Yesterday The Japan Foundation held a shogi (将棋) workshop, led by shogi professional and master Madoka Kitao. Madoka Kitao is the inventor of Dobutsu Shogi (Animal shogi), a simplified version of the game that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults.
Shogi is a type of Japanese chess. It originated in India in the 6th century, and gradually developed into the form that we know today during the 16th century. Although, shogi is often compared to chess, there is one main thing that makes the difference: the drop rule. In chess, once your pieces have been captured, they’re gone for good. Whereas in shogi, the captured pieces become yours to re-enter and use at in point during the game. The object of shogi, like chess, is to capture the King. Each piece on the board has specific directions in which they can travel, which of course makes it a very tactical game. What’s interesting as well, is this rule of “promotions”. I don’t play chess, so I don’t know if it’s the same, but in shogi once your piece enters enemy territory, it gets “promoted”. By turning the piece over, it is now “promoted”, which means it has additional directional movement capabilities. These are but a few interesting aspects of shogi, and I’m sure there are a lot more, but there’s only so much the workshop could go into in an hour and a half.
Learning how to play Dobutsu Shogi is a great introduction to the world of shogi. It’s simple and quick to grasp for everyone. The pieces use animal pictures instead of complicated kanji, and each piece has a red dot representing its possible movements. As opposed to the traditional shogi board, which is nine by nine, this board was only three by four. To win the game you need to capture your opponent’s lion, OR, your own lion needs to reach your opponent’s area without being captured.
Three important aisatsu (or greetings) to remember when playing:
1. Before starting the game, you greet your opponent with a bow and say “yoroshiku onegai shimasu“, which in this case can be loosely translated as “thank you for playing with me”.
2. Although we all would like to win, losses are a part of the game. When you see you may be losing the game or have lost you say “makemashita”, meaning “I lost”.
3. Finally, thank your opponent with an “arigatou gozaimasu” and a bow.
I lost my very first game of Dobutsu Shogi f^_^; We did play a mini tournament however, and I came third and even won a badge ^ ^
If you’re interested in Shogi, there is a Shogi London club that meet every last saturday of the month to play. They have a Facebook group here, where you can learn more about their activities. You can also learn to play online at 81dojo.
Madoka Kitao hopes that through Dobutsu Shogi many more will take interest and start learning shogi. Well after today’s taster, I’m sold! I really enjoyed the game, and would encourage anyone to try if you have the opportunity.