Swat’s Shogi Club is Kind of a Big Deal

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Friday, November 4th, Japanese Shogi Association (JSA) representative and professional player Asuka Ito came to Swarthmore to commemorate Swarthmore Shogi Club’s 10th anniversary, and the fifth anniversary of its official recognition by JSA.

Accompanied by Josh Onishi, who lives near Swarthmore, Asuka Ito met with President Valerie Smith, Professor Alan Baker, and Ye Linn Htun ‘18, a student member of the Swarthmore Shogi Club.

(From left to right) Robin Htun ’18, President Valerie Smith, Alan Baker, Asuka Ito and Josh Onishi. Photo courtesy of Brandon Torres ’18.

In celebration of the moment, she presented a fan inscribed with Japanese calligraphy and a wall hanging to President Smith. To Professor Alan Baker, the founder of Shogi Club and her correspondent, she gave a certificate, a book, and a box-sized Shogi piece.

When Professor Alan Baker, now also the Acting Chair of the Philosophy Department, started his academic work at Swarthmore College, there was no Shogi community.

“I was already playing Shogi myself. There was no club in Philadelphia. The nearest club was in New York City. I was happy playing online, but I also missed having over-the-board people to play,” he said.

In the fall semester of 2006, drawing students from the Japanese department and those who already enjoy chess, Baker founded Swarthmore’s Shogi Club.

Currently, Shogi club has around 20 active members, with about ten of them showing up every Friday afternoon to play. Though the numbers are modest, the number of participants isn’t a priority for Baker.

“My end has never been to sort of make it huge. I always just wanted to have enough people so that every week, there’d be people who can play,” he said.

Shogi Club founder, Professor Alan Baker, in his office. Photo courtesy of Brandon Torres ’18.

In addition to students, Shogi Club has also drawn in some attention from community members outside of the College. Art History Associate Professor Tomoko Sakomura’s husband drops by every once in awhile to play. Years ago, there was even a 15-year-old high school student participated in Shogi Club. Today, he is a senior at Swarthmore College: Christian Morrow ’17.

While all members take pleasure in playing Shogi, there is a variety of reasons why many continue to attend every Friday afternoon.

“I found it also, from my point of view, a nice way to connect with other students, many of them who I don’t see in classes. There’s something slightly quirky about Shogi, and it also appeals to a certain segment. It’s something intellectual, something cultural,” Baker said.

For Robin Htun ’18, the student representative at this celebration, his interest in Shogi came about from his initial interest in chess. In both middle school and high school, Htun enjoyed playing chess at an amateur level, but when he came to Swarthmore, he was unable to find a chess club to continue to play in. When he entered his freshman year, he heard that the chess club had been inactive for a couple of years and was introduced, instead, to Shogi.

“It’s kind of like chess but also a new thing. Like Japanese chess. Why not start something new instead of doing this chess thing all over again?” he said, describing his thoughts during freshman year. Two years later, when asked whether he prefers chess over Shogi, he quickly responded “No, actually, I prefer Shogi.”

Despite its relatively low number of participants, Shogi Club has fostered a large interest and talent in the game over its years. Whether the club is where you prepare for a competitive play at the U.S. Shogi Championships or begin to learn the rules of the game, Shogi Club welcomes all community members. As the only college-based, JSA-recognized Shogi Club in the nation, it has great reason to celebrate at the 10th anniversary of its founding.


Featured Image courtesy of Brandon Torres ’18/The Daily Gazette.

Brandon Torres

Brandon is a current Education/English special major student, with hopeful plans to eventually share his passion for these subjects with both high school and middle school students. Though he dreams of publishing a novel one day, he spends a considerable amount of his time fantasizing about being a novelist rather than well, actually writing.

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