I was selected by the British Go Association to represent the UK in the 3rd Prime Minister Baduk Tournament held by the Korea Amateur Baduk Association (KABA) in Goyang, near Seoul. Representatives were invited from all go playing countries with a national organisation. 68 countries sent representatives, chosen in a variety of manners. One contestant told me that she was there “because her teacher had told her to go”.
However, a somewhat more rigorous selection procedure was used by the BGA. My trip was a reward for persistence rather than competence, on the basis of the number of games that I had won at British Go Congresses. I decided to follow my week in Korea with a fortnight in Japan, as I have many friends there. Here is a Korea/Japan diary of my visit.
Thursday 6th – Friday 7th
After lunch we are shipped off for a sightseeing tour centred on the DMZ (demilitarised zone). I think that some of us might have preferred some Korean history and culture, but it is understandable that the sad division of the country looms large in the Korean mind. A depressing sight was a religious ceremony (Buddhist I think) at a monument to families which have been split for many decades by the division.
The most interesting part of this trip is a walk down a long slanting concrete passage to see one of the four tunnels so far discovered bored through the granite rock under the DMZ by the North Koreans, and now firmly blocked off. We are told that these were intended for the invasion of the South. Maybe, but it looked to me as if only infantry and light artillery would go through such a narrow space.
We have to wear hard hats, and need them. Walking up to the surface is physically challenging, as we climb the equivalent of a 20-storey building. “Do you fear invasion from the North now?” I ask a guide. “The mouse does not attack the cat”, comes the reply. There is a striking sculpture of a divided sphere on the surface, symbolising the desire to reunite the country.
Later that evening we have a banquet. Having registered as a vegetarian, I find myself sitting on a table with the other vegetarians, including three Indian players. (Two are there as officials for the discussion meetings going on at the same time as the tournament rounds.) It is good to see that vast and increasingly prosperous country developing baduk.
After that we are taken to see the “singing fountain”, which changes form and colour in time with recorded classical music. Impressive for ten minutes, but after 30 standing in the cold I am ready for the bus back to the hotel.
After lunch the tournament proper starts. There are various other baduk events going on in the same vast hall, including a children’s tournament. The Koreans do not appear to expect the same hush that surrounds the start at least of most European tournament rounds. The time limits are somewhat unconventional for an international tournament: 30 minutes basic time with three allowances of 30 seconds byo yomi. This leads to a schedule in which many of us have a lot of sitting about to do, while one or two pairs finish most of their game in the byo yomi phase.
You found your table by identifying your national flag displayed thereupon. Tony notices that the Union Flag is attached to its miniature pole upside down. “A symbol of distress,” he remarks. (The distress is to come later.) My first opponent is from Azerbaijan. My punishment for beating him is to be promoted by the Swiss system draw to table 2 for round 2, and have my game against the 6-dan Czech player broadcast to the world on the internet. I lose easily.
In the evening Tony Atkins, myself and several others are invited out for a Korean style dinner with Mrs. Taki of the International Pair-Go Organisation. This entails squatting Japanese style around a table bearing a bewilderingly large array of small dishes; I counted 69. Korean food is quite different from Japanese; more meat oriented, and often quite hot in taste.
I am there to visit Harumi Takechi. Anyone who frequents the European Go Congress will know her. She is also to be seen at the US Congress, and has visited us at the Isle of Man event. She has a particular love for overseas (to her) go players, and regularly invites them to visit her in her home.
Where they receive a warm welcome; literally so in my case, as she whisks me off to the local onsen (thermal baths). As always in Japan, you take off your shoes on entry; they go into a locker. Then you enter the changing room and put all your clothes plus the first locker key into a second locker, and go through to the baths. Here you are expected to shower very thoroughly, before you just relax in the hot water. If it’s not hot enough for you, there’s a sauna as well, with a timer to show you when you’ve been in there 12 minutes, considered the maximum for safety reasons. I manage about three.
The go song, a British invention, has now spread to Japan. The party wanted a rendition of the Niken Tobi song, which I am called upon to sing, in the original Kielerisch dialect of German. I then discover that everyone present had been issued with a copy of the song downloaded from my own website at http://www.francisroads.co.uk/gosongs/03NikkenTobi.pdf, with some of the German text replaced by a Japanese version, which was then sung by all present.
During the banquet which follows, I have some trouble convincing people that I am British rather than German. I am seated next to a reporter from the local Kyoto newspaper, and my rather elementary Japanese is put through its paces as I explain who I am and how I learnt go, etc. Some Japanese still regard the idea of gaikokujin (foreigners) taking an interest in Japanese culture as rather exotic.
In the afternoon Harumi, knowing my interest in all things musical, has kindly booked for us a visit to the museum of gagaku (imperial court music). This turns out to be a room full of gagaku instruments: ryuteki (flutes), hikirichi (shawms), sho (mouth organs), biwa (lutes), koto, and various percussion. (The English names are the nearest I can get in describing these instruments.) The curator spends much time talking about these in Kyoto dialect, but very little in actually playing the instruments. Photographs are not allowed, and there is no literature or CDs available. So I don’t learn as much from this visit as I was hoping to.
We spend the night at the home of the Izaki family. Mrs Izaki is a prime mover in the Kyoto Women’s Igo Kai, so we have met already. We spend the evening playing go.
Harumi treats me to a seven course “autumn lunch” at a local restaurant. Each course has a seasonal theme; this is a very Japanese thing to do. The weather turns cold for the first time, and we head for home, and the onsen again in the evening.
At lunchtime Harumi finds the noodle restaurant that she had in mind closed. Late lunch at another one. In the evening I am taken off to a go club for medical doctors, after which I am taken out for another generous Japanese meal.
Ito-san is a go player whom I met at the European Go Congress in Leksand last summer. The EGC is a good place to make this sort of contact. He drives me to his home, where we play go, followed by yet another huge Japanese dinner. My Japanese friends seem to be aware that I like to do as much as possible Japanese style, and I am supplied with the usual futon in a Japanese style room.
After a noodle lunch we visit an old Japanese house in the country, which has been converted to an art centre. Then back to Mito with Mrs Ito for dinner in a sushi bar. I am almost embarrassed by the large quantity of food that is ordered; I know that I cannot get through anywhere near my share of it. But then my embarrassment is saved by the appearance at the end of doggy bags. This civilised custom seems to be spreading to Japan from the USA. It can’t come to Britain too quickly in my opinion.
The only British person whom I have planned to visit is my cousin Vernon, who runs Mayflower, an English Language school in Senzoku, a Tokyo suburb. Regrettably he is not a go player. Following a Japanese style Italian dinner, he kindly lends me his flat to sleep in, while his Japanese wife visits her mother, and he dosses down in the school itself. I sleep in a bed for the first time during this visit to Japan.
After a walk through the city in the evening I am treated to my first Indonesian dinner. The variety of international cuisine in Tokyo is almost up to New York standard.
After lunch we travel on via a narrow gauge single line railway which runs along the coast to Enoshima Island, a local beauty spot. This you approach along a causeway, and ascend by means of three escalators. There are good views of the Pacific Ocean from the top, but we are now getting short of time. We hurry back to Ichikawa-san’s home for one more go game, and then it is off to another house where his wife’s recorder group have been rehearsing.
I had emailed them some of my music beforehand, and I notice that one of my own compositions for four recorders was on the music stands when I arrive. But we don’t play that, because with myself there are now five of us, so we play five-part music by Praetorius, Morley, Holborne and similar composers. Then tea. I speak more Japanese that afternoon than on any other occasion. I learnt some at evening classes about 20 years ago, and it does come back to you after a fortnight in the country.
Then it was off to the station for a train direct to Narita, for a night in an airport hotel before an early flight. It was the only time that I have been, for a time, actually lost in a hotel.
We head back towards the airport, and eventually I reach the correct hotel, to be asked by the receptionist why I had not been waiting for their shuttle. I don’t think this was a taxi rip-off situation; more a language problem. At any rate, the hotel pays the taxi fare, and I am left with the feeling that if I had spoken Korean, even to the minimal extent that I speak Japanese, this would not have happened.
Anyway, the receptionists are very pleasant about the whole affair, and are intrigued to see my Special Prize (a miniature 9x9 goban) and to hear about my experiences of a fortnight before. In theory I could now have caught the train into Seoul for sightseeing. But I have had enough, and confine myself to exploring Airport City, a striking example of concrete, gridplan and neon architecture, and watching TV in the hotel. There are 79 channels available, including CNN, BBC World, a classical music programme and one which broadcasts wall-to-wall baduk. (There is a similar channel in Japan, which broadcasts both go and shogi). I opt mainly for baduk, and pick up a few words of Korean in the process.
I am very conscious of the generosity of KABA and its sponsors in giving me this expenses-paid trip. I enjoyed myself greatly, especially in the opportunity to meet so many people from other go/baduk-playing countries. But I could have played much better myself if I could have had some decent nights’ sleep, and I would have been more likely to have those if I had not been made to share a hotel room, however civilised my roommate. I hope that KABA will give attention to this matter in future.
My overriding impression of the Japan leg of my journey is of the overwhelming hospitality, friendship and generosity of all my friends. They put themselves to tremendous lengths to make my trip enjoyable and memorable. It was actually quite hard to spend any money, as people kept buying me meals and paying entrance fees. I love Japan, and its people, history and culture. I do hope to be back.