Japanese Shogi is chess-like board game Japanese people have enjoyed since Nara era (about 1400 years ago) when it was imported from India, where the game was originally created in ancient times. Japanese Shogi differs from chess in a way we use captured pieces as living players.
The pieces are flat, traditionally made from Japanese boxwood and a Kanji character ( Chinese character) which indicates the role of the piece is carved and written on it.
When Japanese Shogi game became popular in Edo era, then Tendo-Oda domain started the manufacturing of Shogi pieces to give productive works to samurai warriors who lost opportunities to attend wars under the pacific regime of Tokugawa shogunate. The production became into full gear in Meiji era and Tendo city, in Yamagata prefecture, is now the largest center of Japanese shogi piece manufacturing.
The special art they developed is of course word carving (the artisans for this work are called “Hori-shi”), but writing of kanji words (they are called “Kaki-shi”), which means Japanese calligraphy, decide the taste of the pieces. Square style, called Kaisho and cursive style, Sosho are closely distinguished. They are not written by ordinal ink, but black Japanese lacquer. Each artisan, who specialized in writing, has developed its own style, too.
Cutting the pieces (who do this called Kiji-shi), carve words, write words, and pile up lacquer on words (they called “Mori-shi”). These four steps are creatively combined to produce high-lank Japanese Shogi pieces. Only 20 of Artisans specialized in this area are in service, and 3 factories are also contributing to provide fine Japanese Shogi pieces. Currently, 90% of Japanese Shogi pieces are made in Tendo city.
Tendo Shogi Pieces was designated as Traditional Craft by METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) in 1996.