Rosaley Gai: Kyoto Igo Salon

Every Monday and, if I have the time, Wednesday or Saturday, I go to the Kyoto Igo Salon from around 1PM to 5:30PM. Most of the other customers are retired adults, so the average age of the salon’s students is around seventy. I have been going to the same go salon for the entirety of my time in Kyoto, so it has been about six months since I began. At first, I was a beginner who barely knew the rules. The sensei there taught me through first a stone-capturing game, then with real games. I have risen eighteen ranks in six months, and am now at twelve kyū.

Go is ranked from thirty kyū (complete beginners) to nine dan (the highest level). I started at thirty kyū and slowly worked my way up to my current twelve over the last two semesters. It feels slow to me, of course, but the other students there are much older and take much longer to improve. I hear a lot of “Young people sure improve fast!”, not only directed towards myself but also towards the other young students. Last semester, I was one of the only young adults who regularly went to the salon, but lately there have been more young people at the salon, including two other KCJS students. They generally go on the same days as I, and it feels like the atmosphere of the salon changes somewhat with their presence.

Perhaps it is their energy that makes things different; maybe it is their voices. Somehow, though, their presence brings a sort of liveliness to the salon, which used to be generally quiet aside from idle chatter between games. One of the KCJS students is very friendly and the other is more reserved, but their interactions and excitement over learning the game from scratch seemed to imbue everyone else with the same kind of enthusiasm. It was their presence that really made me understand that participating in something requires not only input from the environment, but also output from the individual. I feel as though last semester was a more passive learning experience for myself. While I was able to learn how to better speak in formal Japanese and communicate with people of a completely different age group than I, I am not sure how much the other patrons got out of speaking to me.

When I began to participate more actively in the salon beyond games and shallow conversations, I felt like I had a stronger bond with the other students in the salon. I brought them omiyage from various trips I made and felt their gratitude during the afternoon snack break. In turn, they began to ask me more questions beyond my life in America, like whether I was going to miss Japan and how my weekend trips were. They even began to laugh and joke more with me. I now feel like a part of the salon rather than simply an outsider who has managed to extend one hand into a foreign environment.

In picking a CIP, I thought all that the most important thing was doing an activity that I enjoyed and would be able to do consistently. While this is still true, I have learned that simply going to and existing in a space is not as valuable a learning experience as interacting actively and enthusiastically with the other people there. I think I have become very close with the other students, and will miss them very much when KCJS is over.

4 thoughts on “Rosaley Gai: Kyoto Igo Salon

  1. It seems like you picked quite an interesting CIP! I am curious about the salon culture in Japan. Do many people come to these gatherings just to play the game or are most people there to learn? Is go often played outside of these meetings in homes or at other events?
    My own CIP dealt with many members of the older generation. While I found this experience informative, I found it much more difficult to communicate with elderly classmates. Did you find a difference in interacting with elderly go-learners as opposed to the younger generation?

    • The salon I went to is also considered an “igo kyōshitsu”, where lessons are also provided. I say lessons, but it’s more that Sensei goes over problems and some minor theory for about half an hour or so at the beginning before letting everyone play games. He also walks around and comments on games sometimes, which is more nerve-wracking than you would think, but it’s really helpful knowing what not to do in context, even if it’s too late.

      Last semester, I really only interacted with older members of the salon. There were apparently a few people in their twenties and thirties who would come on the weekends, but I never met them. This time, I met one other twenty-something salaryman who was just beginning, but we didn’t interact very much. I found it much easier to speak to the younger person (other than the other KCJS students) than I did to the older students at first, but I think it was more a language problem. They all spoke in fairly heavy Kansai-ben, which was unfamiliar to me at the time. Even now, I struggle when they slur their words, but I think it’s gotten much better.

  2. It’s great that this semester you were able to become closer to the other students on a personal level! How do you think the game itself affects social interactions within the group? For you specifically, it seems that a common activity that doesn’t require language would help to bridge the cultural divide between you and the other students. Is that true? Within the other members of the group, does there seem to be a social hierarchy built around skill level? What seems to carry most weight in the way other students treat you – your skill level, age, nationality…?

    • Go is certainly one of the main topics of conversation, but it’s rarely the only one. Everyone talks about the weather, food, traveling–typical obasan talk, if you will. The conversation is generally easy since we mostly only talk between games and if we’re taking a snack break, so it isn’t particularly culturally-affected outside of various questions about our respective countries. Rather, I think doing go as my CIP was really the first step to being able to converse with them.

      As for the hierarchy, among the much higher-ranked male players, the lower-ranked women tend to treat them with more respect. I haven’t seen this with higher-ranked women. Personally, I do get a lot of “上手になりましたね”, because I’ve progressed more quickly than other members of the salon, but I don’t think I’ve garnered more respect or different treatment because of it.