Keywords: Problem
Honinbo Shusaku
Japanese: 本因坊秀策
Chinese pinyin: běnyīnfāng Xic

Honinbo Shusaku (本因坊秀策. Earlier names were Kuwahara Torajiro 桑原虎次郎, Yasuda Eisai 安田栄斎, Yasuda Shusaku 安田秀策, Kuwahara Shusaku 桑原秀策. Born 6 June 1829 in Innoshima, Japan - 3 September 1862 in Edo, Japan[1][2][3]) is a Japanese professional go player from the 19th century. He is known for his undefeated streak of 19 games during the annual castle games; thirty-game match with Ota Yuzo; lead innovator of the eponymous Shusaku opening for Black; post-death ascension to one of the Go Sages; and next to his teacher, Honinbo Shuwa, considered to have been the strongest player from 1847/8 to his death in 1862. He was later nicknamed Invincible Shusaku because of his castle games performance.

Early Years

Shusaku was born Kuwahara Torajiro (桑原虎次郎) on 5 May 1829, in Tonoura, Innoshima as the son of merchant Kuwahara Wazo.[1] His talent for go was discovered early, and by the age of six he was known as a go prodigy in the environs. Lord Asano, the daimyo of the region, heard of the child's qualities. After playing a game with him, Asano became his patron, and allowed him to get lessons from his own personal trainer, Hoshin (a player of professional level). In January 1837, Ito Showa, one of the strongest players of the day, visited Innoshima, and played a game with Shusaku. He was so impressed with the boy's ability that he invited him to become a pupil of the Honinbo house in Edo.

On 28 November 1839, Shusaku was awarded a professional 1-dan diploma by Honinbo Jowa. The following year, during a one-year visit back home, he was awarded a yearly stipend by Lord Asano. Arriving back in Edo in September 1841, Shusaku was given the name 'Shusaku' and promoted to 2-dan. In 1842 and '43, he was promoted to 3- and 4-dan respectively and started using the Shusaku-style opening. In 1844, he left for another stay at Innoshima, this time staying for eighteen months.

The Encounter with Gennan

In July 1846, during his travel back to Edo, Shusaku met Gennan Inseki, who is said to have been of Meijin strength, but had the bad luck of living in a time when there were several other extremely strong players, especially Honinbo Shuwa. In the first game of this encounter, Shusaku took two stones. Gennan, realizing that he had no chance of winning, left the game unfinished and started a new game with Shusaku taking Black. This was actually a great honor, because Gennan was indicating that Shusaku's strength was much greater than his rank indicated.

Inoue Genan Inseki v Yasuda Shusaku, 1846-09-11, Ear-reddening game. Despite a shaky opening, Shusaku claws his way back into the match. Move 127 tips the balance, occupying the central point for the attack and defence of the bottom groups, expanding Black's moyo on top, limiting White's influence on the right, and providing aji to reduce White's territory on the left.  

The first game on Black is Shusaku's most famous and contains one of the most famous moves in go history: the Ear Reddening Move. The result was a two-point win by Shusaku, despite an early game mistake in a new variant of the taisha joseki. The game is considered a lifetime masterpiece for both players.

They continued with three more games, of which one was left unfinished and the other two were also won by Shusaku. After the games, Shusaku headed back to Edo and upon his arrival heard that he had been promoted to 5-dan.

Shusaku, Heir to Honinbo

Back in Edo, Shusaku was asked to become the heir of Shuwa, who was to become the next head of the Honinbo house. But he refused, because of his obligations towards Lord Asano and his own family. After some mediation, the Asano clan relinquished its claim on Shusaku, allowing Shusaku to become Shuwa's heir in 1847. It was also decided that he would marry Jowa's daughter as part of the event. In the meantime, Shusaku and Shuwa played a famous series of 17 games in October 1846 to September 1847.

Later that year, Josaku died, and Shuwa became head of the Honinbo house. In 1848, Shusaku was officially recognized as Shuwa's heir, and in the same year was promoted to 6-dan. In 1849, he took part in the castle games for the first time -- as part of his rank and position now allowed. In the years to come, he would play a total of 19 castle games, winning them all. He also received his promotion to 7-dan in these years -- some say it happened in 1849, while others (and most biographies) list it as 1853.

The Clash with Ota Yuzo

In 1853, Shusaku played a famous sanjubango against Ota Yuzo. Although Shusaku was regarded by most players the second strongest player of the day, next to Shuwa, Ota was not so sure. Shusaku had many problems with Ota, and only in 1849 managed to reach tagaisen against him. However, Shusaku proved the stronger player and continued to grow during the match.

Honinbo Shusaku v Ota Yuzo, 1853-07-10, 30-game match, Game 17. After a new opening strategy and several exquisitely timed moves Shusaku comes out ahead. W1 simplifies the game by avoiding the ko with W1 @ B4. Up to W9, Shusaku's solid style has slowly removed Black's chances of catching up.  

Only after 17 games, and winning every game as Black (except game 6 of match which Yuzo managed to make jigo), he forced Ota to a senaisen handicap. After game 23, in which Ota managed to get a jigo with White, Ota discontinued the series. Although spectators recognized Shusaku's strength as the reason for victory (rather than Ota's weakness), they also recognized Ota's tenacity for having managed to keep Shusaku at tagaisen for so long. The match became one of the most celebrated in classical go, with games seventeen and twenty-three appearing in many anthologies.

Later Years and Departure

In the years that followed, to the dismay of all go players, it happened in more than one year that the castle games were not held. Shusaku did not play many games in these years, but one important match was a jubango against Murase Shuho, who was intended to become Shusaku's heir. Shuho, playing all games as Black, won the match with a score of 6-3-1.

In 1862, a cholera epidemic broke out in Edo, and several disciples of the Honinbo house caught the disease. Shusaku involved himself in caring for the sick, which resulted in his catching the disease himself. On September 3, 1862 he died at the age of thirty three.

Post-Death Ascension to Go Sage and Modern Appraisal[4]

The seeds of Shusaku's ascension to Go Sage were first sown by Shusaku enthusiast Ishigaya Kosaku with the publication of Kogyoku Yoin (1897), Shusaku Koketsu Kifu (1904), and erection of a large, memorial monument. In the books Ishigaya gave positive accounts of Shusaku's character and started using the term Go Sage when referring to him. In 1904, the publication of Zain Danso revealed a negatively biased account of Honinbo Jowa's intrigues towards securing the position of Meijin Godokoro, tarnishing Jowa's reputation.

The stew was allowed to simmer until 1951, when post-war Japan began looking back at characters who could be lifted-up to embody the traditional Japanese ideals. This notion carried through into the go world as well. So when the 10-volume publication of the castle games (see: Oshiro Gofu) was published reappraisal of Shusaku and Jowa could already be seen, particularly in the strong opinions of one editor, Segoe Kensaku. Although Jowa's playing strength could hold up, his character could not. But Shusaku's playing strength and character, under the auspices of Ishigaya's glowing accounts and Segoe's opinions, could. With his impressive castle game victories, famous sogo, and description of him as "the perfect filial son and pupil," Shusaku was lifted up to Go Sage.

However, as John Fairbairn stated:

The stories of Jowa's deviousness and Shusaku's filial piety have been replayed many times both as fact and as popular fiction. But they are about human attributes, not go.

Today, Shusaku's reputation is still somewhat inflated in the West, where most readers have access only to a limited number of texts. In Japan, where the go public has access to much more literature, a more objective balance has been struck. I would guess that the parents of any budding professional would love him to grow up like Shusaku, a perfect filial son and pupil. He himself would probably love to play like Jowa.[4]

Rank Promotion [1]

  • 1839: 1-dan
  • 1841: 2-dan
  • 1842: 3-dan
  • 1843: 4-dan
  • 1846: 5-dan
  • 1848: 6-dan
  • 1853: 7-dan

Career Statistics [5]

There are 388 games given in the book Complete Games of Shusaku, but two are rengo and 38 are unfinished games. The following stats are from the remaining 348-games where the results were clear.

Year Win Loss Jigo Win % Notes
1840 6 0 0 100.0%
1842 15 5 0 75.0%
1843 20 12 1 60.6%
1844 17 3 2 77.3%
1845 3 1 0 75.0%
1846 21 6 1 75.0%
1847 23 7 0 76.7%
1848 20 8 0 71.4%
1849 12 4 0 75.0%
1850 15 4 0 78.9%
1851 21 8 0 72.4%
1852 4 3 0 57.1%
1853 20 13 3 55.6%
1854 7 2 0 77.8% Started taking White for most of his games
1855 2 1 2 40.0%
1857 5 14 1 25.0% Many handicap games
1858 1 1 0 50.0%
1859 9 8 0 52.9%
1860 1 3 0 25.0%
1861 5 6 1 41.7%
Total 227* 109 11 65.4% *One game is unaccounted for from one of these stats


  • 1829: Kuwahara Torajiro - birth name
  • 1835: Yasuda Eisai
  • 1841: Yasuda Shusaku
  • 1848: Kuwahara Shusaku - only 5-games under this name
  • 1848: Honinbo Shusaku

Books, Commentaries & Game Collections


  • [1] Source: ''Invincible - The Games of Shusaku," pp. X-XI
  • [2] Innoshima was officially merged into the expanded city of Onomichi in 2006. Some biographies refer to Innoshima under the contemporary name (Onomichi), but Onomichi was only founded in 1898.
  • [3] Dates were originally given in the Japanese lunar calender. For Shusaku's life this was 1829-V-05 ~ 1862-VIII-10. These dates translate into the Western calendar as 1829-06-06 ~ 1862-09-03. See /discussion for more information.
  • [4] Source: ''[ext] Honinbo Jowa - Sage or Scoundrel," 5 May 2000
  • [5] Source: ''Invincible - The Games of Shusaku," pp. XI-XII

See also

  • Hikaru no go, an anime/manga where a centuries old spirit once occupied Shusaku, having him become a go master.
  • Short story: "The Ear Reddening Move of Shusaku" Wood, J., Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, June 1987, pp. 50-61.
  • The official Shusaku website of Onomichi City with pictures: [ext] (Japanese). The city has been holding Shusaku Igo Festival twice a year from the 1980s. In recent years, the festival includes "Shusaku Cup" pro-am tournament.

Shusaku last edited by hnishy on November 17, 2022 - 00:10
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