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2012-01-03
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Iwamoto Kaoru, 9-dan and his role of promoting Go around the world
The go world is saddened by the death of Iwamoto Kaoru, not only one of the great players of the century but probably the main benefactor of amateur players in North and South America and in Europe.

Born on 5 February 1902, Iwamoto died of pneumonia in Tokyo on 29 November 1999. In his long life, Japan changed so much that his birth place Takatsu is no longer on the map. It is now Masuda City in Mino County, Shimane Prefecture. It goes without saying that he was witness also to the profound changes that simultaneously affected Japanese go, though it is not always realised that he was in some respects also an outsider.

His early childhood, from 1905 to 1911, was spent in Pusan, Korea, where he learnt go under Habiro Seitaro and then Nakamura Zen'ichiro, a 3-dan teaching pro. Having shown promise, he returned to Japan to study go. He was a pupil of Hirose Heijiro from 1913 and qualified as 1-dan in 1917.

His promotion record after that was one of the most impressive of the time: 2-dan 1919, 3-dan 1920, 4-dan 1922, 5-dan 1925, 6-dan 1926, 7-dan 1941, 8-dan 1948 and 9-dan 1967. It was actually more impressive than it looked, because part of the time he wasn't even playing professional go. He emigrated to Brazil from 1929 to 1932 as a coffee farmer and returned to go only when that venture failed. He also spent 18 months in 1961 and 1962 in New York spreading go.

His career was also affected by the Second World War, not least because he was one of the players in the famous game interrupted by the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. (see Famous Moments under the Honinbo tournament guide in the Japan section for the full story)  He did eventually go on to take the Honinbo title, and with it the style Kunwa. He defended it, too, in 1947, so this period can be seen as the high point of his career. He had other victories, such as first place in the 1952 "Honinbo and All the 8-Dans" tournament, but nothing to match the Honinbo. It appears his focus was already elsewhere.

The experience of lending his home as the temporary site for the burnt-out Nihon Ki-in in 1945, and then being instrumental in finding new headquarters, may well have shaped the rest of his life. At any rate, as a director in the Nihon Ki-in, he began to look at what he could to spread go to the rest of the world. His go style was once famously described as "scattering beans." Perhaps his time as a coffee farmer had taught him that without seeds no harvest could be expected, and he soon began to devote even his private time to scattering beans throughout the western world. Not all took root - the 1970s London Go Centre was maybe ahead of its time. But failure never deterred him and the Sao Paulo Go Centre and European Go Centre in Amsterdam are among the monuments to Iwamoto's dedication, generosity and friendship.

He formally retired in April 1983, but remained very much in the public eye. Part of his attraction in fact was the permanent twinkle in his eye that betrayed an insatiable desire to be active even in old age. He was once asked the secret of long life in a major magazine interview celebrating his 90th year. He cited the joys of always having problems to solve in life.

His books include an edition of the collected games of Honinbo Dosaku and also a autobiography whose title sums up his life beautifully: Igo wo Sekai ni - Go to the World.



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