The ancient Chinese game of Go (sometimes called Igo in Japan) was introduced to Japan in the 7th century and has remained popular ever since. Nowadays, there are an estimated 60 million players around the world, most of them in East Asia, with Go associations in 70 different countries. I recently dropped into the Kiyosumi-shirakawa Igo Club to meet its proprietor, Mr. Ueki.
“I began playing as a child, then stopped when I was a teenager. After a break of some ten years I picked up the game again when I started working and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’m not a gambler, so Go suited me more than other games since it’s not played for money. It’s an endlessly fascinating game; you can play and study it your entire life. After I retired from work, I could devote my time to my hobbies, one of which is Go. I decided to found a club and we celebrated our opening on May 11th, 2008.”
It seems like a daunting game for a beginner. “Well, not really,” says Mr. Ueki. “The rules aren’t particularly difficult and beginners start on a smaller board, an eight by eight square. The stones, as the Go pieces are called, are placed on the intersections. The object of the game is to control territory and capture the opposing stones. After learning to play on the beginner’s board, players can step up to a twelve by twelve board and finally the full-sized board which is eighteen by eighteen.”
“It’s incredibly good training for your brain. You need to be able to simultaneously focus on both the smaller battles in each area of the board and the overall development of the play. Two games a day is enough, with one game lasting up to about two hours.”
There’s no membership fee for the club, which is open Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Everyone is welcome, whatever their level. “We have about 300 registered members, of whom around 50 or so are regular players,” says Mr. Ueki. “There are many Go circles in Tokyo; I’m a member of two other groups, one in Higashi-ojima in Koto-ku. I usually play in other places from Thursday to Saturday.”
“Go is a friendly game. We say that you ‘have a conversation on the board, using your hands’. Our group is also very sociable. This year we celebrated our 9th anniversary with a party and event in Yugawara, the hot springs resort area in Kanagawa Prefecture.”
Mr. Ueki is a terrific character. A passionate aficionado of Go, a musician and a 30-year member of the Fukagawa Runners club, he says his motto is ”Do what you want, when you can”. These are great words to live by.
If you’re in the area and would like to brush up your Go skills or learn more about this ancient game, then the Kiyosumi-shirakawa Igo Club is the place to go. There’s a seat waiting for you.
Story and Photos by Stephen Spencer