The day of the Junior Go Championship, Elementary School Division, had finally arrived, and I sensed my boys were nervous. Although I was pleased that this challenge would help the kids mature, I was a little anxious, too, as the chaperon of the team.
My fourth son begged me to take him along as well, so I left home with the four boys a little past 9 am and headed to the Japan Go Association. It was raining lightly as we marched to the site with umbrellas big and small.
We soon arrived and signed in on the first floor, then dashed to the second floor to draw lots. Our first opponent was Ochiai Daiyon Elementary School,” and they were already seated and waiting. The chaperon parents greeted each other, and my kids took their seats. The other team consisted of 5th and 6th graders. No other first graders were participating in this tournament; even third graders were scarce.
The Junior Go Championship team tournament is a group match of teams consisting of three players. It is a competition for the Tokyo District, and the only one that also serves as the preliminaries for the national championship. Junior Go players practice hard to reach this competition.
Although playing Go is becoming more popular among elementary school students, you have to form teams of three for the group matches. This is not easy to do, especially for elementary schools, many of which are public. Because of the school district system, good players tend to be scattered.
Even at my kids’ school, we were only able to put a three-player team together because our third son finally started elementary school this year. Our whole team consisted of the Hori brothers:
Captain: My first son, 5th grade
Sub-captain: My second son, 3rd grade
Third player: My third son, 1st grade
In this tournament, three players start their games at the same time, and the team with at least two victories advances. In kendo, bouts take place one at a time; in Go, all players start their games at the same time.
I saw lots of teams as I looked around the big hall. There were many girls playing, as well. Everybody was dressed differently. Our players from Chiyoda Elementary School wore the same green T-shirts.
The championship was divided into four categories: select matches to decide the Tokyo District Tournament and determine which team advances to the national championship, as well as classes A, B, and C based on level. Only one team per elementary school can participate in the select matches, whereas multiple teams can participate for the class category matches.
Nearly 50 teams took part in this championship, which means there were almost 150 kids in the hall. Ten teams took part in the select matches, and these had four matches each in their competition to claim the Tokyo District Tournament and spot in the national tournament.
The opening ceremony began, and Shuzo Awaji, a professional 9th dan Go player, greeted everyone: “Regardless if you win or lose, I want you to do your best. Make as many friends as you can and take home good memories.”
After 30 minutes, the all-even group games started. Parents could only remain in the hall for the first five minutes to take photographs. After that, we were barred from entering the hall. By the time those first five minutes were up, my third son had already been declared a winner. He’s an unusually fast player. My first and second sons also won their initial matches, so the team was 3-0.
Since winning teams from the first match faced off in the second, players had to maintain their concentration. The opposing team was from Yanaka Elementary School. My third son got us off to a good start by winning his game, but tension mounted when word came that my second son had lost. That meant my first son played the rubber game of the match between captains. The captains’ game tends to use all their allotted time and is often not decided until the last moment.
I watched the game from a distance, but I could not tell who was winning. It seemed the game was over, and the stones were being counted. The winner had been decided, but I didn’t know the results. When the three boys approached the scorekeeper to report, I caught my first son’s eye. He smiled and gave me the OK sign, and I realized he had won. The team would advance to the third match.
My wife and fifth son arrived at lunchtime, so the seven of us ate together in a waiting room. Then it was time to go back in.
After the completion of the second match, only two teams had won two games in a row. If the boys won the next match, they would almost certainly win this tournament, as well as their ticket to the national tournament. If they lost, they could be eliminated, depending on the result of the fourth game.
The third match was with Ichigaya Elementary School, the defending national champions from last year. Although two members had graduated from the strongest team last year, the captain was a good player and well known in the world of Go. He has almost reached a professional level and is strong enough to play public matches against professionals.
As in previous games, my third son was declared the winner early. The two older sons continued with their games. I sat where my kids could see me as I looked on in anticipation. After a while, my second son’s game ended. He smiled at me, and in spite of myself, I thrust my fists in the air. The boys had won the third match, 2-1.
They were so close!
The fourth match came, and they continued on undefeated, winning the Tokyo District Tournament with a complete sweep. They looked very happy as they received their award certificates at the closing session and were interviewed by the Sankei Shimbun newspaper.
On the way home, we decided to stop by a park. Maybe they needed to blow off steamーthe kids played for almost two hours. My nephew and other neighborhood kids came along to join them, as well as my other sons, returning from their Go lessons.
When I asked the Tokyo district Go champs about what kind of reward they would like, the captain talked to his brothers and said they would like to watch Dragon Ball over pizza.
Our lifestyle has completely changed since my kids started practicing Go two years ago. We used to go to Karuizawa every weekend. Now my wife takes the four boys to Go lessons on weekends, and twice a week, the older boys are coached at a Go club after school.
Their hard work paid off in winning the Tokyo District Tournament. However, they can’t rest on their laurels. There will still be individual matches and, in August, group matches in the national tournament.
The classmates of our eldest son have long been attending a cram school to prepare for the junior high school entrance examinations. Things in our house work a little differently. Our boys will focus on Go until the national tournament in August and then spend time overseas so they can experience a different culture and language. In the fall, after we return, our oldest son will start studying for the junior high school entrance exams.
I believe that challenging kids with the game of Go and exposing them to high pressure situations toughens them up mentally. Win or lose, it’s important to give them these opportunities and have them deal with obstacles head on.
I have often told my children to be global leaders, but I don’t know if they really understand what this means. To compete at a global level, it is necessary to sharpen one’s mind, skills, and body, and this needs to start at an early age. Otherwise, they will tend to avoid problems and only reluctantly seek to overcome them. Adversity should be like an old friend from childhood. It’s too late to start dealing with it once you have grown up.
I believe introducing adversity as a friend is the biggest gift I can offer my children as a parent.