What is the History of Shogi?
It is disputed when Shogi was first introduced to Japan. The earliest widely acknowledged reference to shogi is in Fujiwara Akihira’s Shin Saru Gakuki (1058-1064). A group of 16 shogi pieces found inside the grounds of Kōfuku-ji in Nara Prefecture is the oldest archaeological evidence.
There were many more shogi variations created during the Edo period, including tenjiku shogi, dai dai shogi, maka dai dai shogi, tai shogi, and taikyoku shogi. These, however, are believed to have been utilized seldomly. Top shogi players were granted endowments under a 1612 shogunate law known as Meijin. Castle shogi competitions were held once a year during the rule of the eighth shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshimune, on the 17th day of Kannazuki, which coincides with November 17 in the current calendar and is recognized as Shogi Day.
The modern Japan Shogi Association (JSA) was founded in 1924. Tori shōgi (bird chess) is one of the variants of shogi. It is believed to have been invented by Ohasi Soei, the 9th Lifetime Grandmaster (Meijin) of Shogi, and Toyota Genryu, his student, in 1799. It is one of the most popular traditional shogi variants. The game is played on a 7×7 board and uses the drop rule.
Following WWII, the SCAP (occupational government led by the US) attempted to abolish any “feudal” influences from Japanese society, and shogi was on the list of possible items to be prohibited, along with Bushido (samurai philosophy) and other things. The use of captured pieces was the reason for prohibiting shogi. SCAP insisted that this may lead to the idea of prisoner abuse.
When summoned to the SCAP headquarters for an investigation, Kozo Masuda, then one of the top professional shogi players, criticized such understanding of shogi and insisted that it is not shogi but western chess that potentially contains the idea of prisoner abuse because it simply kills the opponent’s pieces, whereas shogi is more democratic in that it allows prisoners to rejoin the game. Masuda further stated that chess defies western society’s ideal of gender equality because the king hides behind the queen and escapes. Masuda’s claim is reported to have resulted in the removal of shogi from the list of prohibited items.
Image Credits: Joan Llopis Doménech Illustrations