Though I’ve never explicitly stated this, one of my goals with this blog is to bring the most exciting and interesting stories about go that I think anyone with even only the slightest interest in go would enjoy while documenting my own journey. I try not to replicate the amazing work done by GoGameGuru and others who document the details of the professional world and serve as a better source for those intricacies of the go world.
So in light of that, I am really excited to introduce the very first guest post on this blog! For those who don’t know, there’s an active forum on go called Life in 19x19, and I came across a magnificent post on a tour of the shop of Mr. Kuroki (who owns the Kuroki Goishi Ten shop which sells high quality equipment). It reminded me of ChiyoDad’s post on yunzi manufacturing, so I immediately contacted the author and requested his permission to repost his post here on the blog in order to further spread word of his awesome trip. And since you’re reading this, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that I got permission! So without further delay, hope you enjoy Erythen’s virtual tour through Mr. Kuroki’s shop!
A few people have expressed interest in seeing my photos of Mr. Kuroki’s shop/factory in Hyuga, Japan. For those interested, I’ll intersperse the pictures with commentary.
Prior to leaving Japan I went on one last two week road trip. I debated with myself whether or not to visit Mr. Kuroki’s factory in Hyuga by the time I reached Kyushu. It’s not that I didn’t want to go, but the city is well off the beaten path, and everything else I really wanted to see was on the other side of the island. Nonetheless, curiosity got the better of me and I made the detour.
It took a little while to find his shop, even though it’s located on the city’s main road. My difficulties arose from the simple fact that I didn’t really know what to expect and thus didn’t know what to look for. After driving around town I found the shop nestled between a small hill and a river; the familiar black and white logo standing out to me.
I knew I’d found the right place, if for nothing else than the scent of Kaya working it’s way around the parking lot. Near the main entrance there’s a small building where the board artisan works. I had a chance to visit with him but didn’t want to disrupt his shift too much so let him continue. Later in the day, Mr. Kuroki brought me back when I expressed interest, and I had a chance to see him apply the grid to a beautiful shogi floorboard. Sadly, by that time though my camera’s battery was quite low and I didn’t get a chance to photograph it. Fortunately, I managed to take some snapshots of a few unfinished composite go boards.
Walking into the main building, one is bombarded by the sweet, subtle scent of Kaya. It surprised me how small the shop itself was. I don’t know why, but I expected something much larger. Dozens of Kaya boards lined the walls to the north and east, while a large table showing a few of the less expensive Kaya and Katsura boards dominated the center next to a small space for waiting guests. To the far west a myriad of go bowls stood on display. A large glass case rested next to the door on the south showing various some of the more pricey boards and a small selection of shogi equipment.
I’m not sure about the others that I pictured, but I do know that this Hyuga Kaya board is still for sale. On the website, scroll down the Hyuga Kaya masame boards and you’ll see it currently priced at 980,000 yen. I apologize in advance, but my camera focused on the display case and not the board, but you can still see how nice it is.
Walking around the shop you enter an Omiage store. It doesn’t really have anything to do with Go so I didn’t take any pictures. This section mostly caters to the various tourist buses that pass through town on their way to someplace more exciting. While Hyuga is of interest to Go connoisseurs, there really isn’t much else there.
Walking around the corner and ignoring the souvenir shop you enter a display area where one can see the actual factory and the stone construction process. In this photo, you see how stones are traditionally made. Most new stones aren’t manufactured in this way anymore, though from my understanding, Mr. Kuroki still processes the native Hyuga stones (at least the larger ones) in this hand-made fashion; after all, would you expect anything less for such aristocratic game pieces.
I don’t know what most of the machines in these next pictures do. Some punch the stones from the shells, others from the slate. A few work the stones down and others polish them. Again I apologize for the fuzziness of the images. My camera doesn’t do too well behind glass.
These are what the stones look like when first cut from their shells. Mr. Kuroki has tens of thousands laying around the grounds near his shop. Whenever cuts are rejected, they just dump them around outside for decoration.
Finished stones that are accepted go through a sorting process. Grade and quality are determined and the shells are then put into storage until someone purchases them. From my understanding, they go through another quality check before being shipped out.
One of the things I found very interesting was the small display showing different levels of the manufacturing process. A lot more than a simple cut, shape and polish goes into the manufacturing process.
In the first photo here, you’ll see how the stones are cut from Mexican Clamshell and slate. In the second photo, you see the legendary Hyuga clamshell and how the stones are cut from these precious shells.
Mr. Kuroki sat me down and we discussed the differences in clamshell. Hyuga clams are very rare now and the larger shells for stones will probably be gone within 5 - 10 years (if even that). He mentioned the average lifespan of a clam near Hyuga was about 15 years, and in order to get decent stones, they would need to be about 20 years old. Finding shells large enough for stones is difficult in the best of times and now it’s almost impossible to find anything larger than size 30.
He brought out a set of sized 40 snow grade hyuga stones for me to examine. I was almost afraid to touch the things because just one was worth more than I made in a month (and mind you, I wasn’t paid poorly while living in Japan). These stones can still be seen on his website (link provided below). For comparison, to the left you’ll see a Mexican clamshell and to the right, a Hyuga clamshell. In the center are those most valuable of go stones.
Mr. Kuroki was a very kind man an treated me like royalty. Above the shop is a rather large all you can eat restaurant and he offered to treat me to a nice meal. It was a pleasure to have an excellent conversation with him while we ate. His English isn’t the best, but then again neither is my Japanese. Between our broken English/Japanese however, we were able to conduct a very nice discussion.
He was very surprised that some random Caucasian guy would come visit his shop. He told me that those who visited were usually “rich man or old man.” In the end, my time was well worth the detour, and I’m very glad to have had a chance to meet the man behind the website.
My last photo is of my guide, Mr. Kuroki himself. Being of the unphotogenic type I cut myself from the picture:).
I hope you’d enjoyed this virtual tour through the finest of Japan’s go stone factories.
For those who are interested in further information, I found this link from the Russian Go Federation. It’s an interview with Mr. Kuroki.