American Go E-Journal

A 50 Years aGo Special – Goishi Day: Reflecting on the Stones We Cannot Play Again

Friday May 14, 2021

by Keith L. Arnold, hka, and Patrick Bannister

Burial mound for go stones
Burial mound for Go stones. The epitaph reads “Treasure is in your grasp.” Photo courtesy of Go Club.

On 14 May 1971, Goishi Day, the Kyōto Branch of Nihon Ki’in raised a burial mound for go stones and held the first Goishi Kuyō. Goishi Kuyō is a memorial service for broken Go stones, and also for the stones that were captured or died on the board that year. The attendees joined in a tournament in honor of the occasion. Rin Kaihō Hon’inbo, former Women’s Hon’inbo Inoue Minako, and that year’s Amateur Ladies’ Championship third place winner Sakaguchi Kaori attended the event, and Rin Hon’inbo gave commentaries for some of the day’s tournament games.

The event had elements of a funeral – a burial mound where attendees offered flowers, and a Buddhist priest chanted sutras on behalf of the stones – but the tone wasn’t completely solemn. After all, stones that “die” on the go board are collected at the end of the game, soon to be played again. Broken stones – even from a cherished old set, rich with memories of games with your teacher and your friends – can’t be compared to a person. Hasegawa Kō, reporting on the event for Go Club magazine, characterized the Goishi Kuyō as “unusual” and “eccentric.” Goishi Day is a rhyming pun: May 14 = 5 14 = GO I SHI.

A large celebration of the 50th anniversary was planned for 9 May 2021, but like so many events, was cancelled.

Nevertheless, let us take this opportunity, this moment, to acknowledge and mourn the stones not broken this year, the stones not captured, the stones not played. It has been a year without the sound of stones snapping on boards, subtle slides into place or intimidating slams onto what we hope are the vital points. A year where the message of our moves was not reflected on the faces of our opponents – invariably friends – old, new and soon to be.

And take this moment to remember those we will never get another, or even a first, chance to play.

So, grasp those bowls from the shelf, let the stones breathe, feel the warmth of your fingers, and roam over the board. Whether cautiously reaching out, masked and vaccinated, to friends, or within family bubbles, or simply reviewing a pro game on a board and not with bytes – let the stones play.

Bowls of stones waiting on the shelf
Photo courtesy of Keith Arnold.