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Hashimoto Utaro

Hashimoto Utaro is probably best known of two things: his leadership in the Kansai Ki’in and his loooong Go career. According to the Go Player’s Almanac (Ishi Press, 1992), he probably holds the all-time longevity record for a professional (and he’s extending this record; he was born in February 1907). Being a 3-time Honinbo title winner and the loser in the 1st Kisei title match (to Fujisawa Shuko), Hashimoto has also composed a tsume-go problem a day for several decades!

Some of his games with Go Seigen in his early years were associated with some interesting stories.

In 1933, Kitani Minoru and Go Seigen spent a summer together in Nagano (Mrs. Kitani’s hometwon). When the autumn arrived, their return to Tokyo marked the beginning of the New Fuseki Era. (Of course, both players had
had thoughts on new openings and had tried some new moves before the summer; a revolution doesn’t occur in one day or two.)

Just at this time, Yomiuri Newspaper sponsered a Japanese Go Championship to celebrate the publication of the No. 20,000 of the newspaper. It was a knockout tournament in which sixteen 5-dan or above players (i.e. perhaps all the top players at the time) participated. The winner would earn the bonus to play a game against Meijin Honinbo Shusai (9-dan). The finalists were Go Seigen and Hasahimoto Utaro.

As mentioned above, Kitani and Wu had just brought New Fuseki to the Go world, and this new style of playing immediately became popular. It emphasized on the global situation on the board, and that local values should be determined by its influence to the whole board. Based on this philosophy, all kind of starting moves at the corners could be used as long as they sighted on the whole board, thus the opening moves were no longer limited to the traditional 3-4 points, and players, especially amateurs, were relieved from the burden of complicated josekis.

There were, naturally, traditional forces against this new current. The highest representative of the old style was of course Meijin Shusai. Therefore, before this final match between Go Seigen and Hashimoto, the fans were earnestly hoping for a Go Seigen victory that would lead to a clash between the old (Shusai) and the new (Wu).

As it turned out, Wu won the game. The president of Yomiuri (which would go on to sponser the Shusai-Wu game) was so excited that he held Hashimoto’s hands and said, “Thank you so much! You lost so wonderfully!”

“I almost exploded.” Hashimoto later said, “I was just in the pain and disappointment of losing a game, and I received such a greeting! However, the Go world was full of excitement afterwards; based on this result, I probably lost the game correctly.”

Go Seigen and Meijin’s match started later in October, 1933. It turned out to be a famous game in which Go Seigen started the game with a 3-3, a hoshi (star point), and the tengen (center point) as his first 3 moves.


Go Seigen had been a religious person; in 1944 he became a convert to a Buddhist sect, and he retired from Go. (Notice that was the time WWII was moving toward its final stages, and Go Seigen, being a Chinese, had faced much hostility in his second nation since the War started. That could be another reason he tended to avoid the public.)

But by 1946, Go Seigen decided to return to the Go world. Yomiuri Newspapar promptly arranged a 10-game series between Go Seigen and Hashimoto Utaro, and this series not just marked the return of Go Seigen, it also marked the beginning of a remarkable reign of Go Seigen over the next dozen years, in which, Go Seigen beat, in turn, Hashimoto Utaro, Fujisawa Kuranosuke (twice), Sakata Eio, and Takagawa Honinbo in 10-game series. (Go Seigen did not just beat them; he forced his opponent to change handicap in each of these series.)

In the very first game after his return, however, Go Seigen didn’t look sharp at all. His rusty play led to a comment by the easy winner Hashimoto that “Even Mr. Wu doesn’t know how to play now.” Hashimoto, being Wu’s elder learning mate, was mainly concerned with Wu’s religious state, but a much more violent reaction actually came from the representatives of the Chinese government in Japan. (Notice it was before 1949.)

Right after the War, Go Seigen was issued a temporary Chinese passport by the Chinese representatives. But after he lost his first game to Hashimoto Utaro, those representatives got so angry that they confiscated Wu’s passport, saying, “A passport is useless to a loser.” (Some years later, the Chinese government in Taiwan invited Go Seigen to pay a visit and honored him with the “Great National Hand” title. Clearly, he wasn’t treated as a “loser” this time. Go Seigen thus was without cititzenship (of any nation) for several years.

Another person who was concerned after Go Seigen’s loss was the head of his Buddhist sect, and she (the head was a female) asked (since she was the head, I guess this was like an order) to spend the night with Go Seigen in the same room before his 2nd game against Hashimoto, saying she was going to give him “the strength of the Heaven Gods” (Note either in Shinto or Buddhism, the two major religions in Japan, there are many gods).
As you can imagine, it turned out to be a nervous suffering for Go Seigen.

“She was a ‘living immortal’, and she was also a female, so I was even afraid to turn my body while I was asleep. As a result, I didn’t get enough sleep. (*laugh*)”, Go Seigen said during an interview. “The next day during the game, with sleepy eyes I missed obvious moves at the beginning, and I was on the edge to lose another game. Suddenly, Mr. Hashimoto unexpectedly made an incredible mistake in the second half, and I was miraculously saved. At the end, I barely pulled off the game with one point.


What was that “incredible mistake” by Hashimoto? Here is the picture:

As shown, B (Hashimoto) just made move #135 at [J7]. However, had B played [a] instead, W team wouldn’t live. Hashimoto missed it! (On the otherbhand, from this missed golden opportunity by Hashimoto, we can see how badly Go Seigen played in the first half.)

After the game, Hashimoto said, “I played as if I lost my,consciousness, completely unable to think.”

His thought was then “modified” and became the following rumor:

“Just as Hashimoto was about to play, suddenly from nowhere came the sound of big drums, disturbing his thinking. Or (I *love* this “or” :-), there was a spider hanging onto the board from the ceiling (just when he was about to play).”

Later Hashimoto recalled with a bitter smile, “If I review that game now, I would too think that my mind was abnormal…a mistake wouldn’t have been made by a normal person…I heard some rumors on the game, ‘Drum sound went into the ears of Hashimoto, who was playing, and the sound messed up his mind — Hashimoto lost to the Gods.’…There were indeed meddlers in this world; they could hear sound that even I didn’t hear…”

(Hey, I don’t care about the drums; I like the part of spider. )

This game marked the start of Go Seigen’s recovery. He won the next three game in a row. After Hashimoto won the 6th (thus avoided a demotion), Wu again won the next two, forcing Hashimoto to BWB handicap (it was even at the beginning of the series). At this time, Go Seigen’s magnificant game had fully returned.

Hashimoto said, “I was indeed not as good as Mr. Wu; being forced to BWB was not unfair. The War had just ended, and everyone was busy for
living. Mr. Wu didn’t have such worries, and he recovered quickly.”

Finally, a note on the head of that Buddhist sect: Go Seigen actually had to turn his earnings from the games to her — about 10,000 yen a game
at that time, which was not a big deal to her, since she could obtain much more from other businessmen because two members of her sect were very
famous (one was Go Seigen, and another was a wrestler). Very soon, however, Go Seigen realized that what he had been seeking for could not be
found in the form of this Buddhist sect (It must be found in Go! ), and he ended his relation with that “living immortal.”

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