Shsai the master of Go and the emblem of a transition between the past aristocratic order and the new, more democratic era. Shsai has devoted his life to the game of Go, losing himself in the artistry of play. At the age of sixty-five, he agrees to a retirement match with Otaké, a strenuous five-month game that further weakens the fragile old man. A move by Otaké that seems to take unfair advantage of the rules angers the master, and, shortly thereafter, he makes an error that costs him the game. A year later, the master dies.
Otaké, the challenger. The nervous and aggressive young Otaké lacks the master’s love of game-playing for its own sake. He reluctantly accepts a shorter timetable to accommodate the ailing master, and he threatens to forfeit the match when the modified schedule prevents him from attending to his sick child. Otaké’s lack of concern for the spirit of artistic play, further revealed by his opportunistic move, signals the triumph of the materialistic modern age.
Uragami, the narrator. As a newspaper reporter, Uragami faithfully reports the progress of the match with a sensitivity to detail. As the narrator of the novel, however, he often recounts events by association rather than chronological sequence. Although he lacks the dedication and stamina of either contestant, he admires the master’s devotion to the aesthetics of the game, and he convinces Otaké not to spoil the match by forfeiting it over a dispute.