Board games are nothing but ‘table-top’ games which are usually played according to a set of rules. They have been in many cultures and societies for centuries. There are different kinds of board games originating in different countries – the Chinese have ‘go’ and ‘liubo’; the Aztecs have ‘patolli’ and so on. There are two ancient board games which are specific to Japan, namely ‘igo’ and ‘shogi’. Let’s have a look at them and see what makes them interesting and different from other board games.
Igo is an interesting game which is played by using black and white stones on a board consisting of empty intersections of grid called ‘goban’. Igo is the Japanese version of the Chinese board game of ‘Go’. The origins of this game go to ancient China somewhere around 2,000 years back. It was brought to Japan by some traders and noblemen during the Nara period (around 8th century AD). It became so popular in Japan that even the Meiji rulers encouraged it by setting up ‘go’ schools and ‘gokaijo (Igo play house)’ in various towns. Thousands of people used to play Igo Igo quite enthusiastically in that era. These days, Igo is played on the internet by many young people. Many popular comics and manga stories have re-fueled the Igo boom.
Shogi is something like a Japanese version of chess, usually played with 40 pieces. There are two different types of shogi called the ‘hon-shogi’ and the ‘hasami-shogi’. Hon-shogi is a typically formalized type of chess where two players take turns to compete against each other until one of the kings is captured. The goal is exactly the same as in the type of chess we all are quite used to. However, ‘hasami-shogi’ is slightly different. Here, the game is won when a set of agreed upon pieces get snared.
There is a famous international festival for shogi called the ‘Tendo Sakura Matsuri’. Tendo is a district in Yamagata prefecture which is famous for shogi. It is the manufacturing hub for shogi pieces. Every year, the festival is conducted on the mountain of Maizuru in Tendo. The specialty of this festival is that it is played by real humans dressed up in costumes and armor. It is a very charming and compelling event where the visitors participate in the game quite enthusiastically while enjoying cherry blossoms.
Japan also has other traditional board games like sugoroku which has variants such as snakes and ladders and backgammon. Japan has many more modern board games which are popular as well such as Jinsei which is an adaptation of The Game of Life. Do not forget to try out one of these board games if you get the chance!