Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Shūsai is the Master of Go. He represents the older Japanese social order—which is based on birth-determined hierarchy—and the challenge presented by the modern, less rigidly-structured system. The game of Go has consumed Shūsai's life, as he cares more for the intricacies of play than for anything else; he sees the game as a great art.
During the match that is the novel's subject, Shūsai is sixty-five years old, retired, and in ill health. Emerging from this leisure to take on Otaké, he finds all his resources tested. As the game continues for months, Shūsai finds his entire worldview put to the test, as the younger man interprets the rules differently. He dies not long after the game concludes.
Otaké is an up-and-coming success at Go. He plays aggressively and with the goal of winning but apparently without true passion for the game's subtle quintessence. Although the abbreviated time frame is ostensibly for the Master's benefit (with respect for his age and frailty), Otaké takes full advantage of the faster pace.
Unlke Shūsai, he is also concerned with family responsibilities which intrude on Shūsai's ideal version of play with his realist accommodations. Otaké's modern attitude, while lacking in devotion to purity, shows the practical demands of modern life.
Uragami is a journalist who narrates the novel. The narrative matches the game's progress in great detain. Uragami's nuanced understanding is attuned to the game's essence, which often places demands on the reader's knowledge and capacity for attention.
One of his functions in the book is to convey the differences between observer and player: he shows deep appreciation for the essential qualities of Go, even though he has been incapable of achieving mastery as a player. His influence becomes stronger during a challenging phase, when he gives Otaké controversial advice about whether to continue or to forfeit.