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Translator's notes

The author of this short, but telling case study, Masukawa Kôichi, is one of the leading experts of the history of games in Japan. He has written a number of monographs on games like sugoroku (backgammon), shogi (Japanese chess), or go and also wrote about the history of gambling in Japan, games all over the world, etc. Relying mostly on material hitherto unknown to Japanese go history, like diaries or reports by outsiders, his findings often divert from what is found in conventional introductory chapters on go history. Starting with the age of the game, the enthusiasm of political figures like Oda Nobunaga or Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and the prestige of the players at the court of the Shogun, he casts doubt on many a stereotype frequently cited to enlarge the historical prestige of the game1. He also dwells upon gambling, one of the great taboos in the Japanese world of go. In contrast to most go historians who are aware of this fact, but treat it only en passant, Masukawa argues that go as well as shogi and other games would never have found broad reception, if they were not played for money or other material goods throughout their entire history. This `heretical' position may be one of the reasons, why his writings are familiar only to a limited number of go players even in Japan.

    For a well done summary of traditional material about Japanese go history see Andrew Grant's Go History Pages. For a previous summary concerning in particular the professional players system in the Edo period in English see the introduction to Invincible - The Games of Shusaku by John Power (Kiseido 1982).

In the following slightly shortened and modified translation2 I would like to present Masukawa's most recent research project, dealing with the duties of go and shogi players at the court of the Shogun. To understand the significance of this article we may recall that the top players of go and shogi in the Edo period (1600-1868) were organized as government officials, earning their living by annual stipends. The existence of this prototype of modern professional players system is the reason for the supremacy of Japanese go until recently. There were seven houses or schools (four of go and three of shogi) which appear partly like monasteries partly like families, a very common pattern among Japanese artists and artisans at that time. The players were put under the supervision of the jisha bugyô, the Commissioner of Temples and Shrines. This was a high governmental office, actually shared by three individuals at a time who took turn in office every month. Superior to the jisha bugyô were the rôjû or Senior Advisors of the Shogun who also interfered from time to time in decisions concerning the players. One of the merits of the following article is to illuminate the relationship between the players and their official superiors.

    The original article by Masukawa Kôichi is called `Ôhashi-ke bunsho kaiketsu (2): Enpô ni-nen dankan' (Notes on the scriptures of the Ôhashi House (2): The fragmentary record of 1674) published in Yûgishi kenkyû (Studies on the History of Games) 8, 1996.10, pp. 59-75. Ed. by the Shogi Museum, Osaka. My modifications and shortenings concern mainly passages which require too specific previous knowledge in regard to a Western audience.

A common shortcoming of historical studies so far is that they neglect the intimate connections between the houses of go and shogi in the Edo Period. Notably historians of the game of go often completely ignored the history of shogi. From the perspective of government administration, however, go and shogi players were regarded as one organizational body and treated alike. Further, as Masukawa's article demonstrates, players of one game served as mediators in the quarrels between the houses of the other game when fierce competition locked normal communication. At least during the period studied in detail by Masukawa, many records testify to the harmonious relationship between the houses Honinbô (go) and the Ôhashi (shogi) in contrast to the tensions between the Honinbô and their main rival, the Yasui. By the way, in regard to the antagonism Honinbô - Yasui that shaped the formative phase of the four go houses, Masukawa's findings are not at variance with traditional go history.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspects of Masukawa's research, however, are the detailed descriptions of the players' treatment at the court. They are not only important for the history of games, but also as a case study of the Tokugawa administration which was tormented by internal contradictions due to the high esteem of precedences dating back - ideally at least - to the times of the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu. As we can observe in the case of the players, even small changes of etiquette required meticulous considerations which involved the highest levels of the bureaucracy.

Bernhard Scheid


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