After our climb up to The Yamadera Temple Complex yesterday, and before we start two days of climbing the three sacred Mountains of Dewa in Yamagata prefecture, we took a very low-key rest day today. Our decision to take it easy today was made even easier by the weather – hot and humid, with periods of rain.
So we took a walk to the downtown of Tendo City, about twenty minutes from our ryokan, and visited first the Tendo City Museum of Art, which had a very good collection of oil paintings by Chuichi Konno, a Japanese style painter, and Morikazu Kumagai, a Western style painter, both of whom had ties to the Tendo area. The colors were vibrant in both artists’ work, and reminded me the rivers and forests that we’ve walked through in Tohuku.
Next we walked over to the Tendo Municipal Shogi Museum. Shogi is a board game similar to chess, which has been played in much of Japan since the Heian Period (1100A.D.). Its origin is thought to go back to the 6th century in India, to the ancient board game of “Chaturanga.” The enduring popularity of Shogi might be because of its ‘drop rule’; it was the first chess variant wherein captured pieces could be returned to the board to be used as one’s own. The origin of the drop rule might date back to the practice of 16th century mercenaries who switched loyalties when captured—no doubt as an alternative to execution.
Tendo City is a center for Shogi playing and for the production of Shogi pieces and boards – 95% of all Shogi sets used in Japan are made in Tendo! The process for making the wooden set pieces, all handcrafted by master artisans, is long and exacting, and the sets that result look like art pieces, rather than just a simple game.
Thinking that my knowledge of chess would be of some help, I tried to play a game versus a smiling, bowing virtual opponent on a computer in the Museum, but the guy slaughtered me in no time flat!
After we left the Museum, we met a real Shogi player outside, who offered himself as a live opponent, but I don’t understand the rules at all, certainly not well enough to be any kind of proper player (the moves are not at all the same as that of chess). Besides, it had started raining harder, so we grabbed a taxi, and went back to our ryokan.