National

Government mulls conferring national award to Japanese shogi, go champions

by May Masangkay

Staff Writer

Japan is considering conferring the People’s Honor Award to two shogi and go champions after the pair won all major titles in their respective games, the government’s top spokesman said Wednesday.

If so, the two — famed shogi player Yoshiharu Habu and go master Yuta Iyama — would be the first recipients of the award in the traditional board games. Shogi is known as Japanese chess.

Habu, who recently became the first-ever professional shogi player to win seven eisei lifetime titles, said at a news conference in Tokyo that he feels it’s a “great honor that the government is even considering (the) award.”

In a highly competitive world of shogi, to earn a single eisei title is already difficult. Players must win the titles five times or more, either in total or consecutively. For the Ryuo eisei lifetime title, a player needs to win the Ryuo titles five times in a row or seven in total.

“I would like to continue moving forward as a shogi player,” said the 47-year-old Habu, one of the most prominent shogi players in the history of the game. He bagged the Ryuo title, his first honor, when he was just 19 years old as the then-youngest pro player.

The other award candidate, 28-year-old Iyama, was likewise stunned, according to media reports. Kyodo News quoted him as saying he did “not deserve the honor” and was “humbled” by it.

Iyama recaptured the title of Meijin in October, regaining all seven titles of the go game for the second time. The Osaka Prefecture native now has all seven go titles — Gosei, Kisei, Meijin, Honinbo, Oza, Tengen and Judan.

At a separate news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the prime minister ordered the process of considering giving the award to the two men. “Their achievements can be carved in history and gave bright hope and courage to (Japan’s) society,” he added.

The award ceremony is likely to take place early next year, according to Kyodo News.

Established in 1977, the People’s Honor Award has been given to 23 individuals and one group for their achievements in fields including sports, entertainment and culture.

The award’s first recipient was baseball legend Sadaharu Oh, who broke Hank Aaron’s world home run record. Kaori Icho, who became the first female wrestler to win gold medals at four straight Olympic Games, is the award’s latest recipient, earning the honor last year.

Recounting his win over title holder Akira Watanabe in the Dec. 5 match for the prestigious Ryuo title, his seventh time in total, Habu said earning that title marked a milestone in his shogi life.

“It is deeply moving for me to have reached a big mark in my life as a shogi player for more than 30 years,” he said.

Despite his achievements, Habu said he continues to feel pressure. But Habu added he is rather quick to bounce back from a defeat and move on to the next challenge. Just shy of nine wins, he hopes to secure a total of 1,400 wins in official matches.

Habu’s win also comes at a time when young professional shogi players are making their mark. In June, Sota Fujii became the country’s youngest professional shogi player to set a record with 29 consecutive wins.

“Shogi players in their 20s are all diligent in their research,” churning out new strategies to learn from, Habu said.

Habu added he hopes to continue efforts to make shogi loved by a wide range of people.

Habu was in junior high school when he made his professional debut in 1985. In 1996, the Saitama Prefecture native became the first player to simultaneously dominate all seven top titles then — Ryuo, Meijin, Oi, Oza, Kio, Osho and Kisei.