Inventor of Dobutsu Shogi, a version of shogi for children, founder of the store and publishing house Nekomado, Madoka Kitao has always distinguished herself during the course of her activity as a professional for her attention to the diffusion of shogi, obtaining excellent results even outside of Japan. AIS has interviewed her exclusively for you.

Dearest sensei Madoka-san, thank you for your availability for this interview for AIS, Associazione Italiana Shogi.

I am honored by the request from AIS.

Sensei, can you tell us how you got into shogi and what inspired you to play?

When I was little, at home, there were different games: cards, Chess, Othello, Shogi etc.. I learned the rules from my father. I preferred Chess to Shogi, which seemed very complicated to me. After some time away from high school, I had the opportunity to play Shogi, the depth of which impressed me. To win, I took several books to study and spent days and nights with Shogi.

What does it mean to be a professional player in Japan? What does being a woman entail in this regard?

I decided to go pro so I could always play Shogi. I like Shogi and I like the competition. I am very happy to do the work I like. Being a woman, I can play Shogi as a pro outside of the 4 Dan regulation of the Shogi organization [editor’s note: to be a professional player you have to reach the 4 Dan professional rank; a 3-5 Dan amateur corresponds to about a 6 kyu professional].

You invented Dōbutsu shōgi: what are the most important things to help children learn to play Shogi?

To play Dobutsu Shogi, you don’t need to learn either the names or the movements of each pawn, but just a few rules to get started. Especially for young children, it is essential to get them to understand the rules of Shogi by playing. The fact that it ends immediately does not bore children who easily get used to winning or losing.

Sensei, I have seen that you have also invented a colored version of Shogi to simplify learning for adults: can this be the solution to overcome the obstacle of kanji for people who do not speak Japanese? What can you suggest?

There are several versions of colored Shogi. They are not currently in production for sale to the public. I am still looking for suitable colors, shapes, materials. If I can produce a colorful and beautiful Shogi set with a suitable price for sale, it will certainly become the solution to overcome the great hurdle of kanji. At Nekomado’s website you can buy materials for Shogi, which we also ship overseas.

In your opinion, to improve at the amateur level in what percentages are important to divide theory (the study) and practice (matches)?

For beginners, the priority is the match. To study, one must start with “Tsume-shogi” to understand the patterns to win. Other studies should follow after learning the basics. For dan players it is better to devote more time to match studies.

Except players who have a strong player nearby who is able to teach. It is very effective to play games and comment on them. Nowadays, you can play all the time on the internet, but to improve, you have to review the game well. It is important to learn good moves from other players and to reflect on your own bad moves. On Nekomado we started last year to have online lessons. The site is only in Japanese but there are also teachers in English.

Online platforms have a big discrepancy in the rating system. What is the best system to understand what one’s true level of play is?

For Dan and Kyu recognition I consider that “Kiremake” and “Byoyomi” are two different games. They can be compared to “marathon” and “sprint”. It would be better to train in the field that one wants to delve into and, in my opinion, it doesn’t make so much sense to compare different platforms. It is normal to have the difference between degrees of “81 Dojo”, “Shogi Wars” and “FESA”.

Speaking of manga and anime: do you have a favorite series? Are you familiar with “A Lion’s March?”

Of course I do. It’s a wonderful work of delicate feelings elegantly described. There is also a romantic comedy manga by Shogi “Soderemo ayumu wa yosetekuru” that I supervised. It will become an anime; it will start broadcasting from July 2022. Please watch it!

Sensei, can you send a wish to the Italian shogists of AIS?

In Japan recently, “Shogi cafes” and “Shogi bars” are increasing. I hope that in Italy there will be more and more Shogi players playing in cafes and bars normally. Please contact me without compliments if I can be useful. I wish a good diffusion to AIS!

[The publication of this article has been possible thanks to the kind and disinterested contribution in translation of a person who asked to remain anonymous. AIS sincerely thanks her for her help.]