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Let’s Play “Go”! – The Go Board Game in Modern Times and Popular Culture

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/22 Pop Culture & OTAKU, Traditional Culture , ,

The Go board game became popular not only in Asia but also in other countries. It also spawned many work of art and fictions.

Go’s Spread of Popularity

Despite its widespread popularity in East Asia, Go has been slow to spread to the rest of the world. Although there are some mentions of the game in western literature from the 16th century forward, Go did not start to become popular in the West until the end of the 19th century, when German scientist Oskar Korschelt wrote a treatise on the game. By the early 20th century, Go had spread throughout the German and Austro-Hungarian empires. In 1905, Edward Lasker learned the game while in Berlin. When he moved to New York, Lasker founded the New York Go Club together with (amongst others) Arthur Smith, who had learned of the game while touring the East and had published the book The Game of Go in 1908. Lasker’s book Go and Go-moku (1934) helped spread the game throughout the U.S., and in 1935, the American Go Association was formed. Two years later, in 1937, the German Go Association was founded.

World War II put a stop to most Go activity, but after the war, Go continued to spread. For most of the 20th century, the Japan Go Association (Nihon Ki-in) played a leading role in spreading Go outside East Asia by publishing the English-language magazine Go Review in the 1960s; establishing Go centers in the U.S., Europe and South America; and often sending professional teachers on tour to Western nations. Internationally, the game is now commonly known by its shortened Japanese name (Go), and terms for common Go concepts are derived from their Japanese pronunciation.

In 1996, NASA astronaut Daniel Barry and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata became the first people to play Go in space. They used a special Go set, which was named Go Space, designed by Wai-Cheung Willson Chow. Both astronauts were awarded honorary dan ranks by the Nihon Ki-in.

As of May 2012, the International Go Federation has 57 member countries outside Asia.

Works of Fiction

Aside from technical literature and study material, Go and its strategies have been the subject of several works of fiction, such as The Master of Go by Nobel prize-winning author Yasunari Kawabata and The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa. Other books have used Go as a theme or minor plot device. For example, the novel Shibumi by Trevanian centers on the game and uses Go metaphors, and “The Way of Go: 8 Ancient Strategy Secrets for Success in Business and Life” by Troy Anderson applies Go strategy to business. In “GO: An Asian Paradigm for Business Strategy”, Miura Yasuyuki, a manager with Japan Airlines, uses Go to describe the thinking and behavior of business men.

Of particular note is the manga and anime series Hikaru no Go, released in Japan in 1998, which had a large impact in popularizing Go among young players, both in Japan and—as translations were released—abroad. Go Player is a similar animated series about young Go players that aired in China.

hikaru no go manga

The manga Hikaru no Go sold in bookstores. The manga is credited to the spread of Go popularity especially to its young readers. (Photo by Naotake Murayama on Flickr)

Similarly, Go has been used as a subject or plot device in film, such as π, A Beautiful Mind, Tron: Legacy, and The Go Master, a biopic of Go professional Go Seigen. 2013’s Tokyo ni Kita Bakari or “Tokyo Newcomer” portrays a Chinese foreigner Go player moving to Tokyo. In King Hu’s wuxia film “The Valiant Ones”, the characters are color-coded as Go stones (black or other dark shades for the Chinese, white for the Japanese invaders), Go boards and stones are used by the characters to keep track of soldiers prior to battle, and the battles themselves are structured like a game of Go.

The corporation and brand Atari, which made Pong (one of the earliest arcade video games) was named after the Go term.

References:

1. Go (game). Wikipedia.

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