Visit to Innoshima

Greetings from Innoshima, the birthplace of Honinbō Shūsaku!

Last Thursday, me and my friend Kurt, who is generously accommodating me in Tōkyō, went out of our way to visit the Shūsaku memorial hall in Innoshima; you could call this a go player’s pilgrimage of sorts. Those of you who have read the manga, Hikaru no Go, might remember Hikaru’s visit to Innoshima in search of Sai. Innoshima is located near the south coast of Honshū, Japan’s biggest island, between Ōsaka and Hiroshima. The distance between Tōkyō and Innoshima is close to 700 kilometres, which translates to a four-hour train trip. Last Thursday was actually a Japanese national holiday, which meant that the memorial hall was closed; what we did was travel to south of Ōsaka and spend the night there at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), and we then continued to Innoshima early on Friday morning.

After taking some local trains and a local bus, we finally arrived on the island of Innoshima, and were greeted by this kind of a view:

A tourist office in Onomichi, which was as far as the trains got us, recommended us to take the bus from Onomichi further inland to Innoshima, and to take a taxi from there directly to the memorial hall. We must’ve looked like wealthy western tourists. I objected, however, since the tourist map that we’d received made it look like it’d be a quick walk from Innoshima’s northern tip to the memorial hall. In reality, the memorial hall was several kilometres away, way behind the peninsula shown in the centre of the previous photo. By the time we got to the memorial hall, we’d walked about 50 minutes under hot sunshine, and my back was completely soaked by sweat. It wasn’t that bad, though, since we were able to take some great pictures on the way — that, and I like walking.

Not long into our hike to the memorial hall, and we’d seen dozens of spiders which were both huge and incredibly colourful on Finland’s standards. For all I care, Innoshima might as well be renamed Kumonoshima (蜘蛛島, “spider island”). Luckily we spotted the first one well before for example running into it, and were able to be on our guard for the rest of the hike. Arachnophobes, watch out!

This is the bridge which connects Innoshima to Mukoujima Island, which in turn is connected by another bridge to the mainland.

In the midst of the hike, approaching the memorial hall, we were greeted by an older local lady. Just in case, we asked for directions to the museum, as we weren’t completely sure we were on the right track. She referred to Shūsaku politely as Shūsaku-sama (“lord Shūsaku” or something equivalent). She also really wanted to pass us a satsuma, a fruit much cultivated in Japan which closely resembles a mandarine. The fruit was likely grown by the lady herself, or by some of her acquaintances.

Almost there! I guess we are not the first western tourists to visit.
Since we are in Japan, there was also a shrine for Shūsaku near the memorial hall.


The Shūsaku memorial hall

At the time we arrived at the memorial hall, there were some museum personnel outside of the doors talking to each other. When they spotted us, they clearly had the “I wonder if those westerners are lost?” expression. We made it clear that we were after the memorial hall, after which they were happy to have us in. The memorial hall itself was pretty much like a typical museum with all manner of things Shūsaku. There was of course a small museum shop as well.


This is the very board and stones that Shūsaku himself used when he was a child. As we learned, his mother taught him to play. By now, it's difficult to make out the board's grid, and the stones aren't exactly in the best shape either.

In the memorial hall’s backyard, they had even built a copy of Shūsaku’s childhood home, completely accessible. Here is a shot from inside the replica:

In the end, we're not sure exactly how old or important this go set is. The board was clearly old or even ancient, but the stones appeared to be glass, and likely not too old. Just in case, since the board was free to use, we played a fuseki out on it.

While we were looking around the museum, we also did some smalltalk with the museum personnel. They were of course surprised to find out that I was an insei at the Nihon Ki-in. Hearing that, they went to get some paper and a brush, and asked for my signature in case I ever become a professional.

In the museum shop, they were selling normal go paraphernalia like paper fans and go stone key chains, but they also had this: Honinbō (="go grandmaster") wine! I was actually tempted to buy a bottle, but I didn't want the personnel thinking that insei drink alcohol.
This is me, studying the work "The Cosmos with Nine Dragons", which depicts the most famous game Shūsaku played, the "ear-reddening game". Some of the readers may have seen this earlier this year at the European Go Congress in Bordeaux. The story of the game in a nutshell is that Shūsaku was playing a strong opponent, and in the middle game, Shūsaku having made a mistake earlier in the opening, he was behind and facing difficulties. He then played a move near the centre of the board, shown as the largest yellow dot in the art work, which completely turned the game around. A local doctor who was observing the game, yet had absolutely no go knowledge, remarked after the move that Shūsaku was bound to win the game; he had observed Shūsaku's opponent's ears get red, a sign of fluster. Shūsaku went on to win the game by two points.

An imporant part of the visit to Innoshima was of course also to visit Shūsaku’s grave, which was on a graveyard quite close by to the memorial hall.

As according to Hikaru no Go, go players come to Shūsaku’s grave to pray, in order to get better at the game. I didn’t want to miss a potential chance to get stronger, so I did just the same.

In Japan, it’s quite common to leave some food on a grave; the orange fruit in the photo is actually the satsuma that the afore-mentioned lady gave us.

The museum personnel were incredibly nice to us, and even vouched to drive us back to the bus stop for the bus back to mainland. There was some spare time before the next bus however, so they asked me to play a game while waiting. I took white, giving a four-stone handicap, and did my best to finish the game inside the time frame we had (about 20 minutes). I succeeded as well, killing two sizeable groups. The onlookers seemed quite astonished.

After the game, we were given a ride to the bus stop, some final words were exchanged, and we headed back for Tōkyō. The holiday trip was quite hard on my travel wallet, the train tickets costing close to 400 euro by themselves, but I’m convinced that the trip was worth every cent. We got back at around 11 PM on Friday night, well in time to get some sleep before the weekend’s insei training.

4 thoughts on “Visit to Innoshima”

  1. It is enjoyable to follow this as I am currently in Japan studying. Sadly not as an insei but I have still had the chance to visit the Nihon Ki-in and see some insei playing one day. Was even invited to sit in the championship room and took some pictures which was cool. I am also going to Innoshima next week in order to do the sightseeing related to Honinbo Shusaku as well so its nice to see someone else who has gone. Wish I was able to be an insei as well! Good Luck in your remaining games and with your blog posting.

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