Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective


GoThe board game Go was invented in China, supposedly by an Emperor who wished to train his son in discipline, concentration, and balance. These qualities of the game have made it extremely popular in Japan, where its concepts and strategies have also been applied to business and daily life.

The game is played on a 19×19 grid. Two players, black and white, take turns placing their pieces (stones) on the intersections (points) of this grid. The aim is to ? enclose? more empty points with your stones than your opponent does with theirs. When a stone is surrounded by opponent stones, it’s removed from the board.

The rules are extremely simple, but the strategies are extremely complex, with a greater scope than chess. It is commonly said that no game of Go has ever been played twice, as there are an unthinkable number of possible outcomes, and an equally unthinkable number of different ways to reach them.

There is also something distinctly human about the game. While computers have been taught to play flawless chess, Go is too difficult for them. At an advanced level, the game requires deep understanding of intangible concepts, which computers are not yet capable of.

The most important concept of Go is “life and death”. In every game, a few of your stones will be captured and “die”. It’s crucial to predict this, and focus your strategy on the “live” stones which will remain on the board.

In international tournaments, honors are usually shared between Japan, Korea and China. Players from other countries had never found any success until 2000, when an American called Michael Redmond reached 9th dan (the highest grade).

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