World Go News from the American Go Association
May 27, 2007; Volume 8, #40

THE TRAVELING BOARD: Tokyo’s Diamond; Living and Dying at Ueno Station

Chris Garlock, the E-Journal’s Managing Editor, and AGA Communications Vice-President, is attending the World Amateur Go Championships (WAGC) in Tokyo this week as a Guest Official for the American Go Association. Look for his reports -- and more photos -- on the WAGC on the website and in the E-Journal over the next week. All photos (except as noted) by EJ photographer John Pinkerton.

LIVING LEGEND GO SEIGEN HELPS LAUNCH WAGC: The legendary Go Seigen (above) was the surprise highlight of the opening ceremonies at the 28th World Amateur Go Championships (WAGC) on Sunday. The 92-year-old go master arrived at the evening kick-off in a wheelchair but was able to take the stage to accept a huge bouquet of flowers, wish the assembled players good luck and to present International Go Federation Secretary General Yuki Shigeno with his calligraphy (left). Afterwards, Go held court with his wife and Nihon Kiin officials as awed players from around the world approached to thank him, shake his hand and pose for pictures. Modern master Takemiya Masaki – his smile as quick and broad as ever – happily joined in, cheerfully posing for photos and chatting easily with Go Seigen’s well-wishers.
    New Nihon Kiin President Hiromu Okabe officially welcomed the players from 68 countries and territories, noting that “there are now an estimated 40 million go players in 70 countries.” Okabe said that the WAGC was founded to promote go and international friendship and reminded the players that “Go is a form of communica
tion and we hope you use this opportunity to make lots of friends.” Okabe also thanked the WAGC’s sponsors for their support, including the Chiyoda Association for Culture and Arts, Toyota/Denso, Japan Airlines and Autodesk.
    As the assembled players enjoyed a sumptuous b
uffet, the first-round pairings were announced: US player Andy Liu 8d will play Bei Gei 5d of the UK on Monday morning.
    The WAGC got off to a convivial start earlier Sunday afternoon with the traditional Friendship Match at the Nihon Kiin. The WAGC players were joined by guest officials and a group of young go players for a fun round before the main event begins Monday morning. Nine-year-old Shiho Murakami 10k (above right) – who has been playing just six months – defeated E-Journal Editor Chris Garlock by 1 point in their game, which was counted by Yukari Umezawa (of Hikaru no Go fame), one of the go celebrities in attendance.
    At a press conference later Sunday afternoon, top contenders fielded questions
from reporters, including Garlock, who got to ask the lead-off question about the state of world go. Hironobu Mori 7d of Japan confessed that “Until recently, I thought Western go was pretty weak, but I was playing on the internet the other day and saw some great play by western players so I have to change my mind.” Thirteen-year-old Zi Teng Shan 8d is carrying China’s hopes for a WAGC title, while Korea’s Dong-Ha Woo 7d said simply “I’m here to win all my games.” Rita Pocsai 4d of Hungary – 18 years old and the tournament’s only female player – is following in the footsteps of her father, Tibor Pocsai, who has placed as high as 9th in the WAGC. Luis Cajiao 2d of Costa Rica got turned onto go by Hikaru No Go and then learned to play on the internet. Photo (from left): Hironobu Mori, Dong-ha Woo, Zi Teng Shan, Rita Pocsai & Luis Caliao.

By Chris Garlock
    The streets of nighttime Tokyo glistened in the rain. A few inebriated salarymen lurched past carefully, oblivious to the cool drizzle. Neon gleamed wetly. “Not much farther,” promised Jeremy, “it should be just around the next corner.”
    Just a few hours after landing at Narita Airport, E-Journal photographer John Pinkerton and I were headed for our first go club. In Tokyo to cover the World Amateur Go Championships (WAGC), we’d been delivered to our hotel with prompt efficiency Friday night by the Nihon Kiin’s Hideko Okada, who informed us that we were free to explore the sights of Tokyo until the WAGC opening ceremonies Sunday afternoon at the Nihon Kiin.
    For a couple of go players – even an exhausted and somewhat bedraggled pair like John and me – that did not mean shopping in Ginza, taking in a kabuki show or any of the hundreds of other possibilities that beckoned from the bustling city. We’d come to Japan for go and we knew it was out there somewhere. Unfortunately, our glossy guidebooks were useless in this quest and while my pre-trip research had yielded a few club names, addresses were hard to come
by and nearly impossible to locate, language-challenged as John and I are. The friendly concierge at the Grand Arc Hanzomon had helpfully explained – after a surprised look at our query – that there were no go clubs in the area, but a quick phone call later, Jeremy Banzhaf had charmed out of her not only the name of a nearby salon in Chiyoda-ku, but directions and a map. Banzhaf, a twenty-something fellow Empty Sky Go Club member, has been living and working in Tokyo for the last four years and generously dropped everything – including his date – to be our guide for the evening.
    Around the corner, the emerald green sign emblazoned with a highly stylized go stone beckoned. Down a short corridor, up three floors and there was go heaven, through the glass door. We hesitated a moment. Jeremy had been here before, but as a guest of a member of this salon, and he knew admittance was neither guaranteed nor cheap. The smokiness was a given. Still, we were well-armed with a copy of this year’s American Go Yearbook, business cards identifying ourselves as go journalists, my trusty report’s notebook and John’s longlensed Nikon dangling prominently from his shoulder.
    In the end, of course, being go players was all that mattered. Salon owner/manager Yoshiko Inaba – a strikingly beautiful former Nihon Kiin insei (in photo at right) -- welcomed us with a radiant smile, inviting us to look around, take photos and generously consenting to an impromptu interview, with Jeremy valiantly translating. The salon, open just five years, is a new breed of go club quite different from the old smoky lairs of retired businessmen. Smoking, for one, thing, is restricted to the small bar area, resulting in a near smoke-free environment that Ms. Inaba says is much more welcoming to the younger crowd that patronizes her salon.
    Membership fees at the Diamond run into the hundreds of dollars, between the application and annual fees, but this entitles the club’s 350 members to free attendance, as well as access to an impressive stable of teachers, all current or former insei and many quite well known. Ms. Inaba, who I later found out will serve as the MC at Sunday’s WAGC opening ceremony, is an announcer on an NHK go program and a colleague and good friend of Michael Redmond 9P. Yoshito Hori, a famous player and author, has helped organize the series of events and outreach that has brought more young people – including women – to the salon, said Ms. Inaba, who also mentioned that Yukari Umezawa 5P – renowned as “the most beautiful Japanese woman ever to become a professional go player” – is also involved with the
    Late on a rainy Friday night, the
Diamond Salon’s twenty 2-inch table boards were almost all filled with young businessmen -- many still in their coats and ties – as well as a half-dozen women. Ranging in strength from double-digit kyu to the 7 dan who was cheerfully playing two female club members, the players were all serious, intent on the game that has entranced this country for thousands of years. Asked her advice on how to get stronger, Ms. Inaba smiled and thought carefully before replying. “Don’t grind away,” she said. “Enjoy the game and play in an exciting and fun atmosphere. That way you’ll naturally get stronger.”
    Good advice that we promptly availed ourselves of, as Jeremy took us to a favorite restaurant where – tucked away in a private booth where our portable go board didn’t merit so much as a second glance (l) -- he introduced us to the pleasures of deepfried chicken cartilage, raw horse and other Japanese delicacies, washed down with good Japanese beer and kokutou, a smooth and smoky shochu brewed from black sugar (though it can also be brewed from almost anything, including sweet potatoes and seaweed).
    Maybe it was just being in Tokyo, the home of so much go – Ms. Inaba told us that there are hundreds of go clubs in the city – or perhaps it was the lingering effects of having visited the classy Diamond Go Salon, but both games at the restaurant – despite plenty of beer and shochu – were two-pointers. When we finally dragged ourselves away from the board after the 4 a.
m. last call, dawn was breaking over Tokyo, the clouds had lifted and the empty streets echoed with the haunting cries of the jet-black crows who perched on the streetlamps above us as we headed home for a few hours sleep.
Check out the Diamond Go Salon online (in Japanese) or call 03-3263-0620

THE TRAVELING BOARD: Living and Dying at Ueno Station
    My groups keep dying. Whoever wrote that large dragons don’t die hasn’t been watching my last half-dozen games. Each group has been bigger than the last, twisting and turning vainly across the board in a desperate search for life. All my attacks fizzle out ingloriously and every tesuji, each one more clever than the last, is refuted by ever more elegant counter-tesujis. I am being beaten as thoroughly as I ever have in twenty years of playing go, and I can’t stop smiling.
    The Ueno Go Center is a classic Tokyo go club, filled with old men with nicotine-stained
fingers playing in a smoky haze. Light floods through the club’s front wall of windows on the third floor of the Shouchiku Department Store, overlooking the Ueno Station’s Yamanote and Keisei train lines and the steady rumble of the passing trains merges with the click of stones to mark the passing time as day slips away into night.
    There are over 100 boards here and during the course of a long Saturday afternoon and evening, as sumo played silently on a small television in t
he background, dozens of them were full at any given point, shifting across the large room like a timelapse movie as players came and went, their faces changing but the tableau of men, boards and stones remaining the same, an ancient scene caught in smoky amber.
    E-Journal photographer John Pinkerton and I are accompanied by our guide and translator
Jeremy Banzhaf and old friend Kazunari Furuyama. Known to his many go friends as “Kaz,” the former insei and local go teacher authored a popular column for the E-Journal that he’s now ready to resume. “The problem,” Kaz says worriedly, “is that I have a lot of brand new material and a lot of old material too, and I don’t know what’s best to use.” John, Jeremy and I look at each other and simultaneously tell him “No problem; use both!” Kaz smiles in relief and so do we.
    It costs just $8 a day to play at the Ueno Go Center. Little or no English is spoken here, but the manager lady assures us that all a non-Japanese visitor needs to do is “hold up as many fingers as your ranking and we’ll take care of you” and indeed, within minutes of arriving, both John and I are on the boards. My first oppon
ent is a wizened old man right out of a Japanese print, with longish white hair, a wispy beard and the some of the fastest fingers I’ve ever seen. Mr Senza tells us proudly he’s 80 years old and has been playing go for more than thirty years. I’m embarrassed to admit that I showed no respect for my elder, winning the game by over twenty points.
    My comeuppance arrives shortly in the form of my next opponent, Yasuo Shimizu 7d who’s anxious to play me. He’s silent as the grave as the stones go down, light reflecting off his inscrutably bald head. I get off to a rocky start when I misplay a joseki – badly, as Kaz shows me later – but my opponent doesn’t take full
advantage and I recover with a nice double-attack. Things seem to be going alright until Shimizu begins gently jabbing at my poor group’s vital points, and things go downhill pretty quickly from there. As we clear the stones from the board, he asks me if I’ve studied with “Redmond-san” and I’m very relieved to be able to assure him that American-born Michael Redmond 9P is not my teacher and thus not responsible for my weakness.
Shimizu and I continue playing, Kaz has launched into an impromptu lesson with John a few tables over (photo at left by Jeremy Banzhaf), digging deeper and deeper into variations and illustrations of fundamentals of play. John, as always the avid student, starts taking photos of the variations at one point, which reminds me to make sure we’ve gotten all the club photos and information we need. Hours pass and eventually, my groups all live. My opponent looks disappointed. I resign, nearly twenty points down.
    The Ueno Go Center is literally a stone’s throw from Ueno Station; the address is Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Ueno Koen 1-54; phone 03-3831-3137. Look for the big Shouchiku Department Store sign; you’ll be able to see go players in the third-floor windows of the club. There’s a non-smoking section but the cigarette smoke goes where it wants; the ventilation system keeps things tolerable, though. There are several of the ubiquitous drink vending machines in the club, including an “Espresso Bar” machine where you can also get “creamy tea” and of course plenty of the green tea you’ll need to keep sharp during long hours on the go board.         Don’t miss the famous Ichiran noodle shop across the street, where the affordable and delicious ramen is among the best in Japan, according to Jeremy, who came to Japan as much for the food as for the go.
- Chris Garlock

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Managing Editor: Chris Garlock
Assistant Editor: Bill Cobb

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