Ready? Go! and Rock Wishes

Posted by on Dec 5, 2011 in Miyazaki, Travel Volunteer Journey | 4 Comments
Ready? Go! and Rock Wishes

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve written: “[thing] wasn’t actually invented in Japan, but arrived from China” or words to that effect. This morning we discovered another one, an ancient Asian board game that was first known as weiqi (in China), then baduk (in Korea) or and finally go (Japan). The rules seem to have stayed more or less the same – just don’t ask me to explain them.
In so much as it’s black and white, and sets two players across a small grid from one another, I suppose it’s a bit like chess. So yes, for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s Asian chess… Except chess itself is actually Asian too, having originated in India. Right, it’s a game. Go is a game, and today we saw how the pieces are made.

While the black pieces are quickly made from polished slate, the white ones are a good deal more refined. They come from clam shells, especially thick ones that are harvested from a local beach. This seems ludicrously unsustainable, especially as in order to reach chippable maturity, the clams have to be between 14 and 16 years old. Surely they can be cultivated though, the poor, dumb clams? Nope. They need to be in the rough water – typhoon seasons are especially beneficial – in order to layer on that especially thick coat.

When thick enough, the shells are then bored by a drill in order to get the chunky chips. On the plus side, at least large shells can provide five individual pieces. These are then trimmed and bleached (twice) before being polished for six hours. The final pieces (181 black; 180 white) are bundled together with a wooden board (the lines for which are drawn using a katana dipped in lacquer) and sold for sizeable amounts of money. The most expensive we saw at Kuroki Goishiten today went for ¥5 million (£41,000), which seems excessive until you check out some of the more ridiculous chess sets available.

We spent a good deal of yesterday marvelling at Miyazaki’s coast line, admiring it as one of the prettiest prefectures in the country. Today we were 100km further north where things were every bit as dramatic – and that was just at the ocean. From there we moved inland, towards Takachiho. Like yesterday, there is a lot of religious legend up there, none of which we found very convincing, but the locations of these old stories are very special.

Amaterasu the sun god, and grandmother of the first emperor, was said to have hidden in this cave and taken all the light from the world with her. Other gods, disliking the gloom, came outside the cave and placated her with song and dance, before someone finally ripped the door off and let her out again. Shintoists and would-be castle-makers now come here and build neat little rock piles in honour of those gathered deities, and to make wishes. However, when the annual typhoons rip through here, all of those little dreams are torn asunder, which seems – oddly enough – like a message from the gods.

A short drive from there, we were also shown the Manai waterfall at the Takachiho gorge. It was beautiful too – and even retained its looks while we manically splashed around in a row-boat at the bottom, desperately trying (and just about succeeding) not to get wet. With some autumn colours thrown in, the whole place was treat to look at. Over 80 days into the trip, and having been in a semi-permanent state of autumn, we thought we’d maybe be getting weary of this stuff. But not today – not a chance.

Our time in Miyazaki prefecture was made possible by:

Kuroki Goishiten the makers of the go sets in Miyazaki, who let us behind the scenes to see the much-harder-than-you’d-think process of making go pieces in action, and for generously giving us a couple of gifts to take home.

The incredibly friendly staff from Takachiho Town Office for showing us around their beautiful part of the world, and for wangling us onto the boat ride up the gorge for free.

Our incredibe guides Mayumi Eguchi and Mizuho Mizutani, neither of whom are actually from Miyazaki, but who both travelled down from Fukuoka alone to spend time with us. They both did a great job and were excellent company. A special thanks to Mizuho who drove us around in her car all day, navigating the windy roads through the mountains.






蛤貝が十分に分厚くなると、ドリルで切り取って行くのだ。大きくて分厚い貝からは5つの碁石が取れる。それらは形を整えられ、漂泊をして(2度)6時間かけて磨かれる。そして最終的には(黒:181 / 白:180)碁盤とともに(碁盤にます目は刀に漆を塗って描かれていく)高額な値段で販売される。今日黒木碁石店で見せてもらった商品で最も高額なものはなんと500万円もするのだ!









  1. Kim
    December 5, 2011

    The art of making flawless “Asian Chess” pieces has to be applauded, although it is a little bit crazy that they can sell for £41,000! That is dedication on a whole new level!

    The waterfall looks breathtaking! I bet it would be totally different in the Summer.

    Hope everything is going well and you’re both in good health!

    • Katy & Jamie
      December 7, 2011

      Thanks for the kind words Kim! We were both stunned at how much the Go sets cost… a little crazy, but beautifully crafted.

  2. Mizu
    December 6, 2011

    Really nice meeting you, Katy and Jamie.
    I got home at 12 o’clock midnight after taking several rests at different rest areas.
    I ‘ll soon write my own blog about this one-day trip with you.
    See you again someday, maybe in Scotoland or U.K.

    • Katy & Jamie
      December 7, 2011

      Thank you again Mizu, we had a great day with you and hope to see you in Scotland one day. Don’t forget to bring the kids! :)