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Preface - "Non-playing Shogi Fan" Declaration



The information revolution and globalization, growing trends from the end of the 20th Century, have made our society more complex, accelerating changes to our lives and communication speed among ourselves as well as revolutionizing how we work. If we want to be successful as a  professional - whatever it is, we have to spend further time on enhancing  our professional skills than we used to a decade ago. Like it or not, that is the reality you have to live with, which is no different when you really want to enjoy something in any of your interests.
Shogi is a culture, deeply rooted in Japanese society and souls. It has fascinated and excited many people, especially when they are in their elementary and middle school years. However, as they grew up, those, who had been big fans of shogi, tended to spend less and less time on it and eventually ended up being away from it, because they just became too busy with their own careers - which is what normally happens when we grow up. I myself was one of them, and I guess many others must be the same.
Here, let me describe how I got in touch with the Shogi world. Over the last 25 years, I have not really been following Shogi as closely as I had been before, because of time constraints due to pressing requirements to develop my professional expertise, an increasing family obligation and a transfer from Japan to Silicon Valley for business reasons.  Still, as a pastime for relieving the stress from my day-to-day business, I have been an avid reader of various Shogi-related books including "The World of Shogi", a monthly magazine specializing in Shogi to which I subscribe from Silicon Valley. This made it possible for me to keep in touch with Shogi overall as well as the latest information of individual professional players, albeit physically far from Silicon Valley. 
While I was not able to find any time at all for "playing" Shogi myself, not to mention being good at it. I still continued to be engaged with Shogi through "observing it" combined with "perusing and taking it in", in which I sometimes came across something valuable that I could apply to everyday life. For instance, one of my favourite books, almost a bible for me, is "A Study on 'Games' Played by Humans" ('82, Shoden-sha), a masterpiece by Kunio Yonenaga Eisei-Kisei (an incumbent chairman of the Japan Shogi Association), released when I was in college. I cannot say how many times the precious lessons I drew from the book helped me make important decisions in my career. Also, the articles and books by late 9-dan player Kingoro Kaneko - you will see him referred to several times in this book - are not just my favourites, but  are things that have influenced me in many respects - like my writing style. It is no exaggeration that Kaneko and the way he lived his life is a role model for the rest of my life.

I would say someone like me may be characterized as a 'Non-playing Shogi Fan.'


Despite the fact that I have been a long-time Shogi watcher, I am still hesitant to describe myself as a shogi lover, just because I have not actually played Shogi myself for a while. In the Shogi community, there seems to be a certain tacit understanding where how much you like Shogi should be measured by how good you are as a player. That type of perception made me think that it takes more enthusiasm to be a real Shogi fan. I kept it to myself that I am a hard-core Shogi follower and watched Shogi without sharing my opinion, observations or excitement with anyone - for quite a few years.


Getting into my 40's, as I was able to spend more time on my own. I started writing about shogi, my favourite subject, on my blog. 
Surprisingly, there was a great response to it. There were many people in Japan who had to step away from shogi for a long while, but kept on loving shogi.
When I met a friend of mine from elementary school ,who ended up becoming a surgeon, for the first time in thirty years we had this lively conversation triggered by what I had written previously on my blog:
"Umeda, you too loved shogi when you were a kid didn't you? I wasn't a good player myself either but I did like it. But as I got into medical school, I couldn't find the time at all to play. But guess what? My 8th grade son's in a shogi club and I enjoy watching the shogi program, broadcast on NHK every Sunday, with him."
"So you're a big shogi fan!"
"No. I still don't have time to play, nor am I a good player either."
"You like watching shogi, isn't that a good hobby? Just like me. The professional shogi players are just totally amazing."
"Five to six years from now, I'll probably be too old to do surgical operations so then I'll be able to spare some time on my own. Then I would love to watch more shogi."
Time flew by as we were talking about shogi, and I felt as if I was transported back to childhood.
After a candid discussion on new technology commercialization with ten top-class engineers of company-S (my client), one of them who I had never met before came up to talk with me.
"Umeda-san, you like shogi right?"
"I enjoy reading your entries on shogi on your blog."
"I'm happy to hear that. It's great to be able to have this kind of conversation after work."
"I had the skills of about a 1-dan player when I was in high school, but when I entered college I used all my time on software, and I wasn't left with any time to play anymore. But I do sometimes enjoy reading about shogi in magazines and seeing it on TV or on the internet. It's really fun. There are people that are just absorbed in shogi all the time in their life, right?  They become top amateur players. There are people of that kind in my workplace, but looking at them makes me feel as if I'm not qualified to say out loud that I'm a shogi fan."
"Well, that isn't so. You can be a 'non-playing shogi fan' or say that 'my hobby is watching shogi'!
I say myself that my hobby is 'watching shogi' or 'not playing shogi'. "
And on another occasion, when I joined the company-K's board meeting as an observer, I had this conversation with its president.
"Well, I regularly read Habu-san's book to help me with managing the company. I'd love to meet him once in my lifetime. I was working in America for over ten years, working tirelessly with nobody to play shogi with, but I did read magazines about shogi throughout my stay. Even after being appointed to the board and coming back to Japan, I still had to fly around the world, so I read magazines on the plane. I had no time at all to play."
"You're a big shogi fan!"
"No, no. I'm no good at it. I was playing all the time when I was a kid, but now I can't invest time into improving my shogi skills. Now that the computer's gotten so good at playing shogi, I figured that it would be best for me to watch Habu-san's activities, from far away, silently, rather than trying to improve myself."
"Why don't we go watch a large-board commentary event of a title-match sometime?"
"That sounds fun."  "The shogi world produces perfect people doesn't it? Koji Tanigawa - when he came out, it came to me that this is the very man, the perfect human. And after a while Yoshiharu Habu came out next. Ten years passes, another perfect human comes out. How is it so? The shogi world's such an incredible place. This is a reason why shogi has attracted me so much. But again I'm not a player. Since I'm no good, I silently watch from the outside."
There's a lot of them throughout the world, 'Non-playing Shogi Fans', yet hidden.
When writing about shogi on my blog, at first I was doing it very timidly. I thought that when the good shogi players read it, they'd think "what's this guy that doesn't know much about shogi and doesn't even play it writing?"
However the unexpected responses from all the hidden shogi fans made me realize that I could play my part in a role of contributing to the shogi world, and began to think the concept 'Non-playing Shogi Fan' is very important since it would spread and enrich the variety of fans. This standpoint also reinforces the concept: As the number of kids playing shogi is increasing these days, shogi should be spread to their parents; moreover, toward the globalization of shogi, which is increasingly becoming more important from now on.
I am also getting close with shogi's top professional players such as Habu-san, Sato-san, Fukaura-san, and Watanabe-san. They all encouraged me greatly because I realized that all these people were also having the same concerns as myself, and that they were hoping for 'Non-playing Shogi Fans' and 'Shogi Watching Fans' to increase.
There's no requirement needed for you to watch shogi and to enjoy it.
Anyone can become a 'Non-playing Shogi Fan' starting right now:  those that stepped away from shogi but still think of the shogi world, those that for some reason can't stop loving shogi but themselves aren't good players, those that have never played shogi before but are somehow attracted to the brilliance of the players and therefore pay close attention to shogi...
To those I will write this book. I will write of my fascination for shogi and it's fabulous players to make you start watching shogi. Wishing for the above, I will continue with this book.

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