Japan’s National Team

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From the left: Tsuruta Kazushi, Fujita Akihiko and Hirata Tomoya

Last April Japan took the unprecedented step, in Japanese go, of creating a national team. The members, drawn from Kansai Kiin as well as the Nihon Kiin, form the pool from which Japan now selects the players who represent it in international competition. Ranka talked about the team (nicknamed ‘Go-Go Japan’) with the five members who are in Beijing for the SportAccord Mind Games.

Ranka: Did you do any special preparation for the Mind Games?
Fujita Akihiko: I’m playing in the pair go section with Fujisawa Rina, so we played three games of pair go at our training group.
Fujisawa Rina: Aside from those pair games, I just kept up my usual individual study and group training program.
Hirata Tomoya: I also kept up my normal training and study, nothing in particular for the Mind Games.
Tsuruta Kazushi: Me too, but before this tournament I think that I spent a little more time studying than I usually do.
Yoshida Mika: I had intended to practice playing quickly and get used to playing in overtime, but my daughter got sick, so I had to look after her for two weeks and had no time for anything else.

Ranka: What about online practice games?
Hirata: That’s something the National Team started doing a little before we were chosen for this tournament. Every week on Friday and Saturday the team members play each other on the net. We arrange our own opponents. I’m online there almost every week.
Tsuruta: Living in Nagoya, I don’t get into Tokyo very often, so these online games have been a really valuable opportunity. My most frequent opponent is Yamashita Keigo.
Fujisawa: I’ve played about sixty-five games online, against several strong team members. It’s a very good way to learn.
Fujita: I play when I have the chance.
Yoshida: Before these weekly practice sessions I had never played online before. Going onto the Internet used to make me feel queasy, but now I’ve managed to stifle that reaction and I’ve played about ten games.

Ranka: What changes if any has the National Team made to your approach to the game? Has it provided any inspiration
Tsuruta: The online games are doing me a lot of good.
Hirata: I wouldn’t say that being on the the National Team has inspired me to try harder–I’ve always been trying hard–but the existence of this team is certainly a very good thing.
Yoshida: The only tangible change has been the online games, but they’re on a volunteer basis, so my methods of studying haven’t changed much. But there has been a psychological boost. This is important. To improve at go you need the right mental attitude.

Ranka: Have you been taking part in the preliminary rounds held in China and Korea for the big international cups, and will being on the National Team make any difference to this?
Yoshida: I took part before getting married, but once a woman has children, she’s tied down. A man can go off and leave the kids for his spouse to look after, but a woman can’t escape.
Fujita: I’ve been playing in about one international preliminary a year. That will probably be my pace in the future.
Tsuruta: I play in the international preliminaries almost every chance I get.
Hirata: I’ve been going overseas for those preliminaries ever since I became a pro, and I plan to continue.

Ranka: At your own expense?
Hirata: Sure, that’s what I’ve been doing so far, so there’s no issue there.

Ranka: What else has the National Team been doing and what would you like to see it do in the future?
Yoshida: This is a very important question. Aside from mental attitude, we need to study the separate parts of the game, the endgame, for example, more thoroughly. A strong coach to instruct the team would be a help. We haven’t done enough yet.
Fujisawa: There’s a four-day training camp planned for the under-twenty members at the end of the year, in Hamamatsu. Besides playing practice matches we’ll analyse games, and work on the endgame and on life-and-death.
Fujita: The National Team program is still just getting started, but I hope there will be more activities like this training camp in the future.

Ranka: Thank you all very much.

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