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Shogi for Beginners
by John Fairbairn


Shogi for Beginners explains the rules and strategies of shogi clearly and in detail. It covers everything you need to know, from the opening through the endgame, so that you can start playing right away.


Shogi Equipment for Everyday Use
Code Description Material Features Price
SB102 Folding Board Agathis
1.5 cm thick $50
SK101 Koma Plastic Plastic Box $23
SS303 Shogi Set:
Folding Board &
Plastic Koma
Agathis Wood 1.5 cm thick $75

Besides shogi equipment for everyday use, Kiseido can supply a wide range of high quality kaya table shogi boards kaya shogi boards with legs and exquisite engraved koma, crafted by traditional artisans.

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Engraved Shogi Koma

In the past, the calligraphy was simply painted on the surface of the koma (kaki-goma). Nowadays, in the better quality koma, the calligraphy is engraved into the wood. After the engraving process is completed, lacquer is applied into the engraved part. There are three ways that this is done:
  1. Hori-goma (Engraved koma) - After the character is engraved into the wood, a coating of laquer is applied. This method is used for inexpensive koma up to middle quality koma.
  2. Horiume-goma - After engraving the character into the surface of the koma, laquer is put into the engraved space up to the surface of the wood. This method is used for high-quality koma.
  3. Moriage-goma - After engraving the character into the wood, laquer is put into the engraved space so that it not only fills it, but it also rises slightly above the surface of the wood. This method is used the highest quality koma and are the kind used in important title matches.

The figures below illustrates these methods.

kaki-goma hori-goma horiume-goma moriage-goma

The Wood

Tsuge (box wood) is the preferred wood for engraved koma. For the cheaper sets, tsuge, imported from Thailand, is used. For the more expensive sets, Japanese tsuge is used, and it is called hon-tsuge.

The Calligraphy

There are more than 100 different kinds of calligraphy that have been used for shogi koma, but you will not find that many sold these days. The main types that are now found are the following:
  1. Kinki-sho - This is one of the standard calligraphies used by engravers. They feel that it gives an esoteric impression, and that it best demonstrates their skill. Toyoshima Ryusan, a shogi artisan in the early 20th century, developed this calligraphy based on an inscription of the Emperor Gomizuno'o. Below is an example.

  2. Minase-sho - this is based on a calligrapher, Minase, who painted laquer on koma at the end of the 16th century. Below is an example.

  3. Makiryoko-sho - Toyoshima also developed this calligraphy in the Taisho era based on the calligraphy of Makiryoko, a highly regarded calligrapher in the Edo era. This is a very popular calligraphy, especially liked by the great shogi player, Nakahara Makoto, the 16th Lifetime Judan. This calligraphy is often referred to as Ryoko. Below is an example.

  4. Genbe'e kiyoyasu-sho - This is an old calligraphy that comes from the Edo era. The details of its origin are unclear. Almost all shogi engravers have used this calligraphy at some point in their careers. Below is an example.

The Varieties of Engraved Koma

Six kinds of engraved koma are produced: kuro-bori, nami-bori, chuu-bori, jou-bori, toku-jou-bori, goku-jou-bori. All of these koma come with different kinds of calligraphy. Sometimes they are the standard Chinese characters, at other times they are in a cursive form. Often they come in an abbreviated form.
The characters of the cheaper sets, namely, kuro-bori, nami-bori, and chu-bori koma are usually abbreviated. In the case of kuro-bori, they are often severely abbreviated. Jo-bori, tokujo-bori, gokujo-bori use the standard characters.
Tokujo-bori and gokujo-bori are the most expensive. Both kinds are polished, but gokujo-bori koma are polished very intensively; the more the wood is polished, the more they shine. Therefore, gokujo-bori koma have a special feel. When you look at them, you will immediately appreciate their beauty.
In tokujo-bori and gokujo-bori sets, the engravers name is written on the tail end one of the komas, and on the tail end of another the kind of calligraphy used is indicated.

High-Quality Engraved Shogi Koma

High-quality engraved shogi koma are produced by specialized artisans. Because of the time and labor needed to make them, the feel of the finished product is much different than ordinary koma. If compared with inexpensive koma that are made wholly or partly by machine, the difference is immediately noticeable.

Method of Production

The artisan first chooses the wood, then cuts it to the required shape and size of the koma. The calligraphy is then engraved into the koma and laquer is applied into the engraved space. The koma is then smoothed out with sandpaper.

The Wood Used for High-Quality Koma

The main kind of wood used for high-quality koma is tsuge (box wood), of which there are two kinds, shima tsuge and satsuma tsuge. Both of these are referred to as hon-tsuge (true tsuge), but each has its own distinctive flavor.
Tsuge is highly prized for making koma. You can get a sense of their beauty by looking at the pictures of them below. The five samples show the different kinds of grain patterns. Collectors of koma usually have a sample of each in their collection, but the basis for any collection would be a set of torafu koma.

torafu toramoku kujaku nemoku akamasa

Nemoko koma are hard, with a feel of ceramic, and they have a brownish color. There are various kinds, and they vary from those that are just ordinary to ones that are highly prized.
As the koma are used, the wood becomes more mellow and the grain patterns become more pronounced and beautiful.
Below are some samples of high-quality engraved shogi koma and the prices one might expect to pay.


Engraver: Gassan; Calligraphy: Kinki-sho
Grain pattern: Kujaku; Price: $1,500
   Engraver: Gassan; Calligraphy: Ryoko-sho
Grain pattern: Kujaku; Price: $1,500

Engraver: Tose; Calligraphy: Ryoko-sho
Grain pattern: kujaku; Price: $2,100
      Engraver: Tose; Calligraphy: Minase-sho
Grain pattern: toramoku; Price: $2,000


Engraver: Tosui
Calligraphy: Ryoko-sho
Grain pattern: Nemoku
Price: $5,000
Engraver: Fugetsu
Calligraphy: Kiyosada-sho
Grain pattern: Akamasa
Price: $2,600

Engraver: Tose; Calligraphy: Ryoko-sho
Grain pattern: Toramoku' Price: $4,200

Engraver: Toyo; Calligraphy: Ryoko-sho
Grain pattern: Kujaku; Price: $4,700

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