Tendo Shogi Pieces |one of the most valuable Shogi pieces


Tendo Shogi pieces (Japanese chess)

What is Shogi?

Before introducing Tendo shogi pieces, we would like you to know what Shogi is. “Shogi” is a type of board game played by two players. In Europe, Shogi is not so popular because of the popularity of chess, but in South America, where the Japanese have long settled, Shogi has become well known as a popular intellectual sport in recent years.


Shogi is said to have its roots in a game of dice called “chatranga,” which was played in northern India around the 5th century. Although it is not clear when Shogi was introduced to Japan, it is said to have already been played by aristocratic society in the Heian period (11th century) based on artifacts excavated from ruins. There are many differences from Chinese and Korean chess games, and it is said to have developed uniquely in Japan.

Features of Tendo shogi pieces

Tendo Shogi pieces are characterized by their shiny, black, dynamic characters made of natural lacquer. Traditional Tendo Shogi pieces are “kakigoma” (written pieces), in which cursive characters are written in lacquer directly on the wooden surface. Since the postwar period, block style script has been used, and today there are as many as 150 such scripts written in a wide variety of styles.

In terms of the carving method, not only the traditional “shokoma” but also “carving koma” in which lacquer is applied to the carved wooden part and “heaping koma” in which lacquer is heaped up from the surface have become popular, and the production of “shokoma” is very rare nowadays. Another attraction of Tendo Shogi pieces is the richly expressive grain of the wood of the pieces.

The materials used for the pieces include Japanese hohonoki, hakusanbo, boxwood, and itaya maple, with boxwood from Mikurajima in the Izu Shichishima Islands being considered the highest quality and highly prized. The beauty of the grain is reflected in the price, and pieces with the same grain and color in all 40 pieces fetch particularly high prices.

shogi piece
Source: Horikoshi corp.

The description so far may make you feel as if these are very high-end and not commonly used chess pieces, but this is not the case.

 All Tendo Shogi pieces are of high quality, but many of them are accessible not only to professional players but also to beginners. The most popular type of Shogi piece is the “stamped piece,” which is stamped directly on the wood to add characters, and can be purchased for around 5,000 yen, making it ideal for children who want to start playing Shogi or for those who want to enjoy Shogi as a hobby.

 Kaki-goma (writing pieces), hori-goma (carved pieces), and hori-umemi-goma (engraved pieces), which are considered intermediate to high-end products, often cost more than 10,000 yen because of the additional work of hand-carving and writing the characters by craftspeople.

 In addition, moriagegoma, the highest class shogi pieces, require a high level of skill to carve, lacquer the characters, and polish them after drying. There are very few craftsmen of Moriage-koma in Japan, and they are the rarest of all. Therefore, it is said that a piece costs more than 200,000 yen at the lowest price.

Japanese chess


The origin of Tendo shogi pieces dates back to 1831, when the Oda clan moved its castle to Tendo and encouraged its vassals to make shogi pieces as a side job.

The following is one of the few sources available.

     (1) Wrapping paper with the year 1846 (Koka 3) piece lettering

     (2) Remaining pieces of “Infantry Maneuvering Manual Back Cover”
                                    with the year 1870 (3rd year of Meiji) Character

     (3) Shogi shogi (Japanese chess) pieces
                produced from the end of the Edo period to the early Meiji period.

 These materials prove that the making of shogi pieces in Tendo has a 100-year history. The pentagonal shape of Shogi pieces has been excavated from many ruins dating back to the 12th century, and the Shogi characters of the emperors and calligraphers of the time have been handed down from generation to generation until the present.

Source: Yamagata prefecrue

It was during the Edo period (1603-1867) that Tendo’s shogi piece industry was promoted by the Oda clan of Tendo. It is said that the making of shogi pieces started as a side job for low-ranking feudal lords. Under the tight financial situation of the Tendo Oda clan, the lower-ranked samurai had to make ends meet and supplemented their family budgets by working at home. One example is the production of shogi (Japanese chess) pieces. Daihachi Yoshida, who was an official of the Oda clan at the time and later became known as a loyalist to the ruling class, encouraged the production of shogi (Japanese chess) pieces for clan members who were unable to live on the support they received from their employers.

There was opposition from other regents to the idea of warriors engaging in manual labor. However, Daihachi Yoshida widely introduced the manufacturing method of Shogi because he believed that Shogi could be used in military tactics and that it would not harm the honor of the samurai to play Shogi or to manufacture Shogi pieces.

Source: Yamagata prefecrue

During the Tendo Oda clan period, shogi pieces were manufactured under the division of labor between woodworking and writing. Although it was mainly a handicraft production, mass production by mechanization started at the end of the Meiji Era, and in the early Showa Era, it became possible to supply inexpensive and good quality Tendo Shogi pieces.

In the 1960s, however, production shifted to carved pieces, and the techniques of carving, burial, and glazing were researched and commercialized. Today, moriage pieces made by traditional craftsmen certified by the Association for the Promotion of Traditional Industries are used in professional chess title games.


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