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History of shogi

This article details the history of shogi. Shogi, also known as Japanese chess, is a two-player strategy board game in the same family as Western chess, chaturanga, and Chinese xiangqi, and is the most popular of a family of chess variants native to Japan.

Arrival in Japan

It is not clear when the ancestral chess-type game that later developed into shogi was brought to Japan. This is in contrast to the game of go, which was almost certainly brought to Japan in or around the Nara period, since a go board is stored in the treasury of Shōsōin (正倉院). There are tales that relate that it was invented by Yuwen Yong of Northern Zhou, and that Kibi Makibi (吉備真備) brought it back after visiting the country of Tang, but both these tales are likely to have been invented at the start of the Edo period by those keen to make a name for themselves as authorities on shogi.

There are several theories about when shogi spread to Japan, but the earliest plausible date is around the 6th century. It is thought that the pieces used in the shogi of the time were not the current five-sided pieces, but three-dimensional figures, as were used in chaturanga. This parallels the changes in chess pieces, which are more representational and less abstract than those made earlier. However, a large problem with this theory is that as pieces in this form have never been found, let alone stored in the treasury of Shōsōin, there is little physical evidence supporting it.

Another theory gives a later date, stating that shogi was brought to Japan after the start of the Nara period. but as these games are different from shogi, for example in that pieces are placed on the intersections of lines, serious doubts about this theory remain. The games of makruk from Thailand and Cambodia and sittuyin from Myanmar have an elephant which moves in the same way as the silver general. Sittuyin also has the practice of dropping pieces. From the Song Dynasty through the Ming Dynasty, China sent great trade convoys through the southern islands and all around the Indian Ocean and also traded with Japan, so elements of South Asian chess could have reached Japan.

Shogi in the Heian period

One of the oldest documents indicating the existence of shogi is Kirinshō (麒麟抄), written by Fujiwara Yukinari (藤原行成) (972 - 1027), a seven-volume work which contains a description of how to write the characters used for shogi pieces, but the most generally accepted opinion is that this section was added by a writer from a later generation. Shin Saru Gakuki (新猿楽記) (1058-1064), written by Fujiwara Akihira also has passages relating to shogi, and is regarded as the earliest document on the subject.

The oldest archaeological evidence is a group of 16 shogi pieces excavated from the grounds of Kōfuku-ji in Nara Prefecture, and as a wooden writing plaque written on in the sixth year of Tenki (1058) was found at the same time, the pieces are thought to be of the same period. The pieces of the time appear to have been simple ones made by cutting a writing plaque and writing directly on the surface, but they have the same five-sided shape as modern pieces. As "Shin Saru Gakuki", mentioned above, is of the same period, this find is backed up by documentary evidence.

The dictionary of common folk culture, Nichūreki (二中歴), which it is estimated was created between 1210 and 1221, a collection based on the two works Shōchūreki (掌中歴) and Kaichūreki (懐中歴), thought to have been written by Miyoshi Tameyasu (三善為康), describes two forms of shogi, large (dai) shogi and small (shō) shogi. So as not to confuse these with later types of shogi, in modern times these are called Heian shogi (or Heian small shogi) and Heian dai shogi. Heian shogi is the version on which modern shogi is based, but it is written that one wins if one's opponent is reduced to a single king, apparently indicating that at the time there was no concept of pieces in the hand.

The pieces used in these variants of shogi consist of those used in Heian shogi: the king, gold general, silver general, knight, lance, and pawn, and those used only in Heian great shogi: the copper general, iron general, side mover, tiger, flying dragon, free chariot and go between. According to Kōji Shimizu, chief researcher at the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, Nara Prefecture, the names of the Heian shogi pieces keep those of chaturanga (general, elephant, horse, chariot and soldier), and add to them the five treasures of Buddhism (jewel, gold, silver, katsura tree, and incense). There is also a theory by Yoshinori Kimura that while chaturanga was from the start a game simulating war, and thus pieces were discarded once captured, Heian shogi involved pieces kept in the hand.

The development of medieval shogi

In games around the world related to shogi, there have been changes in the rules with the passage of time, such as increasing the abilities of the pieces or their numbers, as winning strategies have been discovered, and the Japanese game of shogi is no exception to this.

Around the 13th century, the game of dai shogi, created by increasing the number of pieces in Heian shogi, was played, and the game of sho shogi, which adds the rook, bishop and drunken elephant from dai shogi to Heian shogi. Around the 15th century, as the rules of dai shogi had become too complicated, they were simplified, creating the game of chu shogi, which is close to the modern game. It is thought that the rules of modern shogi were fixed in the 16th century, when the drunken elephant was removed from the set of pieces. According to Shoshōgi Zushiki (諸象戯図式), a set of shogi rules published in 1696, during the Ganroku period, it states that the drunken elephant piece was removed from the game of sho shogi by Emperor Go-Nara during the Tenmon period (1532-1555), but whether or not this is true is not clear.

As many as 174 shogi pieces have been excavated from the Ichijōdani Asakura Family Historic Ruins, which are thought to be from the latter half of the 16th century. Most of these pieces are pawns, but there is also one drunken elephant, leading to the hypothesis that in this period variations of shogi with and without the drunken elephant existed side by side.

One point of note in the history of this family of games is that it was during this period that the unique rule in Japanese shogi was developed whereby captured pieces (pieces in the hand) could be returned to the board. It is thought that the rule of pieces in the hand was proposed around the 16th century, but there is also a theory that this rule existed from the time of Heian sho shogi.

In the Edo period, more types of shogi with yet more pieces were proposed: tenjiku shogi, dai dai shogi, maka dai dai shogi, tai shogi (also called "dai shogi", but termed "tai shogi" to avoid confusing the two) and taikyoku shogi. However, it is thought that these forms of shogi were only played to a very limited extent.

Modern shogi

Modern shogi (hon shogi), like go, was officially approved by the Tokugawa shogunate. In 1612, the shogunate passed a law giving endowments to shogi players including Kanō Sansa (加納算砂) (Hon'inbō Sansa (本因坊算砂)) and Shūkei (宗桂) (who was given the name Ōhashi Shūkei (大橋宗桂) after his death). These iemotos (families upholding the tradition of go or shogi) gave themselves the title of go-dokoro (碁所) (literally, places of go) and shogi-dokoro (将棋所), places of shogi. The first O-hashi Shu-kei received fifty koku of rice and five men. In the Kan'ei period (around 1630), the "castle shogi" (御城将棋) tournament, where games were played before a shogun, was held. During the time of the eighth shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune, a system was established where the castle shogi tournament was held once a year on the 17th day on Kannazuki, and today the corresponding day in the modern calendar, November 17, has been designated Shogi Day.

The Meijin (名人), who were the iemotos of shogi, were paid endowments. Over the reign of the shogunate, the title of meijin became a hereditary title of the Ōhashi family and one of its branches, and the Itō family. Today the title of meijin is still used, for the winner of the Meijin-sen competition. It became a tradition for shogi players inheriting the title of meijin to present a collection of shogi puzzles to the shogunate government.

A number of genius shogi players emerged who were not hereditary meijin. Itō Kanju (伊藤看寿) was born in the mid-Edo period, and showed promise as a potential meijin, but died young and never inherited the title (which was bestowed on him posthumously). Kanju was a skilled composer of shogi puzzles, and even today his collection of puzzles "Shogi Zukō" (将棋図巧) is well known as one of the greatest works of its kind. In the late Edo period, Amano Sōho (天野宗歩) came to prominence. As he was one of the "Arino group" of amateur shogi players, the rank of meijin was out of his reach, but he was feared for his skill, being said to have "the ability of a 13-dan player", and was later termed a kisei (棋聖) (literally, wise man or master of shogi). More than a few count Sōho as one of the greatest shogi players in history.

Newspaper shogi and the formation of shogi associations

After the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, the three shogi families were no longer paid endowments, and the iemoto system in shogi lost its power. The lines of the three families ended, and the rank of meijin came to be bestowed by recommendation. The popularity of amateur shogi continued in the Meiji period, with shogi tournaments and events held all over Japan, and "front-porch shogi" (縁台将棋), played wherever people gathered, in bath houses or barber's shops. However, it is thought that, with the exception of a handful of high-ranking players at the end of the 19th century, it was impossible to make a living as a professional shogi player during this period.

From around 1899, newspapers began to publish records of shogi matches, and high-ranking players formed alliances with the aim of having their games published. In 1909, the Shogi Association (将棋同盟社) was formed, and in 1924, the Tokyo Shogi Association (東京将棋同盟社) was formed, with Kinjirō Sekine (関根金次郎), a thirteenth-generation meijin, at its head. This was an early incarnation of the modern Japan Shogi Association (日本将棋連盟), founded in 1947.

The meijin system and title matches

In 1935, Kinjiro Sekine stepped down from the rank of meijin, which then came to be conferred based on ability in the short term, rather than recommendation as before. The first Meijin title match (名人戦 meijin-sen) (known officially at the time as the Meijin Kettei Kisen (名人決定大棋戦)) was held over two years, with Yoshio Kimura (木村義雄) becoming the first Meijin in 1937. This was the start of the shogi title matches (see titleholder system).

Later, in 1950, the Kudan title match (九段戦 kudan-sen) (9-dan title match) (renamed the Jūdan title match (十段戦 jūdan-sen) (10-dan title match) in 1962) and the Ōshō title match (王将戦 ōshō-sen) (King title match) were founded.

The Ōza-sen (王座戦) tournament was started in 1953 and became a title match in 1983. In 1960 the Ōi title match (王位戦 ōi-sen) was founded, and later the Kisei-sen (棋聖戦) in 1962, and the Kiō-sen (棋王戦 kiō-sen) in 1974. The Jūdan-sen was changed to become the Ryūō title match (竜王戦 ryūō-sen) in 1988, completing the modern line-up of seven title matches.

The ages of Ōyama and Habu

It was considered to be nearly impossible to hold all the titles at once, but in 1957, Kōzō Masuda took all three of the titles which existed at the time (Meijin, Kudan and Ōshō), to become a triple champion (三冠王). However, another player later took these three titles from Masuda, and went on in 1959 to take the newly founded titles of Ōi and Kisei, to become a quintuple champion (五冠王) - Yasuharu Ōyama (大山康晴). Ōyama went on to defend these titles for six years, a golden age which became known as the "Ōyama age". Ōyama reached a total of 80 title holding periods, an unprecedented achievement at the time, when there were fewer titles than at present.

After the number of titles increased to seven in 1983, it was believed to be impossible to hold all of them at once, but in 1996, Yoshiharu Habu became the first septuple champion (七冠王), beginning an age known as the "Habu age". Since then, there has never been a time when he was without a title, and on July 5, 2012, Habu surpassed Ōyama's record, achieving a total of 81 title holding periods.

The birth of the women's game

While there are both men and women among the ranks of professional shogi players, no woman player has yet won through the pro qualifier leagues (新進棋士奨励会 shinshin kishi shōreikai) to become an officially certified professional player (棋士 kishi). This served to slow the spread of the game among women, and to overcome the problem, the system of professional woman shogi players (女流棋士 joryū kishi) was introduced.

In 1966, Akiko Takojima (蛸島彰子) left the pro-qualifier leagues at the 1-dan level and became the first professional woman shogi player. However, at the time women's contests were not held, and so her only work as a professional was giving shogi lessons. In 1974, the first women's contest, the Women's Meijin Title Match (女流名人位戦 joryū meijin-sen), was held, which Takojima won, becoming the first woman meijin. 1974 is often considered to be the year in which women's shogi began, and indeed the Ladies Shogi Professional Organization (女流棋士会 joryū kishi kai) celebrates "anniversary parties" counting from this year.

As of 2014 there are more than 50 professional women players, and as well as the Universal Cup Women's Meijin Title Match (ユニバーサル杯女流名人戦), there is also the Mynabi Women's Open (マイナビ女子オープン), the Ricoh Cup Women's Ōza Title Match (リコー杯女流王座戦), the Women's Ōi Title Match (女流王位戦), the Kirishima Shuzo Cup Women's Ōshō Title Match (女流王将戦), the Ōyama Meijin Cup Kurashiki-Tōka Title Match (大山名人杯倉敷藤花戦), a total of six competitions. In addition, some standard professional tournaments has a women's section, in which the top women in each tournament compete.

Trends in the world of amateur shogi

Shogi is also well-known among the general public (amateurs). Two different rating systems based dan and kyu ranks are used, one for amateurs and one for professionals, with the highest ranks at amateur level, 4-dan or 5-dan, being equivalent to 6-kyu at the professional level. In the past, there were games between amateurs and professionals, but these were generally special match-ups organised by newspapers or magazines, or instructional games at events or shogi courses.

However, sometimes there are amateurs with an ability to rival professionals, some of whom earn a living as shinken-shi (真剣師), gamblers playing for stakes. Motoji Hanamura (花村元司) made enough to live on as a shinken-shi, before taking the entrance exam and turning professional in 1944. He later challenged Yasuharu Ōyama in the Meijin-sen, but did not manage to take the title of meijin from him. Jūmei Koike (小池重明) was another shinken-shi, who beat one professional after another in special matches, and won the title of amateur meijin twice in a row, putting him ahead of the crowd in the amateur world. Later, due in part to the instigation of Ōyama, the then chairman of the general assembly of the Japanese Shogi Association (棋士総会), a vote was held on whether to accept Koike among their ranks, but there were concerns about his behaviour, and the vote went against him. Although he never became a professional, after his death, television programmes and books telling his story were produced, and he now has more fans all over Japan than when he was alive.

In recent times, the gap in ability between strong amateurs and professionals continues to diminish, and there are even official professional tournaments in which those with the best results in amateur shogi contests (将棋のアマチュア棋戦) can take part. Some amateurs, including Tsuneyoshi Kobayashi (小林庸俊), Takashi Amano (天野高志), Hirukawa (蛭川敦), Takashi Kiriyama (桐山隆), Masaki Endō (遠藤正樹), Masakazu Hayasaki (早咲誠和) and Atsumoto Yamada (山田敦幹) have been called "pro killers", and recently two young players, Yukio Katō (加藤幸男) and Tōru Shimizukami (清水上徹) have been making waves in the amateur world.

The number of players who have left the pro qualifier leagues and gone on to have success as amateurs has increased. Shōji Segawa (瀬川晶司) retired from the qualifier leagues due to age restrictions, but went on to compete as an amateur in professional matches. His performance in the Ginga tournament (銀河戦, Ginga-sen) was particularly notable, and at one point he won over 70% of his matches with professionals. Segawa submitted a petition requesting entry to the professional ranks to the Japan Shogi Association, and was granted exceptional permission to take the entrance exam. He is the first person to become a professional after retiring from the pro qualifier leagues.

In 2006, the Shogi Association officially admitted the entrance of amateurs and women professionals to the ranks of professionals (正棋士), and announced details of an entrance exam for the 4-dan level (entering the "free class" (フリークラス) level of the professional ranking league (順位戦)) and the third-level pro qualifier league (奨励会三段リーグ). Unless exceptional permission is granted, applicant normally need to have experience in the pro qualifier leagues, and cannot become professionals if they have retired from the leagues, but given the reforms taking place in the Association, it would be by no means unlikely if another Shōji Segawa were to appear.

The spread of shogi outside Japan

The game of shogi has developed independently inside Japan, and its pieces are differentiated by Japanese characters written on them, factors which have impeded the spread of the game outside Japan. By way of comparison, the game of go has spread internationally for a combination of many reasons, including the facts that it originated in China, its rules are (more or less) unified at an international level, it is played using black and white stones, and that it does not resemble games unique to another country (as is the case with shogi, which is one of many games resembling chess).

However, in the 1990s, efforts to make shogi popular outside Japan began in earnest. It has grown to be particularly popular in the People's Republic of China, and especially Shanghai. The January 2006 edition of Kindai Shogi (近代将棋) states that Shanghai has a shogi population of 120,000 people. The game has been relatively slow to spread to countries where Chinese characters are not in common use, although attempts have been made to aid adoption by replacing the names of pieces with symbols indicating how they move.

Changes in the shogi population

According to the "Leisure White Paper" (レジャー白書) by the Japanese Productivity Center for Socio-Economic Development (財団法人社会経済生産性本部), the "shogi population" (the number of people of 15 years or over who play at least one game of shogi a year) fell from 16.8 million in 1985 to 9 million in 2004, and 8.4 million in 2006, and is continuing to fall gradually.

During the above period, in which the shogi population fell by a half, shogi has often appeared in the general media, for example Yoshiharu Habu's achievement of taking all seven titles in one year (1996), the airing of the NHK TV novel Futarikko (ふたりっ子) (1996), the reporting of the affair between Makoto Nakahara (中原誠) and Naoko Hayashiba (林葉直子), Shōji Segawa taking the professional entrance exam (2005), and the debate about the management of the meijin-sen being passed to a different body (2006). However, none of these led to the birth of a "shogi boom", and in some cases unfavourable media reports accelerated the decline in the number of shogi fans.

The number of 10- to 19-year-olds playing go is said in the "Leisure White Paper" above to have increased due to the story "Hikaru no Go", serialised in Weekly Shōnen Jump. (The overall go population is decreasing.) However, the 2006 Leisure White Paper reports that go is most popular among those in their 60's, while shogi is most popular between those aged 10 to 19.

From around 1996, internet shogi programs such as Java Shogi (Java将棋) and The Great Shogi (ザ・グレート将棋), which allow users to play games over the internet without the need for an actual shogi set, grew to be widely used. At present, many games are played using services such as Shogi Club 24 (将棋倶楽部24), Kindai Shogi Dojo (近代将棋道場) and Yahoo! Japan Games.

Computer shogi

Read main article: Computer shogi

Computers have steadily improved in playing shogi since the 1980s. Champion Habu estimated the strength of the 2006 world computer shogi champion Bonanza at the level of 2 dan shoreikai. Tools to help shogi programmers are Shogidokoro, annual computer tournaments and the Floodgate shogi server. The Japan Shogi Association restricts professionals from playing computers.

Current title holders

In Japan, some 200 professional shogi players, all members of Japan Shogi Association, compete in seven title tournaments. The winner of the previous year defends the title against a challenger chosen from knockout or round matches.

Current title holders
2010 67th Meijin   Yoshiharu Habu won over Hiroyuki Miura 4-0
2009 22nd RyūŌ   Akira Watanabe won over Toshiyuki Moriuchi 4-0
2009 80th Kisei Yoshiharu Habu won over Kazuki Kimura 3-2
2010 50th Ōi Akihito Hirose won over Kōichi Fukaura 4-2
2009 57th Ōza Yoshiharu Habu won over Takayuki Yamasaki 3-0
2010 58th Ōshō Toshiaki Kubo won over Yoshiharu Habu 4-2
2009 34th Kiō Toshiaki Kubo won over Yasumitsu Satō 3-2
Tabletop games: Rules and Strategy