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Go and Shogi Players between Pomp and Fussiness at the Edo Castle

Starting in June 1995, I have examined fragmentary scriptures from the traditional shogi player family Ôhashi and was able to discover some twenty five hitherto unknown texts that deal in official manner with the annual tournaments of go and shogi at Edo Castle. The author of all these fragmentary records is the fifth head of the house of Ôhashi, called Ôhashi Sôkei the third. The records cover the thirty four years from 1674 to 1708. Here I would like to present the first record.

As an official report about the attendance of the players at the Castle of the Shogun, the record does not deal with the ordinary life of the players. Even so the author accounts what he actually heard and saw. Therefore we are able to learn many facts and details hitherto unknown to the history of go and shogi. The aim of the records was not merely to inform the posterity. They also served as documents when a new superior (the Commissioner of Temples and Shrines) requested information about precedents.

The tournaments at the Castle were held regularly since 1667, seven years before this record was written. At that time the officially sponsored houses of go and shogi were obliged to move from Kyoto to Edo. This was the time when many medieval leftovers in the administration were removed by new provisions. Correspondingly, the roles of the players too seem to have taken a definite shape then.

Before reporting the actual events of the Castle Games of 1674 let us refer to the players involved. Honinbô Dôetsu, was the third head of the house and was at that time 39 years of age. Also involved was the famous Dôsaku who later became the fourth Honinbô. He was 30 that year. The head of the Yasui House, Sanchi, being 57 was the senior among the go-players and thus held the title of go-dokoro. This was the highest title among players often endowed in connection with the rank of meijin (lit. `man of [highest] fame'). However, in contrast to the traditional opinion, Ôhashi sources testify that it cannot be regarded as an official title endowed by the government. A junior Yasui, Santetsu, later became astronomer of the Shogunate and changed his name into Shibukawa Shunkai. At that time he was 36. His younger brother Chitetsu, 33, later became the third Yasui. Monnyû, 35 and second head of the Hayashi house, was a pupil of Yasui Sanchi. Inseki, 26, took over the house of Inoue but was actually the younger brother of Dôsaku. Shunchi, by 22 the youngest player, was from the Yasui house. The difficult interrelations of master-pupil and blood-lineages certainly urged the utmost caution regarding the pairings at the Castle Games.

Among the shogi-players Sôkei was the fifth head of the Ôhashi, the oldest shogi player house. His original name, however, was Itô Sôgin. He thus may have been adopted from the shogi house of Itô. He was 39 then. His opponent was Sôsha, the third head of the Ôhashi branch-family. Aged 27 he had not yet reached the peak of his art and received handicap by Sôkei. The head of the third house, the Itô, was Sôkan. Aged 56 he was the senior among the shogi-players and thus became shogi-dokoro. Perhaps due to the rank of his family he never played at the Castle Games, but participated as an `observer' (hikae).

The document starts with an account of the pairings for the annual tournament in front of the Shogun, which was planned by the go and shogi houses themselves. Two propositions were put forward. One was identical with the pairing of the previous year: Yasui Sanchi vs. Honinbô Dôetsu. In that year, however, the game could not be decided within the scheduled time. To avoid such an `unpleasantry' another pairing was put forward either. In fact, up to 1691 it was very rare that all Castle Games were finished at the Castle. In most cases some games were continued at a different place, for instance in 1672 at the residence of the Commissioner Toda Tajima-no-kami. In 1674 it was finally decided that the Castle Games should be held on the 20th day of the 11th Month and that Honinbô Dôetsu should play Yasui Santetsu.

Three days before the scheduled game, however, Yasui Santetsu informed Ôhashi Sôkei in a letter that his condition had turned extremely bad, so he would not be able to attend the tournament in the Castle at the 20th day. Since he was expected to play Honinbô, he questioned Sôkei informally, whether he could not have Hayashi Monnyû play Honinbô instead. Honinbô, however, stated, that he could not accept anyone else than Yasui Sanchi, his opponent in recent years, instead. If he could not play Sanchi, he would neither play nor attend the Castle Games. (Monnyû was Sanchi's disciple and Honinbô obviously objected to playing the pupil instead of the master.)

In due course, the day before the Castle Games, a letter from Honinbô reached Sôkei. Honinbô maintained that due to a terrible food poisoning he would not be able to appear at the Castle. Thereupon, a letter by the Commissioner informed the players that the games would be postponed until the 24th, since both, Santetsu and Honinbô, had fallen ill. The final pairing would be decided on the 23rd according to the state of affairs.

On the 21st, Honinbô wrote Sôkei that the poisoning disease had gone, but that he were now suffering from spasms in his breast. Sôkei paid him a visit and was subsequently visited by the senior Yasui, Sanchi. They had a `frank talk' reaffirming each other how fortunate they were to play games in front of the Shogun. We may infer that they felt some danger that due to the sudden illnesses the tournament could be canceled altogether. No complaints about Honinbô are reported, yet, we feel an atmosphere of constraint to lead the players to concerted action.

The tournament was finally held on the 24th in the Kuro-shoin Hall of Edo Castle. In spite of the detailed accounts of the preliminaries, the games themselves are described very scantly. Just names and results are mentioned, particular developments on the boards are kept in silence. The recovered Yasui Santetsu played Dôsaku (Yasui Santetsu vs Dôsaku, Dôsaku wins by 6 points), whereas Honinbô did not appear at all, not even as an `observer'.
black white date place result #mn game
Yasui Santetsu
Honinbo Dosaku

Like in all the other records, rather than commenting the games, the author is mainly concerned with the audience, in particular the ranks of the individual members of the government watching. In 1674, he could proudly report that the fourth Shogun Tokugawa Ietsuna deigned to visit the games personally. This was in fact highly unusual. In spite of the pretext that the tournaments were held in front of the Shogun, in all other records by Ôhashi Sôkei we do not find his presence mentioned. The same was true for the Chancellor (tairô) who was also among the audience that year. Further, the Senior Advisors (rôjû), the Commissioner of Temples and Shrines (jisha bugyô), and the Master of Ceremonies (sôshaban) belonged to the Shogunal entourage.

The traditional sources of go and shogi history have never informed us of the treatment the players received when playing the Castle Games. Sôkei's reports, however, mention luxurious meals in the morning and in the evening, served on precious table-wear. These meals were called `two soups, seven vegetables' which may sound a little bit misleading. In fact they consisted of two courses both composed of seven vegetables plus three kinds of grilled food differing according to season. Formalism in those days was not so strict to forbid any changes, so from 1682 on only `two soups, five vegetables' were served. This down-ranking notwithstanding, we may call the treatment of the players out of proportion compared to their modest income. Judging from the amount of their stipends the players held only a very subordinate rank in the Shogunal administration. However, when they entered the Castle to show their art to the Shogun himself, they received a treatment suiting the most exalted artists. They were even served green tea and the proper sweets by the tea-masters of the Shogun. Accordingly, in all records without fail we learn about the food the players were treated with. This was therefore another point of special importance in the eyes of the author.

When the games finished, the players first had to offer their gratitude to the inspectors (metsuke) who were responsible for safety and control inside the Castle. After leaving the Castle, they had to pay another visit of courtesy to the Senior and Minor Advisors and to the Commissioner of Temples and Shrines.

Short time after the tournaments, the players began to engage in negotiations about their time off duty. Every year in the 12th Month, they had to apply for holidays and their application had to be acknowledged by the Shogun's senior advisors. Holidays would last until the end of the Third Month the following year. During this period players received only half of their usual salary, but obviously they could leave Edo under the pretext of `going to a spa'. Being allowed to travel was quite an uncommon privilege that time.

Thus, on the first day of the 12th Month the players showed up in the Castle again to get permission to take their holidays from the senior advisor and to receive rewards. Who received what amount is minutely recorded every year. That time too, they had to pay visits to the Senior Advisors, the Junior Advisors, and the Commissioner. This may be called an indispensable part of institutional red-tapism in the yearly routine of an official master of go or shogi in the Edo Period.

Concerning the formalism of the tournament I would like to add some remarks based on further reports of the Ôhashi House and additional sources. As already mentioned, in most cases games were not finished within scheduled time and were to be continued at the residence of one of the senior advisors. As a rule, the treatment of the players would not change then. They were served the same food and sometimes (e.g. in 1684) even the tea-masters Fukuami and Chinami had to attend them in the residence of a Senior Advisor. As this became quite a burden for the Senior Advisors, eventually a reform of this practice was urged. In 1692, four days before the tournament, the players all of a sudden received an order from the Commissioner of Temples and Shrines to have their games finished inside the Castle. They discussed the matter and finally agreed to assemble at Honinbô's house one day before the tournament in order to play a so-called uchishirabe (also called shitauchi), a game in advance. They would replay this game the next day in the Castle only saving the last decisive moves to play out during the scheduled time at the Castle.

In 1697, however, in spite of the uchishirabe, one of the Castle Games could not be finished in due time. It was continued in the residence of the Senior Advisor Toda Sagami-no-kami. In the following year, just before the tournament players were again strictly ordered to finish games in time. It was probably from this time on that the uchishirabe, the games in advance, were played out until the final decision. Thus, the games of go and shogi in the Castle were mere demonstration games. Yet, even if the results were clear since the day before, they would be reported as of the very day of the Castle Games.

The alienation of the games, however, went even further. Since the games (or rather game demonstrations) were finished rather soon, in the remaining time players were asked to show additional model games or play teaching games with enthusiastic amateurs among the Daimyô and lesser officials. Also players who participated only as `observers' joined these events which came to be known as okonomi games (games to [the Shogun's] liking). Among the Ôhashi sources, there is also a handwritten collection of games which contains okonomi games of shogi up to the 1780ies. In side notes the names of the participants (go and shogi) of the tournaments are mentioned. Judging from these records we can observe that year after year the strength of the players engaged in the official games decreased from high dan to lower dan. On the other hand players from the higher ranks became increasingly engaged in okonomi games. We almost get the impression that the official games were nothing but a side effect of okonomi games which turned the Kuro-shoin Hall of Edo Castle once a year into a salon of go and shogi. Probably, the reason why the Castle Games were continued over such a long time was due to the enthusiasm of connoisseurs of go and shogi among the ranks of the highest officials who regularly participated at okonomi games.

by Masukawa Kôichi
translated by Bernhard Scheid


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