Samurai battling on a chess board!? The colorful “Ningen Shogi”

This amazing show, “Ningen Shogi”, is held as part of the “Tendo Sakura Matsuri Festival” that celebrates the arrival of spring in Tendo City, Yamagata Prefecture in the Tohoku region, that boasts the largest production of Shogi pieces in Japan. A variety of attractions can be seen during the festival, including lighting up of cherry blossoms, stalls, people carrying a portable shrine and traditional dances, but Ningen Shogi is one of the most popular attractions.

Just like many board games in the world, in Shogi, 2 players (called Kishi) battle by moving pieces of different roles in order to capture the king. The time of the battle of Ningen Shogi is set to 400 years ago when warriors battled all the time. Considering warriors in armor and women in clothes for battle as pieces, the game of professional Kishi is recreated on a 16m-long (52ft), 14m-wide (46ft) huge board.

A man dressed as a commander, playing the role of a piece
A scene where enemies and allies are mixed on the board

Even if you do not know the rules of Shogi, you can still enjoy Ningen Shogi because you can see the battle formation and the way they attack with human pieces. The sight where enemies calmly sit back to back, which can never be seen in the actual battlefield, is something which can only be seen on the board game. Brightly colored warriors in armor and female warriors on the yellow board, surrounded by cherry blossoms in full bloom, will be an unforgettable sight.

Tendo Sakura Matsuri “Ningen Shogi”

Venue: Maizuru-yama Sancho Hiroba, Oaza Tendo Azashiroyama, Tendo City, Yamagata Prefecture (Tendo City Shimin Bunka Kaikan when it rains)

Dates: Saturday and Sunday of late April every year (April 25 and 26 in 2015) Ningen Shogi 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm

Access: About 3 hours from Tokyo to JR Tendo Station by Yamagata Shinkansen. From Osaka and Nagoya, fly to Yamagata Airport (about 1 hour and 20 min from Osaka, about 1 hour from Nagoya) and take a taxi to JR Tendo Station (about 15 min). About 20 min walk from JR Tendo Station to the venue.