Tendo Japanese Chess Pieces


When the fortunes of the Oda clan controlling this area of northern Japan were failing toward the end of the Edo period (1600-1868), an attempt to improve matters was made by engaging lower ranking warriors in the making of shoji chess pieces, from which the craft developed.

The woods used are cucumber tree (Magnolia obovata), snowbell (Styrax obassic), maple (Acer Mono), spindle (Euonymus Sieboldianus), and boxwood (Buxus microphylla). The characters are usually written on the pieces with urushi, the Japanese name for natural lacquer, but in the case of top quality pieces, natural lacquer is built up on a character carved into a piece of boxwood. Now 95% of all shogi pieces made in Japan come from Tendo.


Wood from trees including the Japanese magnolia, styrax obassia, maple, spindle tree and boxwood are used to make the wooden base of the Shogi pieces. The character of the piece is then painted on with natural lacquer, but for pieces of extremely high quality, the character is first carved into the piece, and then lacquer is applied in multiple layers until it rises slightly from the piece. The Tendo region of Yamagata prefecture is responsible for producing over 95% of all Shogi game pieces in Japan.

How to make

The method of producing the pieces is divided into carving the wooden pieces, carving the characters, and then writing the characters, with each step being done by hand by a specialized craftsman.