How did Japan get the name Japan

Embassy of Japan

From September 30th to October 2nd the two GO tournaments, the 8th Youth Cup and the 11th Cup of the Ambassador of Japan (JBC), took place in the Embassy of Japan. The Nihon Kiin professional Shiung Feng was invited to this three-day event. He gave a lecture on GO and was available for game analyzes and personal discussions. The professional player with the 6th dan and member of the Association of Professional GO Players in Japan asked to be addressed by his nickname Kuma (the Japanese reading of the character of his family name), so in the following interview we will use the salutation “Mr. Use Kuma ”. On the first day, in his lecture for those interested in GO, he described his relationship to this game, his life as a professional GO player and the qualities that make you kishi, as the professional GO players are called in Japan. After three days of intensive analysis and support, he finally found time to answer questions from News from Japan to answer. Below you will find an excerpt from the interview and his lecture on September 30th.

(Photo: Wikipedia)

1. Interview

Similarities between Japan and Germany

News from Japan: Mr Kuma, you have been together for three days with beginners and advanced players in the GO game here in Germany. In 2012 you met players from other countries on the occasion of your participation in a European GO conference in Bonn. So I think you have played against a number of German players. What was your impression of your current visit to Germany with regard to possible differences to Japanese Go players?

Mr. Kuma: I've played against a few players here and I think that both the players in Germany and Japan are similar in that they take GO very seriously. My experience with the GO in this country is limited to the visit to Bonn four years ago and my current stay here in Berlin. I used to live in Seattle, United States for a number of years. The people there are a bit more relaxed, and for them the focus is primarily on having fun, at least that was my impression. Here I have met people who ask a lot of questions such as: “What is the meaning of this train?”. So I've been questioned a lot (laughs). In GO class in Japan, it's always very quiet because all the students are listening attentively to what the teacher is saying, as if they didn't want to miss a word. So the German players are just as serious about it, but the atmosphere is a bit different.

Nihon Kiin professional Shiung Feng at the Go tournament in the embassy (Photo: Embassy of Japan)

Here in Berlin I was able to talk to many GO players. I got the impression that there is a broad base of players in this country. In Germany, in the major cities and regions, there are divisions for players from the 1st to the 5th league according to their strengths. The league games are played on the Internet. There are also games in Japan that are played via the Internet, but as a rule the players there still meet, especially in facilities such as GO clubs or public event rooms in the respective region. As I explained in my lecture, I am of the opinion that GO is above all a kind of communication. Therefore, it is best for the players to sit face to face during a game. On the internet there is also the problem that you can pretend to be someone else. However, I think that Internet games like here in Germany are also very practical and definitely have their advantages. For example, it would be possible to play the games in the 1st and 2nd leagues in person, while the lower leagues are played over the Internet. This combination would certainly be an option. After returning to Japan, I would like to suggest some things to the Nihon Kiin, the local association of professional GO players, that I have seen and heard in Germany.

China and Japan - different games Philosophy

News from Japan: The Japanese Ambassador Cup has now been held for the eleventh time. But the embassy of South Korea also organizes a GO tournament, as does the embassy of China. We heard that the South Korean tournament is currently on hold, but China is actively supporting the European GO Federation and organizes a pan-European tournament in Berlin every year. Do you have the impression that your three-day stay here in Berlin, compared to the Chinese commitment, is sufficient in view of what Japan is doing to spread GO?

Mr. Kuma: Nowadays there are two different rules of the game in the GO game around the world. There are the Chinese rules of the game and the rules in other countries. In Japan and South Korea you play by the same rules; In Taiwan you play according to rules that are a combination of both regulations, but are more similar to the rules in Japan, for example. China has founded a national team that also plays a lot abroad and is committed to spreading the Chinese rules there.

News from Japan: Are the rules of the game in China very different from those in other countries?

Mr. Kuma It's pretty complicated, but simply put, the differences during the game aren't that big. However, the methods of counting the points obtained differ fundamentally from one another at the end, so that the final phases of the games are completely different. When it comes to counting who won and who lost, the rules in Japan and other countries are easier to understand than the Chinese rules. So I think these rules are better for beginners.

News from Japan: Does this have a direct impact on international games, for example?

Mr. Kuma: Take the example of a game between Japan and China. Then it may well happen that according to the Japanese rules for counting the points, Japan won and according to the Chinese rules, China won. The reverse is of course also possible.

News from Japan: Will the aforementioned cooperation with the European GO Federation mean that the rules from Japan and other countries will lose their influence in Europe?

Mr. Kuma: At the current tournament in Berlin I saw that here in Germany you play according to the Japanese rules and I think they are firmly rooted in this country. At the Youth Cup, I was very moved that the players spoke in Japanese at the beginning of the game Yoroshiku onegaishimasu have greeted.

In terms of international engagement in promoting GO, Japan is lagging behind Chinese engagement; I think your hint is correct. In the seven major championships that are played in Japan, there is a Japanese sponsor for each tournament; one can actually observe the tendency that in Japan international tournaments tend to be neglected. With this in mind, I am very grateful that tournaments here in Germany, like now at the JBC, give me the opportunity to talk about GO in Japan.

News from Japan: Can you think of any other differences between the GO game in Japan and China?

Mr. Kuma: In China, many strong players are being built due to the demand from the national team. This is the same with GO as it is with other sports where it is about victory or defeat. Players in the national team who no longer play well enough are eliminated and return to their region. I've heard that there have been different opportunities to work in the GO game in the regions for some time, but these players are no longer at the forefront. In Japan, on the other hand, the situation is fundamentally different. Once you have become a professional there, you usually keep this status until you retire at an advanced age and are continuously active as a professional player.

Shiung Feng at a Go game in Berlin (Photo: Embassy of Japan)

It now sounds like Chinese GO professionals only think about GO 24 hours a day, but of course that's not true. For example, there is a soccer team that consists of Chinese GO players who also play friendly matches against professional teams. And the Chinese GO players, who used to be less interested in fashion than the GO players from Japan, now place just as much emphasis on fashion as others. I have the impression that one has come to recognize that activities outside of the GO game can definitely help to strengthen the capacity in the GO.

Even if the pronunciation in Chinese and Korean is completely different, the term “GO”, which gives this sport its name worldwide, is common to all countries in the world. In China they are certainly proud to be the cradle of the GO game. On the other hand, they certainly appreciate the contribution that Japan has made to the international dissemination of GO. They strive not to lag behind Japan in promoting the GO game.

Hans Pietsch - bridge builder between Japan and Germany through GO

News from Japan: In your lecture, in contrast to your originally prepared manuscript, you also spoke about Hans Pietsch. He was a German 6th Dan professional GO player and died in a robbery in 2003 while on a doctoral degree for GO in Guatemala. Many only found out about this when you reported on Hans Pietsch. The audience was very moved when they told us about how you and Hans Pietsch got to know each other during their training as a GO professional. Later we heard from the organizer of the tournaments that the German School GO team championship was organizing the "Hans Pietsch Memorial" tournament in order to keep the memory of this German GO professional alive. It took place for the 14th time this year. It is very impressive that the name of Hans Pietsch is passed on to posterity in this way by the GO players in Germany.

Mr. Kuma: When I came to Japan for my training as a GO professional, Hans and I lived in the same accommodation for some time. We both came to Japan from abroad to become professional GO players; he was also older than me. I think I learned a lot from him. Later, as a professional, I also played against Hans a few times. For a few years members of the Nihon Kiin were also sent to the "Hans Pietsch Memorial". I would like to continue to make my contribution to ensuring that his name as a German GO professional will also be remembered in the future.

2nd lecture

Good evening,

my name is Shiung Feng. I'm a professional Go player, in Japanese kishi. Although I have myself as kishi imagined, but never felt like one. So it seems a little strange to me that I am introducing you to the world of kishi should introduce. Since this is my first lecture today, I am not sure how far I will introduce you to the world of kishi can really bring you closer. But I will try to describe the everyday life and mindset of professional GO players as best I can in my own words.

I could just introduce myself with the words: "My name is Bear". Bear (in Japanese "Kuma") as a family name is very rare not only in Japan or Taiwan, but in all of Asia. It's a bit of a strange name, but memorable and simple and therefore useful when teaching children to go for example. I'm also Taiwanese. I grew up in Taiwan until I was 14, after which I came to Japan to do an apprenticeship in GO. At the age of twenty I got the qualification as a professional GO player. I am often asked: How do you become a professional? In Japan you have to be fourteen at the latest insei become. Insi means roughly a trainee at a GO school. Every year can be one or two insei achieve professional status. For this you have to go through many GO games and at the end of the day the new professionals are chosen from the best. Of course, there are also maximum age limits. When a insei does not manage to become a professional by around the age of 20 if he or she has to leave school. As a last resort, there is still the option of taking part in an external qualification tournament.

This tournament is a test for strong amateur players who don't insei are. That means that as an external GO player you have to play more games and only after you've fought your way through the qualifying tournament can you join the insei fight each other for professional status at the final selection tournament. Today this path is only possible up to the age of 23 years. The rules have changed a bit since I turned pro, but the basics have remained the same. As you can see, I am very close to the maximum age limit for both InseI (Trainee) as well as become a professional.

I may not be that strong in GO, but I've been very lucky for that. After the game with which I achieved professional qualification was over, I sat in front of the GO table for a while, stunned. I felt no happiness, I was just relieved and felt as empty as the shed shell of a cicada. Actually, one should be happy first. But usually strong GO players who also win titles become professionals by the age of fourteen. It's also similar in China and Korea, so that nowadays professionals at the age of ten or eleven are not that rare.

As a professional player you can take part in tournaments for professionals, i.e. tournaments mostly sponsored by newspaper publishers. If you win, you get prize money. Those who stay on the road to success can also win big title fights (and high prize money). Iyama Yuta, who won all seven major title fights in Japan this year, has won a total of 174.8 million yen (1.55 million euros) in prize money. One can dream of that. But there are also several hundred other professionals, so maybe only 10 to 20 of them can actually make a living from tournaments. Other professionals can finance their lives e.g. through GO lessons. These are called teaching professionals. You quickly come back from your dream to reality.

(Photo: Embassy of Japan)

But we GO professionals don't have to go to work every day like normal employees. Most professionals play around twenty competitions a year. Since most competitions are tournament-style, you will play more games if you win. Even so, you only get one game a week at most. Professional GO players therefore have a lot of free time. That sounds enviable, but it's important to spend your free time wisely. To win in the GO, it is vital to step in the study of the GO. There are study groups in which GO learners get together. I try to attend such groups as often as possible. But you can't earn money by participating in study groups. So I give GO lessons to amateur players. I also do futsal (a kind of indoor soccer), fitness training and climb mountains. Many professional GO players are active athletes. Because it is important to be in good physical condition in order to win a game with concentration. In official tournaments there is a time limit of three hours per player, which means that a game lasts over six hours. The time limit for title fights is eight hours. So a game lasts two days. You will surely understand the importance of being in good physical condition. We can't delve into GO studies for 24 hours, but professional GO players think about GO for 24 hours.

The GO is about victory or defeat. Nevertheless, a GO game is also referred to as "communication via the hands". You put yourself under pressure to win the game, but you still have fun. You could call it the fun of fighting each other. I rather feel the fun of being able to communicate. It's like really entering into a dialogue: “This is a good move, not a bad one!” Or “This move is even better!” This type of communication has nothing to do with a player's strength. Even in a game between professional and amateur - every GO player knows this dialogue.

I told you earlier about the study groups. This is a method for professionals to delve into GO studies. Often there are study groups that are played out in practice games. So professionals come together and practice by playing GO. Then there are study groups in which moves are discussed. These meetings are pretty important. It would be a shame if you just played GO and cleared up and said goodbye straight away after the game. Even if you communicated a lot in the game with the GO-Stones, many questions still remain unanswered afterwards. Therefore, after the practice game, you ask your opponent: "At this point, it was not quite clear to me how you would have reacted if my move had been one way or the other". Asking questions about possible moves is also fun and that is also important in order to become even better that way.This is not only the case with GO. You should also correct your returned classwork at school. And even if I'm not an employee, I think it's certainly the same in the world of work.

If a question has still not been resolved with one or two players, invite more players to the study group and think about it together. In my teacher's study group, when the group is large, around ten people come together, sit around the GO table and think together. In a room with tatami mats there is a GO table with table legs and people ponder around it. The result is a very special, intense atmosphere that would go very well with a glass of wine. This was supposed to be a joke. But I actually did drink wine in secret once. But then my teacher said: “It smells like wine!” And so I got blown. Next time I would certainly have been kicked out of his school. For me, my teacher's study group is more fun than learning today. Maybe that's why I misbehaved in the way of enjoying myself.

Back to the topic. Studying GO means thinking about moves. With self-study you inevitably come up against limits. There are technical or strategic aspects that one would not come across on their own. But these can be effectively discovered in joint study. Good techniques, sensible approaches and also your own weaknesses are discovered in this way. After a game, I always use the next meeting of the study group to reconstruct my game and to get advice from my teacher and other professionals. As professional players, we remember all of the 300+ moves in a game. Those who are not very familiar with GO may be surprised, but even amateurs sometimes remember 100 or 200 moves. The stronger the player, the more precisely he remembers the moves. I'm a little odd and don't really believe what other people tell me. I also try tactics that are considered bad until I am finally convinced or often lose with them. The majority opinion is certainly that professional GO players should focus on winning and not make detours. But I'll make detours until I'm convinced myself.

Kishi, i.e. professional players, must also have certain characteristics. Once the quality of the gamer, then the researcher and finally the artist, at least a well-known one has that shogi-kishi said. Shogi is Japanese chess. When I heard these words, I thought on the one hand: "Aha", but as a crosshead I also felt a little uneasiness when he interpreted it. GO players certainly have talents as gamblers, researchers and artists. This shogi-kishi said that if the artist comes out too strongly, the will to win is weakened. But I do not agree with this interpretation. In my opinion, in order to win, the quality of an artist is essential. “Artist” can be understood as “originality”. It depends on how the ideal idea can be presented on the GO board. Before you worry about winning or losing, you should be able to implement what you want to say or do. Otherwise you can't win. My teacher often told me not to imitate others, but to think for myself. He hardly commented on the details, instead he suggested approaches and directions. I think he taught me that everyone has different ideas and that you have to come up with an answer yourself.

Finally, I would like to promote the GO game again. You only live once, but in GO you can often experience defeats, but you can also always start over and certainly win. It would be nice if you too could discover the fun of GO and the joy of winning. I make it up to myself to win a title and finally become a joyful cicada.

Many Thanks.