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DESCRIPTION OF THE BOARD AND STONES
The board, or “Go Ban” as it is called in Japanese, is a solid block of wood, about seventeen and a half inches long, sixteen inches broad, and generally about four or five inches thick. It has four detachable feet or legs so that as it stands on the floor it is about eight inches high. The board and feet are always stained yellow.
The best boards in Japan are made of a wood called “Kaya” (Torreya Nucifera) a species of yew. They are also made of a wood called “Icho” or Gingko (Salisburia adiantifolia) and of “Hinoki” (Thuya Obtusa) a kind of cedar. At all events they must be of hard wood, and yet not so hard as to be unpleasant to the touch when the stone is placed on the board, and the wood must further have the quality of resonance, because the Japanese enjoy hearing the sound made by the stone as it is played, and they always place it on the board with considerable force when space will permit. The Japanese expression for playing Go, to wit, “Go wo utsu,” literally means to “ strike” Go, referring to the impact of the stone. In Korea this feature is carried to such an extreme that wires are stretched beneath the board, so that as a stone is played a distinct musical sound is produced. The best boards should, of course, be free from knots, and the grain should run diagonally across them.
- In the back of the board there is cut a square depres
sion. The purpose of this is probably to make the block more resonant, although the old Japanese stories say that this depression was put there originally to receive the blood of the vanquished in case the excitement of the game led to a sanguinary conflict.
The legs of the board are said to be shaped to resemble the fruit of the plant called “Kuchinashi” or Cape Jessamine (Gardenia floribunda), the name of which plant by accident also means “without a mouth,” and this is supposed to suggest to onlookers that they refrain from making comments on the game (a suggestion which all Chess players will appreciate).
On the board, parallel with each edge, are nineteen thin, lacquered black lines. These lines are about four one-hundredths of an inch wide. It has been seen from the dimensions given that the board is not exactly square, and the field therefore is a parallelogram, the sides of which are sixteen and a half and fifteen inches long respectively, and the lines in one direction are a little bit farther apart than in the other. These lines, by their crossing, produce three hundred and sixty-one points of intersection, including the corners and the points along the edge of the field.
The stones are placed on these points of intersection, and not in the spaces as the pieces are in Chess or Checkers. These intersections are called “Me” or “Moku” in Japanese, which really means “an eye.” Inasmuch as the word as used in this connection is untranslatable, I shall hereafter refer to these points of intersection by their Japanese name.
On the board, as shown in the diagram (Plate 1), are nine little circles. It is on these circles that the handicap stones when given are placed. They have no other function in the game, but they are supposed also to have some sort of symbolical meaning. Chamberlain states that these spots or “Seimoku" are supposed to represent the chief celestial bodies, and that the central one is called “Taikyoku”; that is, the primordial principle of the universe. In the work of Stewart Culin referred to in the preface it is stated that they correspond to the nine lights of heaven — the sun, moon and the seven stars of the constellation “Tau” (Ursa Major). Indeed the whole arrangement of the board is said to have some symbolical significance, the number of crosses (exclusive of the central one) representing the three hundred and sixty degrees of latitude, and the number of white and black stones corresponding to the number of days of the year; but nowadays the Japanese do not make much of a point of the astronomical significance of the board or of the “Seimoku.”
The stones or “Ishi” with which the game is played are three hundred and sixty-one in number, corresponding to the number of “Me” or points of intersection on the board. One hundred and eighty of these stones are white and the remaining one hundred and eighty-one are black. As the weaker player has the black stones and the first move, obviously the extra stone must be black. In practice the entire number of stones is never used, as at the end of the game there are always vacant spaces on the board. The Japanese generally keep these stones in gracefully shaped, lacquered boxes or “Go tsubo.”
The white stones are made of a kind of white shell; they are highly polished, and are exceedingly pleasant to the touch. The best come from the provinces of Hitachi and Mikawa. The black are made of stone, generally a kind of slate that comes from the Nachi cataract in Kishiu. As they are used they become almost jet-black, and they are also pleasant to the touch, but not so much so as the white. A good set is quite dear, and cannot be purchased under several yen. The ideograph formerly used for “Go ishi” indicates that originally they were made of wood, and not of stone, and the old Chinese ideograph shows that in that country they were wooden pieces painted black and white. The use of polished shell for the white stones was first introduced in the Ashikaga period.
In form the stones are disk-shaped, but not always exactly round, and are convex on both surfaces, so that they tremble slightly when placed on the board. They are about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, and about one-eighth of an inch in thickness. The white stones are generally a trifle larger than the black ones; for some strange reason those of both colors are a little bit wider than they should be in order to fit the board. Korschelt carefully measured the stones which he used, and found that the black were seventeen-sixteenths of the distance between the vertical lines on his board, and about eighteennineteenths of the distance between the horizontal lines, while the white stones were thirteen-twelfths of the distance between the vertical lines and thirty-six thirty-sevenths of the distance between the horizontal lines. I found about the same relation of size in the board and stones which I use.