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WHAT'S COOL IN JAPAN
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?"
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)