Japan has been in the midst of what some call "Fujii Fever" for a while now. The world of Shogi (将棋; shougi), or Japanese chess, has marveled at the rise of Fujii Souta (藤井聡太), a young protege who, at age 14, won his first professional match against 77-year-old legend Katou Hifumi. He then went on to set a new record of 28 consecutive wins before his first defeat. Fujii, at age 16, has risen to Level 7 in Shogi's nine-level ranking system.
Fujii's streak drew the attention of the nation, and sparked a renewed interest in Shogi. Players of Go, or Igo (囲碁), a black/white tile game in which players aim to surround as much territory as possible, have been watching Fujii in envy, hoping someone would revolutionize their game as well.
They may have just found their new spokeswoman.
Nakamura Sumire (中邑菫) is all of 9 years old, and isn't even eligible to turn pro until she turns 10 in April. But she's already blazing a trail and making a name as a formidable player. How formidable? Taught the rules of Go by her mother at age 3, Nakamura has been making regular trips to South Korea, where she's had the opportunity to play against some of the world's masters.
Nakamura recently gave 65-year-old Go Master Cho Hun-hyun (曺薫鉉), who has more pro titles than any player in the world, a run for his money. She also fought a match to 180 plays against 22-year-old Level 9 player Choi Jeong. She lost both matches, but both players praised her talent, with Cho Hun-hyun remarking that she was considerably stronger than he was at her age. Choi Jeong also said, "She's stronger than I was in my youth," but added, "It'll get harder to get better at Go from here, so she'll have to study harder."
It's easy to see how Nakamura has come so far. In press conferences, Nakamura is what you'd expect to see from an elementary school student thrust into the spotlight: shy, reserved, and at times looking a little overwhelmed. But when a match starts, her focus is incredible. Before the start of her game against Cho Hun-hyun, she even threw her mother a dirty glare for shuffling her feet nervously offstage.
Nakamura's matches in South Korea attracted tons of media attention, leading Go players in Japan to pray that she does for Go in Japan what Fujii Souta has done for Shogi. Their prayers may well be answered: Nakamura has already passed the exam required to enter professional rankings, and intends to turn pro on April 1st. She will be Japan's youngest pro player ever, and the first to join under the Japanese Go Association's new classification of "Special Recommendation for Gifted Players", which is intended to develop more world-class players by allowing talented youth to join early.
(JP) Link: A "Hint" in the Shadow of Fujii Fever: The Birth of Pro Player Nakamura Sumire
In the meantime before she turns pro, Nakamura gets to enjoy some attention and fun. In honor of her achievements to date, the Osaka Police Department declared her their honorary Police Chief for a day. Nakamura displayed her trademark bashfulness while accepting the honors. But you can bet when she turns pro that opponents will only see her game face.
(JP) Link: Youngest Pro Go Player, Nakamura Sumire, is Osaka Police Chief for a Day
I'm the publisher of Unseen Japan. I hold an N1 Certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and am married to a wonderful woman from Tokyo.
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