The feats of Habu and Iyama are worthy of the People’s Honor Award

The Yomiuri ShimbunSome bright news arrived within several days of the New Year. We would like to congratulate two traditional game wizards on simultaneously receiving the People’s Honor Award for their unprecedented feats.

The government has formally decided to grant the award to Ryuo shogi title holder Yoshiharu Habu, 47, and Kisei Go title holder Yuta Iyama, 28. This is the first time for either a shogi or Go player to receive the honor.

Habu earned his seventh eisei lifetime title last month, meaning he became the lifetime title holder of all seven major shogi titles, overcoming extremely high hurdles. He has reached this milestone by remaining among shogi’s frontrunners for about 30 years since making his professional debut aged 15.

Iyama, who is about 20 years younger than Habu, has posted spectacular records as if following in Habu’s footsteps. At the age of 20, Iyama became the youngest person ever to win the Meijin master title. In April 2016, he became the first person ever to sweep all seven major Go titles.

The number of titles Iyama held fell to six when he lost the Meijin title, but he recaptured it last October, achieving the feat of holding all seven Go titles for the second time.

Japanese players have tended to be outstripped by their Chinese and South Korean counterparts at international Go matches. But in the semifinal of South Korea’s LG Cup Go championship last year, Iyama beat Ke Jie of China, a ninth dan who is said to be the strongest in the world. Iyama will compete in the best-of-three final in February.

Habu is mellowing, while Iyama is approaching his prime. The two players, though belonging to different generations, have played a number of good matches and created drama on the board, deeply impressing many people and giving them courage. They have also made great contributions to the development of shogi and Go circles.

Unrivaled records attract fans

The People’s Honor Award is conferred on people who “are beloved by the people and have made spectacular achievements in bringing bright hopes to society.” The Person of Cultural Merit was once awarded to shogi and Go players, but Habu’s and Iyama’s unparalleled performances, which have attracted a wide spectrum of fans, are worthy of the People’s Honor Award.

Features common to Habu and Iyama include a humble attitude and high popularity among the people, plus they constantly seek the best possible move until the final moment, without being bound by conventional thinking. They also share characteristics as truth seekers.

Habu has said, “I have yet to figure out the fundamentals of shogi.” Iyama, on the other hand, has stressed: “I still have a long way to go. Go is a really profound game.”

Despite having earned various honors, Habu and Iyama have yet to lose their spirit of inquiry. It is hoped that the two board game players use their passion as an engine, and devote themselves incessantly to their studies of the games and thus continue to challenge for greater records.

Artificial intelligence with ability superior to that of humans has emerged in the worlds of shogi and Go in recent years.

How should humans coexist with AI, which has been progressing at an accelerated pace? This is an issue society faces today. Habu and Iyama are pioneers in addressing this issue squarely on the board. Their challenges will hugely inspire the people of today.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 6, 2018)Speech


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