Fukui: Asakura Shogi’s Drunk Elephants Become Crown Princes to Help Players Win

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The initial setup of Asakura shogi. The drunk elephant is placed in the center of the second row.

FUKUI — Asakura shogi, a version of the board game which is believed to date back to the latter half of the 16th century, was played at an event in Fukui on May 26. Thirty-eight players, separated into three levels, participated in the event.

Asakura shogi is thought to have been played by samurai serving the Asakura clan that was governing the region at the time.

Some pieces have been excavated from ruins of an old castle town.

While the pieces are essentially the same as those used in present-day shogi, Asakura shogi uses an extra piece called “drunken elephant,” which starts in front of the player’s king in the initial setup.

According to a local shogi association, the drunk elephant can move one space in any direction except straight back.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The drunk elephant, top, and the crown prince.

In shogi, many pieces can be flipped over and promoted to better performing pieces after entering the enemy’s zone. Once the drunk elephant enters the enemy’s zone, it is promoted to “crown prince,” which can move one space in any direction, similar to the king in both shogi and chess. In addition, a player cannot lose as long as their crown prince remains on the board, even if their king is captured.

The use of the drunk elephant, which is a strong offensive and defensive piece, makes Asakura shogi different from present-day shogi. Fifth-dan professional shogi player Ryo Shimamoto lost a match to an amateur player.

“It was hard to decide whether to use the drunk elephant to attack or defend,” said a 10-year-old boy who participated in the event. “I like having the options.”