One-piece Kaya Table Goban
A beautiful kaya go board has always been the dream of many go players. But kaya is a very rare wood especially if you want to buy one made from the famous endangered Hyuga kaya from present-day Miyazaki Prefecture in Kyushu, Japan. Even composite boards made from Hyuga kaya can put a big dent in a go enthusiast’s budget very quickly.
I purchased my one-piece table goban in around Nov 2009 from Japan. Although the wood is not kaya wood of Japanese origin, the manufacture of the board is from Japan. I wanted to buy a really nice one-piece goban made from kaya with Japanese craftsmanship because I liked the waxed surface, the techimasa cut (grain running from the bottom to the top as well as straight across the top and bottom), and the evenly raised lines defining the playing field. The beautiful even yellow color, the fine grained surface, and the strong pleasant aroma along with vendor’s description of 本榧柾目 leads me to believe that the wood is kaya rather than shin kaya. The board still smells sweet and still looks beautiful today, but then I haven’t really played on it that much as I mainly play go on KGS.
The Japanese description of the goban is as follows:
From the description, it seems to be kaya wood of unknown origin which the vendor imported from China into Japan where it was finished into a nice 9.2 cm thick one-piece goban.
As the table goban is quite heavy, shipping was expensive at almost USD150 from Japan to Hong Kong. I’m not going to mention what it cost me for the goban though, but let’s just say that it would be a lot more expensive if it were made by a vendor like Kuroki Goishi with the same cut in Hyuga kaya or even Honkaya.
There are some Chinese kaya boards that sell for a lot less than you would expect for a Japanese crafted kaya board. But I dislike Chinese produced kaya boards for the reason that they seem to be heavily laminated rather than waxed. You can check Chiyodad’s old blog here for a look at his Chinese kaya table board from Yellow Mountain Imports via Ebay and compare. The board comes with a satin sheen which seems distracting to my eye and the lines look silk screened or hand-drawn, flat with slight imperfections.
Not sure why but last time I checked YMI’s site, they don’t seem to sell Chinese kaya boards anymore. Perhaps one of the reasons may be that the laminate chips and flakes too easily and there were too many complaints just like Kiseido warns below.
Recently, both in Japan and in the West, boards said to be made from Chinese kaya trees are being sold at very low prices. However, these are not really kaya, but a related species of kaya. These boards have a strong tendency to crack and warp. The surfaces are also prone to chapping or flaking.
For myself anyways, Japanese craftsmanship and imported kaya wood seem to be the way to afford a fine reasonably thick one-piece kaya goban with a great wood cut.
Recently, there has been concern by some western players about Japanese gobans as to why the lines and hoshi points are elevated and whether it is a “feature”. My opinion is that the raised lines and hoshi points are definitely features of good Japanese craftsmanship. The lines of a well crafted Japanese goban are made with lacquer applied on top of the surface by a blunt katana or katana-like instrument. The right amount of lacquer is applied to the edge of the blade and then the blade is lightly laid atop the goban surface. As the blade is lifted, it leaves a rounded raised line. The effect is similar to how a small drop of water beads up on a flat impermeable surface. The result is a set of perfectly even lines which run the width and length of the playing field without hurting the wooden surface. (Obviously the hoshi points would require an additional application of lacquer with a pointed instrument.) For more info on how the lines on a goban are made, please look at my entry about the book Goban and Shogiban – Creating Game Equipment
The next question which comes to mind is why the Japanese would want such raised lines which result in go stones being unable to stay perfectly centered at the intersections. The answer is that they just don’t want all the stones to lie dead center each and every time. The Japanese have a concept called wabi sabi where their aesthetic ideal is having the right sort of imperfection. Just as clamshell go stones do not have perfectly even stripes throughout the whole set, the slight uneven spacing between go stones adds flavor and breaks up the monotony of the patterns on the board.
There’s both truth and some questionable information here. It’s true that the Kaya coming out of China is ‘torreya grandis’ as opposed to ‘torreya nucifera’. However, I must question the assertion that torreya grandis has a tendency to crack and warp. From what I’ve seen, I believe that torreya grandis is so similar to nucifera as to be indistinguishable, and that the cracking and warping are a result of some Goban makers’ rushed processes, which don’t allow the wood sufficient time to cure. Kaya of both subspecies takes many years to cure properly, and it’s a particular skill to the older Goban makers.
The other thing about chinese-made Kaya boards is the tabletop laminate finish, which creates a harsh optical glare and higher-pitched “click” when compared to the clear finish and better resonance of a properly waxed surface.
Recently I read on a Japanese site that Chinese Kaya wood has more oil and is heavier than Japanese Kaya wood. My goban still has a strong sweet pleasant aroma as of April 2011 🙂