Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


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.

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Master of Go is an excellent example of Kawabata’s technique of revealing character indirectly, through observations of gesture, small details, and brief, telling moments of dialogue. Though this narrative’s focus is clearly on the master, Shsai (which offers much opportunity for a conventional revelation of character through dramatic action), odd bits of detail are still important. Two chapters are devoted to a set of photographs Uragami takes of Shsai after his death, at the request of the master’s wife. Fastidious in taking the photographs, and in keeping them secret until he has examined them, Uragami studies them with equal care and discovers material for a character study. Though moved initially by the unattractiveness of Shsai’s face, with its grotesquely unbalanced features—small eyes, overly large nose and mouth, flattened earlobes—Uragami also notes how the images represent a face rich in feeling, unlike the man who in life was so cool and aloof. Uragami decides that this might be the revelation of a secret that was intended not to be disclosed and has second thoughts about releasing the photographs. In another chapter, similar attention is given to one very long hair of Shsai’s left eyebrow. Uragami learns from Shsai’s wife that Shsai was flattered by the reporter’s observation of the hair which Uragami made in a newspaper article. Significant to Shsai as a promise of long life, and to Uragami as a welcome aberration observed...

(The entire section is 535 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Barry, P. “Citizens of a Lost Country: Kawabata’s The Master of Go and James’s ‘The Lesson of the Master,’” in Comparative Literature Studies. XX (Spring, 1983), pp. 77-93.

Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era, 1984.

Rogers, W.N. “Hero’s Defense: The Lost Positions of Nabokov’s Luzhin and Kawabata’s Shsai,” in Comparative Literature Studies. XX (Summer, 1983), pp. 217-230.

Swann, Thomas. “The Master of Go,” in Approaches to the Modern Japanese Novel, 1976. Edited by Kinya Tsuruta and Thomas Swann.

Ueda, Makoto. “Kawabata Yasunari,” in Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, 1976.