I have just made a new page under the Shogi tab on this website and added two shogi training sets to the listings. Shogi training sets are popular with children here in Japan, and would also suit non-Japanese beginners who want to learn shogi as quickly as possible and master the moves as they play.
Part of the process of learning how to play shogi involves remembering the kanji characters for each piece. That’s because shogi pieces have the piece-name on their face to distinguish them from each other. If you want to play shogi well you have to learn to read the kanji at a glance and know immediately which piece is which.
That can be a difficult job for foreign players who have not studied kanji, but it can be almost as difficult for Japanese children who may only know hiragana and a few basic kanji when they first begin to play shogi.
Some years ago, the Japanese private education company, Kumon, brought out a wooden “Study Shogi” set to help Japanese children learn shogi.
The shogi pieces in the Kumon set have little grids on them representing the squares immediately surrounding the shogi piece, with red arrows to show where the piece can move. If the arrow finishes inside the square, then piece can only move as far as that square. If the arrow breaks through the outer boundary of the square, then the shogi piece in question can move several squares in that direction, like the rook, bishop or queen in chess.
The name of the piece is also given in hiragana underneath the traditional kanji character.
The Kumon set is made to their typically high production standards, and everything is made of wood.
Another nice feature of the set is that the wooden box that stores the pieces, and the wooden lid, double as trays for the shogi pieces during play. Because captured pieces can be reintroduced to the game as your own pieces, it is important to keep all the pieces you capture on display so that both your opponent and you can see what has been captured.
More recently, another shogi training set, called “Master Shogi” was released by Japanese game company, Beverly Enterprises Inc. It is a slickly packaged set designed more like a board game, with a cardboard board overlaid with a plastic grid into which the plastic pieces sit very snugly. The squares where the pieces go at the set up stage are marked with the kanji character of the respective pieces.
As you get better at reading the pieces and understanding how they move, you can replace the stickers that cover the plastic pieces with new ones with standard shogi kanji designs on them and no movement styles.
The Master Shogi set includes a couple of illustrated Japanese instruction pamphlets. One of the pamphlets is a in “manga” format, with the instructions explained in popular comic strip style.
If you have some knowledge of Japanese and can read hiragana you will be able to read the Japanese version of the rules that come with the set. If you can’t read Japanese, the diagrams show you clearly how the pieces move.
Both shogi training sets offer the learner a good way to get to know how the pieces move. The Kumon set is better quality, being made of wood, but the Master set is cheaper and has some nice features that youngsters will enjoy such as the option to “upgrade” pieces with new stickers as they master their movements.