when they agreed to leave Hawaii to be incarcerated with him in a War Relocation Authority camp on the mainland. Hoshida began a visual diary of his incarceration from his earliest days in prison. The two notebooks in the collection of the Japanese American National Museum are an extremely rare visual document of the special Justice Department camps and chart his frequent movement from one facility to the next. (Hoshida bio courtesy the Japanese American National Museum, which supports several Japan relief efforts.)
- editing, layout and graphics research by Chris Garlock

“Flawed” Use of Go in Kissinger’s New Book?

Sunday June 5, 2011

Henry Kissinger ‘s understanding of go strategy informs his latest book, On China. However, according to a recent review in The Economist, Kissinger’s book “is marred by three related flaws. The first is Mr Kissinger’s insight that Chinese strategists think like players of wei qi or Go, which means that, in the long term, they wish to avoid encirclement. Westerners are chess-players, tacticians aiming to get rid of their opponents’ pieces ‘in a series of head-on clashes’, he writes. ‘Chess produces single-mindedness; wei qi generates strategic flexibility.’” The review, entitled No go points out that “This conceit has been used by other authors. It appears every few pages here like a nervous tic. Even before Mr Kissinger joins the game, the metaphor is pulled into service to analyse, among other things, Chinese policy in the Korean war, the Taiwan Strait crises of the 1950s (where, of course, “both sides were playing by wei qi rules”), the 1962 war with India (“wei qi in the Himalayas”). Later he describes events in Indochina as ‘a quadripartite game of wei qi,’ just at the time when genocide was under way in Cambodia.” Finally, The Economist reviewers say, “the picture of Chinese foreign policy, as formulated by cool, calculating, master strategists playing wei qi, makes it appear more coherent, consistent and effective than it has been. China’s involvement in the Korean war, for example, led, in Mr Kissinger’s phrase, to ‘two years of war and 20 years of isolation,’ hardly a goal for China—or a wei qi triumph.” In a related story, Leonard Lopate recently interviewed Kissinger on NPR’s WYNC and they briefly discussed the game of go; click here to hear the interview; they talk about go  from approximately 13:50 to about 16:20. Click here for our January 24, 2011 report on Kissinger on Go and Chinese Strategic Thinking.
- thanks to Robert A. McCallister, past president of the AGA and former publisher of The American Go Journal, and to Richard Simon, for spotting these reports

“Flawed” Use of Go in Kissinger’s New Book?

Go Spotting: Don Winslow’s Novel “Satori”

Saturday May 14, 2011

Don Winslow’s Satori is based on Trevanian’s Shibumi so it’s not surprising that the novel has go references. “The whole book uses references to go for all its plot twists and turns,” reports Rusty Brown. “The author learned go in college, but said he wasn’t proficient at the game.” A sample from the novel: “When the immediate situation is untenable, Nikko, what do you play for? Time, Otake-sama. Play for the long game.”

GO SPOTTING: Go on the History Channel

Friday May 13, 2011

GO SPOTTING: Go on the History Channel: Reader Drew Chuppe recently caught a go reference on a History Channel program called “The Art of War.” “They were talking about how the teaching of Sun Tzu could have helped Robert E. Lee win the Civil War,” Chuppe writes. “To my surprise, the narrator remarked that on the final day at Gettysburg, ‘Lee abandoned his go strategy and reverted to chess strategy’ and stated that the charge up Cemetery Ridge was dictated by chess strategy.” Go “teaches us to stay away from the opponent’s thickness and look for weaknesses in his position,” says Chuppe, noting that “Ordering a charge across a broad, open field into cannon fire is the battlefield expression of placing a stone next to your opponent’s strong wall. As an aside, I have read The Art of War but I do not recall any overt reference to go (though) there are a few strategic statements that could apply.” In a related go connection, graphic designer and longtime American go community contributor Mike Samuel – who designed many of the annual U.S. Go Congress logos — designed the History Channel’s iconic logo.

GO SPOTTING: ‘The Archaeology of Internment’

Monday May 9, 2011

“Readers may be interested in the current May/June issue of Archaeology magazine,” reports Janice Kim. “There is an article ‘Archaeology of World War II’ that includes a section ‘The Archaeology of Internment’ that describes some findings at the Kooskia camp in Idaho, where American citizens of Japanese ancestry were interned during World War II. It notes that archaeologists ‘… are uncovering evidence that people not only survived, but also struggled to maintain their identity and dignity even in the most restrictive and dehumanizing environments’, with a picture of go stones discovered at the site. In light of recent events I think it’s important to reflect on this chapter in our history, and I was heartened by the Journal’s reporting of fundraising events for Japan by the US go community.”
- photo: go players in the Wyoming Heart Mountain internment camp in 1943; photo by Tom Parker, The War Authority via The National Archives

YOUR MOVE: Readers Write: More on Have Gun, Will Travel

Sunday May 8, 2011

More on Have Gun, Will Travel: “The screen shot from “Have Gun Will Travel” looks to me to be 5-in-a-row and not go,” wrote Richard Dolen, among others responding to our May 2 “GO SPOTTING: Have Gun (and a go board) – Will Travel” post. “Even though the word “seki” is mentioned in the dialogue; here it probably means that nobody won, but they used a word from go to describe it.” And Jeffry Finer notes that “The Have Gun Will Travel episode was #186, not 171 (episode 30 of season 5). It aired in 1962.”

GO SPOTTING: Have Gun (and a go board) – Will Travel

Monday May 2, 2011

In Episode 171 (“The Coming of the Tiger”, episode 30, season 5, available in streaming video on Netflix) of the classic TV Western Have Gun – Will Travel, the hero, Paladin (Richard Boone) is shown playing a game of go in San Francisco, reports David Saunders. “To the dismay of his Japanese opponent, Paladin announces that the position is seki,” Saunders writes. “The game is interrupted by a crisis and resumed at the end of the episode.  I was amazed to see this in a national TV show from c. 1961.”
Screenshot at left courtesy Paul Barchilon

Categories: Go Art,Go Spotting
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GO SPOTTING: Discover Magazine on “Who’s Smarter, a Human or a Computer?”

Sunday April 24, 2011

“Go computers are not even close to human capability,” reported Andrew Moseman last February in Discover Magazine . In “Who’s Smarter, a Human or a Computer?” Moseman reviews “the ways that humans can still out-think our computational creations—for now.” On the eve of the IBM’s supercomputer thumping of Jeopardy champions, Moseman looked at checkers, chess, poker and go, as well as Scrabble and Risk, which are also games where humans still do better than computer programs. “There won’t be any major popular game solved for a while now,” University of Alberta professor Jonathan Schaeffer — a member of a research team that created a poker-playing AI that can best human players in limit Texas hold ‘em — says. “There’s a gap.”
photo: Watson faces its human rivals in a practice round. Image: Jeopardy / IBM