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A Problem of Reading

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In this space recently, I wrote of a game between Rin Kaiho 9 dan and Takagawa Kaku, Honarary Honinbo which featured an elegant example of making life for an endangered group of stones. I studied that game carefully over the years and have always admired the way Rin cleverly managed to deal with that situation. It was obvious that he had read out the necessary sequence of moves before he embarked upon the course of play that left the stones precariously situated in the first place.

Since the game came from an issue of Kido that was one of the first that I had ever bought, there was also a nostalgic aspect that I wished to convey, the whole idea of writing about it seemed perfect. The cover of the magazine could be used at the top to illustrate everything. Kido covers have been beloved by go players all over the world for many years. Everyone would surely welcome another glance at one of these gems of Japanese culture.

Before going farther, it should be stated that the cover of Kido in question is shown above. It is from the March 1975 issue. Budding plant shoots are beautifully depicted as an illustration of spring. And notice the reduced price handwritten in the upper left corner: $1.50. What a bargain that was! I could not resist buying it.

Anyway, I had written the piece about the aforementioned game, had scanned the cover and was ready to finish it all off with a note about that cover. There was just one problem. I found it impossible to read the poem written there! Of course, I am the opposite of a connoisseur of Japanese literature, but within every issue of Kido that I had ever checked there would be a note about the cover with details about how to read it. For some reason, this time there was no trace of such a note. Incredible! How was such a thing possible?!

But more importantly, how could the plan for the material already written be completed without at least some idea presented about that poem? A solution would surely be found by consulting with Watanabe san.

This is a retired pharmaceutical executive who is a longtime member of the Japanese go club that I belong to (South Bay Ki-in, New Gardena Hotel, 1641 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, CA 90247; (310) 327-5757). Watanabe san is a gifted calligrapher. The walls of the South Bay Ki-in are graced with numerous examples of his artistry.

On one wall there is a three foot by two foot piece of calligraphy paper filled with common go proverbs. This is the kind of commonplace hanging often found in Japanese go clubs. It would not normally attract much attention, but the calligraphy is so masterfully done, one might suspect that it was manufactured using some kind of software. However, it is just one example of the kind of thing that Watanabe san produces during his practice sessions.

Another wall displays a dozen or so banners that Watanabe san produced to welcome various professional go players from the Nihon Ki-in to the club. There are famous names there, like Awaji Shuzo 9 dan and Abe Yoshiteru 9 dan, and Michael Redmond 9 dan was welcomed twice, and some not so famous, like Okubo Ichigen 9 dan. But the memories of all of these visitors are cherished by the club and memorialized by the work of Watanabe san.

There are still other examples of Watanabe san’s brushwork all over, some so obscurely placed that visitors rarely notice them. For instance, in one corner there is a fine illustration of the calligraphy for Honinbo Shusaku’s famous “Ten Commandments of Go.”

Anyway, to get back to the story, I brought the copy of Kido magazine to the go club and showed it to Watanabe san. I was confident that he could explain everything to me.

As I told Watanabe san my problem and showed him the cover, I pointed out the words that I could read, such as 春Haru (Spring) which begins the poem and others which were indecipherable. “Hmm,” he murmured while thoughtfully looking at the words:

春の野に若菜

つまむとて塩法の

さかのかなたに

この日暮らしつ

Of course, I am showing here, after the fact, what is actually to be seen on the cover. At the time, it was just a jumble of scribble beyond that first word, Haru. (Here is how it is read: Haru no no ni wakana / Tsumamu to te shiohō no / Saka no kanata ni / Kono higurashi tsu.)

“Strange,” Watanabe san said quietly as he glanced up. “I’ll have to research this on the internet.” He took out a pen and paper, making notes of things that he could make out. “I’ll talk to you at the next club meeting about it.” He nodded to me and I thanked him.

However, Watanabe san had a sheepish look on his face when he greeted me the next time at the club. He had nothing to say about the cover, just that it was illustrated by Yokoo Shinrinjin. (This artist’s name can be found elsewhere on GoWizardry where other Kido covers are archived.) I asked him if he wanted to take the issue to study it in more depth. Watanabe san thanked me and promised to return the issue the next time we met.

I had hoped for an early resolution of the problem, but the next time I met Watanabe san, he admitted that he was stumped. “I have sent a color copy of the cover to the Nihon Ki-in in Tokyo asking for an explanation.”

Finally, at the most recent meeting of the go club, Watanabe san presented the solution to the problem.

“This is a combination of two poems,” he began with a triumphant air. “The first part comes from a poem written by Kino Tsurayuki (紀貫之), who was born in 872 to a noble family:

春の野に

若菜つまむと

こしものを

散り交う花に

道は感ひぬ

On a spring day in a field / I had come to pick flowers / But over the trail /

Fallen petals were strewn / And I lost my way

“The second poem was composed by a Buddhist monk, Ryōkan (良寛), born in 1758:

春の野に

若菜つまむとて

塩法の

さかのかなたに

この日暮らしつ

On a spring day in a field/ I had come to pick flowers / While salt-drying at /

A hill in the distance / Made up this day’s work

“Here are the pages that I received from the Nihon Ki-in,” Watanabe san stated, handing me the following two sheets of paper:

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I thanked him and he walked away to play a game of go with another member of the club.

Why did the artist combine the poems? What does the combination mean? Who knows? The more interesting question is who at the Nihon Ki-in sent the papers? Could it have been the artist himself, who would have to be quite old today?

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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