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The Artistry of Go Board Crafting

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Maezawa Takaoki, along with Kato Kinjiro, working in the shop he runs with his brother

The Maezawa Brothers Maintain Professional Standards of Go Board Craftmanship

From Kido, January 1979

The Maezawa Go Board Shop is located in Tokyo’s Honkyo Ward, Ikizaka, Itchome. It is right next to Korakuen Park.

Maezawa Chotaro is said to have founded the business around 1888, but actually its origins are much older. Maezawa Takaoki san (35) and Michio san (30) are brothers who both say, "It’s been going since way back in olden times, although we don’t know the details."

The first generation owner Chotaro was famous, so it is generally accepted that Chotaro established the Maezawa Go Board Shop as a commercial enterprise.

The eldest son of the first generation owner Chotaro, Itaro, inherited the business, becoming the second generation Chotaro. During the Great Tokyo Earthquake [of 1923], he stuffed the shop’s bank passbook and twenty white stones [made of valuable clam shells] into his shirt, and thereby escaped disaster. The stones were a half an inch thick, and with only ten produced a year, they were considered the finest go stones in Japan. The second generation Chotaro’s younger brother, Ginzo san, became the third generation Chotaro. He was the father of the present generation, the brothers Takaoki and Michio. He died in December 1967 at the age of 59.

"In the past, the shop also produced go stones, but after the third generation it is only go boards."

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Maezawa Michio

Clams have become scarce along the shoreline of Japan.

It is not just clams, but kaya trees [producing hardwood ideal for go boards] have also steadily decreased in numbers. And with them, go board artisans, too.

The Maezawa brothers make up the fourth generation. Assisting the Maezawa brothers in the production of go boards is Kato Kinjiro san (shown in the foreground of the photograph above), who has dedicated his life to the craft. He started on this path at the age of 13, and this year turns 74 years old. He is said to have been cherished by Fukui Kanbei, himself considered as Meijin.

Memo

Fukui Kanbei

Habitant of Tokyo. In the period at the end of the shogunate, he received a go board from the godokoro [top go player in Japan, given that designation as a functionary in the government]. called Meijin. Entering into the Meiji Era [1868-1912], at one time he stayed with the first generation Maezawa Chotaro. Kato Kinjiro san and other associates are said to have received skilled training from him.

"A go board shop is a big challenge, I must say," states Michio san.

Starting with Miyazaki and Kagoshima [Prefectures in Kyushu], kaya trees grow in scattered areas throughout Japan. If he hears about good quality wood, he immediately goes out to investigate. From November through February tree growth stops and so does their intake of water, so that time is called the "cutting season." It is the felling period. Those raised at the foot of a mountain well know the numbness of hands from the cold.

Trees that are cut down leave gaping holes in the ground or rotting stumps. One wants to cry, and yet one cannot cry.

"You can’t tell anything by just looking at them. Out of ten trees, if there is one that is suitable, it is good."

Even if a good tree is obtained, that has to be dried and seasoned, which takes a great deal of additional care in itself. It takes between six and ten years. Attention must be paid to ensure that mold does not grow, or that a crack develops in the grain. It seems that recently there have been repeated failures in regards to concentrated artificial drying.

"With us, absolutely everything is done by hand."

It is said that the quality of work done by hand can be perceived at a glance.

Among friends who are go board artisans, when looking at a piece of work, it can be distinguished immediately whose work it is. The period it comes from can also be discerned. The character of the artisan appears in the work. The proportions, design of the legs, the size of the heso [navel: on the underside of a board is a small section in the center carved out in order to allow the board to grow and shrink in size without warping or cracking when atmospheric changes occur] and the lacquer finish. etc., show idiosyncrasies of the production by hand.

The fourth generation is the defender of tradition. The Maezawa brothers are slightly forlorn because there is no successor in sight.

"Really, there is nothing to be done about it," say Michio san with an air of detachment.

Ito Keiichi

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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