“Tendo City Cherry Blossom Festival” in Yamagata is one of the most unique events in Japan celebrating the coming spring season. Over two huge days, all kinds of activities are held; everything from night-time illumination of the sakura trees, rickshaw rides around the park, traditional Japanese dance and drumming to a large game of human chess. Yes, human chess! Or human ‘Shogi’ (the name of Japanese chess) to be precise. It is by far the most popular activity at the festival.
Tendo City prides itself on being the major producer of Shogi chess-pieces (called ‘koma’) in Japan. History tells us that in the late Edo period when the fortunes of the ruling Oda clan were waning, lower-ranking warriors were engaged in making shogi pieces, which is how the craft developed. When you arrive at the Tendo station, you can find the Shogi anywhere.(Even on the mailboxes)! There are several places around town that offer you the chance to design your very-own Shogi koma, with your favourite kanji character(s).
During the festival season, there is a convenient shuttle bus from Tendo station to Tendo Park (Mt. Maizuru).
This year, the festival collaborated with the recent release of live-action movie of anime “March Comes in Like a Lion(3月のライオン)”. Japanese actor Ryūnosuke Kamiki (神木 隆之介) starred as the movie’s protagonist and came all the way to Tendo to participate in the festival as a special guest.
The rules of Japanese Shogi and Western Chess are similar to those of Chinese chess. Each piece has a different rank and method of progression. The two players use a variety of methods and plays to try to capture the king and decide the outcome.
Human Shogi is exactly as its name suggests – a giant game of chess played on a stage, using humans as chess pieces! Professional players direct their players across the board. What you might also notice is that the players are dressed as samurai! This is supposed to mimic an actual battle of armored samurai during the warring states period.
And as if the event of human shogi is not unique enough, it is also timed to be held at the peak of cherry blossom bloom in the park. What an amazing backdrop for this exciting spectacle!
After watching the enthralling chess game, take some time out to enjoy the surrounding beauty. The beautiful weather and blooming cherry blossoms make everyone around the venue relaxed and happy.
As well as the park, there are also beautiful panoramic views over Tendo City and the surrounding snow-capped mountains…
…and some very impressive trees that are hundreds of years old – I wish we could have come back to see this one in bloom! Perhaps you’ll be lucky when you pay a visit next year!
Useful Event Info:
Tendo City Cherry Blossom Festival (& Human Shogi): Held every year over a weekend in late April. This year (2017) it was held on April 22-23.
Location: Mt. Maizuru Park (舞鶴山山頂広場)
Homepage: Tendo human chess (Cherry blossom festival): http://www.ikechang.com/chess/
While you’re in the area, why not take a relaxing bath at one of the many bath-houses of nearby Tendo onsen? Some other attractions not too far away that you shouldn’t miss: