Shang Chi set

Played widely in Japan, and world-wide where ever Japanese people have settled, Shogi is the Japanese version of the game of chess.

Looking at the set pictured on the left, viewers familiar with European chess sets might ask why Shogi is considered a chess game. An examination of the mode of play, complete with the familar universal movement pattern of the "knight" in the Japanese game, and the movement of other pieces clarifies the issue. Indeed, Shogi is a chess game.

There is considerable published historical information about this game, information which dates from the 16th century.

It seems the Mikado at that time appointed the chief Shogi player, and these player-instructors received a salary for their services from that time on. This continued until the 1920s when a national Japanese Shogi Federation took over the governing of instruction and playing of the game.

The collection copy of the Shogi set pictured above, was purchased in 1972 from a New York City shop selling Japanese imports. Shogi is played on the 9 by 9 cells of a rectangular hinged wooden board. The collection copy is 35.8cm long by 32cm wide by 3.4cm thick. This wooden board painted yellow is "typical" with it's 81 cells divided by black painted lines.

Shogi pieces

Unlike European chess sets, the Shogi pieces are arrow-head shaped, tapered in width and thickness depending upon the power and role of the piece in the game. Each piece is marked with Japanese characters identifying their role in the game. The 41 pieces in this set are made of wood and the largest measures 3cm long by 2.5cm wide x 1cm thick. The smallest measures 2.4cm long by 1.9cm wide by .6cm thick.

Promoted Shogi pieces

Both sides have identical pieces with the same powers and roles and moves as in the European game, except that one side is "led" by a king and the other by a "pretender to the throne"!

Another difference is that while the painted black Japanese characters on the face of the pieces indicate the role and power of each piece, once the game has progressed, and a piece has made a "capture", the conquering piece is "promoted" and is turned over to reveal painted red Japanese characters indicating new movement powers.

There are a number of other differences from the European game. For example, even though an opponent's piece has been captured and removed from the board, it has not been lost - and it's owner may return it to the board allowing it to "rejoin" it's army!

An excellent graphic Website which explains what each piece is and how the game is played is: To return to the Museum chess set Website, please use your "back button".

Last update February 15, 2010