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Chapter 3

Page history last edited by Jun Koda 12 years, 3 months ago

Chapter 3 - The Joy of Watching Shogi

 

Human experiment, taking advantage of supreme internet

On June 11, 2008, I was blessed with the fortune to watch all the ins and outs of the first game of the Kisei title match, from 9:00 a.m. to 7:16 p.m. and then a post-game analysis until 8:45 p.m. The playing room, in which the two smartest brains of the shogi world competed against each other, was solemn yet unique and cannot be found anywhere else in Japan, nor the whole world. Coming in and going out between the quiet playing room and the anteroom, filled with a lively study of the game in progress, I was deeply impressed by the two players, squeezing out the best moves they could think of, only believing in themselves. And, this, was all done in a public space.

The response to the first, real-time online commentary, was huge, dragging a daily page-view count of the commentary on MSN Sankei News to a massive 500,000. A number equivalent to that of  "headline news." I came to realized again that shogi is a culture deeply rooted in Japanese souls. This outcome has proven a validation of my whole day of effort.

The biggest trouble I had in writing the commentary was a lack of time: I had to prepare a static plan or what I called a "frame", that allowed me to write chunks of sentences and then combine them into big paragraphs. On the day of the game, I would repeat a process of "watching and writing." If I could not write chunks in a short period of time, the commentary would end up in a failure. The "frame" I came up with was to fully document raw materials that I might be using, on my private online space.

It is like a sushi-bar. A sushi-bar would prepare sushi toppings prior to its opening, and once it opens it nimbly makes sushi according to its customers' orders. I should prepare an instant access to raw material I might use before games. Then, in the playing room, what I would see and think would automatically get connected to raw materials, and sentences would literally flow through my excitement. Once I get back to the anteroom, I would access my private online space, and pull all raw materials that had come to my mind out. This way of constructing sentences would allow me to write a lot in a burst.

From a month prior to the game, I picked up what I thought would be core ideas of the two players from their books and the magazine The Shogi World (Shogi Sekai), for past ten years.  I copied them onto my private online space and got an accessible storage space, outside of my brain, for the time to come. This was the "frame" I had prepared.

When writing in real-time, I may not remember sources of information or articles from them although I might come up with something really good, and there would be no way that I could search for sources. That is why I made the "frame", by making everything accessible online in advance and searching for every possible core idea that I might use. I am searching for my own way of practicing Habu's theory, "quantity changes into quality," referring to chapter one.

Though I armed myself with a "frame", it was still tough to write a real-time commentary. What most troubled me was that once I entered the playing room, I was shut away from the studies on the game by professional shogi players in the anteroom. A human being cannot exist at two different locations at one time. I had to suffer for a day with a dilemma derived from human nature.

A normal commentary can be written after all of these troubles have been cleared. "Written after" is the essential part; time can solve every problem. However, simultaneous publishing of what is being discussed at the actual scene and publicizing them means a lot to shogi fans. Moreover, unlike newspapers or magazines, the internet would take away any word limit for writing.

It was an experimental testing of to what extent I could take advantage of the supremacy of two properties of the internet, "real-time and non-limiting."

In the future, every shogi fan should be able to feel the "scene of the game" through a live commentary and broadcast (you would probably be charged for this). Such a future concept is theoretically correct. However, in reality, if someone doesn't perform whimsical human experiments in advance, though technology may advance, no working application would come out, and therefore would end up not changing anything. This scenario occurs quite often;this is one important thing I learned in Silicon Valley. That I have come all the way to Niigata, tempted by various wonderful encounters and the results of the games played, I thought I might as well do my best to lead such a human experiment.

 

 

“It’s part of the apprenticeship!"

Well, it now is "later days" so I’ll add onto the online commentary of chapter 2, making use of the power of time.

"Are the two players, even aware of the fact that they are re-creating the game of Yamasaki - Sato. Or are they deliberately tracing the paths played in the past. Has challenger Habu guided Kisei Sato, having devised of a strategy which could enlighten the future of a shogi position derived from a game played and won by his current opponent three years ago. If there is any chance, I am willing to ask these questions to both of the players."(Chapter 2)

About this, Sato mumbled “I've played this move before” during the post-game analysis. It turns out that Sato did have in mind “Game of Yamazaki-Sato.” Then how about Habu?

After the post-game analysis, slightly before 10 p.m., I finished writing my last entry, posted it online and arrived at the site of the dinner party after the game, about an hour late. “Since you sat next to Sato-san yesterday, sit next to Habu-san today” urged the organizer and I sat down. After chatting a while, I asked Habu whether he was aware of the game of "Yamazaki-Sato."

Habu said that he was aware of it, and looked back at it saying, “Yamasaki-kun’s P-1e (39th move) was a bad move.”

In the context of writing

The strategy of Gote's Itteson Kakugawari (Bishop Exchange with a Tempo Loss) is the latest strategy of modern shogi. Progress in advancement and development of this opening has occurred constantly, within a time frame of days and months, or even this second may have resulted in some progress. Yet, challenger Habu seems to be guiding his opponent to the scenario of this position, that has not appeared in the past 3 years since the Yamasaki-Sato game. (Chapter 2).

I asked Habu, “why did this position not appear for three years?” and his answer to it was quite interesting.

He said, “Gote (second mover) usually avoids this position and goes for a different variation. Even when talking of professional shogi, only about 2,000 games are played per year, so the same position doesn't appear that often. The thing is, since Gote, influenced by the results of ‘the Game of Akutsu-Katsumata’, played a different move before this variation took place, this position didn't appear. But I somehow did have the sense that Sato-san might play this position.”

The phrase, “only about 2,000 games are played per year,” was said with feeling, comparing it to the infinite possibilities shogi possesses. Remembering all the important game records and variations of the “2,000 games per year” and “20,000 games in 10 years,” and easily saying that 2,000 games is an “only” would make a normal person keep “Habu’s brain” and the brains of the other professional shogi players in awe.

The following morning after the game, right before we left Takashimaya altogether on a microbus/ minibus ?, as I had some coffee with Sato at a table by the entrance of the hotel, I spoke to him about how Ryuoh Watanabe reacted in the anteroom to Sato’s move of K-4b (48th move in chapter 2). Sato said,

“Oh did Watanabe-kun say a bunch of stuff his own way? I wouldn’t be surprised. Hahaha. Well, K-4b was a move you usually wouldn’t come up with. But I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep on battling later on if I didn’t protect my gold…”

Sato smiling happily from his heart, while saying “oh did Watanabe-kun say a bunch of stuff his own way,” was impressive.

Sato and Watanabe have played each other in three title matches so far, but it appears that they have come to appreciate each other through their intense games. Watanabe has said before, “I was really surprised to see Sato-san crying after he defeated me in a Ryuoh-sen game, even though the series hadn’t finalized yet”. Sato, in his nearly 40’s, says he still does sometimes cry at home after a defeat because he is ashamed of himself. He would answer “something almost as important as my life” to the question “what is shogi to you,” with a serious face too. He’s that type of person. Sato,  who I got to see up close in Niigata, conveyed to me strongly his ‘purity’ which is like that of a boy; he cries for joy after victory and cries with grief after defeat.

Another more impressive episode in my memory:

Inside the incredibly tense playing room was 3-dan Jo Tajima, of the Apprentice Professionals’ Association, who was in charge of keeping the game record and had a sharp appearance. Not once did he break his seiza during the nine hours of playing time, yet he perfectly managed the recording and reading out of the seconds. He would stare at the board and think of a move alongside the two players.

Sato, Tajima and I casually got to get together the next morning after the game. I praised Tajima-kun for the great job he did, but giving him no chance to respond, Sato broke in seriously and sharply said,

“It’s part of the apprenticeship! If he couldn’t even do that, he would not be able to become a professional player. Playing professionally is very hard work.”

I shuddered at Sato’s words. Something that modern Japan has left behind is contained in those words, I thought.

The shogi world is carrying on the beauty of Japanese culture deeply yet surely.  It contains inexhaustible elements from which we must learn how live in the harsh modern world. The productive time I spent during the three day stay in Niigata helped me realize this.

 

 

 To play shogi and To watch shogi”

From here in this chapter, I will ponder on the “joy of watching shogi.”

With Sunday morning’s shogi program on the NHK educational channel, the live broadcast of the Meijin title match and the Ryuoh title match on satellite channels, and growing numbers of live broadcast of title games online; the experience of “watching” shogi is surely becoming realistic. However, it is still common sense that shogi is a game to be “played” with two opponents sitting at the two ends of the board. Shogi being one’s “hobby” would usually mean that one ‘plays’ it. It is also thought that those that don’t play or those that aren’t good can’t understand what’s going on on the board.

But come to think about it, it is strange that people think this way.

If someone “writes novels,” someone else “reads novels.” If someone ‘plays music,” someone else  “listens to music.” If someone “plays baseball,” someone else “watches baseball.” To those that say “reading novels,” “listening to music” or “watching baseball” is their hobby, no person would go up to them and say “how could you get entertained by a novel when you can’t write,” “how could you appreciate music when can’t play,” or “how could you be delighted by watching baseball when you can’t play.” But when it comes to shogi, people tend to say that “those that don’t play shogi can’t enjoy watching or understand shogi."

A couple years back, in January 2004, a TV program containing a long conversation between two Japanese major league baseball players, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, was broadcast. I was interested by Ichiro’s remarks on the 2003 World Series which he watched on TV, a series Matsui lined-up in;

It’s complicated. The batter and pitcher. Though it may look like the same way of attacking the batter, if what the pitcher’s thinking and the objective of the pitch are different, though the pitcher may throw a strike on the first pitch with the same fastball on two consecutive at bats, the intention of the pitch different would make them two totally different ways of attacking. Those watching can’t get the hostility between the pitcher and the batter. It’s something that only the players get. TV can’t express it. "Oh this is how the watchers are sensing the game", I thought while watching the World Series. Taking a pitch down the middle easily, or hitting a ball foul, is made to look easy on TV, but you can’t blame anyone. Asking for valid evaluations from the viewers is a little too much. It’s natural to have all kinds of evaluations and I’m thinking that I should just let them all go.

The baseball world Ichiro is in, gets way too simplified when it appears on the TV screen. This is why the fans can “think they’re understanding what’s going on on the baseball field and enjoy it.” Thus baseball is a popular sport that has many fans. Yet baseball in reality is way more complicated. Ichiro, knowing both the complicated viewpoint and simplified viewpoint, loves for the fans to get more of the complicated side that the TV doesn’t show, but is distressed by the reality that that isn’t easy for them.

The worry that the shogi world is going through is the opposite of Ichiro’s. Ichiro’s utterance, “I’m thinking that I should just let them all go,” is elegant when compared to Akira Watanabe Ryuoh’s rant I referred to in chapter 2’s online commentary,

“For example when watching baseball. ‘Why’d you swing on that pitch!’ or ‘come on, catch that ball!’” ... You know you couldn’t do it yourself but these words slip out of your mouth when watching. I want people to do the same thing with shogi. … I want people to enjoy shogi irresponsibly.” (Zuno Shobu [Duel of Brains]).

No viewer can understand or sense perfectly the complexity of any sport, including shogi. But in contrast to baseball, a sport that the viewers can "think they’re understanding what’s going on on the baseball field and enjoy it" because the game "gets way too simplified when it appears on the TV screen," shogi arouses the sense among viewers that "it is a sport way too sophisticated to enjoy."

 

 

Describing shogi with rich words

The shogi world has been devoting itself to increasing the number of players, and to instructing the players to get better. This is because it appeared to people that if you couldn’t play shogi and moreover be good at it, then you couldn’t enjoy watching it. Well, this prejudice is half true, yet half false. If you don’t know the rules of shogi, then you can’t enjoy watching it. This part is absolutely true. But you don’t need to be all that good of a player to be able to enjoy watching it.

What is it to be a "good player?" It is the ability of being able to come up with the best or better moves in a certain position without using the help of someone or a guidebook. Therefore, the better players can enjoy watching shogi through searching for the best move for the position in front of them. To be able to do this, you must put a lot of work into shogi and practice a lot during actual games.

Thankfully, the minimum line you need to get over to enjoy watching shogi is way lower than this. You don’t have to be able to come up with the best move or the variation of a sequence of moves yourself. You just need to be able to understand the intention of the moves when they are shown to you.

Yet, this contains one prerequisite condition. That is that a game of shogi must be presented in the style of not just a game record but also with many notes added to it. In the case of a TV broadcast or an online hookup, this would be provided in the form of a live commentary, and in the case of newspapers or magazines, a commentary or shogi lecture. Rich words describing shogi is essential. If this were to be provided, then the number of shogi watchers would exceed that of good shogi players. This condition will finally make an equivalent relationship in shogi as the relationship between playing and watching baseball. Once a person with  an aesthetic eye is equipped with basic shogi knowledge and perfect commentary, he may well become a better watcher than one that actually plays well.

George Will’s Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball is a masterpiece explaining the essence of baseball. Citing from it,

A Sport like baseball, although a small universe of rule-regulated behavior, is actually a refreshing realm of diversity. The games are like snowflakes. They are perishable and no one is exactly like any other. But to see the diversity of snowflakes you must look closely and carefully. Baseball, more than any other sport, is enjoyed by the knowledgeable. The pleasures it gives to fans is proportional to the fans' sense of history. Its beauty is visible to the trained eye, which is the result of a long apprenticeship of appreciation. ... Baseball is a sport for the literate, ... It is also a mode of expression more suited to a literary than a pictorial culture. A baseball game is an orderly experience. ... A baseball game is, like a sentence, a linear sequence; like a paragraph, it proceeds sequentially. But to enjoy it you have to be able to read it. Baseball requires baseball literacy.

Shogi that arouses the sense among viewers that “it is a sport way too sophisticated to enjoy” unlike baseball that “gets way too simplified as it appears on the TV screen” seems to fit better in the above quote.

A shogi game needs to be supplemented by many words.

This is the key to thinking about the “joys of watching shogi.”

The arrival of the internet age has eased “way too sophisticated” shogi in many ways by adding words to it, leading to the possibility of expanding the variety of shogi fans.

 

 

The incredibly deep world surrounding a single game of shogi 

I’ve been thinking that the various works I’ve done, until today, had a role like that of “a canary in a coal mine.” That is, I always searched for the unknown, and as I was able to grasp the sense of it, I conveyed that sense to others. I wouldn’t want to die from taking in poison gas like a canary, but I find great meaning in carrying out an experiment with a new phenomenon by myself, and telling others, “if you come this far it’s dangerous” or “it’s safe up to here so come on in”. I moved here to Silicon Valley fifteen years ago, to a place almost no one in Japan knew of, and ever since have been telling people how interesting the place is. Also, with the arrival of the age of internet, I tested what it would be like to live in the internet world, and conveyed the results with statements like “if you take care of at least this, then this world isn’t so scary a place” or “you will go through hard moments but the ‘hard’ only gets so hard.” This is the role I’ve been playing. 

The trial of writing a real-time online commentary was also a new kind of experiment, coloring a single game of shogi with numerous words. 

How great would it be for the shogi fans, if a professional shogi player saw my experiment and came to think “if this layman can do this then why can’t I do it,” and write his own real-time online commentary, in earnest, which would include the players’ mindset and explanations of the moves played. This is what I had in mind while performing the experiment myself. After all, inside of the professional players’ brains is an incredibly vast amount of information compared to the impromptu “frame” I prepared on my private online space, and their brains also contain crucial knowledge, which is the logic to understanding the game of shogi in front of them. 

More than two years ago I wrote the following column. 

One time I went to watch a shogi title game, after being invited by a newspaper company. 

The first day, I traveled together with the two competitors from Tokyo to the site of the title game, located in the countryside, and attended the “eve of the game celebration.” The second day, I witnessed the start of the game and watched the progress of the game in the anteroom thereafter. There I had a look at the analysis of the game done by the professional players that came to visit. In the afternoon I participated in the big-board commentary done for the fans that came to watch, went back into the playing room to listen to the post-game analysis as the game concluded, and drank with the relaxed competitors at the “authorized personnel only after party.” The third day I traveled back to Tokyo. The wonderful three day trip was an extraordinary time.

I’ve loved shogi ever since I was a kid. I couldn’t wait to read the daily shogi column in the newspaper. And even today, from Silicon Valley, I watch title matches online, and whenever asked what my hobby is, I always include "watching shogi" in my answer. However, this one title match I watched completely shook my view of shogi. A single shogi game was surrounded by a way deeper world than I had imagined there to exist. 

In other words, the countless number of possible moves considered inside the anteroom, the limitlessly spreading latent possible moves, the deep insight presented by the competitors during the post-game analysis, all these elements that are crucial to the buildup of the “glamor of shogi” were just completely left behind, to my surprise, when the story of the match is condensed into the game record and the post game commentary. 

How could the “glamor of shogi” on paper which is limited in physical space be properly expressed? This problem has been tried to be answered by shogi columns in newspapers. In addition, from here on, we must think of how we can express the "glamor of shogi" using the unique limitless of the internet. It is a matter of urgency to find an answer to this, I thought, when seeking for the further spread of shogi. (The Mainichi Shimbun; 5th December, 2006).

What I wanted to communicate in this column was simply the issue of the length of articles done on shogi games. 

 

The synergism of the internet and the spreading of shogi

Since the circulation of a newspaper is large, the cost per each character is expensive. Therefore, the restriction on word count is strict. Commentaries on shogi written in newspapers exist in this reality. But those that can understand the essence of a shogi game with such a limited number of words are only those that are pretty good at shogi. I thought that since the internet takes away all the cost-related restrictions, the mindset of limited words will be thus removed, and thorough articles and commentaries on shogi could be written. This is the very point I want to stress; that the internet and the idea of spreading shogi are synergistic.

 

When talking of shogi, an abundance of words is an essential element. If we talk to people with abundant words, even to those that aren’t that good at shogi, then the fascination, the glamour, and the enjoyment are conveyable.

To enjoy the limitless spread of possibilities that lie ahead, move by move, and to allow your body to float in time. These people will be impressed by revealing the possibilities of moves the competitors were considering, totally surpassing the study.  They will sense the “beauty of equilibrium” from the first move to the last. They will appreciate that “beauty of equilibrium” that is in danger of collapsing at any move. They will discover the mysteries of shogi, the  "game created by the gods’ according to Yasumitsu Sato, inside the complicated yet refined positions produced by the processes that are involved in  “the beauty of equilibrium.” They will be able to see the top professionals’ title matches’ trends over the span of several months. They will be able to follow the results of their favorite player on the internet.

If shogi is to be surrounded by abundant words, then the enjoyment of shogi will be opened up to “weak shogi players” and to the “non players.”  Now, the organizers, such as newspaper companies, and the shogi world are seriously working on spreading shogi via the internet, and this action should continue being pushed forward.

I did note already that it was Sato’s suggestion that I write an online commentary, but what was behind this suggestion was the following conversation between him and me, with both of us sharing the same concerns.

Sato: “The environment surrounding the shogi world has changed so much due to the invention of the internet. The interaction between us and our audience used to be mainly commentaries in the newspapers, but only shogi fans tend to read those. Today, with the introduction of live broadcasting, those who like shogi watch live. And, thankfully, also some of the people that don’t quite know shogi also watch now. I have quite a few friends of this kind myself.

Things like what a player had for lunch or how he spent the night before a title game are starting to be written online, and more and more people are enjoying reading those entries. There are more chances lying out there for those that don’t know shogi to get interested in it, and then they would get prompted to read the commentaries on newspapers. Could you call this the multiplier effect? I think the area the shogi world is affecting now has widened. ...)”

Umeda: “The range of interests people have towards shogi is quite wide. ... Interest towards people is crucial. Especially, through associations with players of the generation following Sato–Kisei and Yoshiharu Habu–double crown (Oza, Osho), it occurs to me that, here in this place very highly talented people are gathering. The fans at the high end probably are attracted to the art of game records and the depth of the shogi game, but there are fans out there that are interested by the presence itself of the professional players. Say, for example, if kabuki only accepted fans that understood it entirely, then it wouldn’t be able to fill the theater. Shogi, it’s the same.”

(The Sankei Shimbun. Dated 1st January, 2008. An extraction from the full edition published on the MSN Sankei News.).

 

Come on out! "Kingoro Kaneko" for the 21st Century 

A bit abrupt, but I’d like to introduce a 9-dan player, late Kingoro Kaneko (1902-1990), by saying,

“You couldn’t talk about the words surrounding shogi without bringing out this person.”

To be honest, I am a Kingoro Kaneko freak. 

Not too many people talk about Kaneko today, as it has been almost twenty years since he passed away, but he is a glorious figure in the history of shogi, because of his passion and his achievement towards writing explanations and commentaries, the things essential to spreading shogi. 

I believe that the age of the internet, which contains the chance of spreading shogi to a wider range of people and moreover globally, is just the time we need to learn from Kaneko’s passion and achievement. 

Loving shogi ever since I was a kid, at around the time of getting into middle school, rather than playing shogi and competing, I found great excitement in appreciating game records made by top class professional players as artistic work and playing move by move accordingly by reading the explanations. Within me, “the joy from watching” and “the joy from reading” superseded “the joy of playing.”

The most outstanding shogi explanations and commentaries, at that time, were the ones written by Kaneko. During my years of middle and high school, I indulged in reading the Kaneko anthology. 

The person Kingoro Kaneko was an expert shogi player, in his youth, battling for the Meijin Title. 

But that moment always comes, the moment that you suddenly can’t win anymore.  

I had figured a couple years back that at this point I am a player that can no longer win. I thought that at least I wanted to become a player that could “lose to the fullest.” If I could “lost to the fullest” then I could love my opponent, love shogi, appreciate battle, and even end up loving my life. (Shogi Hyoron [Shogi Critique]. Vol.1, No.5. August, 1947.) 

Kaneko, summarizing the first half of his life in these fierce words, dedicated the rest of his life to enlightening people on shogi. Shortly after the Second World War concluded, he published the magazine “Shogi Hyoron” on his own. I have a few volumes myself, and the emotion of his passion can be seen in the following words. 

I am aiming on systematizing beginners’ instruction through this magazine. Appreciating the relationship between shogi and the mind while providing basic shogi knowledge is my policy. The unique minds of “Kimura's shogi,” “Doi's shogi” and “Kaneko's shogi” can be seen in the game records. I am going to appreciate these through explaining the moves in order for the beginners to understand the techniques applied there. 

In other words, this magazine is a complete anthology of my appreciation of shogi. And I would like to write in the same mindset as when I usually talk to beginners. 

The policy is to make this a writing for improving as well as a writing of shogi appreciation. 

I will put all my energy into this. I can love this kind of living. I hope for your kind support. (Shogi Hyoron. Vol.1, No.1. March, 1947.) 

 

Shogi should be something that is watched by more people, especially from a psychological point of view. The “meaning of a given move” is a scientific topic, but “why the player made that move,” in other words, the psychological mood of the player before he decides on that move is another problem. Without combining these two aspects, watching high-ranked players' shogi would never be complete. 

The author always fails to achieve that to completion, but never gives up the intention to do so. If a treatise doesn’t attempt this, then what else would it do? This is the sense of responsibility I have. ... A high level move can also be understood by beginners; if I can’t accomplish this goal then I’ve failed. (Shogi Hyoron. Vol.1, No.5. October, 1947.) 

If the greatest match of modern shogi was to be played next year or maybe the year after, would any professional player declare, like Kaneko did, with guts that “I am aiming on systematizing beginners’ instruction," “appreciating the relation between shogi and mind while providing basic shogi knowledge,” “I will put all my energy into this,” “shogi should be something that is observed by more people,” “A high level move can also be understood by beginners, if I can’t accomplish this goal then I’ve failed,” and write a commentary like Kaneko, online, with the spirit of, 'if I didn’t attempt this, then who would?' This is the sense of responsibility I have.” I can’t stop desiring for this to be realized. 

I have an old book, Meijin Tsukada vs. 8-dan Masuda, best out of five match (January, 1949, The Asahi Shimbun Company) in front of me right now. This best of five match was a match long-awaited by fans between Tsukada and Masuda, sponsored by Shukan Asahi (Weekly Asahi) in 1948. 

The best part of this book is that each of the five games has written commentaries included with them (the third match by Ryuzaburo Umehara), and moreover, have more than thirty pages each or more than 28,000 words of detailed shogi explanations written by Kaneko. At that time, the greatest matches were appreciated with each of the games colored with rich words worth an entire book. 

It is too plain to summarize the shogi boom after World War II, as a phenomenon caused by the lack of entertainment; at the time when Japan was still very poor, even lacking supplies, the energy needed to personally start a new magazine and to publish a book containing the shogi "best of xx-match" was incredibly larger than it is today, and without the existence of retired professional players who dedicate their lives to enlightening shogi, like Kaneko, there probably would be no rise of the shogi boom. It shouldn’t be impossible that a powerful book of that kind be written for each modern title match. 

 

Kaneko’s enlightening spirit

Kaneko, after his attempt to start a magazine, kept writing a series titled Kaneko Kyoshitsu (Classroom Kaneko) in the monthly magazine Modern Shogi, for 37 years from 1950 (48 years old) to 1986 (84 years old). This was in fact Kaneko’s lifework. 

Kaneko captured shogi structurally, and when talking on a game of shogi, wrote in detail what speculation the competitors had in mind while playing the opening and what intention or spirit they had going into the game. 

In the opening the players think for a long time. If amateurs understood even slightly what the pondering was for, then they would be able to get close to the core of shogi, but in most cases amateurs are just simply shut out being told that “it is too hard for you to understand, and therefore you don’t have to”. But Kaneko never said that kind of thing. He tried to somehow logically explain this very difficult and delicate part of the game. 

If starting an explanation of potential moves, there it no end to it. However, in Kaneko’s case, how he extracted the parts of the variations was astonishingly reasonable to the supposedly not so good at shogi readers. When reading the variations, you would feel pleasure because most of the questions that pop up in your mind as to why the variation would be fatal are explained. 

In the opening where the pieces aren’t yet attacking each other, what would the aim of the piece formations that the players compose? What are the players aiming at later, in a specific spot in the middle game? Preparing to realize the aim, preventing the opponents’ aim from being realized, choosing from several possible aims, miscalculating the aim, ...; even the amateurs can easily understand what is being thought of by players during a game. And by describing all this precisely, reveals each players’ character. What’s the difference between Masuda and Oyama, what about Oyama and Nakahara, then what about Nakahara and Yonenaga; this is what he did. Under the belief that the characteristics of players can be seen during the game, and that the game records are the way for the players to express themselves, Kaneko tried to describe them precisely. 

The post-game analysis done between the players is usually done in an incomprehensible language. Why it is incomprehensible is that the "common base" (database and logic) set up inside the brains of the two is way too big and deep. However, Kaneko had the passion to try to convey that incomprehensible shogi to amateurs. And because of that he never stopped attempting his goal. He never abandoned amateurs by saying to them that “you’ll understand it all once you become a good player, so get better fast.” Kaneko’s enlightening spirit can be seen here. 

A legendary player, Kozo Masuda, wrote about Kaneko’s writings as following. 

“Kaneko as a player was our senior, and as you all know, in the early Showa-era he was good enough to have fought for the Meijin-title, so he does have an accurate grasp of the characteristics of his juniors. He is also kind towards readers so he explains moves very simply, very simply but not just with the facts on the surface. He is actually going deep inside. He says “he doesn’t know” to what he actually doesn’t know. His attitude is clear because he doesn’t allow perfunctory compromise. Writing must have been hell for Kaneko. This is how I feel, and see a true professional in him. 

These collected commentary works should be read not just by shogi fans but also by those that don’t know much about shogi. They shake human heart. There is something lying there that awakens us.” (The Memorial Commentaries, Collection on the Games of Mejin-Titles. Koubunsha.) 

Kaneko’s commentaries have the power to make even Masuda comment “should be read by ... those that don’t know much about shogi,” “they shake human heart (and) there is something lying there that awakens us.”

 

“We need Kaneko-sensei in the modern shogi world as well” 

That the length of Kaneko’s commentaries was very long made me glad that his opinion is in harmony with mine. 

Living in the world of the internet, where a limit to word count no longer exists, you could write as lengthy of a commentary or explanation as you’d like, so I wrote “Come on out, Kingoro Kaneko for the 21st Century.” And as I kept on repeatedly writing the greatness of his works on my blog, it was Habu who first gave a strong response. 

“I bet Kaneko-sensei never thought he’d be revived in the age of internet. He must really be delighted. Modern shogi without a doubt needs Kaneko-sensei.” 

Being told this by Habu, encouraged, the Kaneko attracted, me.  

The intention of Habu was not just that us shogi fans “need Kaneko-sensei” but also must have been that he himself, commenting quite a few times recently that “I was surprised by the wide range of shogi,” “every piece on the board is crucial to shogi, even the lance and the pawn at the edge are important, I realized,” is in desire of a ‘modern Kingoro Kaneko’ who expresses simply to the public. 

I desire from my heart that a couple of ‘Kingoro Kaneko’s descriptions of modern shogi and its players’ appear at some time. I am confident that with this will deepen the ‘joy of watching shogi’ and help widen the range of shogi fans. 

Shortly after the beginning of 2008, I decided to collect every writing of the 37-year series “Classroom Kaneko.” First I searched, with the help of my friend, for a young guy who loves shogi and would help me. Then I asked him to go to the National Diet Library and copy the well over 5,000 paged Kaneko’s series by finding them all from the back issues of the magazine “Modern Shogi”, and had him send them all to Silicon Valley (12 kilograms in total!). I read the commentaries and explanations one by one, and continued on copying down the ‘core’ of his writings. 

I think that watching shogi is something profound. 

Playing isn’t the only way of enjoying shogi, nor is becoming a good player the only goal for shogi fans. After all, "playing" and "watching," to me, are completely different things. The joys of watching is like that of appreciating art, and is to appreciate the amazement of shogi and the characteristics of the players. The joy from watching top class shogi, is to appreciate the amusement of the game and the beauty of the game as a whole, through the art created as a result of the two players’ playing their best moves in each complicated position. 

We are living in a very busy modern world, and cannot spend unlimited time on our hobbies. Where to spend limited time on which feature of your hobby is a difficult question. However much I may like shogi, there’s the problem that "I can’t watch if I play." Well, actually, once I retire from the business world and get to spend all the time in the world on my hobby, then I might get the chance to pursue the "joy of playing." But for now, I think I’ll pursue the "joy of watching" as a "non-playing shogi fan" in the mean time.

 

Next > Chapter 4 

 

Comments (10)

shenqi said

at 2:12 pm on May 23, 2009

Some non-standard English expressions are italic and blue (which I couldn't come up with better expressions).
So, could someone check and change them to standard English expressions please?
Thanks a lot.

shenqi said

at 3:34 pm on May 23, 2009

"my private online space" sounds bit weird for me. what do you guys think?

shenqi said

at 4:22 pm on May 23, 2009

Such future image (*snip*) leading such human experiment. (they are in italic) doesn't make sense to me.
Could someone correct this please?

Jun Koda said

at 8:51 pm on May 23, 2009

> italic and blue
Good idea. It's very easy to identify.
> "my private online space"
「ウェブ上の私のプライベート空間」
Not that much to me. Is "my private online folder" or "... file folder" better?

shenqi said

at 10:08 pm on May 23, 2009

> "my private online space"
I know this literally makes sense and this is a simple, direct translation from Japanese.
But, somehow I feel like it is not a great expression to describe... (in fact, I've never heard of "private online space")
"private online storage" may make sense but this doesn't fully explain what is meant by 「ウェブ上の私のプライベート空間」.

Jun Koda said

at 10:39 pm on May 23, 2009

Let's see, "online space" seems unusual (as long as I searched on google). What about "private web space."
It's closer to direct translation, and "web space" looks common. Web space may not be "private" often, though.

Jun Koda said

at 11:02 pm on May 23, 2009

shinqi 2:12 pm May 23, 2009 > "italic and blue"
I am going to write a candidate in the following bracket []. Please replace with it, if you are satisfied.

Jun Koda said

at 11:19 pm on May 23, 2009

> I would endlessly repeat "watch and write."
対局当日は、観戦しては書く、観戦しては書く、ということを繰り返すことになる。
[ I should repeat the process of watching and writing. ]
It need not to be "endless."

shenqi, did you already got the original Japanese book? (Then I don't have to write sentences here).

shenqi said

at 12:57 pm on May 24, 2009

>>my private online space
I asked some of my friends, and all of them said it is alright.
I'm sorry about my misconception.

>>対局当日は、観戦しては書く、観戦しては書く、ということを繰り返すことになる。
How about "On the day of the game, I would repeat a process of watching and writing?
I guess your translation is all good.

I haven't got a book yet, but the book may be kept in the office at school.
I gonna leave a note if I get a book so that you don't have to copy all bits of sentences.

Jun Koda said

at 9:43 pm on Jun 18, 2009

"minibus"
Wikipedia http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%9E%E3%82%A4%E3%82%AF%E3%83%AD%E3%83%90%E3%82%B9
says "microbus" is an "English" made in Japan, originally a name of a Toyota product. So I selected "minibus." (Thanks who pointed out).

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