Female artisans carve new niche with shogi piece accessories

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Clockwise from bottom left: Mobile phone straps made by Mayumi Shoji, an earring and a mask charm

TENDO, Yamagata — A wide range of accessories made from shogi pieces crafted by a group of female artisans are gaining popularity in Tendo, Yamagata Prefecture, the nation’s top producer of the board game’s pieces.

The game itself has also recently been brought into the spotlight thanks to the strong presence of prodigy Sota Fujii and other players. Thanks to this, Tendo is rebranding itself as a shogi city through artisan demonstrations and a bevy of new products coming one after another.

The artisans’ creativity shines through these new products, some of which feature pictures of sunflowers and cherry blossoms, while others bear a fruit-based design.

A unique strap created by a female participant of a succession training course held by a shogi piece producer cooperative and the Tendo municipal government was very well-received. This fostered the idea of promoting shogi-related products, especially those made by women, for people with no interest in the game itself.

The cooperative held an artisans’ demonstration last June at the city’s tourist information facility Morina Tendo in junction with its reopening following a renovation. Artisans made a variety of shogi piece-based accessories including mask decorators, earrings and mobile phone straps.

“I always try to express my own style [in my products],” said Mayumi Shoji, 53, who showcases her work once a week at the facility. “I sell to more than 30 customers on a busy day.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mayumi Shoji, left, and other artisans showcase their shogi-based wares at the Morina Tendo tourist information center in Tendo, Yamagata Prefecture.

Though only seven female artisans were registered with the cooperative as of June 1, the value of their creations from January to September has already surpassed last year’s overall amount.

According to the cooperative, Tendo’s shogi piece industry accounts for about 90% of national total production. The prefecture’s production value in 2019, however, was about ¥220 million, less than half of the 1980 peak. This could stem from a decrease in the number of physical pieces used as online games have become more common. The coronavirus pandemic has also led to a sharp tourist decline, which reduces souvenir demand.

Recently, however, the Tendo Shogi Museum has seen a boost in shogi-related product sales thanks to “Fujii fever.”

“Until recently, customers rarely described our products as something cute,” said Junko Seno, 58, a curator at the museum. “I hope Mr. Fujii’s success will continue to give Tendo a boost.”