Has Go become fashionable?

A white stone, a black stone, a dialogue that is silent but rich: Go is a thousand years old, but it has still not really found its audience un the West. Since its arrival in France in the 1970s, Go had a hard time establishing itself. It’s supporters passionately promoted it, introducing hundreds of children to it, using every means to pass on their knowledge. But although this work has not been in vain (1,200 initiates at present), it has been a difficult job promoting the game. While the local press has in general received it favourably what about the national papers? Many players remember the precious rarity of the double page in Le Monde dedicated to « The martial art of the mind »(1)Le Monde, 14/15 June 1998, pp 10-11.

Then suddenly, Go was being lauded in the media: Shan Sa, the young Chinese novelist, has put Go at the heart of her fourth book, a novel entitled The woman who played Go(2)The woman who played Go, Grasset, 343 pages. In the Manchuria of the 1930s a young Chinese woman student and a Japanese officer confront each other and pacify each other during a heated encounter…

The delicacy of the style, the originality of the plot woven in a piercing succession of episodes in black and white, captivated the young readers who awarded this novel the Goncourt des Lycéens prize in 2001.

The book, and with it Go, have just won their place at the head of the pack. Bookshop are restocking their games shelves, making space among the works dealing with bridge and chess; the novelist has appeared on television, clubs have recently been filmed while associated companies are falling over themselves to tie in the book launch with promotional offers which have taken Shan Sa on a tour around France. She has been delighted and astonished to discover a microcosm of Go in France: « In China, Go is much more popular and widespread ».

While this has been going on, on the other side of the world, Go has been undergoing a renaissance. In Japan, the young who have about as much interest in it as in the tea ceremony have long ignored the game. It has taken a Manga hero to change this opinion: the young Hikaru discovers the game by accident. He is about to sell the set to make some pocket money when he discovers it is possessed by the spirit of one of the great masters of Go. Attractive graphics, a plot cleverly balanced between Go and action, it was just what was needed to entice Japanese youth.

Nearly eight million copies of the cartoon were printed and it quickly topped the Manga hit parade. And as nothing can escape from its own age, the game of Hikaru no Go came out on Game Boy while Hukaru became the hero of a Tokyo TV series. The Japanese Go Association can’t believe it: « In the past we had very few enquiries, but now we get calls from kids who want to know how to become Go professionals ».

Hikaru’s success does not end at the Japanese borders: throughout the Internet, pirate English (and even French) versions of the manga and cartoon are exchanged among fans of the game. The publishers Tonkam have taken a bet on the success of the cartoon in France and have bought the rights for it to appear near the end of 2002.

What should we make of these phenomena? Is the growing fame of Go simply a coincidence or is it the start of a new development. If you take a close look it is not entirely due to luck. For several years now the game of Go has not just been relegated to a crossword definition in the minds of Europeans. Everyone has « heard about it » or « played it once ». Which is a good time (especially as this has already been declared the « spiritual » century), for the public to become more aware and discover this mind game. For their part, retailers and the media are slowly following the movement, and proving themselves less reticent in appreciating a previously unknown game.

For the first time, the FNAC bookshops have made an effort with Go and are selling a beginners CD-Rom(3)Jeu de Go Teacher, Loolai Production in addition to the various books already on their shelves. Will a novel and a Manga be enough to give the much needed push for the spread of the game? All this activity is a sign of a new interest in this fascinating game…

Read this article in French…

Notes   [ + ]

1. Le Monde, 14/15 June 1998, pp 10-11
2. The woman who played Go, Grasset, 343 pages
3. Jeu de Go Teacher, Loolai Production