On The Japanese Style Of Go

British Go Journal No. 19. January 1973. Page 7a.

J. T. Fairbairn, 2d

Having written recently on swindles I offer my Views on the Japanese attitude towards the matter, which will partly explain the Japanese style of Go. The following 3 points are important:

  1. The Japanese are bound by rituals and conventions all designed to preserve social harmony. Recent Westernisation is not really changing this at the root level, but only on the surface. Life is governed, like games, by clearly defined rules. When a game is played, therefore, it must be played with the same restraint as called for in social situations. This means also that victory must be won by skill to be respected, because only by such a victory can the winner show that the loser was wrong rather than simply weak, or unfortunate, or cheated. In such games, the loser need not suffer shame, and social harmony is therefore preserved.
  2. Under acknowledged conditions of relaxation (games, alcohol, etc.), the normal deference patterns need not be observed, so a young Go player has no qualms about beating an older one.
  3. Formal games enable the Japanese to hold contests without provoking conflict, and are thus one of the few outlets for the frustration caused by the (to us) repressive social conventions. Violent play can therefore be expected, not only from young hot-headed players, but also from the older ones.

Of the points mentioned, (1) will normally override (2) and (3). With the emphasis on skill, swindles are not actively sought. Obviously, an inferior player does not always have the technique to carry out his plans and he might blunder into what turns out to be a swindle. However, in professional games this is unlikely, and in these games it is possible to detect a purity of play at the best, and at the worst a striving for this purity. This should be looked for in playing over professional games.

Points (2) and (3) also explain some commonly recurring features of professional games. Still others can be explained, perhaps, in terms of a national style and I would be interested to receive comments on this question, and, of course, on the views given above.


This article is from the British Go Journal Issue 19
which is one of a series of back issues now available on the web.

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