I recently added a couple of “shin kaya” shogi boards to my listings on TripleClicks.com. They are good quality boards, but when buying a high quality shogi board or igo board, you need to consider the type of wood that it has been made of so that you can make an informed purchase.
The top quality igo and shogi boards are made of “kaya” (Torreya nucifera or Japanese Nutmeg-yew), a slow-growing coniferous tree native to southern Japan and Jeju Island off the south coast of Korea. It is sometimes designated as “hon kaya” meaning “real kaya” as opposed to the lighter “shin kaya” that is used as a viable, less rare and more economical alternative in the construction of shogi and igo boards.
Japanese nutmeg yew trees is an evergreen that can reach 25 m in height and up to 1.5 m in diameter. Its wood is prized for its beautiful yellow-gold color, fine grain, and in the case of igo boards, it is noted for the sonic quality of the click of a stone on its surface.
After cutting, the wood must be dried. Kaya is dried for between 6 months and up to 7 years, depending on the quality of the wood and the board that it is be produced from it. Usually, only about twenty percent of the wood will dry without cracking, so we can begin to understand why top quality shogi boards are so expensive.
Also, hon kaya trees are now a protected species in Japan and can only be used for the manufacture of igo and shogi boards after they have died.
Once you possess a hon kaya shogi board, however, you will come to appreciate it for its fine grain and the beautiful sheen it acquires with age and use. A kaya board will outlast the centuries.
There are two types of kaya board, the higher class masame board, with the grain running straight across the top of the board, and the lower class itame, with an irregular grain pattern running across the board.
Actually, there are several sub-classes of kaya board:
1. masame, shihou-masa – cut from a tree at least 1.2 meters in diameter.
2. masame, tenchi-masa – even texture & grain.
3. masame, ten-masa – even texture & grain on top only.
4. ura itame – no surface defects. Grain on the player-sides forms the bottom half of a semi circle.
5. omote itame – surface defects. Grain on the player-sides forms the top half of a semi circle.
Hon Kaya Shogi Board Price Range
Prices for a hon kaya shogi board with four carved legs range from $2,000 to $25,000 or more. Bear in mind, these boards have been painstakingly created out of single blocks of a rare, slow-growing and precious wood with an 80% attrition rate for wood selected as possible board material.
Single block hon kaya shogi boards weigh from 14 to 20 kilos, while boards with no legs cost around $600. Composite hon kaya boards, made of several pieces of wood and without legs are also available at lower prices.
Shin Kaya Boards
Shin kaya means “new kaya” in Japanese, but the wood is not the slow-growing Japanese Nutmeg-yew at all. Instead, it is White Spruce (picea glauca) from Alaska, Tibet or Siberia. It is a good quality and cheaper alternative to the expensive “hon kaya” boards.
Shin kaya has a straight-grain that runs across the top of the board, but the grain is coarser than that of hon kaya. Also, the colour is not so warm.
Shin kaya shogi boards have become more popular in recent years because the strong yen has lowered the cost of importing wood from Asia and shin kaya boards, though not cheap, are much cheaper than native hon kaya boards. I would recommend a shin kaya board to someone who wants to enjoy playing shogi on a solid wood board priced somewhere between $250-$400 (depending on the specifications of the board).
Another alternative to hon kaya is katsura (cercidiphyllum japonicum or Japanese Judas-tree) is native to Japan and China. It is deciduous and grows up to 10 meters in light Asian woodlands. Katsura boards are usually “itame” in designation. They are a darker hue and lack the fine grain and the warmth of hon kaya shogi boards.
Nevertheless, a katsura board is still an object of beauty and if your budget does not run to the giddy heights demanded for hon kaya, then I recommend that you try to find a good quality (“matsu rank” rather than the lower “ta-ke rank”) hon katsura shogi board, i.e. a shogi board made of wood from a native Japanese Judas-tree.
Hon katsura shogi boards are made from Judas trees felled in Hokkaido.
Expect to pay between $450-$750 for a Hon katsura shogi board (depending on specifications).
P. S. If you are interested in purchasing a top quality hon kaya shogi board, drop me a line and we can discuss your requirements.