I’ve yet to wish happy new year for my readers, so here goes: Happy new year! I’m not sure if the topic’s “new year, new tricks” is actually used in English — I translated it directly from the Finnish saying. The meaning is still obvious enough, even if the saying didn’t originally exist in English!
I spent a two-week break from the Christmas up to new year not really playing go. An exception, I visited the Mimura dojo on December 26 in the middle of my break to give Mimura-sensei a Christmas present, two moomin-themed mugs and some Finnish chocolate. As usual, then, I did some tsumego there and played a few games, and that time got mercilessly defeated by the fellow insei. As a Finn, I was honestly surprised that the dojo was gathering even during what would normally be Christmas holiday. And it wasn’t only that; normally the dojo is open from around 4 PM to 9 PM, but since the children had a break form school, the dojo was open from all the way from 9 AM to 8 PM. I got around to thinking what would happen in western countries with a similar dojo: probably both the teacher and the students would go: “Oh, it’s holiday now, I’d rather just sit back and not do anything”, and then there would be nothing ventured and nothing gained. I don’t have anything against relaxing a bit here and there, but I find there’s something really wrong in the western countries’, at least Finland’s, attitude towards holidays, as if “being able not to have to do anything” was a state that people should strive for.
The next time I tried to go to the dojo on January 3, but found it surprisingly closed. It turns out Japanese people seem to value New year as a holiday more than Christmas, which isn’t such a surprise if we take into account all the cultural differences. It seems the Japanese go-playing community has a cute tradition relating to New year, too: go-playing initiates every year from the fifth day on, before that there is a break. The reason for the fifth day is that the number five is pronounced “go” in Japanese.
I’d gotten an invitation to participate in the Nihon Ki-in’s New year’s ceremony on January 5. The program consisted of some speeches by key Nihon Ki-in personnel, a very Japanese show of eight female professionals playing rengo in front of the audience with top professionals commenting the game (for some reason, the Nihon Ki-in really likes to show off its female pros), and after that of a banquet and some teaching games by stronger professionals. It appears my sensei, Mimura Tomoyasu 9 dan, was present and teaching as well (I just read about that from his blog).
January 6 was an even more special day, at least for me: I’d been invited by Aoki Shinichi 9 dan (a well-known go teacher at least in Europe) to visit his home and to receive some teaching from him. He lives outside of Tokyo, some 50 kilometres away from where I’m staying, so getting there by public transport took some 90 minutes. Of course, it was well worth every minute and even much more. I played first against Aoki-sensei, and then twice against his 10-year-old daughter, who was playing at a solid EGF 3-4 dan level. All games got reviewed by Aoki-sensei, of course. Aside from the games, we also did some harder tsumego from the 500-problem-collection I mentioned some months ago. Yes, I still haven’t finished with it! It was astonishing to watch Aoki-sensei’s daughter think about the problems, going like “I guess it must be here”, and repeatedly hitting the key shape points in the problems. I didn’t believe it back in Europe, but now I find it safe to say that doing tsumego is very, very important to keep (and improve) a solid level of play. Don’t do tsumego, and your play loses sharpness like a sword when not regularly honed.
Finally, last weekend (January 6-7) it was time to get back to insei training. I’d really missed it a lot! Saturday morning I found it difficult to play the insei games, having had the break from playing before visiting Aoki-sensei’s home the previous day, but by Sunday afternoon it felt like I was back in shape. My result was a nice solid 4 wins, 2 losses (the wins I got against insei #1-#3 are what count here!), but much more important than that, I really enjoyed all the games. C class insei #1, 坂室, constantly does peculiar joseki variations which I’ve never seen before, but instead of reacting like “Oh man, what is it this time?” I found myself to be more like “Oh yeah, bring it on!” I messed up in the early fights of the game big time, but was able to struggle myself back into the game, and finally killed a huge dragon in the centre. The game is such an entertaining lightshow that I’ll include the sgf here, however this time without comments (I’m accumulating too much text for this blog update already).
As all the insei children were just getting back to studying from their holiday, on Saturday the atmosphere in the insei classroom was rather wild. Even the usually gentle Kamimura-sensei gave quite a harsh speech at the end of the day about how the insei are supposed to do serious studying and not play around. I also found I’d missed Ōbuchi-sensei, the stricter insei instructor: when he was present on Sunday, suddenly everybody was very collected and serious, the way it should be. Right away on Sunday morning when I was arriving in the classroom along with some other insei, he pointed out to us that insei should go out of their way to formally greet all the instructors present the first thing they arrive. The moment I heard him explain that, I thought “I’m back home”.
Things are looking up here in other words, even more so than normally. Today’s another busy day (in a good way): soon it’s lunchtime, then I’ll go buy a copy of Weekly go and look it over, and after that it’s time to move to the Mimura dojo to do some serious studying!