Go reached South America with the first Asian collectives. A century later, it is no longer an exotic game among us, but it still maintains the traveling spirit of the nomad and the generosity of mutual support among migrants.
The history of Go in South America was, for almost a century, the history of the friction between Asian migrants and the Creole population. It’s more than possible that Go reached South America at the end of the nineteenth century with the first contingent of Chinese and Japanese emigrants that reached Peru and Brazil.
For a long time, it was one more element of the community culture of migrants, without any organizational expression or exposure in the media, and without permeating into the Creole population. At that time, the migrant communities did not share conversation with their neighbors. Even when, in the ’50s, a first “Brazil Nihon Kiin” was formed, its tournaments, in which more than two hundred people participated annually, were basically limited to players from the Japanese community.
It wasn’t very different in Buenos Aires. For years, Go was practiced almost exclusively in Asian community circles. As Horacio Andrés Pernia tells us, it wasn’t until 1979 that players from the Japanese and Korean communities started to play in the tournaments of the Argentine association. In fact, the Korean-Argentines played daily in the headquarters of the Buenos Aires branch of the “Korean Baduk Association,” and although from the beginning, they were happy to be able to play in open tournaments, they were most hosts that guests. When the young engineers who were pioneers in the dissemination of the game discovered them, they often escaped to the Korean headquarters looking for “strong players and good traditional [Korean] food.”
And if if there’s one thing that Hilario Fernández Long cannot be accused of, it’s of having lived on the sidelines of his times or his surroundings. Dean of the Engineering School of the University of Buenos Aires in the Sixties, he was a pioneer in introducing Information Science. Rector of the UBA during the infamous “Night of the long batons” in 1966, he headed up the statement of the University calling teachers and students to civil disobedience. Following the police occupation, he resigned in protest. Linked to the movement for Human Rights, he would not occupy a public position again until after the fall of the military dictatorship, when, in December of 1983, the recently elected Raúl Alfonsín created the CONADEP, the group of the illustrious, presided by Ernesto Sábato, in charge of collecting the accusations and investigating the mass disappearances during the governments of the military juntas.
When I was little (about 70 years ago), I used to visit the office of an uncle of mine, an engineer, and there I devoted myself to browsing through blueprints, books and magazines. Among the magazines, I remember that was one about architecture, called Architectural Record (it was North American). Once, there appeared an article about an Oriental game, called, in Japan, Go. For the explanations, instead of diagrams in black and white, there were full-color figures of board pieces, almost at a natural scale. More than by the explanations, I was fascinated by the figures, with the color of the wood and the shine of the stones. It has never left my memory. Forty years later, the girlfriend of a son of mine brought me another magazine, also on architecture, but Argentine, and in black and white, that carried a detailed description of the game. It called to my mind the full-color figures, and I devoted myself to deciphering explanations. Later, I got books in English, and I began to play with my son. And right away I started building pieces and boards. The pieces were made for me by a Japanese man, a manufacturer of buttons, from Saint Martín.
But Hilario Fernández Long wasn’t the kind of person who stops there.
And I started to give courses. Because I took the matter as a religion that had to be propagated. I gave many courses in the Argentine Center of Engineers and in the Central Society of Architects, and I made contact with the Cultural Attaché of the Japanese Embassy, who helped me a lot. But right away, followers appeared, who were responsible for creating the Association of Go, for finding places to meet, for organizing tournaments, etc. And that’s how the thing got started. The first course in the Argentine Center of Engineers was in April of 1971. In November of 1970, I had given a conference on Go there, and that was the first official headquarters of the Argentine Association of Go.
So, September 11th of 1971, the AAGo was founded with another engineer, Adalberto Moderc, as president. Fernández Long got several notes into La Nación and Moderc published a course on Go by installments in Joker, a magazine specializing in chess and mental games which would also sponsor the first tournaments. Additionally, Moderc and Fernández Long would publish various introductory books and manuals promoting the game.
Borges published a poem in La Nación about Go. Go was starting to form part of the local culture. We are now at the end of 1978. The AAGo and its young, shining star, Fernando Aguilar, are already the model to follow in Spain by the new generation that was beginning to discover the game on the peninsula. Once more, the logic of shared conversations and personal networks is shown to be superior to that of geographic proximity. Before Chile or Uruguay, the Argentine impulse found an echo in Ecuador. The key: the return to Quito of a then-young student at the UBA with his board and stones in his luggage.
In Chile, Go also started to spread starting in engineering schools. The responsible parties were two immigrants of Japanese origin, Jiro Maeda and Masanao Uehuara, who, from the end of the ’50s until their deaths (in 2012 and 2006 respectively) were the main supporters of what, in 1989, would become the Chilean Federation of Go.
And on the Pacific coast of the US, the history of Go will be that of a cultural blend. In Peru, where the “nikkei” community has had, since the beginning of the century, a strong organizational structure, a natural transition from the communal to the social happened. Promoted by the Peruvian Japanese Association, which had facilitators like Kamisato Masatoshi, Go begins to take hold in the ’70s. Manuel Tokusei Higa and Ernesto Yamamoto then found the Association Peruvian of I-GO Shogi, which soon begins to earn members outside of the community, and which does important work to spread the game, aside from the “Embassy of Japan” tournament.
An illustrious nomad
In Brazil, Go didn’t make it out of the immigrant community until 1988, when a mythical professional Japanese player, Iwamoto Kaoru (9p), also known as Honinbo Kunwa, priced a location in Sao Paulo and created the “Nihon Kiin do Brazil,” the base of the “Associação Brasileira de Go (Abrago).”
Iwamoto, who by that time was 86 years old. Even though he was born in Masuda (Japan), where his parents’ house is today a popular museum in his memory, he had grown up in Korea, which had recently been invaded by Japan. He left at 11 years old to study the game professionally in Tokyo. Although he lived through the rise of the militarism and imperialist nationalism, he did not participate in the dominant spirit of the times. Together with Segoe Kensaku, he was the principle force behind of the arrival of a young Go Seigen in Japan. Despite being the founder of the Nihon Kiin, the first professional association, he left behind a promising career to go to Brazil for the first time and seek his fortune as a coffee grower in 1929. But it went badly for him, and he returned to Japan in 1931, where he resumed the professional practice of Go.
During the war, he was part of the nucleus of players that kept the game and its spirit alive against wind, tide and government control. In fact, will be the leader of the mythic game of the atomic bomb and everything that preceded it. Although that Honimbo ended in a tie, the tie-breaker the following year would be his first grea title, re-validated in 1947, and lost in 1950 to the hands of the same rival, his friend Hashimoto Utaro.
He would not retire until the age of 83, the year he returned to Brazil (though he would still play one last professional game at 92). By then, his life already was centered on spreading the game and its values throughout the world. In 1972, he published what surely has been the most-read introductory book of the twentieth century outside of Asia: Go for Beginners, and above all, he dedicated the savings from his entire career to creating centers for teaching and promotion of Go in New York and Seattle, and in Amsterdam, the famous European Go Cutural Centre. Brazil, which had been his first adventure as a nomad, would be his last adventure as a patron.
The Iberoamerican conversation
At the end of the ’90s, Go in South America had already left the small circle of migrant communities, and was a shared element between people who love the game. The separation between conversations of Creoles and immigrants has faded. But also, in those years, the growth of the Internet began to connect conversations with a scope that had been unknown until then, and Go starts to experience a true explosion throughout the world. The old game found itself on another plane, as a conversation, which was now global, limited only by the large spaces of linguistic continuity.
In 1997, players from eight Spanish-language federations converged on the amateur world championship of Go of Sapporo. None of them spoke Japanese, and they need an interpreter. They speak with the vice-president of the International Association, Alan Held, who encourages them to organize themselves as a federation. The Iberoamerican Federation of Go (Fedibergo) is born, the only one of the international federations that groups associations on three different continents. Today, the Fedibergo groups practically all organizations that communicate in Spanish and Portuguese in both Americas, the Caribbean and the Iberian peninsula.
And what’s most important, they share in-person tournaments, a half-dozen virtual tournaments, pedgaogical materials for children, and more and more manuals and courses, even classes by Fernando Aguilar himself across the network. All so that any new group of curious people who begin to discover the game won’t lack for support and peers. Go is no longer that exotic game of Asian clubs to us, but it maintains the traveling spirit of the nomad and the generosity of mutual support among migrants.