David Glekel: Go

For my CIP, I went to a Go Center in Karasuma. Go is an ancient Japanese strategy game that I’ve been playing for several years in America. Since learning, I had always wanted to be able to play Go in Japan, so I was very excited to finally get the opportunity to do so.

The first time I went into the club, located above a convenience store, I was overwhelmed. The two rooms were filled with older men and a few women hunched over Go boards, and there was hardly any sound but the clack of glass Go stones against the wooden boards. I introduced myself to the woman who was running the club, and she quickly found me an opponent to play. Everyone looked very surprised to see me there; it was clear very few foreigners ever came to the club. Luckily, all the members were welcoming from the beginning, asking where I came from and how long I had been playing.

As time went on I got to know some of the club’s regulars, and could ask them for games without waiting for the hostess to pair us up. Often after playing we would review the game together, but their mumbled kansai-ben often proved challenging to decipher. With time I got used to their idiosyncratic speech, and soon become able to converse more smoothly with some of the members.

The moment that most made me feel like I was accepted occurred a month or two into my stay. While I was waiting for a game, one of the men I often played with came up to me with a book in his hand. He bowed and presented it to me, saying that he thought it would help my studies in Go. It was a book of Go problems, and when I opened it I found a handwritten note from the man. It had been painstakingly written in English, and said “David san, I hope you will be the champion of your country.” After I read it and thanked him, the man self-consciously asked if I could understand his written English. I assured him I could and put the book in my bag. I left the Go center that day knowing that I had found a place where if I pushed myself to reach across the language barrier, I would be met halfway.

6 thoughts on “David Glekel: Go

  1. It sounds like you had an amazing experience. Go seems like such an intense game that requires a certain (Japanese?) mindset to play. Do you think there is a difference learning or playing Go in America versus Japan? What do you think is your strongest or weakest point in playing Go? I’m glad you were able to get to know some of the other players despite the initial language barrier. Did you mainly talk about Go with them or other topics?

    • It’s definitely been a lot of fun! As for playing Go in Japan vs. America, I feel like the go players here care less about improving and reviewing their games. They just want to keep playing! Although I suppose that might be an age difference more than anything else. My weakest point is go is probably around the end of the game… I always mess up then! The discussions I’ve had with the folks at the salon are usually about things like why I started playing go, what the go scene is like in America, etc.

  2. That’s great that you were able to integrate yourself more fully into the go circle! I feel like once you overcome the language barrier to some degree, interacting with the older generation of Japanese is really rewarding.

    • It’s certainly been interesting. The older Japanese seem to use pretty different speaking styles from the younger Japanese. Oddly enough, they also seem less focused on politeness and things like that.

  3. Your experience at the Go salon sounds incredible. That you could ultimately bond over a common interest despite your initial difficulties with Japanese and Kansai-ben sounds exactly like the kind of experience that we were encouraged to search for in our CIPs. You asked me something similar in my post already, but I shall, in turn ask you the same:

    Since your CIP involved much interaction with the older community in Kyoto, how do you think that your experience in that social circle differed from, say, that in the Go circle at Kyoto University?

    • I feel like one of the biggest differences was the fact that the older folks in the salon actually seemed more comfortable around me than the younger ones in the circle. The younger people sometimes seemed a little nervous to be dealing with a foreigner or unsure how to act, whereas the older Japanese seem a lot more calm. For some reason, the older Japanese seem a little friendlier than the younger ones, perhaps just because they don’t care so much about social rules anymore!