Promoting Shogi and the difficulties that come with it.
There are around 20 million people in Japan who play shogi at least once a year. Compared to that number the shogi community in Europe is almost non-existent with only 1140 players listed on the FESA webpage. Be that as it may, most shogi players that I have met are passionate fans of the game and many of them spend a considerable amount of their time promoting shogi in their country or area. Shogi promotion comes in many shapes and forms. You may have taught one of your friends how to play the game, maybe you established a small club or meeting in your area, or you might have showcased shogi at an anime convention or some other venue from time to time. Apart from having established a small club in my hometown Düsseldorf and having forced this wonderful game on a number of friends, I’ve promoted shogi on three occasions so far. The first time I was fortunate enough to be able to promote shogi with women’s professional player Madoka Kitao, who regularly visits Germany to sell shogi related goods at the SPIEL board game fair in Essen, the world’s biggest fair for analogue games.
The second and third time, I got to promote shogi in the city of Cologne. On one of those occasions I was asked to give a presentation on it in the Museum für angewandte Kunst (Museum for applied arts), which I think sounds pleasantly pretentious. There are many other places where one can promote shogi. The Dutch Shogi community, which is also very passionate about this game and deserves much praise for their efforts, promoted shogi in Schools and the Spanish Shogi community regularly visits conventions.
Regardless of where you promote shogi the difficult part is how to teach shogi.
First of all, you’ll have to become aware of the difference between teaching shogi to a friend of yours and teaching shogi to people you don’t know at a place such as a convention. The difficult part about conventions and, for instance, Japanese summer festivals, is that visitors don’t go there exclusively to play shogi and while some may be interested in giving it a shot, most are neither prepared nor willing to stay at the same booth for a very long time. Unfortunately, shogi is a difficult game and even explaining the rules can take quite some time and don’t even ask about the Kanji written on the pieces. Fortunately, more experienced advocates of shogi have already collected and invented useful material for the promotion of shogi, which range from clever sheets about the movements of the pieces to specially made pieces that are suited for beginners. I think most shogi enthusiasts know about the great beginner sets made by the Czech Shogi community.
In my opinion, the most important thing to keep in mind when promoting shogi in this context is to accept the fact that people will play the game incorrectly. No matter how good your explanation , how self-explanatory the additional material and how intelligent the visitors are, they will mistake the Silver-General for the Gold-General and vice-versa, they will occasionally forget about the drop-rule and sometimes even think that once a piece is defeated, it returns to the original owner’s piece stand. While the latter example may demand you to step in and explain again, it is totally okay for them to make these mistakes as they are not there to learn how to play shogi but to develop interest in it and it is the promoters’ job to make this a fun experience.
Sometimes, though, this can go horribly wrong.
There was this couple that visited our booth at the Japanese summer festival in Cologne. It was already quite crowded and all boards were already occupied, so I got another cheaper set and an additional table for them to play on. I usually start off with a very brief explanation of the rules and the differences between chess and Shogi e.g. the drop-rule, pawns don’t take diagonally, promotion etc. and let the explanation sheet do the rest for me. Occasionally, I stop by and monitor if everything is okay but this time they asked me to have a look at their game. After a couple of moves it became fairly obvious that the guy, with aid from the explanation sheet, quickly got a grasp for the pieces’ movements while his girlfriend, who had a very hard time making sense of the Kanji, didn’t. Despite his quick understanding, his moves were just as undirected as his girlfriend’s and often one of his moves left a severe opening in his defence. Over time, however, he closed in on her, leaving the holes in his defence. The Girlfriend asked me for a hint and I showed her a move expecting that she would know what to do afterwards. She, of course, didn’t. After showing her this move, I had to make another one and another one, leading to a situation where it was actually me who was playing the game. At one point she even stood up and encouraged me to play against her boyfriend, which neither of us really wanted. This is the worst type of situation you can possibly find yourself in. The couple was actually very nice but they simply weren’t a good match-up because of the guy’s quick learning ability. It would have been better had I played against him or them from the very beginning, which brings me to the last point I want to make.
Playing shogi can be boring as well.
Typically, a game of shogi is extremely exciting and my heart often pounds against my chest during the endgame but playing shogi at conventions and such is boring. What can you expect if you put a total beginner against an opponent of a higher level? I always offer the people I am playing against to play with a handicap but they usually decline, saying that they want to get an authentic idea of what the game is like. I get that but spending several hours (a whole work day as was the case at Essen Spiel) playing bad shogi is just straining. I once heard that it is regarded as bad manners if you decline a handicap proposed by a professional player and that they will demolish you with all their skill. I would suggest playing likewise while promoting shogi. I usually choose a pretty straight-forward Ibisha (Static Rook strategy), leaving the Bishop on its original square in order to take advantage of holes in the opponent’s defence.
Like I said, playing shogi against beginners without a handicap can be exhausting and it is better to end it quickly. I found that many will agree to a second round after having learnt that a game can come to a rather abrupt ending.
Conventions, exhibitions, summer festivals and such are great opportunities to promote shogi and meet people of similar interests. Despite the difficulties that come with it, I can only encourage you to jump on the bandwagon and promote shogi. Start within your family or with your closest friends and see how far this’ll take you.