A few months ago T Mark Hall kindly drew my attention to the Kim In Senior Baduk Tournament in Gang Jin City, S. Korea. The Korean Amateur Baduk Association were offering free entry, meals, accommodation and transport from the airport, once you could get yourself to Korea. It looked like a reasonable deal, so I decided to have a go. There were qualifications: they wanted at least high kyu strength, and male entrants had to be over 50 (female over 30). Inspection of my birth certificate revealed that I qualified rather easily. I decided to spend time in Japan first, to visit friends and a relative, and to overcome jetlag. Hereís my travel diary.
Sunday 24th October. I set off for a two leg journey via Dubai. Previous trips have entailed a 13 hour direct flight, and Iím still not sure whether breaking but lengthening the journey is a good idea. Shops in Dubai airport certainly have a more than usually interesting selection of things you donít want.
Monday 26th. I arrive at Tokyo Narita airport at 6.00 pm local time, and am out of the airport by 6.20. Thereís Japanese efficiency. To a local hotel.
Tuesday 26th. I brave the Tokyo transport system to Shimbashi, where I have a more central hotel. In the afternoon I have been invited by my friend from European Congresses Mr. Ichikawa to his go club, where I meet friends from previous visits. What I didnít do was play go very well (jetlag). Off to a Japanese-Italian dinner afterwards.
Wednesday 27th. Time for a walk in the streets, where I suddenly come across a mighty stone staircase leading upwards. At the top is a large and obviously well used Shinto shrine, built on what is supposed to be the highest point in the city. What a shame that the trees surrounding it prevent any view. I have a good look round, though you can get shrined out in Japan. Later I pass the place where you could really get the best view, the Tokyo Tower. A copy of Eiffelís edifice? Perish the thought.
Then off to visit my cousin in Senzoku, where he runs an English language and culture school. Japan, believe it or not, observes Halloweíen, and hoards of his young pupils are traipsing round the streets dressed as witches, cats, demons etc. shouting ďtrick or treat?Ē It is at his school that I see my first electric pumpkin. If you canít be bothered to hollow out a real one, you buy a plastic pumpkin with the face ready carved and an electric light inside. O Japan!
Thursday 28th. I am invited by Mr. Sekiguchi, another friend from European Congresses, to his home in Totsuka near Yokohama. After getting slightly lost in Totsuka station, I go with him for a pleasant walk in a nearby country park, then home for go (still of the jetlagged variety), food and TV. I stay the night in his nihonma, or Japanese style room.
Friday 29th. Back to Tokyo to my third hotel, this time near Ueno, where there is a large park and many museums. There is a typhoon out in Tokyo Bay, and we are getting the edge of it in the form of very heavy rain. My visit to the park becomes somewhat curtailed, and I spend the evening watching a Harry Potter film. On some channels if you press the right buttons on the zapper you can hear foreign made programmes in the original language, or dubbed into Japanese, or, bizarrely, with both languages simultaneously.
Saturday 30th. The Nihon Ki-in has a large playing hall where you can turn up, announce your grade, pay some money, and will be found suitable opponents for as long as you like. Last time I was in Tokyo I made the mistake of arriving there at 6.00 pm, when I expected that the hall would be full of evening players. Not so; they were already winding down. This year I make the worse mistake of arriving on a Saturday, when there is no play at all. Go in Japan has the image of being an activity for retired gentlemen, and perhaps you can see why. I spend time in the bookshop and watch some video instruction, and then beat a wet retreat to my hotel. Later I brave the weather again to visit a street market in Ueno, but it really is an indoor day. Channel hopping, I come across a travel programme about the Isle of Man, but for some reason there is no mention of their Go Congress.
Sunday 31st. Time to leave Tokyo by Shin Kan Sen or bullet train to Osaka, then on via the complex local rail service to Hirano, where lives my friend Harumi Takechi. She appears regularly at European and US Congresses, and has visited the IOM Congress. We spend much time watching the dedicated Go and Shogi TV channel. Once again, I am to sleep in the nihonma, and have to keep remembering to remove my slippers on entering it.
Monday 1st November. I have some much needed time to myself today, and have a chance to explore an area I know a bit from earlier visits. In the evening we visit a local go club at Takarazuka. I know that Iím over jetlag now as I win some games. As usual they insist on matching me with opponents as if my grade were 5 dan, which it isnít.
Tuesday 2nd. In the morning we walk to the local onsen or thermal baths; a very pleasant and relaxing experience. Later on I am packed off to another go club specifically for doctors, which I am not, but am made welcome anyway, while Harumi gets ready for the forthcoming trip to Korea.
Wednesday 3rd. We make our way by rail to Nara, which is celebrating the 1300th anniversary of its foundation as the old capital of Japan. Here we attend the launch of a new game called Cacomo. Present is our professional friend Yuki Shigeno, who has made several visits to the London Open Congress. The game is intended to introduce people to go. It is played as a four-player partnership game, though it could be played by just two players. Stones are played on an 8x8 board, and most of the rules of connection and capture apply. You are dealt five cards from a stack, each of which bears in algebraic notation an intersection, and you have to play your stone on one of these five points. You then discard the card and replenish your hand from the stack until all cards are gone.
As each intersection can receive a stone only once in the game, there can be no ko, and a group that has made a capture can be alive with a single false eye. Furthermore, self-capture is not only allowed, but in some situations is compulsory, when no other move is available on ones cards. So I doubt that this game is likely to replace capture go as a means of introducing new players, at least in Europe. I become even more doubtful when I see the price; •4000 (£32) for a cardboard-and-plastic set.
Harumi and I decide that this is a session for beginners, which we arenít, and set off for the old part of Nara. On the way I observe in the street another instance of modern hi-tech Japan; an electric chestnut roaster. The museums and the temple with the famous daibutsu (great Buddha) are set in a large park. Unfortunately it is a public holiday, and there are lengthy queues for everything, so we content ourselves with just looking round. Iíd like to go back there.
Thursday 4th. Time to set off for Korea. I have an earlier flight than Harumi, so I set off to Busan alone. We are to spend the night with Kim Hyang Hee, a Korean friend, but she is not available until later, and has sent another friend to the airport to pick us up. He speaks no English, and I no Korean, so we communicate with my limited Japanese as we wait for Harumi, accompanied by another Japanese friend.
We are driven to a Busan baduk club for us to fill in time until Hyang Hee is free. (Baduk is the Korean word fo go.) I hold my own against some Korean players, but then comes a phone call: would Francis like a ride around Busan to see the sights, as itís his first visit? Young Korean women often adopt western names when dealing with Europeans, so I am soon ensconced in ďSharonísĒ car. We see the rainbow bridge and the largest department store in the world, and have a walk along the beach. The trouble is that by now it is completely dark. Sharon does her best, but we soon return to the baduk club.
Hyang Hee treats us to a Korean dinner, and then off to a coffee house. If you like your coffee weak and ready sweetened, Korean coffee will suit you. We eventually reach her apartment, park the car six levels deep in the underground park, and get to bed around midnight. A long day.
Friday 5th. We start the five hour car journey to Gang Jin. The Korean scenery is flat paddy fields with rolling tree-covered hills in the distance, but we never seem to get to those. The towns are concrete-and-gridplan. You donít see so many wooden buildings as you do in Japan, because here you are out of the earthquake zone. We arrive at the hotel, and I find that I am supposed to be sharing a room with a Korean whom I have never met. Some polite persuasion gets me the single room that I need if I am to get any sleep.
Saturday 6th. We are bussed off to a gymnasium which looks as if basketball matches are its primary function. The tournament doesnít start until after lunch, when more local Korean players are expected. At present it is mainly the foreigners who are present; good contingents of Japanese and Chinese, a few Thais, and some Australians and an American all with Korean-sounding names. The only Europeans present apart from myself are Matti and Sinikka Siivola from Finland. Sinikka does not make the grade to participate, but it is good to have her around. We are given simultaneous teaching sessions from the pros. I very nearly killed that group Ö
Lunches and dinners are taken at a nearby Korean restaurant. You squat on a floor-level chair, and there are many dishes mostly of vegetables, many spicily prepared, from which you help yourself with your chopsticks, usually metal. Then there is a central heated pot with meat or fish in some form or other; once again you help yourself. Rice and soup appear about half way through the meal. So it is rather different from Japanese eating.
Outside the restaurant was an extraordinary display of sculptures of creatures, some living, some extinct and some mythical. They were all constructed from bits of scrap metal. I never did receive any explanation of why they were collected outside that particular restaurant.
After lunch the tournament proper starts. Korean time limits would not suit many of the British players that I know: 25 minutes basic, and three allowances of 30 seconds byo yomi. There is no clock on my table, and several of us are just told to get on with it without one. No one seems to mind. This leads me to feel that I am under some moral pressure not to play too slowly, and the inevitable happens. So in the second game I take my time, and my victory in that game does indeed have the effect of delaying the start of round 3 in my section. In the third game I am just outplayed. Quite apart from the unfamiliar timekeeping arrangements, there is a surprisingly informal atmosphere generally; one in which it is apparently acceptable to whistle, or to talk on a mobile phone as you play. At dinner in the evening the two Finns and myself give an impromptu rendering of a couple of the Finnish go songs.
Sunday 7th. Up early, Harumi and myself cross the river and visit the local market. The quantity, quality and variety of locally produced foodstuffs is most impressive, though piling it high on the ground might not impress a British food inspector.
My opponents do not turn up in either rounds 4 or 5, which is something of a disappointment. I notice that the draw is done by hand, and that there is evidently no check on who is actually present. One of the organisers kindly gives me a non-tournament game. So I end with 3/5 wins, but not quite as I would have wished.
After lunch there is the usual prizegiving and speeches, and then a sightseeing trip for those not leaving until the next day. Firstly we visit a Buddhist temple, where I receive a mild rebuke for sounding the temple bell. Apparently this should only happen during services, but there it was, looking very tempting. The young monk was quite friendly, and wanted to know where I was from and why I had come. Then on to a museum celebrating Hendrick Hamel, the Dutchman who was shipwrecked in Korea in 1653 on his way to Nagasaki. He eventually returned to the Netherlands and wrote a book about his experiences, thereby awakening some European interest in Korea. Nothing in the book about baduk, apparently.
Dinner is rather early at 5.30 pm at a different restaurant, but with the usual fare. A Chinese woman stands up to sing some traditional songs, and I am told that this is in accordance with local custom. Then they realise that they have another singer in their midst, and I am called upon to render another go song. I select David Suttonís The Lightning Playerís Lament. Some seem to understand its import, and anyway I receive a hearty round of applause.
Monday 8th. Time to return home. A coach leaves for the six hour trip to Seoul Incheon airport at 8.00 am. Unfortunately my flight is not until midnight, so I am faced with a ten hour wait. It could have been worse, as the airport is provided with a stage, and there is entertainment in the form of Korean dancing and drumming and the like. Most welcome, but it by no means fills the ten hours. Door to door my return trip takes 37 hours, and if I go again I may choose a different route.
Yes, it was rather disappointing to travel all that way for three rather brief tournament games. But Iím glad I went; I met some old friends and made some new ones, saw bits of Korea that I had not seen before, and flew the flag for British Go/baduk. I am fond of Japan especially, and hope to return.