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October-December 2000


Have you ever heard of go? Two people take turns placing black and white stones on a large wooden board. The player that controls more territory at the end of the game is the winner. This game is hugely popular with elementary and middle school students now.

Although it looks simple, go is actually a very deep game. Go began in China about 4,000 years ago and is believed to have been brought to Japan in the sixth century, along with Buddhism. Based on its mention in the Tale of Genji, a Japanese masterpiece novel written in the Heian period (794-1192) some 1,000 years ago, go appears to have been an important part of life for nobles belonging to the imperial court. Since then the popularity of go has grown little by little, and today it is said that 10 million people in Japan enjoy the game. Go has also spread beyond Japan and China and is played by people in many countries all over the world, especially in Asia.

Although it is a traditional game, go was not popular among young people in Japan for a long time. The Japan Go Association began holding go tournaments aimed at elementary and middle school students in 1980, but the number of participants kept dropping every year.

So what has brought so much attention to the game now? The answer lies in a comic called Hikaru no Go (Hikaru's Go) that uses go as its theme. This series began in December 1998 in Shukan Shonen Janpu (Weekly Jump), a comics magazine that publishes a number of continuing stories every week. In the comic, the spirit of Fujiwara no Sai, a go master from the Heian period who died an unhappy death, comes to a young boy named Hikaru and makes him play go. Although Hikaru doesn't like it at first, he gradually learns the magic of go and becomes an excellent player. The Japan Go Association has cooperated with the series, setting up a special section in the comic that answers such simple questions as, "Can anyone become a member of a go parlor?"

The soaring interest in go brought on by this popular comic has greatly increased the number of elementary and middle school students who take go lessons. One middle school student says, "The strategic thinking required in go is more fun than playing video games." The Japan Go Association's annual tournament for young boys and girls drew about 2,100 participants in 2000, the first time in more than 16 years that the number of kids topped 2,000. In Osaka, moreover, four high schools formally introduced go as a school subject in spring 2000.

A number of Websites have been created for go beginners. One such site, "Go ni Muchu! (Crazy About Go)" (sorry, but it's only in Japanese), attracts quite a few visitors each day, mainly schoolchildren. If you want to learn more about go in English, check out the Japan Go Association's Website.

Photos: (Top) Two children engage in a serious game of go; (above) the Japan Go Association's tournament for children is attracting a growing number of contestants. (Japan Go Association)