Karigane Junichi - the gentle samurai

WHEN KARIGANE Junichi was born, on 30 July 1879, his family was in decline, like all samurai families left stranded by the fall of the Shogun. His father was Iwase Kyosaku - Karigane was his mother's maiden name - and they lived in Morikawa-cho, Hongo, in Tokyo, where Tokyo University is now located.

His father learned go in the prime of his life, but was passionate about it and used to have friends come at play at his house. His son was attracted by the sound of the stones. Even when playing outside, Junichi would run back to the house once he heard the stones. This was when he was around five. He simply watched. After a while watching did not satisfy him and he begged his father to play him. At first father did not believe he was serious, but the child persisted and so they began to play. The result was a tie. It seems the handicap was just five stones.

Father and friends were suitably astounded and very soon the boy outpaced them. An unnamed professional heard about this and proposed to Karigane's father that, if the boy were entrusted to his care, he would ensure he became a good player. From another version of the story we learn that a "good player" apparently meant 1-dan by the age of 10. But the boy's father was more concerned with his education and banned him from playing go after that - though, again, another version of the story puts a gloss on this: "in school time," which meant he could play only during the summer holidays.

Karigane's father was in fact a man of some learning. He had studied Chinese and now taught it. Karigane took advantage of his father's absences from home to continue his illicit study of go. His main source was the famous book Kokugi Kanko (Viewing the Highlights of the National Art) by Honinbo Jowa, a collection of 74 of his games.

He challenged anyone available, and as he advanced by leaps and bounds his father found he had to lift his ban. By the time the boy was in his early teens, there were few amateurs around who could match him.

Meanwhile, ill luck continued to dog the household. Father had had chronic asthma since Junichi was about five or six, and the family situation had become very bad by the time he was in his teens. Eventually, father decided to move to Shizuoka Prefecture in the hope of finding a healthier climate. Mother and son were reduced to a hand-to-mouth existence, and often left without food. Junichi would then seek food and shelter with friends and sometimes went out on long hikes looking for enough work to keep body and soul together. Obviously, at these times he was not studying go.

The first benefactor

In 1892, however, he came across a man called Ono Suiseki who patronised him most generously then and for the rest of his life. In later life Karigane was to say, "What I am today is all due to Ono."

The first fruit of the patronage was to allow him to study at Hoensha. There he reached 1-dan almost at once, in 1893. Everybody who was anybody frequented Hoensha, and in 1894 Karigane had the good fortune to find favour with Prince Ito Hirobumi, the most illustrious statesman of the Meiji period - he had drafted Japan's first constitution and was to be a later prime minister. For some three years Karigane was to be a regular visitor at Ito's mansion.

When the Sino-Japanese war broke out, Prince Ito left to attend to military affairs the at Supreme Imperial Headquarters in Hiroshima, where the Meiji emperor was staying. Karigane had another slice of luck when he was invited to accompany Prince Ito to the peace conference at Shimonoseki to conclude the war. It did no harm at all to Karigane to be talked about by men of distinction as a go genius.

When, around 1897, he left Prince Ito's mansion to return home, he found his family in the same state of destitution in which he had left them, and his father still ill. But now, in 1896 and aged about 17, he had a skill and was able to open a small go salon at Nichikata-cho in Hongo. This brought in enough to make ends meet.

Karigane was thus able to convince his father that his future lay as a go player, and that he was not too late to succeed. He formally enlisted, therefore, at Hoensha as a student. Hoensha was then headed by Nakagawa Kamesaburo 8-dan and he had several distinguished pupils. He allowed Karigane to stay with him and his heir Nakagawa Senji at his home in Goken-cho in the Ushigome ward as live-in pupil cum lodger.

In the summer of 1897 Karigane was able to go on a go study tour to the Kanto and Tohoku districts and so visited Koyama, Tochigi, Fukushima, Sendai, Ishinomaki and Saitama. On his return to Tokyo in the autumn, he was awarded 2-dan.

In October 1899, he went with Kusaka Yoshio to Korea and beat their top player Paek Nam-kyu. Karigane's visit to Korea was classed as the first by a professional. Uchigaki Suekichi had gone to Korea earlier and played go, but he was there as a public servant. Being there in his own capacity as a go professional, Karigane found communication difficult. He therefore put an ad in a Seoul newspaper, offering to play anybody.

Triumph in Korea

There were two strong Korean players at that time. One was away on a trip. The other was Paek, who did challenge Karigane. 15-year-old Paek, however, was not a full-time player nor destined to be one. He was to become a member of the Privy Council (he died only in 1970). He had, nevertheless, been able to trounce all the Japanese then resident in Seoul, and so was supported by them, as defeating Karigane would save some face for them. Paek took the seat of honour and Karigane had to play first - but with White, as was the custom in Korea. They alternated between Japanese rules and Korean sunjang go. The uchikomi rule was in force, that is with handicaps adjusted after one player was four games ahead.

Karigane ploughed a straight furrow, beating Paek down to a four-stone handicap in Japanese go and a two-stone handicap in Korean go, without losing a single game. Still, it was not always straightforward for Karigane. In their last game, in a lost position, he won by three points through a swindle. Statesman-to-be Paek praised him as a genius.

In 1899, apparently, Karigane lost no games anywhere and had only one jigo. In 1900 he was therefore promoted to 3-dan, and in March 1901 to 4-dan. There were few tournaments in which to make a mark, of course, but in 1904 he won one organised by the Jiji Shinpo.

Just after Karigane reached 3-dan, his father died, in March 1900. During his sickness, his father had jotted down what was in his memory and published it in book form under the title of A Book for Go Fans. On the day before his death, he said to Karigane, "My father, your grandfather, was in military service in the fief of Toyohashi. I lost my father and mother when I was young, and through the dissolution of the shogunate I became what I am now. But in our family the blood of a samurai still flows. You, as the next in line, must live with this pride."

After his father's death, Karigane left Nakagawa's house, where he had been staying for six years, and went home. In all that time he had only played Nakagawa twice. He had been a filial son and had been keeping his family, apparently through instructing rather than studying.

It was still a hard time for him. In his late years he recalled, "Around 1904 I was absolutely penniless. Today there is no comparison with other go players. Having to live without causing anxiety for my mother was really painful."

Karigane's style

In 1905 he left Hoensha and became a student of Honinbo Shuei, being also promoted to 5-dan. Shuei said of his new pupil, "Karigane's go is very different from other people's. He does not stick his neck out in jerks and spasms, Rather it is like water flowing gently downhill and accumulating there. In this respect he is like Shuwa. As regards those fit to become a future Meijin, he is the only one at present."

However, leaving aside the rise of arch-rival Tamura Yasuhisa, it seems that Shuei may have modified his assessment in the next year or so. A friend of Karigane, Isawa Shunko, told this Mozartian story: "His go style was greatly influenced by Shuei. But while it seems just like Shuei's, there is one aspect in which it is dissimilar. This is because the time he had with Shuei was short and he could not assimilate everything his teacher had. There is an extreme coolness in his go. He therefore lacks the violent impulse to 'slaughter the dragon and quell the tiger', yet there is an unending tenacity of a kind that is virtually never seen.

"One day I looked in on Shuei on his sickbed. I asked him about Karigane's go style. The Master thought for a long time, then said, 'His go suffers from seeing too many moves.' In my ignorance I cannot understand this phrase, even now. From what I infer, this is why, when a complicated position arises, there is no explosive power. It implies there is no pressure being applied. Or maybe this is not what Shuei meant. The Meijin's phrase is not easy to judge, but I think it was favourable to Karigane."

Here is another assessment, from Nakane Hojiro 6-dan, a Hoensha stalwart who laid the foundations of the Kansai Ki-in.. "When I played Karigane, he often thought for a long time. But when I looked at his gentle face my anger melted away. His face was gentle like a lady's, a little pale, reminding me of a crane. There was no deviousness."

Karigane married in 1906, producing two boys and a girl. He reached 6-dan in 1907 but left the Honinbos then. When Honinbo Shuei died that year, his widow and her group wanted Karigane to succeed. She insisted this was Shuei's wish - apparently he had shown this by giving Karigane his 6-dan from his sickbed. It was said that, having been brought up in straitened circumstances, Karigane had an affable and pleasant demeanour towards his hosts, whereas Tamura did not. However, the tradition was to choose the strongest player, even if there was a legitimate son, and the consensus was that Tamura Yasuhisa (the future Honinbo Shusai) was the strongest. Thus the Honinbo house split and a bitter struggle ensued.

The struggle ended in a compromise when the retired Honinbo XVI Shugen resumed office as Honinbo XX.

After this rebuff, Karigane became sentimentally detached from the Honinbo family and from centralised go in general. His sun waned while Tamura's rose. Tamura held meetings in Shuei's house. Karigane attended but soon drifted away. He also eschewed newspaper games, burying himself away at home. But in this period he published his widely acclaimed Tora no Maki (Trade Secrets).

A scene at Karigane's club, from his Tora no Maki. Karigane is at the left in the foreground. His book collaborator Yano Yoshijiro is the moustached fellow in the centre background. The other gentlemen are known, but are all amateurs and not specially famous. The large pots are likely to be hand warmers.

Dated 1911, this was a collaboration with Yano Yoshijiro, who explains at the beginning that much of the material came from Karigane collected over 20-odd years. That probably explains why the book seems a bit of a pot pourri, more of a magazine in book form. But the subjects covered range widely, cover material never seen before (e.g. a discussion of Move 1) and are written about in detail instead of relying on an abundance of diagrams. The advice is at a sensible level for ordinary players (e.g. the preface alerts readers to the need to consider one corner relative to another). The book is also spotted in magazine style with line drawings of various game scenes. It is hard to avoid the feeling that these represented members of his club, especially as so many are wearing western clothes, and many are striking poses that look idiosyncratic. It is easy to see why this book would be seen as a breath of fresh air. It spawned a go journal of the same title, founded by Yano, which was very popular even though Yano was recognised as the weakest of all go writers in go. His true metier was as a shorthand note-taker.

Karigane then devoted himself for years to organisations centred round himself. The first was the Kogyokukai in 1907. He was very much out in the cold, though, and briefly returned to Hoensha in 1920. In that year he was able, however, to play a two-game match with Honinbo XXI Shusai (as Tamura now was), thanks to the patronage of Marquis Hosokawa Moritatsu. The score was 1-1, though Shusai took White in both games as he was 9-dan and Karigane nominally only 6-dan. It was the first time they had played in sixteen years. They were serious games, played over 14 and 20 sessions respectivly

Society to "abolish old practices"

Karigane was then a prime mover in setting up the Hiseikai in 1922 under the sponsorship of the prime minister Inukai Bokudo, along with Segoe Kensaku, Suzuki Tamejiro and Takabe Dohei. They had several revolutionary ideas, such a tournaments being played on level terms and with time limits, but were perhaps a little ahead of their time. Karigane won their first event, ahead of Segoe, Suzuki then Takabe.

Honinbo Shusai in 1927
Arch-rival
Honinbo Shusai
in 1927
He briefly joined the Nihon Ki-in in 1924, but soon left to oppose the Ki-in and to co-found the Kiseisha. While there he had an apparent stroke of luck. Shoriki Matsutaro, chairman of the Yomiuri Shinbun, suggested a match between between him and Shusai, representing the dominant Nihon Ki-in. This was a delicate operation because it involved two feuding organisations. Simply because he saw Kiseisha as a dissident group, the influential Baron Okura initially refused to countenance it.

The Yomiuri was then in bad shape and looking for a saviour. Shoriki, a former chief of police, was also a journalistic genius. He took over the ailing newspaper with the backing of the financier Goto Shinpei. He took sales from a few hundred thousand to several million copies. One reason was his ability to come up with marketable gimmicks. One of his first gimmicks was the Shusai-Karigane match.

The Kiseisha school had been formed in October 1924, but by 1926 Suzuki Tamejiro had left and returned to the Nihon Ki-in. That left Karigane (who was given 7-dan by the new organisation), Takabe Dohei and Onoda Chiyotaro. Shoriki got round Baron Okura by hinting at the secret idea of forming yet another go association, the Teikoku Ki-in, and so weakening the Nihon Ki-in.

The match between the champions of the Nihon Ki-in and Kiseisha therefore started on 27 September 1926 and lasted till October, spanning six sessions. Despite a 16-hour time limit, Karigane eventually lost on time in one of the most famous fighting games of all time.

Go meets literature

The Yomiuri reported the game on giant boards as well as in the paper. It was said to have increased subscriptions threefold. Shoriki mobilised literary men of the day to write up the game. They included Kawahigashi Hokigoto, Muramatsu Shofu, Mikami Otokichi, Kikuchi Kan, Kodama Kagai, Sasakawa Rinpu and Toyoshima Yoshio. After this the idea of having a distinguished observer of important games became the fashion in newspapers.

In 1933 Kiseisha awarded Karigane 8-dan. In 1941 he founded a new, and still extant, organisation called Keiinsha and still had enough prestige to be brought forward as an opponent for Go Seigen in his series of ten-game matches. Yet the match was frankly an embarrassment for Karigane. Although Go was technically ranked lower at 7-dan, they played on level terms (no komi) because Go had recently beaten Kitani Minoru down to B-B-W. After five games Go was ahead 4-1. Karigane had been forced down to B-B-W, and so the match was called off. He was, however, able to salvage some face a couple of years later when manufactured a jigo with White against Go in a Yomiuri 8-dan tournament.

Still, he had proven himself many times a survivor, and in 1953 he was good enough to head a tournament for three veterans, beating Segoe into second place and Suzuki into third.

Facing death, Karigane was awarded 9-dan by acclamation of his Keiinsha pupils on 1 January 1959. He died on 21 February in Tokyo. He was 79. In a fine gesture, though after his death, the Nihon Ki-in awarded him an honorary 9-dan.


The various societies mentioned are covered in detail on the GoGoD CD, and almost 100 games by Karigane are in the GoGoD database. We plan to include extracts from Tora no Maki in due course.