Today I had arranged to interview Antti, a 22-year old Finnish 6-dan amateur go player that’s recently been admitted as an insei by the Nihon Kiin. After walking around near Ichigaya station for a while, I went to the Kiin to meet him.
We talked for quite a while at one of the tables set up in the entrance hall, and were eventually joined by Mr. Urasoe Tomotaka, the chief of the Nihon Kiin’s overseas department. Tomotaka-san immediately turned out to be a really warm person, and he chimed in with extra information every once in a while. I’ll post the interview on the Life in 19×19 forums soon.
The real treat of the day came afterwards, when Tomotaka-san took us on a tour through the entire Nihon Kiin, even those coveted places that normally stay hidden from many visitors. And though we saw other things as well, the previous sentence can mean only one thing: Yūgen no Ma, or ‘the Room of Deep Contemplation’. This is a traditional Japanese style-room where many of the important games are played. Before entering the room there’s another hall with tatami, and when the sliding door to the actual room opened, I achieved one of my childhood dreams. (Considering how I turn into a big kid whenever go is concerned, this counts as a childhood dream.) I stepped through the doors and into the room, and didn’t know where to start taking pictures. Tomotaka-san also took some of Antti and me next to the large scroll adorning the main wall.
Something was slightly off, however, from the idealized picture I had constructed in my head, ever since I first heard of the room: the go board was missing! Tomotaka-san opened yet another sliding door and revealed a small store room packed with floor boards and bowls. He got the board that was used for many of the title matches, and placed it between the seats. Afew pictures later, my dream had come true. This was it. And then Tomotaka-san said: “Well? What are you waiting for? Sit down, play a stone.” Though hesitant at first, Antti and I both sat in the chairs reserved for the absolute best among go players, and we both played a stone. For those of you that actually care what opening move I chose to play, a ghost with a tall hat appeared and told me to make it a komoku. Who am I to disobey that kind of guidance?
Afterwards, we both went down to the playing room at the Nihon Kiin, and played some games. I got somewhat of a shock when Tomotaka-san translated my rank of KGS 6 kyu to an ambitious 1 kyu, but he whispered something about inflation and ensured me it would be fine. And he was right: I managed to win both of my games against the friendly elderly Japanese gathered in the room. There were some 30 or 40 people playing there, and none seemed to be any younger than 50, most much older than that. Though it’s true that most younger people would be at work from 14:30 to 17:00, but still, no youngsters at all, except from Antti, his opponent and myself.
Slightly tired from my games, yet extremely fulfilled, I left the Kiin at five o’clock, and went to Akihabara again to score a cell phone. I suspected it was not going to be all that it easy, but it turns out to be downright impossible. In fact, if I understood some of the various sales clerks who I asked for a cell phone correctly, it might even be illegal for a foreigner with temporary visitor status to get a cell phone here. Bummer.
But I had a huge reserve of positive thoughts from this afternoon, and went home to Kentarō’s, who had arranged a CouchSurf party. We picked up Paul, an adventurous Canadian who’s been traveling the globe for over a year and a half, and went shopping.
I spent a lot of the night talking with Paul about his travels since he left Canada a year and a half ago. He also showed us some pictures. The things that guy has seen and done are downright unbelievable. He’s just the right person to meet at the start of a trip, because I’m even more stoked than before to start my own adventure here.