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Go History Present and Past

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碁暦今昔 [Go Reki Konjaku] Go History Now/Past

This is a very old word that can also be read koyomi = calendar; can also be read ima = now and is part of the word = kyo = 今日 = "today"; can also be read mukashi = the past

The Incident at Honnoji Temple and the Three Kos

本能寺の変と三劫 [Honnoji no Hen to San Ko] Honnoji is a temple in Kyoto; the text elaborates on this; no is a possessive particle; Hen means a strange or unfortunate happening; to is a particle meaning "and"; san is the ordinal number; ko is a kanji that means "eternity," but in go specifically refers to the repeated capture of single stones

In the illustration:

Above the players: 本能 = Honno = Honnoji Temple

On the board: 三劫 = three kos

Caption: 不吉な予感が…… = Fukitsu na yokan ga… = Ominous premonition [occurs] = ga is a particle that can be construed as "is" or "and" or "but"

不吉 = this is actually a Buddhist term, found on Japanese calendars (koyomi) indicating that a bad event is likely to occur on that day; using this term is consistent with the incident occurring at the Honnoji Temple; both go and Buddhism were transmitted to Japan from China via Korea in the 8th century

From Kido, June 1975

Before dawn on June 2 in the 10th year of Tensho (1582), the Incident at Honnoji occurred. [The Incident at Honnoji Temple is a famous event that is recounted in every Japanese history book. Note that ji means temple already; the redundancy is made because few Westerners are familiar with Japanese history.]

The previous night, in front of the residence of Nobunaga [Oda Nobunaga (1534~1582) was the first of the three generalisimo who united Japan in the 16th century] Nikkai and Rigen, who had been summoned, had played a game of go and were about to leave after the game.

[Nikkai was a Buddhist monk who lived in the Honinbo Shrine inside the Honnoji Temple. He later became Honinbo Sansa, the first in the great line of the House of Honinbo; Rigen was a monk of the Nichiren sect who is said to be the founder of the House of Hayashi. The four great Houses produced outstanding players who regularly entertained the Shogun with the Castle Games. In return, the Houses were given financial support by the Shogun.]

However, it happened, a position with three kos was produced in the game.

This was the first time that this had ever occurred. In the end, the game was voided [無勝負 = mushobu = "no win/loss"], but Nikkai thought to himself,

"This is strange indeed."

Approximately a half a ri [1.22 miles] after leaving, they suddenly heard the chaotic clinking of metal [spurs and stirrups] and the neighing of horses. The air around them was filled with commotion. They felt an unusual excitement. [殺気 = sakki = "kill spirit" = here, kanji that give a vivid sense of a murderous atmosphere are used which in other contexts would not be sensational at all.]

"What in the world could have happened?"

Surprised, the two started walking faster. Later they learned that it was the rebellion of Mitsuhide [Akechi Mitsuhide (1528~1582), vassal of Oda Nobunaga; this is also famous and found in all Japanese history texts]. This Incident and the producing of the Three Kos have been linked, and observers nod in agreement, "Yes, indeed."

This is the well-known "Legend of the Incident at the Honnoji Temple and the Three Kos." The source is assumed to be Hayashi Genbi [Hayashi XI (1778~1861), who became a go scholar with the pen name of 爛柯堂 [ = "Rankado" = "Inflamed Handle Temple"]. At this time, game records of his have been passed down to us, but nowhere is to be seen in any of them positions where three kos could plausibly have arisen. It is said that most likely any number of games were played at that time, and it was produced in one of those other games.

There is no way of knowing the truth. It is usual to assume that the Incident at Honnoji Temple and the rare three kos occurring have been conflated for the legend. The assertion that three kos are a precursor of an unlucky event must be taken with a grain of salt.

According to records in the Jakkoji Temple, in the 6th year of Tensho [1578] Nikkai played a game with Nobunaga. This same Nobunaga staged a sumo exhibition at the emperor’s palace in October of the same year. Nobunaga was famous for his love of sumo.

Approximately 350 years after the Incident at Honnoji, in the 13th year of Showa [1938] at the Shibakoyo Pavillion in Tokyo, the retirement game of the 21st Honinbo Shusai Meijin was played. [This is the subject of "The Master of Go," by Kawabata Yasunari, translated from the semi-fictional novel, "Meijin." The opponent of Honinbo Shusai had his name changed to "Otake" in the work.] This is said to be his final game. His opponent was the representative of the new age, Kitani Minoru 7 dan (playing Black). [Kitani and Go Seigen 7 dan were the leading proponents of the "New Fuseki," which swept the go world and revolutionized the game. Honinbo Shusai was the guardian of the status quo, but he knew that times were changing. Note: At that time 7 dan was the highest average professional go players could aspire to. 8 dan was considered to be "quasi-Meijin" and 9 dan the top: the only Meijin in the land. Things had to change.]

Honinbo Shusai was extolled as the "Invincible Meijin," but he could not destroy Kitani’s iron wall. [Kitani won the game by 5 points; but this was in the days without komi; today that would be a loss by Black by 1 1/2 points.] So he was defeated in this last fight. However, he used this as an opportunity to relinquish his hereditary Honinbo title, which had been passed down from generation after generation, from one era to the next, to the go world, so that ordinary professional go players could compete for the title. [Ironically, Kitani’s three challenges for the title were unsuccessful.] This is today’s Honinbo tournament, which has played a great role in bringing about the current prosperity in the go world.

Moving further on after the war, on June 15th of Showa 24 [1949] in the large hall on the second floor of the Nihon Ki-in [Japanese Go Association] Chairman Tsushima Juichi awarded Fujisawa Kurannosuke [Hosai] a 9 dan certification.

The Oteai Ranking System started in 1927. Fujisawa’ promotion to 9 dan was the first granted under that point earned system. In those days, the go world was finally embarking on its path of rehabilitation five years after the war. The Honinbo tournament, along with the Go Seigen Jubango [best of ten game matches which he played with Fujisawa at the time and were enormously popular] attracted the same kind of attention as events before the war. The advancement of Fujisawa to 9 dan completed the link, shining a spotlight on the Oteai Ranking Tournament.

After that, Go Seigen was awarded the designation of 9 dan by the Nihon Ki-in, no matter whether one wanted it or not, the confrontation of the two 9 dan players was unavoidable. [Go Seigen won decisively, match after match, so many times that Fujisawa was beseeched by his own supporters to give up his quest for another rematch.] This propelled go into the imagination of the public and was the basis of its current success.

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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