Price and Value of Shogi Pieces

These are determined by a combination of various factors, such as the grade of wood (material), the wood grain, the engraving style and technique, and the craftsperson who made the piece.
Wooden materials used for shogi pieces are classified according to the wood quality, the beauty of the grain pattern, the specific gravity, the color and luster, and the texture or comfort of "the touch". The highest quality wooden material is "hontsuge (Japanese boxwood)".
In terms of quality, domestically-grown hontsuge is often labeled as "hontsuge + place of origin," while most of the overseas-grown boxwood is simply labeled as "hontsuge".
Other materials used for shogi pieces include ono-ore (axe breaker hardwood), tsubaki (camellia), maki (podocarpus), itaya-kaede (painted maple), and plastic.
High quality and value
Because of its high quality, tsuge (Japanese boxwood) has long been used in Japan for carving work, combs, woodblocks for ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock printed artwork), and shogi pieces. Because of its slow growth, the wood is dense and hard and its specific gravity is heavy, so that even a small piece of wood like a shogi piece has a solid weight and texture, which makes it the best material for playing the game.
For these reasons, tsuge is considered to be the highest quality material to make shogi pieces. It is further classified into several types according to the characteristics and factors, and its value and price vary depending on its place of origin.

◎Mikurajima Hontsuge: Mikurajima is an island located in the central part of the Izu Islands (an area with many islands of various sizes) in Tokyo, Japan. The quality of tsuge grown in the unique soil and climate is perfect for making shogi pieces. Mikurajima Island is the most highly regarded tsuge producing area along with the Satsuma region of Kagoshima Prefecture, that produces Satsuma tsuge. The hontsuge grown on Mikurajima Island is the best material for shogi pieces in terms of the color, luster, touch, weight, and texture of the wood.
◎Satsuma Hontsuge: Hontsuge wood produced in the Satsuma region of Kagoshima Prefecture is another high-quality material comparable to the one grown on Mikurajima Island. The wood is hard and strong with high durability and many people say that Satsuma hontsuge is top quality in terms of practicability.
◎Most of the materials labeled simply as "tsuge" are boxwoods grown outside Japan. Shamu Tsuge (Rubiaceae gardenia) is well-known and widely distributed but mostly imported from Southeast Asia.
Other materials used to make shogi pieces include ono-ore (axe breaker hardwood), kaba (birch), tsubaki (camellia), maki (podocarpus), kaede (maple), plastic, and so forth. In terms of material quality, all of these materials are relatively inexpensive compared to tsuge (Japanese boxwood).

◎ Ono-ore (axe breaker hardwood): This is a deciduous tree of the birch family and is called "axe-breaking birch". The name is derived from the fact that this wood is hard and heavy enough to break an axe. The wood is relatively light in color and has clear grain patterns.

◎ Kaba (birch), tsubaki (camellia), maki (podocarpus), and kaede (maple): The quality, color, luster, weight and texture of all these woods are relatively lower than tsuge (Japanese boxwood). They are usually more affordable and suitable for daily use and the price depends on the carving technique.

◎ Plastic: This is an inexpensive material that can be purchased at approx. 1,000 yen (≒US$10) for a new set. Plastic piece has the advantage of being very durable and washable when it gets dirty. They are popular among beginners, good for daily use, and recommended for situations where the piece quality are not very important.
Low quality and value
"Kidori" refers to the cutting style of the wood to make Shogi pieces and is determined by the direction of the wooden material's grain.

The most common kidori is called "masame (straight grain)", in which the grain runs vertically straight down on the surface of the shogi piece.

"Moku" is more expensive and more valuable than "masame". There are various types of moku and they are classified according to their rarity, appearance, beauty, and difficulty in carving.
*Moku refers to the complex grain patterns and figures that rarely appear on the area of branching or close to the tree root in the forms of localized twists and curvatures, which are caused by the specific conditions and unique environment of where the tree grows.
Moku is a high-end material because of its rarity, aesthetic value, and excellent decorative factors.
There are various types of figures depending on its appearance and characteristics, such as kujaku moku (peacock figure), budou moku (grape figure), tama moku (ball figure), tora moku (tiger figure), uzura moku (quail figure), awa moku (bubble figure), chijimi moku (shrinking figure), chogan moku (bird's-eye figure), botan moku (peony figure), and torafu (tiger stripe).
High quality and value
This is characterized by unique grain patterns from the bottom to the top of the shogi piece, that looks like a peacock spreading its wings. This figure is very beautiful, but it is hardly found. The Peacock figure grain can only appear at the bed of branches and areas of twists and curvatures, making it truly rare and unique. Especially, the beauty of "Kujaku (peacock) moku" and "Inazuma (thunder) moku" is exquisite.
This is a reversed version of the peacock figure and is called "Inazuma moku (thunder figure)" because the pattern that spreads from the top to the bottom of the shogi piece looks like a lightning bolt. This figure is truly rare and each piece has its own unique patterns. Especially, the beauty of "Kujaku (peacock) moku" and "Inazuma (thunder) moku" is exceptional.
This is a group of burls newly formed on the surface of wood. The name "grape figure" is derived from a series of small circular patterns that look like clusters of grapes. Since these burls occur infrequently and in small numbers, the material is extremely rare. Because of its beauty, the grape figure is highly praised as a decorative material and as a wooden art. When used for shogi pieces, the wood with the grape figure is always extremely valuable and expensive.
The grain runs vertically straight down on the surface of the shogi piece.
Low quality and value
You may recognize that there are so many types of engraving or written styles on shogi pieces, characters such as "Gyokusho", "Kinsho", "Hisha", etc.
This is the order of value and price: "moriage goma (engraved and written piece)" > "horiume goma (engraved and filled-in piece)" > "hori goma (engraved piece)" > "kaki goma (written piece)" > "oshi goma or stamp goma (stamped piece)" > "insatsu goma (printed piece)".
High quality and value
This is the highest quality engraving technique for making shogi pieces. The artisan carefully carves the characters on each piece by hand and then fills in the engraved area with lacquer called "sabi urushi", a mixture of polishing powder and lacquer. After drying thoroughly, the surface of the piece is completely polished, and the lacquered characters are then raised by hand using a very fine brush. Unlike ordinary paints, urushi lacquer is a tricky paint that dries only under the proper humidity and temperature. If it fails, the urushi may have a wrinkle or crack.
The engraved piece is finished with a lacquering and polishing process after the engraving work, but the value, reputation, and price of moriage goma are much higher than other techniques because of the time, effort, and skill required to make it.
The finished moriage goma is indescribably beautiful, with the characters raised in three dimensions. This showcases the authentic value of the artisan's technique and the essence of the art.
After the artisan carefully engraves each character by hand, the engraved part is filled in with urushi lacquer. After drying, the surface of the piece is polished and finished. The surface of the piece is smooth to the touch to ensure flatness. At first glance, the piece looks like kaki goma (the piece with written character), but each character is actually engraved and then filled with lacquer. As the engraved shapes appear on the surface as they are, this technique requires a high level of engraving skill. Although it is not as expensive as moriage goma, this is also highly valued and priced relatively higher than other pieces.
This is a shogi piece whose characters are engraved on the surface. The engraving style is classified according to how much the characters are simplified.
Generally, the more the number of strokes and less simplified characters have a higher value and are more expensive. The order of grades and the number of strokes are as follows, from lower (less strokes) to higher (more strokes). Kuro bori => Nami bori => Chu bori => Jo bori => Tokujo bori.
Among them, the highest grade Tokujo bori is a piece engraved with the most strokes and each character is easier to read than other engraving styles because the characters are not simplified.
In addition, engraved characters have various types of script. In most Tokujo bori, "minase-sho", "kinki-sho", and "ryoko-sho" are often used as the major scripts.
The following is detailed information about the major scripts used for hori goma (engraved piece).
- Minase-sho script: This script was invented by Minase Kanenari who was known as a great calligrapher in the late 16th century. It is characterized by a relatively large and spacious font. It is said that the Shogun (General) Tokugawa Ieyasu and other powerful feudal lords of the Edo period (early 17th~mid-19th century) loved this script.
- Kinki-sho script: This script is well-known and popular among many shogi players with its thick and dynamic writing style. Many people know this script under the philosophy "the script of the shogi piece starts and ends with the kinki-sho script". Pieces with the kinki-sho script are very popular due to its long history.
- Ryoko-sho (Makiryoko-sho) script: This script is based on the calligraphy of Maki Ryoko, a great calligrapher of the late Edo period (late 18th century to early 19th century), and is popular among professionals and amateurs alike for its clear and thin writing style.
- Shoryu-sho script: This script is said to have been invented by Shoryusai, a shogi enthusiast and professional calligrapher who loved to play the shamisen (three-stringed Japanese lute).
- Genbe-Kiyoyasu script: This is one of the most classic and most popular scripts for shogi pieces. However, its origin is still unknown and mysterious, being one of the reasons for its popularity.
- Ichiji bori (engraving one character): This is not a script but a way of reducing two characters to one, such as 王将 Osho to 王 O, 飛車 Hisha to 飛 Hi, 金将 Kinsho to 金 Kin, and 歩兵 Fuhyo to 歩 Fu. Because one character is easier to see and read, these pieces are often used in shogi games on TV.

*Most hori goma (engraved pieces) are mass-produced using machines. Although, depending on the name of the komashi (piece craftsperson) and the type of piece, a set of hand-engraved pieces is priced at around 100,000 yen (≒US$1,000).
Kaki goma are pieces finished by writing characters directly onto the surface of the wooden piece using a brush with lacquer or other paint.
*There are two types: written in either black or red writing on the reverse side, but there is no particular difference between them.
These pieces are stamped or printed with lacquer or other paints directly onto the surface of the wooden piece.
*There are two types: written in either black or red on the reverse side, but there is no particular difference between them. These are inexpensive wooden shogi pieces.
Low quality and value
The value of shogi pieces varies depending on the craftsperson (komashi) who makes the piece. Especially for high end shogi pieces, such as "moriage goma", "horiume goma", and "hori goma" (all are special engraved pieces), the name of the craftsperson is a very important factor to decide the value and price. Today, Tendo City in Yamagata Prefecture is famous for producing 90% of all shogi pieces in Japan, but there are many other famous craftspersons in other areas of Japan, such as Chikufu in Sanjo City, Niigata Prefecture, and "Fuji Koma no Kai (the Fuji Association of Shogi Piece Makers)" led by the famous craftsperson Fugetsu who is based in Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture.
Komashi often engrave their names (or pseudonym) on the bottom of "Osho" or "Gyokusho" pieces, and the name of the character style is engraved on the other side of the piece. Since both the name of the craftsperson and the style are engraved on a very small and limited space, a great deal of skill and proficiency is required.
This is an association for training shogi piece makers, organized by "Fugetsu", a famous craftsperson based in Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture. "Fugetsu" studied under Mr. Ito Kyutoku, who is entitled "Contemporary Master Craftsman" and based in Tendo City, Yamagata Prefecture, and is respected as one of the five greatest master craftsmen in Japan.
His craftsmanship shines through in the delicate, flowing calligraphy, and pseudonym engraved on the bottom of "Gyokusho" and "Osho" pieces, as well as in the plump, graceful moriage (raising with lacquer) technique . Fugetsu's pieces have many fans among professional shogi players and are used in many title matches and Meijinsen tournaments.