Murakami Fukashi, this year’s Japanese contestant, is a former Amateur Honinbo making his first appearance in the World Amateur Go Championship. He won six games and finished fifth, but his interests extend beyond just winning games. He is a go instructor with ambitions that may change the future of Japanese go.
Ranka: First please tell us about your work in go education.
Murakami: I’m now a director of the All-Japan Go Organization headed by Kikuchi Yasuro, who is a living legend among Japanese amateur players. One of the major aims of this organization is to have go included in the school curriculum in Japan, along with such elementary and middle school subjects as reading, writing, arithmetic, and social studies. That aim may be idealistic and it won’t be easy to achieve, but it’s our goal. We have various things we know we need to do to reach this goal. Teaching more children to play go, the project I’m involved with, is one of the very basic things, but another thing, which I’ve become interested in recently, has to do with older people. Japan is an aging society, so is Korea, and in the future China will be too. You can teach children to play go, but as they grow up they go through various life events. Japanese children have to study for entrance examinations to get into middle school, high school, and university. Then they’ll get jobs, get married, and start raising families. That’s the stage I’m in now. The ones who really like go may keep it up, but somewhere along the line the others will drop out because they’re too busy, and it may be another thirty or forty years before they find time take go up again. Bringing these people back to the game will be very important in the future, but I think that future is too far off to be part of our present strategy.
So I’m proposing that what we should do in the nearer future, over the next three to five years, say, is to reach out to people in their sixties or seventies who might like to learn to play but fear that they are too old to do so — that it would be too hard. These people don’t have many events in their lives any more, so if we can get them started by making the game easy for them to learn, they will have time to pursue it as a hobby. I think people like this would also be a good business target for us. They have time and they have money. Teaching children may be the standard strategy, but if we can put together a good beginners’ program for old people, it might turn out to be a game-changer.
This is considered difficult, but health is now a major issue, and not just physical health. People are worried about loss of mental function: about Alzheimer’s disease, for example. We know we should be working to keep older people’s minds healthy. So it occurred to me that this would provide a good opening for the game of go. Another person who thought so is Iizuka Ai, a former insei. She started her own project about three or four years ago by using go as a type of mental medical treatment, and now she’s published her results in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias. With her paper as a basis, I’m hoping that the movement will start to spread.
I spent seven years at Fujitsu trying to add value to intangible things so that they could be offered to people on a business basis, as something worthwhile. As all go players know, go has a lot of good value to offer. So I think that talking about dementia and go, presenting go as a game with the added value of maintaining a healthy brain, might be a good way to introduce it to people who don’t know anything about it, get them to understand it, and spread the game further. I think our long-term strategies should be aimed at both children and old people; they’re our best targets. It’s hard to approach people with company jobs, because they’re too busy.
I’m now working as an assistant at a children’s go classroom once a week, so I’m acquiring some know-how about how to teach go to children. For people both young and old, communication is a key factor. I’m in the process of trying out various ways of communicating with children so as to get them to enjoy the game — how to talk to them, what facial expressions to use, body language, and so on.
Ranka: Now that the championship is over, how do you evaluate your performance?
Murakami: I studied go under Cho Chikun, a Korean-born 9-dan, another living legend, in order to become a pro, but my progress got stuck, so I enrolled at a university, graduated, found a job, and worked at it for seven years. Then two years ago I quit and returned to go, to make a living as a go instructor. I took part in some other international tournaments as a student, but there was a ten-year blank between those tournaments and this one, and that made this world championship a very stimulating experience. Currently, at both the amateur and professional levels, the strongest players are in their teens or twenties. I sensed during this tournament that a person in his thirties can’t keep up with them — can’t read things out as fast as they can. But for the past two years I’ve being trying to get my game back into shape, and this tournament has given me confidence because I was able to play well against the Chinese and Korean players. Now I can see more clearly what I still need to do, and I know I can still improve. So I want very much to compete in this tournament again, and win it in the future.
Ranka: Thank you, and we hope all your projects succeed.