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September 2021

Cultural Article

Shogi- Japanese Chess

by Yoshihiro Fujimaki

1. Introduction

Shogi is a traditional Japanese board game that looks like chess. Because it is a one-on-one, zero-sum, and perfect information game, there is no factor of luck in winning or losing. Both shogi and chess are considered to have originated from a board game called Chaturanga from ancient India. In the beginning of 17th century, the Edo Shogunate, which ruled Japan, officially endorsed shogi, and the current style of shogi remained thereafter.

The image above depicts the initial setup of the game.

2. A Unique Feature

One unique feature of shogi is that the player can reuse a piece as his own after he captures it from the opponent’s forces. This point is completely different from chess, in which the player cannot reuse a captured piece. This feature of shogi allows for the total number of pieces to remain the same, which keeps the number of available moves for pieces high, and a match may be reversed even in its final stage.

The image above depicts what a board may look like mid-game.

3. Professional Players and Tournaments

Although shogi has approximately 6 - 10 million amateur players in Japan, there are only about 170 professional players. Those professional players belong to the Japan Shogi Association, which was established in 1924, and participate in several tournaments. Available total time to consider the next move of a piece varies by each tournament; the shortest case is 15 mins (then players must move a piece in 30 seconds) and the longest case is 9 hours (then players must move a piece in 60 seconds). This is another unique point of shogi, in which certain matches end in an hour but other matches are held over two days with appropriate rest times.

The Tokyo Headquarters of the Japan Shogi Association

4. Live Broadcast of Professional Shogi Matches

Some professional shogi matches are live-broadcasted and can be watched from overseas. These live broadcasts are accompanied by commentary from other professional players, and have some viewers called MIRU-SHO (watching only shogi fans), who rarely play shogi games. They are new kind of shogi fan, and they’re also interested in the meals which professional players eat for lunch or dinner (SHOGI-MESHI).

This curry udon is one example of shogi-meshi. The Hosojima-ya noodle restaurant, where this was ordered, is located near the Japan Shogi Association's Tokyo HQ. Professional players often order their meals from this restaurant for delivery to the Tokyo HQ.

5. Shogi Mating Problems

Solving or creating shogi mating problems (TUME-SHOGI) is another way to enjoy shogi. Shogi mating problems are just puzzles that are the same as chess problems, so an opponent is not necessary, and anyone can attempt to solve problems at a difficulty level that matches their abilities. I like shogi mating problems and have provided you one example that I created myself.

Can you solve this shogi mating problem, which imitates the shape of a star? The puzzle's solution will be listed at the bottom of the article. (Hint: You can mate in 5 moves!)

6. Conclusion

There are several ways to enjoy shogi, including playing shogi games, watching professional shogi matches, solving or creating shogi mating problems, and so on. If you have played chess, you can easily understand the rules of shogi and will recognize shogi’s depth. I believe that shogi is a useful tool to communicate with Japanese people because most Japanese men at least know its rules.

Puzzle Solution:

1. G*52(5二金)

2. Kx52(同玉)

3. S44-53+(5三銀右成)

4. K-41(4一玉)

5. S*42(4二銀)

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