The 27. World Amateur Go Championship in Japan
Sasebo/ Huis ten Bosch, May 27.-31 2006
This was my fifth participation in a World Go Championship, my fourth in Japan, and my third in Kyushu. Somehow I always end up at this south-western ridge of the Japanese islands and not only me. Quite a lot of veteran players were there whom I met for the second or third time in Kyushu, among them Germany's Christoph Gerlach, Serbia's Mijodrag Stankovic, and others.
I like Kyushu. People are more open than in Tokyo, more interested in getting into contact with foreigners, less polite and more humorous. And the food is usually even better and cheaper than elsewhere in Japan. This time, however, everything was quite different. This time, we were at Huis ten Bosch.
Huis ten Bosch? Sounds Dutch, and indeed it is: Huis ten Bosch is a miniature copy of everything, Japanese tourists may expect to find in Holland: A whole town composed of "krachts" like in Amsterdam, windmills, flowergardens and even a big church-tower without a church. A theme park, convenient for people who have some money to spend, but not enough to go to Europe, or who feel more comfortable to experience the exotic flair of a European city if it is combined with Japanese service - and language. The whole town is more or less one big hotel. No cars are allowed, except retro-styled electro cars owned by Huis ten Bosch, many of which are decorated with flowers for the next wedding couple. Also in the entrance halls of the biggest hotels you see these flower arrangements for a sumptious wedding party centering around the most important event: the wedding photo. But, alas, these wedding parties have become scarce and also the other tourists do not pour in huge crowds into this otherwise completely remote area.
Every day at 8:30 p.m. a big firework was lit together with a light show and dramatic orchestra sounds. Everyday exactly the same. We soon found out that this in effect marked the end of the day. Most tourists left the town after this event, restaurants closed and only one or two bars kept open until midnight. Dutch night life made in Japan showed its sad, boring side. A typical remnant of Japan's bubble economy after the burst of the bubble. This seems exactly the reason why the organizers of this year's WAGC (with the Japan Airlines as its main sponsor) choose that location: At least there were some Go players who crowded this lonely version of New Amsterdam and, moreover, some of us could easily be taken as Dutch adding authenticity to the place.
Yet we, the go players, found ourselves trapped in a golden prison: We had been generously supplied with meal-tickets - but these were valuable only inside Huis ten Bosch. To get to the next town, Sasebo, took about one hour (half by foot and half by train) - and then we had to pay everthing by our own. But the worst thing - at least for me - was the fact that despite all the appearant luxury around us, we were packed into little bungalows with two double rooms, designed for families with two children. We even had a dining room and a kitchen, but no room for ourselves. In every bungalow there were the lucky ones, who ended up in the "parent's room", while the "children" had smaller rooms, smaller beds and no TV. But the main problem occured when two people of the same room turned out to be great snorers, like in my case me and Stankovic. Eventually we could solve this problem by setting up an emergency bed in the dining room. Luckily, my other home mates did not have the same problem...
Some 200 years ago, foreigners were not allowed to enter Japan. The government closed all harbours to foreign ships and only one port provided something like a peephole on the world outside: Nagasaki, not too far away from our Huis ten Bosch. Here an artificial island was errected as a landing place for ships from Europe. For some historical reasons, only the Dutch were allowed to embark on this island, which explains the special relationship of the Kyushu area with the Netherlands. Since that time Japan's view of the world outside has completely changed. Japan is extremely interested in international relations, both at the receiving and - as evidenced among others by the WAGC - at the giving end of cultural exchange. Yet, in contrast to the many positive experiences of previous World Amateur Championships, this time I felt some similarities with the situation of the Southern Barbarians (as the Dutch were called 200 years ago), however faint they were.
World Amateur Go Championships in Japan have a tradition of generosity, by which Japan presents itself as a protecting power of Go all around the world. Not only the travel costs, also meals and lodgings have been covered by the Japanese hosts. In addition gorgeous receptions and touristic side events used to surround the main tournament. It is no surprise that now, after almost 30 years, an every encreasing number of participants (68 in 2006), and the above mentioned economic crisis of the "hardboiled wonderland", the management of the WAGC is seeking ways to cut down expenses. I think most players of foreign countries are still grateful to get this opportunity to visit Japan, play Go and get into contact with top level Go expertise by professional analyses of their own games. Yet, I feel that this time the arrangement of the tournament went against the original spirit of the event: While still luxurious on the outside, the actual conditions for the players were reduced to the comfort of a high school trip. The whole event was one day shorter than usual, providing no opportunity to see anything else of Japan. And finally, the location itself may be attractive in the eyes of Japanese tourists, but it leads to a schizophrenic effect on the part of foreign visitors who get the impression that Japan wanted to hide itself behind a Dutch style Potemkin facade.
Still, it was a Go event and indeed we played Go. Most of us learned something from encounters with stronger players and from professional comments on our games, and we got an opportunity to re-encounter or make friends with go players from all over the world. But if I am allowed to raise a request for the future: I would always prefer a single room in a second rate or third rate hotel in "real" Japan and a modest amount of money to buy some "Ramen" or "Udon" soup, to the outward luxury and inward restrictions of Huis ten Bosch's golden prison.
Bernhard Scheid, June 2006