Japanese Chess

This article appeared in an 1869 issue of the British periodical “Chess World”.

“JAPANESE CHESS.”

The following interesting article appeared lately in “The Philadelphia Daily Bulletin” :—

All of our readers, of course, remember the visit of the Japanese Embassy to our shores eight years ago. On their arrival in this city we determined to convert them into a grand means of communication between Oriental and Occidental Chess, and we entertained strong hopes of embellishing our column with a Japanese Gambit, between two leading players of the Sho-ho-ye, or some other Japanese Club. On being introduced into the quarters of the Embassy, we learned that the game was almost exclusively confined to the middle and lower ranks—a striking illustration of the semi-barbarism of these islanders.

A set of Japanese Chessmen, which we borrowed from a friend for the purpose, served as an interpreter, and very effectually too, for our strange guests immediately turned them out on the table and explained their use. In the absence of a board, they asked, in very intelligible English, for a piece of paper, and with marvellous rapidity laid out a “board,” writing the names of the pieces with great neatness in their appropriate squares. We prize this “autograph” Chess Board very highly as an interesting memento of the Embassy.

The delegation that visited the Philadelphia Chess Club consisted of eight of the soldiers, each carrying his long, heavy sword in one hand, and some of them a light fan in the other. After a few minutes spent in salutations, two of them took their seats at the table which had been prepared for them, and the first game of Japanese Chess ever played in a Christian land (except such as may have been played within the seclusion of the Japanese quarters since the Embassy reached America) was begun.
The players, one of whom, Yamada Woomagen, was a fine looking man, drew for the first move, by tossing a Ho-kei, or pawn, into the middle of the board (à la Mercantile Library fashion), the move being governed according to the side falling uppermost, and the game proceeded by the advance of the pawns, followed by the different pieces.

The board and pieces being carefully marked and numbered, we had hoped to make some record of the game, but owing to the game’s intricacies and peculiarities, and to the extraordinary rapidity of the play, we were soon hopelessly bewildered.

As the game progressed it was soon apparent, from the expression on the faces of their companions that one of the players was speedily gaining ground, and they all laughed heartily, but most good-naturedly, when the loser arose from the table, with the simple remark, “He beat me. ”

This game was not played out to a mate, and they accordingly agreed to play another game, the loser in the first game yielding his place to one of his companions, Sano Kanaye, who, from his greater proficiency in English, acted as interpreter to the party. He seemed to play a bold game, and in fifteen minutes he announced “Ote!” which signifies killed, suggesting a significant analogy with the mat of the Persians, which bears the same meaning.

Our visitors stated that there were in Jeddo seven ” Chess masters,” appointed by the Government, to instruct the people in the game, and that there were many Japanese books on the game, some of which they promised to send to us when the Niagara returned from Japan. The Orientals, however, have poor memories.

They described to us another Japanese game, somewhat similar to draughts, played on a board “nineteen squares each way,” making altogether three hundred and sixty-one squares.

Some of them expressed, much curiosity to learn our game, and took in some elementary lessons, which were given them, with remarkable aptness. They were much gratified by a present of a set of Chessmen and a copy of the “Handbook,” which will probably become a text book of the Japanese Chess College at some future day. After partaking of an impromptu collation and recording their names on the register, our visitors took leave of us in high spirits and with many expressions of pleasure at their visit, leaving with us a most agreeable impression of their gentle, cheerful politeness, and their aptness and intelligence in acquiring and communicating knowledge.

Brendan King

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