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Feature: Honinbo Jowa Go Logo
5 May 2000 By John Fairbairn
Honinbo Jowa had to wait until late in life before he won a ferocious battle with Inoue Gen'an to become the last Meijin Godokoro. Even then he was forced to give it up soon. Ironically, he was also to win and lose another important title - one that in some ways carries more weight for it is an accolade that can only be given by his peers and posterity: Go Sage.

There were Go Sages even in ancient China. As in all lists of favourite personalities, there is never complete agreement as to who exactly should be on the list. But one thing is agreed when it comes to Go Sages: there are very few of them. It is a very exclusive club.

As I will show below, Jowa was a member for a long time. He shared the honours only with Honinbo Dosaku until ousted, in slightly sordid circumstances, in favour of Honinbo Shusaku. Today, Shusaku's reputation is still somewhat inflated in the West, where most readers have access only to a limited number of texts. Jowa, for similar reasons, is probably underestimated. In Japan, where the go public has access to much more literature, a more objective balance has been struck. I would guess that the parents of any budding professional would love him to grow up like Shusaku, a perfect filial son and pupil. He himself would probably love to play like Jowa.

The first public notice that Jowa was regarded as unusually remarkable appeared in one of his own books. It was his first: Kokugi Kanko. This book - indeed, the title alone - forms part of the great battle with Gen'an. It is a highly pretentious allusion to the Confucian classics which would have escaped the only coarsely educated Jowa; he would have been prompted to use it by his circle of flattering patrons. The better educated Gen'an riposted with a book of his own replete with classical allusions (especially from Sun Zi's "Art of War") that he did understand, and to prove it was his own work he related them to games of go.

Kokugi Kanko is mainly a collection of games by Jowa but has a preface by Hiraiwa Akira written in the twelfth month of 1825 (the book itself appeared the following Autumn). At this time Jowa was still only the Honinbo heir and 6-dan. Yet this preface describes him in gushing terms that include the phrase "The Crowning Glory of the Nation" (Tenka no Kanmuri). Flattery in a preface is only to be expected, but what is significant here is that Jowa was still a dependant of Honinbo Genjo who was still alive as an 8-dan. Furthermore, Yasui Chitoku 8-dan was also alive - both were only in their early 50s. Yasui Senkaku 8-dan was also alive, although he had retired in 1814. And Hattori Inshuku, who represented the Inoue school, was still an active 7-dan, whilst the Hayashi school could also claim a 6-dan in the person of Genbi. Gen'an was 6-dan too. The potential for upsetting everybody that mattered was total!

Yet it didn't happen. The only sensible conclusion seems to be that everyone accepted it was true. Confirmation of this can be found in the book "Igo Kenbunshi" (Observations on Go) by Kawamura Chisoku. Although he published this in 1884, Kawamura was a long-standing pupil of the Honinbo family. He wrote:
"My former teacher Jowa was the Honinbo heir from the early Bunsei period (1818-30), and although he was a dependant and of 6-dan official rank, when he served in the games in the Imperial Palace in the 11th month of each year which had become a happy custom of the Shogunate [the Castle Games], his skill was already that of a Meijin."
There are other examples. In Volume 1 of Honinbo Shuho's "Hoen Shinpo", published in 1882, there is a preface by Shigeno An'eki. In passing, this preface is curious in showing that, even though Dosaku was known as a Go Sage, knowledge of his life seems still to have been very hazy - he is put rather later than his true dates, as he died in Genroku 15 (1702). But this is what it says:
"Sansa appeared and with him the go of the Genna and Kan'ei eras. Dosaku appeared and with him the go of the Genroku and Hoei eras. Jowa appeared and with him the go of the Bunsei and Tenpo eras. Following Jowa came Shuwa and Shusaku. And then we come to Shuho."

"If a person's art reaches the ultimate, we call him a Sage. Dosaku and Jowa are the Go Sages par excellence. Dosaku's skill lay in his supreme excellence. Jowa's skill lay in his heroic profundity. If we take poetry as an example, Dosaku was like Li Bai; Jowa was like Du Fu. If we take literature as an example, Dosaku was like Su Dongpo; Jowa was like Han Yu. Although by nature they were different, in erudition they were alike. The Former Sage and the Latter Sage: their art was one. How can we discriminate between them?"

"Shuho took Shuwa as his teacher, and Shusaku as his elder brother. The three Shus all trace their source to Jowa. A little over 20 years after Jowa's death we encountered a change in the world and the Go Institute was completely destroyed. Those entrusted with its traditions withered away and this art was virtually on the edge of extinction. Shuho rallied his friends and brought Hoensha into being. With training courses and debates, there have been no idle months. Now talented players from all corners of the country are following the wind and gathering here. The Way of Go is again greatly prospering."
Less fulsomely, but perhaps more significant in coming from a Confucian scholar (and therefore moralist), is a signed postscript in Volume 2 of the same book. It is by Miyoshi Kitoku. He was effectively the ghost writer for Shuho, not just in this book but in the bulletins from Hoensha (essentially Shuho's game commentaries) which later developed into the monthly journal Igo Shinpo.

The historian Hayashi Yutaka has perceptively pointed out that the reason for the postscript is likely to be Shuho's way of allowing Kitoku public credit, but in any event the opinions here are clearly Kitoku's. His stance is to stress the significance of Shuwa, but he says this about Jowa:
"At the beginning of the Tensho era (1573-92) Honinbo Sansa first emerged in this art. Then Doseki, Rigen, Santetsu, Inseki and others appeared in quick succession. At this point the Godokoro was instituted, And so we came to the Hoei era (1704-11) when we can view their games for the first time. When Dosaku and Dochi died, the Way of Go declined and became rare and unknown. When I come to think of it, Satsugen, Genjo and Chitoku felt inferior in relation to the ancients. Then we came to the Bunka-Bunsei period (1804-30) when Jowa emerged. The transformations between orthodox and unorthodox in his games - battles for supremacy perhaps! - with Gen'an are beyond our ken. With this our art greatly prospered."
But transformation of a different kind was soon to follow.

Honinbo Shusaku had died prematurely in 1862. Even in his lifetime he had achieved remarkable results, and was surely destined for greater things. But he was only 7-dan and still had not bested his teacher Shuwa. Despite his almost saintly disposition, he was certainly not regarded as a Go Sage in or near his lifetime. That came some 40 years after his death when Ishigaya Kosaku either felt contrition, or saw an opportunity, depending on your point of view.

Ishigaya, born in 1818, lived a long life and was a pupil of Josaku, Shuwa and Shusaku in turn. He reached 5-dan. During his time with Shusaku, the young master appeared to think poorly of him as he had a reputation for welshing on debts, but he appears to have tolerated him as someone who came from the same area (what would now be Hiroshima). At some point after Shusaku's death Ishigaya began ensuring he was not forgotten. The first act was to pay for the erection of a large gravestone. The acts of homage impressed Shuwa enough to allow him to borrow the -saku part of his name from Shusaku (before that it was Koji).

In 1897 Ishigaya published 100 games by Shusaku under a title borrowed from a poem by Sima Guang, "Kogyoku Yoin" (Reverberations from Colliding Jades = Remembered Go Games). This was followed in May 1904 by a book on fuseki called "Shusaku Koketsu Kifu" (Shusaku's Games as Revealed to Me). Whilst Ishigaya was assiduously promoting Shusaku's reputation, it should be noted that he was not denigrating Jowa. It was rather that he began using the term Go Sage about Shusaku. The Oriental mind, where Sages are meant to be rare, would perhaps instinctively want to replace one with another rather than add to to the pantheon - Go Seigen once famously refused the accolade of Go Sage. But this impulse, if it existed, would certainly have been boosted at the time because of the appearance of the go history "Zain Danso", just a few months earlier than Ishigaya's book, in January 1904. It was here that Jowa's intrigues to secure the Meijin Godokoro were first revealed.

Though "Zain Danso" was edited by Ando Nyoi, this particular section was written by Yamada Gyokusen, who had interviewed old timers. Both Ando and Yamada, however, were based in Osaka and their contacts centred round the Inoue family, then headed by the 15th, Tabuchi. Inevitably there was a bias to their version of events - Inoue Gen'an was getting his revenge from the grave! Ando was aided in making his revelations by the fact that Nakagawa Kamesaburo had died in October 1903. Nakagawa was Jowa's third son, head of Hoensha and a venerated elder. It is unlikely that Ando would have dared publish what he did if Nakagawa were still alive.

That this truly was a consideration can be inferred from later developments. In this first edition Honinbo Shuei was respectfully referred to as the Master. Shuei died in 1907. In 1912 a much rewritten version of "Zain Danso" appeared and now the honorific language - and thus the pretence - was dropped.

With such a strongly nurtured candidate for sagedom waiting in the wings, "Zain Danso" now made it inevitable that the stage trapdoor would open and swallow Jowa's reputation. There was no-one to fight on his behalf.

The first strong note of reappraisal came in 1951. In what was perhaps a conscious attempt to hark back to the past - the modernism of the pre-war era was obviously discredited and there were signs that the imposition of western ways was beginning to be resented - the go world celebrated publication in 10 volumes of all the extant Castle Games (Oshiro Gofu).

This was under the joint editorship of Segoe Kensaku 8-dan, Watanabe Hideo 4-dan and Yahata Kyosuke, a Nihon Ki-in director who provided much of the source material from his own collection. Segoe also used as an amanuensis Matsui Akio, a famous go book collector.

It is not clear who wrote what, but I follow Hayashi Yutaka in agreeing that it is inconceivable that Segoe's views would not prevail. It is therefore especially interesting to see the entry for Jowa in the biographical section. Segoe (we shall assume it is he) suggests trying to set up a sumo-type ranking list covering the players from the Kansei era to the end of Keio (1789-1868). He lists the claims of the 7th Yasui, Senkaku, for his "splendid power", Genjo as Jowa's teacher, Chitoku who managed to awe Jowa like a tiger, Gen'an of course, and Shuwa, Shusaku and Shuho. He then says that each of these probably has qualifications to object to placing Jowa in the seat of Yokozuna (Grand Champion) of the East, but "taking these points all in all, we will discover that we cannot but recommend Jowa for first place. Truly, this 12th Honinbo was the personification of power in go."

It is easy to dismiss this as just another opinion. But one reason it carries weight is that Segoe had every reason to support Shusaku instead. At one stage in his career he used as the character for -saku in his name the one used by Shusaku. It was meant to express his admiration. And he was from the same area as Shusaku. That meant, however, that he was also from the same area as Ishigaya, and while they were not exactly contemporaries (Segoe was born in 1889, Ishigaya died in 1905), he knew all about him. Segoe was also the teacher of Go Seigen, so had first-hand experience of someone most of us would regard as a Go Sage. Despite these conflicting pulls, the Castle Games text comes over as sober, centred and objective.

Since then, of course, the stories of Jowa's deviousness and Shusaku's filial piety have been replayed many times both as fact and as popular fiction. These images are fast. But they are about human attributes, not go. On the go board it is still Jowa who inspires awe. It is now common, whenever Jowa is mentioned, to replay also the fact that he was the Latter Sage to Dosaku's Former Sage, so with repetition his earliest reputation is re-emerging.

But perhaps we can leave the last, falsely modest, word to Jowa himself - he did after all know more about go than most people. It is a story told by Takagi Shoichi, a well-known fan of Jowa. Asked once by his pupils how he would fare against Dosaku, Jowa is said to have thought calmly and then replied: "If I played a 20-game match with Master Dosaku, the first 10 games would be split between us. After that, who can tell what would happen?"

Here are some games in downloadable sgf format featuring Honinbo Jowa. In some he is called by his early name. I have stuck with tradition here and used Kadono for his surname, but it has been shown recently and fairly conclusively (as I have written before in that the correct reading is probably Toya. Hattori Rittetsu is an early manifestation of Inoue Gen'an Inseki. The best games between the two were early in their careers when they were not avoiding each other. Shinomiya was a super-strong go gambler who was regarded as 5-dan pro. He was a ferocious fighter and was astounded to find that Jowa was an even better fighter - till then he had never imagined anyone could give him two stones.

Game 1: v. Honinbo Genjo (1809)
Game 2: v. Hattori Rittetsu (1812)
Game 3: v. Hattori Rittetsu (1815)
Game 4: v. Hattori Rittetsu (1815)
Game 5: v. Shinomiya Yonezo (1821)
Game 6: v. Honinbo Shuwa (1840)