Last Sunday I returned from my first visit to Japan, after my period as insei earlier this year. We'd qualified with my girlfriend to be the Finnish representatives for the World Amateur Pair Go Championship, held in Tokyo, and while we were at it, we stayed in Tokyo for a little bit of extra time afterwards. I'm not sure if it's odd or not, but this time around, visiting Tokyo felt almost like returning home.
The pair go championship was held in Hotel Metropolitan Edmont Tokyo, a higher-class hotel. I'd in fact "gatecrashed" the championship tournament already one year ago (it was held at the same venue), back when I was insei, so how the tournament operated was already quite familiar to me. 32 pairs took part this year. The tournament organizers had asked for all the pairs to bring with them a national costume to be clad in during the friendship match on Saturday 3rd November, which made for quite a show:
This post will be the last edition of the "in Japan"-tagged blog entries. I would like to remind the readers that Go of Ten will go on even after my stay in Japan, as it also existed long before I left for Japan. In the future, you may expect me to write here tournament stories from all over Europe — and I'll likely continue publishing game reviews and essays too. Also know that I'm tentatively planning to return to Japan next year to continue my insei studies — it would seem that I'll be able to continue from C class right upon my arrival, which would save me one to two months' worth of time.
My last weeks in Japan were full of seeing people that I got acquainted with and telling them goodbye. I had really grown to like studying at the Ichikawa go dojo, as I'd found it was the most effective place for me to get some studying in, and both the students and Mimura-sensei are incredibly nice as well. I gave some moomin-themed mugs for Mimura-sensei as a parting gift, and he in turn told that I'm welcome to come back to the dojo anytime I'm in Japan. As the readers may remember, I already got a great gift from Mimura-sensei. I'm soon finished studying the first book of the twelve-book collection I received — and if I'm following what the novel First kyu teaches, I've got to study through the books nine more times. With my current pace, that's going to take almost twenty years!
At the time of writing this blog post, I have actually already returned to Finland, but I'll be writing the "returning to Finland" blog post a bit later.
In Last weeks in Japan, part 3, I'd forgotten May 3, Thursday, which was a day when Kobayashi-sensei had asked me to participate in her children's go class as a guest. It was then that the famous tv face, Anti Torumanen (indeed, almost all of the kids had seen me on television), came to play some simultaneous games with the more promising children. I played three sets of two-game simultaneous matches, handicaps included (ranging from two to five stones), and ended up winning all the games too. Apparently some of the children came for the class from somewhere pretty far away (like, a 1-2 hour trip), which was fairly surprising, considering that the class itself only lasted for about two hours.
Last Monday, on May 7, I played in a tv broadcast game against Fujisawa Rina, professional 1 dan. Before the match, which started at 6 PM, I first went to visit a zen buddhist temple in Ueno with Kobayashi-sensei. We were shown around the temple a bit, and I was taught the very basics of zazen (sitting meditation). By the end of the one-hour visit, the monk who was showing us around was asking if I wouldn't become his disciple. As monk life in Japan nowadays can be fairly modern, and not too ascetic, I might even consider such a proposal if I ended up going to Japan again (and if I could be insei at the same time). It seemed fitting that first there'd be some meditation, and then a tv match against a pro soon after that.
Since this was already the second time I was to be featured in a tv program in Japan, I wasn't really nervous at all. It was interesting to see some details about how those go commentary programs that you see on tv in Asia are made. The commentator for my game was Sakai Maki 8 dan, also one of the insei instructors. There were two short interviews included during the recording as well — when I could, I answered in Japanese, but at times I had to have Tom from the Nihon Ki-in to translate for me.
As for the game, I did my best to go with a flexible, but influence-oriented game plan. I had two handicap stones, but as winning or losing wasn't of especially big importance in the match, I didn't go out to maximize my winning chance, but instead kept on searching for the strongest move. As a result, black had the lead for a long time, but eventually pushed a bit too hard, and white turned the game around. It should be interesting for the readers to see Fujisawa's present-day game (especially after her win against Aoki Kikuyo 8-dan recently), so the kifu is of course included below. Commentary for the game is courtesy of the English class professionals.
There have been plenty of semi-productive days during the last few weeks; this blog post will describe them, but not in too much detail.
April 20, Friday: I and Ginny, from the English class, were invited to follow the Kisei tournament prize-giving ceremony that was held in a hotel at Yotsuya, not too far from the Nihon Ki-in. There were plenty of prestigious people present, and lots of good food was had as well. Chō U won the title for the third time in a row. While receiving the prize, he made a speech (most of which I didn't understand), and in addition advertised his new iPhone application, Yonro no go, which has go problems on a 4x4 go board in a very children-friendly setting. For now at least, the program doesn't have an English version.
This time I'm presenting (likely) the last 30-minute tsumego test I'll do at the Mimura go dojo. I'm still going there one more time, on next week's Wednesday, but it's not sure if we'll have a test then or not. This time around the tsumego were fairly easy, relatively speaking, and kyu players should have a fair chance at getting them right as well. Some five-six students (myself included) got a perfect result, and even the rest got something in the range of 15-22 correct (23 was maximum).
As usual, expect the answers to the tsumego later on in the comments section. All problems are black first, but remember to look for the best result for both sides.
Expect a slightly longer series of blog posts describing my final days here in Japan. As you may remember, my flight back to Finland is on May 11, and as such I will be at least participating in some Finnish tournaments this summer, as well as in the European Go Congress. Kidō Cup I will skip, as I feel it'd be too soon after my return — while I like traveling, too much is too much.
Last weekend I scored a perfect 6-0 result, which placed me cleanly on the first place of C class with 19 wins and 5 losses. I didn't happen to take a photo of the final results sheet, but I believe the second place was reached with 15 wins and 9 losses. In this first post of the series, I'll present two of my games from last weekend, one against 藤原 (Fujiwara, who got promoted to B class) and one against 今野 (Konno, who also got promoted to B). Most of the comments are courtesy of the English class attending professionals, but a part of them are my own.
As the topic states, I've now exactly one weekend of insei studies left. It's going to be weird once I start having empty weekends again, but on the other hand, I should be in top shape for any European weekend tournament — and luckily, I also know exactly how I'll keep on studying once I'm back in Finland. Tsumego, games, Japanese theory books, Fujisawa kifu collection, several hours a day, rinse and repeat.
Ironically but also logically, it's towards the end of my stay here that my results seem to get up. My first two weekends this month were both four wins to two losses, and this third weekend was five wins to one loss. With 13 wins and five losses, now, I'm currently holding the first place of class C (top three get promoted). There's still the curse of the last day to watch out for, though.
Last weekend I was supposed to have another game with 王 (that's Ō), former B class insei, but he was again absent. I thus played another game with Kamimura Haruo 9 dan, and again made it a good fight until I lost control in the early endgame. Once I was losing by about seven points with no way to turn the game, I resigned. Kamimura-sensei, as usual, reviewed the game, and also gave me some general advice on what I should pay attention to in my games and studies (according to him as well, my style is "outside-oriented", that is, influence-oriented — that is fine, but I have to work more on my attention towards territory). Seeing the timing of this advice, it's actually likely that that was for now the last time I receive teaching from him.
There was a positive side to my staying in C class, too: I got to play again with my self-proclaimed nemesis, 藤原 (that's Fujiwara), after a few month's break. We've played two games now, and are 1-1, with one more game ahead next weekend. In terms of the total score, I'm for now some four wins better off. I thought it might be interesting for the readers to see my return win against 藤原, so here goes, along with my commentary.
This is a game I played last weekend while at insei training. Whenever insei don't come to play their games (they have to inform the instructors beforehand about not coming), they get forfeit losses. Their opponents, who then don't get to play a league game, end up playing an instructor instead — that's also what happened to me last weekend. It has now been three times that I missed out on playing 王, who used to be in B class two months ago, but dropped to C and started missing out on some of the game days. In a sense, not getting to play a league game is bad, but I think a free win and a teaching game with a 9 dan professional somewhat makes up for it!
Some of the commentary included in the sgf is my own, but a big portion is what Kamimura-sensei said while reviewing the game. The game has some unconventional opening game choices, which should be of interest to lower dan level readers.
I've had a short break from the insei studies now; next week, the April league, and my final month as insei for now, begins. How time flies!
How many of the readers remember the questions and answers blog post series? I've gotten some really interesting questions that I'd rather answer in a blog post rather than just in the comments section, so today I'm doing an insei edition of the series.
Hi, first of all thank you for this blog and the time you spent with it; it is well written and I enjoy to reading it.
Are you allowed to watch professional games, like Oteai matches or something similar?
It appears that insei are allowed to watch the games. Usually the professionals play on Thursdays: I've several times donned my insei badge and went to watch some games on the spot. On Thursdays, many games are also relayed on the Yuugen no Ma server (Japanese version of wbaduk), but seeing the players as well as the games makes for a much more interesting experience.
You mentioned ōteai matches — in fact, the ōteai system no longer exists. It was a ranking tournament that was in use from 1927 to 2003, after which it was replaced with a promotion system that was based on winning a set amount of games, receiving the most prize money from professionals of a given rank, or performing well in important key tournaments (for example, winning the Kisei, Meijin or Honinbo gives a promotion to 9 dan straight away). For more information about the new promotion system, check this Senseis' library page out.
Are you going to watch the Kisei match between Cho and Takao together with other inseis live, maybe in a similar tv room as it was in hng?
I didn't end up watching the Kisei match with other insei — the Kisei games were actually played on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and normal insei had to be at school at the time of the games. I did go see the Kisei final being played out in Kofu, as you may remember. That was a very fun day trip!
Is there a big difference between young and old pros, maybe in their behavior and their commitment to tradition. Are there any contemporary professionals who still wear traditional ceremonial clothing at their matches? Etc.
Professional players seem to get more serious in general as they age, but that shouldn't be such a surprise. All professionals seem to get equally serious when it's time to play a game, however! I'm afraid I don't have much to share on the tradition aspect of the question here. If it's about playing attire, I've seen Yoda clad in a kimono several times when he's teaching the insei on weekends, but other pros I've seen are usually wearing a suit or something similar formal.
How does it feel to play a strong professional in an even (or without komi) game?
Lately there's some interesting development here; it feels like nowadays, I can understand pro (or insei) opponents' ideas and plans much better than I can understand other opponents', eg. when playing on the internet. Of course, if I'm playing a strong professional, they'll still catch me unawares with their superior positional judgment, and their reading would be sharper as well. Pardon the metaphor, but playing against your regular strong amateur feels like fighting against a whirlwind, while playing against a strong professional feels like fighting against a strong current.
Are professionals really as amazing in reading as the rest of the world maybe thinks, or do they sometimes overlook easy things (maybe in one of your english classes, when they argue about your game)?
When for instance discussing the game at the English class, they do sometimes overlook some "simple things", though of course still not any fundamentally easy things. Such overlooks are just natural when you're going through different ideas on a few seconds' thought. When having more time and for example playing a game, while reading far ahead, they'll also make sure that their reading is correct. If there's limited time, they'll read as far as they can, and if they're not sure of the read-out line of play's safety, they'll pick a simpler way. I'd definitely say that the professionals' reading abilities are amazing.
Have you become friends with some players that you've met several times, or are the Japanese keeping their distance to foreigners?
In insei training, there's little time to socialize; I'll be either playing, recording a game, having one of my games reviewed by an instructor, or watching an instructor review somebody else's game. In fact, regular socializing during insei training is even forbidden, and will cause a scolding. For this reason, I'm not all too familiar with the insei, even now. At the Ichikawa dojo, I've had more of a chance to chat normally with Kenta and Ayato, who are B and C class insei respectively, and also with Sayaka, Mizuki and Hana, E class insei each.
The English class has been a good way to get to know some professional players, and I feel I've become better friends with the young professionals there than with any of the insei. The professionals there are a very friendly and open-minded lot, and it doesn't feel like they're being reserved around foreigners, as one could imagine from your average Japanese person.
You at some point mentioned an "archenemy": have you faced her again since then, or made new archenemies?
The archenemy I mentioned earlier was named Fujiwara: she promoted to B class after January, and has been staying there since then. In other words I haven't had the chance to play her lately, unfortunately. Since I've been stuck in class C now, I've more or less played the same insei all over, with a few exceptions of course (the insei who drop to C class from B, and the insei who rise to C class from D). None of my latest rivals have gotten suddenly stronger like Fujiwara did back in January, so it hasn't felt like I've made any new archenemies lately.
Are there any other foreign insei at the moment; if so, how are they doing?
There was a French insei who quit just before I became insei last October. During the while I've been insei, however, there have been no other westerners apart from me.
There are, however, currently four insei from Taiwan, and they are all currently in the A class. I figure that the most promising professional students are sent from Taiwan to Japan to study. There are many Taiwanese players who became professional at the Nihon Ki-in too, for example Ō Rissei 9 dan, and Yū Hō 6 dan who attends the weekly English class.
Is it so that once every month or two, a new insei pops in and sprints right away to A class, or is it the same faces moving between the classes every month?
New insei are admitted only on four occasions each year: the beginnings of January, April, July and October (meaning that this next weekend, there'll probably be a good number of new insei starting in the E class). After I started in October, so far none of the newer insei have passed by me (indeed, I think all of the new insei since then are still in E class), so I've yet to see a similar case like Hikaru was in Hikaru no Go. Usually it's more or less the same insei who are balancing on the borders of any two classes.
That'll be all for questions and answers today — if you can think of any more queries, feel free to add them as questions to this blog post! I'll do my best to answer them in due time!
As I tweeted earlier, last Tuesday I went to see Nihon Ki-in's annual awards ceremony. The Japanese year starts on April 1, and so the ceremony is fittingly held towards the very end of the year. The ceremony consisted of speeches by important people, giving the Ōkura Kishichiro prize to a few more aged people, giving prizes for professionals due to highest winning ratio/longest winning streak/most games played/etc., and of course announcing the new professional one dan players (who amounted to six people). Here are the new professionals in a photo: