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EDITORIAL | Sota Fujii Raises Hopes Shogi Will Appeal to Broader Audience

Breaking the record set 40 years ago is a splendid feat. This autumn, Sota Fujii has a chance of holding all eight shogi crowns at once.



Sota Fujii, the new Meijin, takes a photo with calligraphy paper that announces his new Meijin title. In Takayama Village, Nagano Prefecture, on June 1. (©Sankei by Ryosuke Kawaguchi)

A great accomplishment has now been carved into the over 400-year-long history of the professional shogi Meijin title. We extend our congratulations on the birth of a new Meijin, Sota Fujii, with respect and applause.

Sota Fujii defeated defending champion Akira Watanabe on June 1 in the 81st annual Meijin title tournament's best-of-seven series. In doing so, he became the youngest to hold the oldest and most prestigious title in the professional shogi world. And he is only 20 years and 10 months old. 

Moreover, he already held the Keisei and five other shogi titles going into the Meijin series.

Breaking the previous record set 40 years ago in 1983 by Koji Tanigawa, the 17th Lifetime Meijin, is a splendid feat. Fujii also became only the second player in the Japanese board game's history to hold seven major titles simultaneously. In that, he follows the legendary 9-dan, Yoshiharu Habu

New Meijin Sota Fujii (left) and Akira Watanabe, former Meijin, look back on their match after it ended. Takayama Village in Nagano Prefecture, on June 1. (© Sankei by Ryosuke Kawaguchi)

Meijin is Different from Other Titles

Pros in the field say the weight the Meijin title carries is exceptionally greater than the other major shogi titles. While shogi pros have chances to compete for and win other major tiles once a year, it takes at least five years to qualify to challenge for the Meijin title. To get there, a challenger must go through five classes of annual ranking tournaments. 

For Fujii, this was his first and last chance to become the youngest Meijin. But the A-league ranking tournament to get there was one of the toughest hurdles to clear. It required beating qualified challengers from among the 10 top-rated professional players. Moreover, the other nine competitors were also strong players, including Takuya Nagase, who currently holds the Oza title. 

Furthermore, once he qualified he had to face Meijin Watanabe, who was defending the title for the fourth consecutive season. This title is therefore more valuable than many of the records Fujii previously established as the youngest shogi player. 

Sota Fujii becomes the new Meijin by defeating Akira Watanabe (right) in an impressive match on June 1, in Takayama Village, Nagano Prefecture. (© Sankei by Ryosuke Kawaguchi)

A Title with a Long History

The Meijin institution dates back to 1612, the 17th year of Keicho during the Edo period (1600-1868). That is when the shogunate designated shogi master Sokei Ohashi as the grand master to teach the traditional chess-like board game. For hundreds of years after, the title was hereditary. It passed from the reigning Meijin to a worthy candidate from among the Ohashi, an Ohashi branch, and Ito founding families.

Eventually, the hereditary system ended. In 1935, the then-reigning 13th Meijin Kinjiro Sekine gave up his title. Two years later, Yoshio Kimura became the 14th Meijin and the first selected through a performance-based system. 

Sota Fujii is the 16th player to earn the title under the new Meijin system since Kimura in 1935.

Fujii wrote about his dream of winning the Meijin title when he was a fourth-grade elementary school student. Now he has the possibility of holding all eight shogi crowns simultaneously by winning the remaining Oza title this autumn. First, though, he must successfully advance to become the challenger. 


We hope that Fujii will stride forward to reach new and untrodden heights. Simultaneously, we hope to see him enhance the value of his historic Meijin achievement by exploring new possibilities in this great traditional game. 

People at a shopping center are celebrating the feat that shogi master Sota Fujii, the youngest player to hold 6 crowns, has now become the youngest shogi Meijin, winning the seventh crown on June 1. At Seto City, Aichi Prefecture (©Kyodo)

Shogi, Humans, and AI

The use of artificial intelligence software to study moves and tactics has become mainstream in today's shogi world. However, Fujii, who himself has improved his shogi skills with the use of AI software, says, "The move that AI shows as the best one is not the sole solution." 

He adds, "There is more than one approach to victory." Fujii's exquisite moves are sometimes said to be "beyond AI." They show his strong belief that creativity, which is evidence of humanity, should not be left up to the technology of AI. 

In any era, hearts are moved by watching people fight with all their might. In the latest Meijin title battle, Watanabe became crownless for the first time in 19 years. He, too, wants to make a comeback someday. 

He and other shogi players will be redoubling their efforts not to allow Fujii to hog the spotlight with all of the major titles. And that should ignite the appeal of this game, called "brain martial arts" by some, to an even broader audience.


(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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