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Cafe & Go Hidamari – Learn Go and make friends

Cafe & Go Hidamari – Learn Go and make friends

Here’s what I knew about Go before I went to Cafe Hidamari: I read the Yasunari Kawabata novel, The Master of Go (Meijin in Japanese), in college more than a decade ago. It’s about Go; I can’t remember the plot.

  • My grandfather used to watch it on TV and I didn’t pay much attention.
  • There was a manga called Hikaru no Go, but I never read it.
  • I have played Othello… that’s kind of like Go, right?

So, all in all, not much. I had the foggiest of notions about what it was and how to play. Turns out Cafe Hidamari is the perfect place for me.

Opened just last May, in 2017, Cafe Hidamari is a bright, airy space in a homey neighborhood just one minute from Nagahara Station on the Ikegami line. The second floor cafe has a solid wall of windows and is dominated by light wooden tables topped with Go boards. Pairs in deep concentration, intently placing the smooth, heavy black and white stones on the custom-designed game board cafe tables are interspersed with cafe patrons leisurely sipping coffee and reading. This is by design–owner Mayu Noda created Cafe Hidamari with the intention of bringing fresh blood to the game.

Though the cafe is new, owner Noda is the third generation in her family in the Go business. Her grandfather ran a Go game room, and when she was a child she hung around the space. But she never felt that the realm of Go was particularly welcoming to women and children. They tended to be dim, closed, and smoky. After her grandfather passed away, Noda and her mother took it upon themselves to learn the intricacies of the game and take over the business. And in May of last year, she moved the old game room to the new space.

Noda explains that she wanted to make a place that was accessible for women, kids, students, and even people who don't speak Japanese. And now, she says, a great number of her customers are Go neophytes. Of course, many of her old customers came with her. After all, Go game rooms are less common than you might think. Though there is no official information, Noda says, there is a list of game rooms in the greater Tokyo area. "There are 115 clubs listed there, and I called them all. But 52 of them have already closed." That leaves about 60 clubs, but to her knowledge, none are like Cafe Hidamari.

So now experienced players mingle with newbies. “Here, you can quickly become friendly with people. At a regular cafe, you can’t just go up to someone and say, ‘What’s your name? What are you doing?’ That would be weird. Here you can get to know someone right away." Her oldest customer is 93, and the youngest is three.

And if you don't have the slightest idea of how to play this ancient game of strategy, as I didn't, the staff or the locals will be happy to explain it to you. Noda sat down with me at a beginners' board and walked me through the basic rules of both etiquette and game play. I bowed to my partner with a "yoroshiku onegaishimasu," and under her tutelage began placing my stones on the board, trying to capture territory and block my opponent from taking my pieces.

"Go is a traditional culture game, a conversation with the hands," says Noda. Experienced players often sit here for four or five hours, playing several matches. And there are regular beginners' salons, big game nights, and a tournament every season.

"People who come here can connect with people from the neighborhood, and people can also just come and use the cafe. There are outlets and wifi, and some people bring their laptops," says Noda. "But if you want to communicate with locals through the game of Go, please by all means, come and try it.”

Hidamari Cafe

Hidamari Cafe

The Hidamari Cafe serves vegetable dishes without meat, egg, dairy products, or white sugar. Fish dishes are also available for those who are not vegetarian.

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