Why chess is not popular in Japan?

One of the primary reasons for chess’s relatively low popularity in Japan stems from the enduring presence of two alternative board games that have captured the hearts of the Japanese people for centuries: Shōgi, often referred to as Japanese chess, and Go. These two games are deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and boast millions of enthusiasts across the country.

Shōgi, a strategic board game reminiscent of crazyhouse played on a 9×9 board, distinguishes itself from chess with unique rules. In Shōgi, pieces exhibit a different range of mobility compared to their chess counterparts, and many of them can promote into more powerful forms, adding an intriguing layer of complexity. For those who relish tactical gameplay, Shōgi offers a compelling alternative to chess. Its origins trace back nearly a millennium, with the modern version taking shape during the 15th and 16th centuries. Japan’s top Shōgi professionals are household names, and the game has recently experienced a surge in popularity, partly attributable to an exceptionally dominant player.

On the other hand, Go, believed to have originated over 2,500 years ago in China, holds a unique place in the realm of strategic board games. In contrast to chess and Shōgi, where the objective is to checkmate the opponent’s king, Go revolves around a different premise: surrounding more territory than the adversary. Using white and black stones, players seek to claim as much board space as possible. Go’s complexity surpasses that of chess and Shōgi, captivating the minds of those drawn to its intricate strategic depths. Notably, a 96-year-old female Go professional beating a 50-year-old male professional made headlines, a testament to the enduring appeal of the game. This remarkable feat wasn’t an isolated incident, as the record for the oldest player to secure a win on the Go circuit belongs to her late husband. This extraordinary longevity in Go stands in stark contrast to the relatively shorter careers in chess and Shōgi, perhaps reflecting the unique positional nature of Go.

For those unacquainted with Go, the documentary “AlphaGo” (2017) offers a fascinating glimpse into this game, chronicling a historic showdown between a human master and a machine. As Japan continues to embrace these traditional games deeply rooted in its history and culture, the path for chess to gain widespread recognition and popularity remains a challenging one.

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Limited Media Coverage

Compared to other sports and games, chess receives relatively limited media coverage in Japan. The lack of exposure in mainstream media outlets, such as television and newspapers, can hinder the game’s growth by preventing it from reaching a broader audience.

Lack of Institutional Support

Chess thrives in countries with strong institutional support, including well-established chess federations, clubs, and schools that promote the game. In Japan, such support for chess is relatively limited compared to countries where the game has reached its zenith. The absence of a widespread chess infrastructure makes it more challenging for individuals to access the game, receive proper training, and participate in organized events.

Language Barrier

Chess, like many other strategic board games, relies on a set of standard rules and notation. In countries where English is not widely spoken, language barriers can be a hindrance to learning and enjoying chess. The majority of chess literature, websites, and instructional materials are in English, which can create accessibility challenges for Japanese enthusiasts.

While chess has a global appeal, its popularity varies significantly from one country to another. In Japan, the cultural, historical, and social factors mentioned above have contributed to the game’s relatively low popularity. However, it’s important to note that there are chess enthusiasts and dedicated players in Japan who continue to promote and enjoy the game. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, it’s possible that chess’s presence in Japan may continue to grow, albeit gradually, as more people discover the beauty of this timeless game of strategy.

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