木曜日, 7月 08, 2004

Shogi Trivia

      I'm reading a manga about shogi. As you probably know, shogi is the chess variant played in Japan. The manga, "Secrets of Shogi", (将棋の秘密), is full of surprising/possibly apocryphal bits of random information about this game. If you're interested, here is what I've learned so far.

      -The oldest extant shogi game pieces are from the 11th century, Heian period. They were excavated in 1993 from Kofukuji Temple in Nara. The game pieces had the same characteristic five-sided shape as they do now.

      -China, Korea and Japan are the only countries that use kanji characters on their game pieces. The Chinese game pieces are round, the Korean game pieces are 8-sided, and the Japanese shogi pieces are 5-sided with a pointed end facing up. Although shogi pieces resemble those other games in appearance because of the kanji, the rules of shogi are the closest to the Thai game of Makruk. The Chinese chess variant includes such landscape features as "castles" and a "river" (sections of the board with special movement rules).

      -The five-sided shape of shogi pieces apparently has some significance in Japan. The manga illustrates that it is the same basic shape as ema (prayer cards, often with pictures of Chinese zodiac animals on the front, found outside shrines), omamori (protective amulets you can buy at temples and shrines) wooden cards travelers used to carry called tefuda, and houses (think of the front of a simple house line drawing, with a sloping roof).

      -The biggest version of shogi (and the biggest playable chess variant in the world) is a 15 x 15 grid board with 130 total game pieces. This was not the biggest shogi set ever created, however. The book shows pictures of massive shogi sets, the purpose of which I can scarcely begin to imagine. The Dai Dai Shogi (Big Big Shogi) set is 17 x 17, with 192 pieces, while the Maka Dai Dai Shogi set is 19 x 19 with 192 pieces. The biggest is Tai Shogi (泰将棋), 25 x 25 spaces, 364 game pieces. The reason for this gratuitous upsizing is unclear.

      -Shogi is the only chess variant in the world that allows you to reuse the pieces you capture from your opponent. This is possible because the opposing sides are not identified by color, but only by the direction they are facing.

      -Professional shogi players are employed by a shogi association based either in eastern or western Japan, depending on where they live. In addition to a base salary, which comes from sponsorships by newspapers, TV networks, and other companies, they can win as much as ¥32,000,000 on a single game.

      -The lines on a shogi board are cut with a katana blade.

      -The feet of a traditional shogi board are shaped like the flower called kuchinashi. This is a pun, because kuchinashi also means "no mouth". The "no mouth" is a reminder that people watching the game better keep their mouths shut. Naturally, shogi players hate it when you interfere and give advice while other people are playing.

      -Most shogi boards that I've seen here in Japan are not the flat table-top kind we're used to using for board games in other countries. Instead, the game board itself forms a wooden cube-shaped table that is the right height to play on if you're sitting on the floor. If you're playing with this kind of board, turn it over and see if there's a square pointy-tipped thing poking out of the middle of the underside of the board. This is called the board's "heso," or navel. One theory is that the heso improves the acoustics of the board--when you put a piece down, it should make a satisfying clacking sound against the wooden surface. But the manga says that this is related to the "kuchinashi" concept. It suggests that the heso exists so that you can tell people who interfere in your game, "Shut up or I will impale your severed head on the underside of the board."

      -There is a live-action shogi game in Tendou city, Yamagata-ken, every year in April. People dressed in costumes play as the shogi pieces. You might remember that Harry Potter & friends did something like this with chess at the end of the first book/movie, and so did Alice in Through the Looking Glass.

      -The game pieces are specially angled so that if you put all twenty of your pieces together with the sides touching, they will form a perfect circle.

      -One obsolete shogi piece is called the "drunken elephant" (酔象). It represented the heir to the throne (why not?). With this piece, you could continue playing even if your king is killed. The drunken elephant piece was abandoned in the modern game because it led to some pretty long drawn-out games, as you can imagine, and too many ties. It was only after this piece fell into disuse that the practice of reusing your opponent's captured pieces developed.

Source: 将棋のひみつ   学研まんが新ひみつシリーズ
Published:2003年6月18日 学習研究社
監修: 安恵照剛
構成: 湯川博士
漫画: 加賀さやか