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The Theoretical Cook


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Revisiting Sogo

What does Sogo mean to you?

Keywords: Culture & History
Chinese: 争碁 (zheng1 qi2) Japanese: (sogo) 争碁Korean:
A sogo was an official challenge match during the Edo Era in Japanese go.

When there was a serious dispute such as who should become Meijin it could be settled by a challenge match between the disputants or their representatives. One of the most famous such matches was that between Gennan Inseki and Honinbo Shuwa when Gennan attempted to get himself appointed Meijin Godokoro after Jowa's resignation. The Honinbo house objected and proposed a 20-game match between Gennan and Shuwa. Shuwa won the first game so convincingly that Gennan withdrew his application.

DJ: According to Andrew Grant, sogo literally means fighting go, but a better translation would be grudge match.It could consist of any number of games: if it was to be played on even the number of games had to be even in order to allow both players to hold black the same number of times.

John F. No, the original contribution is the correct one. A sougo was a challenge match because there was a dispute to be settled, and it also required formal permission from the shogunate. Furthermore, there is a separate Japanese word for a grudge (ikon) match. Anyway, the literal meaning is challenge match (i.e. games to settle a dispute). Arasou is not used for "fighting" in the usual warlike sense. That's tatakau. Arasou is used of "contending, competing, settling a dispute, quarreling, arguing, etc."

DJ: Thank you, John. What about my second phrase (also from A. Grant)?

John F. Sorry, but I don't know which phrase you mean. The bit about number of games is OK. For people unfamiliar with Japanese, arasou and sou are Japanese and Sino-Japanese readings of the same word 争.

Andrew Grant: Sorry, but I'm pretty sure that I've seen sougo translated as fighting go somewhere. (Naturally, I can't find the reference now...) Of course, I accept JF's correction. But I don't see how sougo can literally mean anything other than the literal meaning of the kanji that comprise it - and that is not challenge match however you look at it. BTW, The Go Players' Almanac gives the literal meaning of sougo as competitive go.

As for grudge match, I know this is a bad translation, but you have to look at it in context. I was trying to write something that would interest Go players who had no particular interest in history - and even a few non - Go players maybe. It is a mistake to think that the most literally accurate translation is the best in all circumstances. Competitive go or even fighting go are examples of phrases which lose their meaning in translation. All go is competitive, surely? Grudge match was more interesting, as it gave some flavour of the rivalry between the go houses during the Edo period. I knew that it wasn't a great translation from an academic point of view, but as I never expected this sentence which I wrote eight years ago to be subjected to this kind of analysis, I didn't worry about it too much.


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