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The Satiric Touch Applied to Go


From the July 1973 issue of Kidō magazine

Murasaki Shikibu wrote the world’s first novel in the 11th century, The Tale of Genji ["Genji Monogatari" = 源氏物語], and since then others have produced literary works just as fascinating.

One of the great cultural pleasures that the Japanese language provides is in the realm of poetry, although it is in forms unlike any that the Western world ever conceived of. Japanese is pronounced with long and short syllables, and poets throughout the history of the country have skillfully created beautiful images using that format, such as with waka [和歌 = "Japan poetry/song"], to illustrate themes of everyday life.

But it is the Japanese haiku [俳句 = "art phrase," although 俳 itself refers directly to haiku] that has really caught the imagination of the world. These poems follow the form of lines of 5 syllables – 7 syllables – 5 syllables in addition to other literary constraints, in illustrating vignettes of daily living. Haiku are masterpieces of understated elegance.

On the other hand, senryū [川柳 = "river willow"], while conforming to the same 5-7-5 syllable format, critique human activities with a satiric eye. While abandoning ambitions of higher purpose, these gems of witty insight give great pleasure by exposing the hypocrisies and poses of self-absorbed fools. Everyone can relate to these poems since they either know people who are guilty of the behavior exposed, or have acted in the same way themselves. One laughs while pondering deeper meanings at the same time.

In the July 1973 issue of Kidō magazine a page was devoted to senryū. Here is it:


What follows are the original senryū verses, then the transliteration of the Japanese in rōmanji, and finally a bare-bones translation. The translations have been done in this way to capture the flavor of the original as closely as possible. The reader will find that repeated study of the poems will be rewarded by more laughter and a depth of appreciation.

Tama City — Ichiro Ozaki, Author


Boyaku no wo kiki-nagara nomu cha no umasa

The deliciousness of tea sipped while listening to grumbling [of the opponent]


Ayashige na shodan ryōte ni ishi wo mochi

Dubious shodan grasps stones in both hands


Go ni katte kane [kane; noted because kin is another reading] no shakuyō kotoware

Winning at go, loan is denied

Aiso Branch — Kyosui Imamura, Author


Jōseki wo shiri-tsu utazaru go no tsuyosa

While knowing joseki, not playing it is strength at go


Me futatsu ni oi-taterarete hana-roku-shi

Driven to make two eyes, ending with an oversized six point eye


Taimō ami yaburare yon sumi no kakoi kachi

Ambitious net broken through, four corners surrounded to win


Hanami-ko tonari no tatakai miru yoyū

Playing a flower-viewing ko, the freedom to watch the battle on the neighboring [board]


Jūketsu sen san dan shita ni kuro de make

[In the] Best Ten Tournament losing with Black [in the] below 3 dan [division]


Raibaru ni yabureshi yoru no negurushisa

Defeated by a rival, the agony of [going to] sleep at night


Hatasezaru yume wo takushita ko no seichō

Dream not realized, entrusted to [one’s] child’s maturity


Naga-naga to shichō-kuzure no urameshisa

At length a ladder falls apart [causing] regret


Go kaisho de tsuma-shussan no shirase uke

Receiving news of the wife’s child delivery at the go club


Rakugo-kachi taiin dekiru dada wo kone

Easy game winning able to leave hospital with irritation

Kita Kyushu City, Municipal Offices Branch — Sadaichi Tamura, Author


Yūretsu wa atama no takasa hebo dōshi

Superiority/inferiority [depend on] head heights, two bungling players


Meijin mo sukui-gataki ni mada nagezu

Still not resigning even though the Meijin would be hard put to save [the game]


Meijin wo tsurete koi to mune wo hari

Come at me with the Meijin [playing with you] said with the chest thrust out


Sun’in no kanjō motsu wa katta yatsu

Just before drinking, bill holding won [games] fellow


Nessen-pu kagan ga kawatte ohara-bushi

Hotly contested game, river banks exchanged, folk song


Mata makete fukigen ni naru sankyoku-me

Again losing, sullenly becoming, the third game


Maketenu to jōshi no okusan me de tanomi

Not losing, to supervisor’s wife, appealing with one’s eyes


Rōkyoku no koe-takaku nari shōbu tsuki

Naniwabushi [songs singing] in a loud voice, deciding the win

Kyoto City — Hideaki Motosato, Author


(Hebo go karuta yori bassui)

Bungling played go, card games more so than, careful selection


Oki-ishi ga itsu no ma ni ka jama ni nari

The handicap stones in no time become obstructions


Kadoban otoshite matamo ya oki-ishi fue

Losing the deciding game, the handicap stones are increased yet again


Tane-ishi wo torarete sute-ishi to ooibari

Key stones captured, sacrifice stones lording over in arrogance


Renshō wo mezashite renpai kore ga go ka

Aiming at consecutive wins, losing consecutively, this is go, is it not


Tsunagu te de suteru te ga ki ga tsukanu

[Playing] connecting move, sacrificing move does not occur [to the player]


Umai te wo utta tsumori ga oo-akushu

Intending to play a good move, a tremendously bad move


Kuchi-shamisen notta onore ga warui no ka

Humming a song, was that wrong of me, I wonder


Ei-kuso to rikinde utte me futatsu

Summoning all of one’s strength with a curse word, playing to make two eyes


Te-atsui utte miru to kori-gatachi

Playing for thick and strong shape, ending with over-concentrated shape


Yūyū to utta ishi koromi na kanshu

Leisurely played stone ends up as slack move

I hope that the truncated translation provides more insight into the nature of senryu than it confuses. It is the nugget of insight and humor that is the essence of the poetic form and gives much of the pleasure in reading them. There is also much to be learned about the Japanese culture in general. It has been quite enjoyable translating this material, even though it was a lot of work.

Those who wish to comment on the opinions expressed here may send their thoughts to info@GoWizardry.com. The most interesting responses will be addressed in future postings.

Robert J. Terry

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