[From June Issue 2010]

Shogi is a traditional, two-player board game, similar to Western chess. Each player controls 40 pieces, and the rules are complicated. Each piece has kanji characters such as “Osho” (King) and “Hisha” (flying chariot) written on it, and they can all move in a variety of different directions.

The yearly decline in the number of shogi players has lead to the invention of Doubutsu Shogi (animal shogi), with the intention of attracting new players, hopefully women and children. KITAO Madoka, a joryu-kishi (professional female shogi player who plays in women-only tournaments), designed the rules, and in 2008 Doubutsu Shogi was sold by the Ladies Professional Shogi-players’ Association of Japan (LPSA). Doubutsu Shogi follows the basic rules and moves of traditional shogi.

There are four different Doubutsu Shogi playing pieces: a Lion, an Elephant, a Giraffe and a Chick, each cutely designed by joryu-kishi FUJITA Maiko. The playing board, illustrated with a sky and a forest, has 12 squares, far fewer than the 81 squares on a regular shogi board. Learning the moves is as easy as following the red indication marks on each playing piece.

It’s respectful to cheerfully greet your opponent with, “Yoroshiku onegai shimasu” (Let’s enjoy the game) before getting started, and “Arigatou gozaimashita” (Thank you) at the game’s conclusion. After playing “janken pon” (rock-paper-scissors) to decide who goes first, each player moves their pieces in turn. The winner is the player who succeeds in taking the other’s Lion, the game’s strongest piece (similar to Shogi’s Osho, or the King).

Another joryu-kishi, OHBA Mika, who also works in the LPSA’s public relations department, has an eight-year-old daughter. Her daughter Maho, initially had difficulty learning the rules of traditional shogi, however, Ohba said that after playing Doubutsu Shogi, her daughter’s understanding of the rules started to improve.

“I hope that the popularity of Doubutsu Shogi spreads more widely across Japan, and that it will in turn help make (traditional) shogi better known to people worldwide,” say Ohba. And it is, as both Kitao, and Fujita have already attended an international game festival in France this past March, Le Festival International des Jeux, de Cannes, where they introduced their new game. It is being called “Doubutsu Shogi: Let’s Catch the Lion!”

Due to large amounts of recent media coverage, Doubutsu Shogi is now gaining momentum. The Doubutsu Shogi One Day Tournament, held this past February in Shibuya, Tokyo, attracted 150 children, with well over 300 people, including their parents, flocking to the venue to watch. This new board game, born out of the traditional Japanese game of shogi, is now set to spread from here to the rest of the world.

Doubutsu Shogi Official Website

Text: MUKAI Natsuko

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