Last weeks in Japan, part 2: final 30-minute tsumego test

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.

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Last weeks in Japan, part 1: final insei games with commentaries

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.

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Second to last insei weekend down

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.

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Teaching game and review with Kamimura Haruo, 9 dan

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.

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Questions and answers, insei edition

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?

Thank you!

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!

Nihon Ki-in awards ceremony and Mimura-sensei’s present

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:

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March league final results

Last weekend marked the end of the March insei league, and my second-to-last insei month. My return date is approaching at a frightening pace, especially looking at how fun Japan has lately been for me. The other day, I got to see a strict Takemiya-sensei at the English go class, and the commentary that he gave on my games turned out very valuable indeed. One of the more hilarious comments I got from him was to the extent of “What’s this, you’re playing like a go bot — first you do something really silly, and then you play this strongly!”

The next weekend will be a break from insei training — Japan’s school year starts from April 1, so I imagine around this time of the year the children (and probably most other people as well) have a small break from everything. The same applies to the Ichikawa go dojo, which is having a break from today until next Monday. It’s definitely spring here now; the temperature will be about 15° C on average during the day, and in about one week it’ll be time for the cherry to blossom. Right now it looks approximately like this outside:

The stairs that go down here lead to the metro station of Roppongi Itchōme; it's a five-minute walk to here from the apartment I'm staying at, and an eight-minute ride from here to Ichigaya, where the Nihon Ki-in is.

Last weekend’s result was four wins and two losses for me, summing up to 14 wins and 10 losses for the whole of March. That got me the fifth place in the C league. And actually, since three people get promoted and two insei from B class quit, right now there is a “possibility” that I will get to play in B class next month. Nothing is sure yet, as the insei instructors are likely currently figuring out what to do. If I do get to play in B class next month, it’ll be like getting in from the back door, but I’ll take any opportunity I can to get to play in the A-B class room.

Edit 29 March 13:39: I checked today at the Ki-in, and it turns out I’m not getting to B class — instead of promoting 5 C class insei, they only demoted one B class insei. Too bad, but cannot be helped!

The results table of the last two weeks looked like this:

Vernal Equinox Day and Tengen go salon tournament

Yesterday was the Vernal Equinox Day, meaning the day in spring when the day and night are equally long. That’d mean now we are on the better side again, with the day lasting longer than the night! The Vernal Equinox Day is a national holiday in Japan, meaning that people (generally) have a free day from work, and as such most shops are closed as well. While outside, I spotted an incredible number of families taking a walk together with their children — something that you totally don’t see on a normal working day.

Photo down the street right next to where I'm staying. It's not quite summer yet, but the temperature is already in the range of 10°-15° C during the day!

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Kisei day trip to Kofu

It’s been four months since my last larger excursion here in Japan. Last time was Innoshima, an island southwest from Osaka; this time Kofu, a smaller city not far away from mount Fuji. I conducted this trip with Tom (from the Nihon Ki-in), who worked out the details of the day trip. We left slightly after noon, went first to the Shinjuku train station, and took a train from there directly to Kofu, which took about 80 minutes. From the Kofu train station we took a taxi to the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) that was used as the venue for the last Kisei game.

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Weekly updates

Well, I’m still busy as usual — it might be for the better, however! My friend Tom from the Nihon Ki-in thought up an idea to go see the Kisei final being played. I was instantly excited by the idea, and so in a few hours today, we’ll ride the train to Kofu, quite near to mount Fuji. Expect some photos from there in the near future! Other than that, I’ve been the target of NHK recently;  you can see here what last Sunday was like for me. That wasn’t even everything, as the NHK reporters also came to Mimura-sensei’s dojo on Monday to do some more coverage. The result, supposed to last for about 10 minutes after heavy editing, will be shown on April 15 in the Japanese television.

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