Go Sighting #25: Honinbo Satsugen Go Set

John Fairbairn once said:

Being historical does not automatically make a GO BOARD famous or important
[and] the famous old ones are nearly all in museums and hardly likely to come up for sale.

I can’t really be sure how famous or important this board is or should be, but when something rare and interesting like this comes up for sale and I find it still within the limits of affordability, it is a rare opportunity to own a piece of history.

This Edo period go set came with a wooden cover and a boxed set of slim-sized slate and shell double convex go stones (182 Black stones and 185 White stones) in a pair of maki-e lacquerware go bowls. There are different painted pictures for each of the bowls and lids.


The wooden box which hold the go bowls and go stones has some Japanese inscriptions on it. Not sure what it says though.

There is also a wooden cover for the goban with an inscription inside. I think it says “Snow Peak Work” 雪峰作 (Made by Snow Peak?). It’s probably the name of the goban maker or the workshop.


The goban comes covered with a protective yellow cloth cover.


Finally we unveil the actual goban with the bowls and stones.


The size of the board is 44.5 cm high X 41.2 cm wide X 12 cm thick.
As you can see, the legs seems to be a bit darker compared with the rest of the body. The seller says that the board is kaya and I can see that it is “well loved” with the characteristic dents of long time usage.
There are a few cracks and stains on the goban but I can’t really fault this old board for having so much “character”.

For me, the highlight of this board is the calligraphy on the bottom of the goban written and signed by Honinbo Satsugen in his capacity as Meijin Godokoro. I have tried to translate the writing as best I can.

Upon the battlefield of the go board,
The changing fluctuations are incredibly mysterious;
The Way (Tao) goes beyond skill,
When it looks calm, beware of danger.

2.May.1773 (Sunday)

Bestowed by the Meijin Godokoro, Honinbo Satsugen (Flower Signature Seal)

As far as I can tell, this board was bestowed by Honinbo Satsugen to someone back in 1773. I have no idea to whom it was bestowed on that date or for what purpose, but this set seems to be quite a find for me.

And who exactly is Honinbo Satsugen (本因坊察元)?
Honinbo Satsugen (1733-1788) was the ninth head of the Honinbo house. Before he became head of the Honinbo house, there had been three previous Honinbo who had successively died in their twenties as 6-dans and thus the reputation of the house of Honinbo during that time had slumped. Satsugen was very ambitious and wanted to revive the fate of the house of Honinbo by becoming Meijin as soon as possible, but it took him many years until he was able to force the senior figure in the go world at the time, Inoue Shunseki Inseki, to play him in a 20-game match with promotion to Meijin as the prize. Honinbo Satsugen finally became Meijin in September 1767 and later on the Minister of Go (Godokoro) in June 1770. When his request for Retsugen to become the Honinbo heir was granted, he made an extravagant trip to Kyoto to report his successes at the grave of Sansa, the first Honinbo. The trip was said to have cost half the accumulated wealth of the house of Honinbo. Satsugen was a larger-than-life figure who revived not only the house of Honinbo but also the game of go in Japanese society. During his career, the castle games enjoyed a boom and there were 122 castle games played during the three decades he was Honinbo. This was also the only period when amateur players participated in the castle games. The only thing he lacked in his life was a serious rival. He was at the top of his game and no one had the strength to reach his heights.

A wonderful story about a strong but not so well known Honinbo. To be able to own a piece of history bestowed by such an interesting personality is very special to me indeed. This set is probably the pièce de résistance of my collection.


For a fuller presentation on the story of Honinbo Satugen, read the online version of the British Go Journal Spring 1994 Complete Journal – part 1 page 19 which can be reached via this link.


Recently came upon a Chinese forum commentary on the inscription on the bottom of the goban with the following insights.
Thanks to 南柯梦 from the Chinese forum for the info which I have built upon below.


三尺之局 comes from Ma Rong’s Treasury of Weiqi 围棋赋 in which he describes the weiqi board as a battlefield.
Ma Rong 马融 (79–166) is a commentator from the Han Dynasty in China.




道進乎技 comes from Zhuang Zi’s book “Zhuang Zi” Inner Chapters Section 3, The Secret of Caring for Life 《庄子-内篇-养生主》. Zhuang Zi 庄子 (369-286 BC) was an influential Chinese philosopher.

“Ah, this is marvelous!” said Lord Wen-hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!” Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill.


安不忘危 comes from the Zhou Yi – Xi Ci II 周易 – 系辞下 (“Changes of Zhou” – Xi Ci Part 2) [This part of Zhou Yi (the section with commentaries to the I-Ching) is traditionally attributed to Confucius.] Confucius 孔子 (551-479 BC) was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period.

Therefore the superior man, when resting in safety, does not forget that danger may come; when in a state of security, he does not forget the possibility of ruin; and when all is in a state of order, he does not forget that disorder may come. Thus his person is kept safe, and his states and all their clans can be preserved.
“是故君子安而不忘危, 存而不忘亡, 治而不忘乱, 是以身安而国家可保也.”

The above shows how learned Honinbo Satsugen was about ancient Chinese culture and philosophy.


In March 2009, the Japanese newspaper, Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, published an article about some dan diplomas discovered in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. There was a shodan diploma presented in 1739 by Honinbo Shuhaku (7th Honinbo), a 2-dan diploma presented in 1765 by Honinbo Satsugen and a 3-dan diploma presented in 1767 by Honinbo Satsugen. Unfortunately the original article is no longer available on the internet and the photo from the source I found is quite tiny. The interesting thing though is that in the second diploma on the right side in the picture, there is a triangular shaped seal which looks very similar to the triangular shaped seal on the bottom of my goban. I wish I could find a bigger picture so I could compare the handwriting as well. but it’s just too small a picture to really make out any of the writings.

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4 Responses to Go Sighting #25: Honinbo Satsugen Go Set

  1. Kirk says:

    Nice find, congrats!

  2. Rugo says:

    Thanks for interesting photos!

  3. imabuddha says:

    Wow, now that’s a beautiful set!

  4. Catalin Popescu says:

    So you have finally received this marvelous go set. Congrats! It really is a go treasure. 🙂

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