Where this disproportion comes from?
The Japanese group is naturally highly privileged. Shogi is native to Japaneses. There is wealth of information for them: books, theoretical materials, web sites, online game servers. In presence of such an obvious and natural division I will try consider the subject separately for both groups. But before that, let us consider what makes people attracted to the game.
What makes us attracted to the gameI think there are several factors that make an ordinary man a board game fan. I am new to Shogi but I can judge from my experience with chess.
As I contemplate the matter I become to think that on of the most important things is a hero. We like to have someone we admire, whose steps we follow, who is an example for us.
In chess we had our Titans. Capablanca, Tal (the magician of Riga, genius tactician and attacker, my favourite), Alekhine (timeouted to have his 6 teeth extracted during world championship match to come back and win it!), Fisher (great individuality, the man who broke Soviet chess domination lasting for decades), Kasparov (great charisma, some claim that he is the best chessplayer of all time).
I am sure there are plenty of Shogi Heroes out there. But I cannot read a single line about them. Except news posted on discussion board by Mr. Manabu Terao or Mr. Reijer Grimbergen (sorry if I failed to mention other people that try to help us in similar way) there is no information in English.
So, heroes was one thing. The second thing is the community. We need to share our joy from the game. We want to hear how others are doing, what's the latest news in 'our world'. We want to share tips, how to improve. We want to meet to play a game or two (over the board or via Internet). I think there is no need to dwell on this one -- it's quite obvious.
The third think is the struggle for improvement. We love to prove to others that we are good at our game. And we have a chance to do it in very civilized way: by winning a game. There is healthy competition between us and that's good. But there is even more. We struggle with ourselves to get better. We learn from our mistakes, from books, from the articles on the net.
But wait. How can we learn from our mistakes when there is virtually no Shogi software to store and browse our non-Japanese games? How can we read articles when we don't know the language?
There are probably many more reasons that make us interested in a game. Some more important then the others. I just mentioned the reasons I consider most important. I also tried to point out what blocks the factors to make the game of Shogi more popular outside Japan.
I think there something we can do about it.
So, what Japaneses could do?First of all, make the information flow. Let us know what is going on in Shogi world? How the fight for dominance is going between masters? How our heroes are doing?
The Japan Shogi Association (JSA, http://www.shogi.or.jp/) page is Japanese only. If I am not wrong (and I cannot confirm it, because there is no English information about it) it is the main Shogi federation. I think it is reasonable to require international version of the site from them.
I don't know if there are any, but chess world has few news sites. The most notable, in my opinion, is chessbase.com. Similar site for Shogi would be great.
Second thing is: share your knowledge. There are people doing this already -- you can see their effort on http://shogi-shack.net/default.aspx, http://shogi.typepad.jp/eweblog/ or http://www.teu.ac.jp/gamelab/SHOGI/shogipage.html.
The third thing: translate some software.
The forth: play Shogi with us. Kick our butts so we can learn new ways of doing it.
So, what Gaijins could do?Well, we could learn Japanese. I never tried it myself but I think it's is quite reasonable. Shogi is a part of Japan culture and it's an opportunity to get it now better.
Before we learn Japanese, though, we could do one simple thing. We can ask our Japanese friends to do all the things we think could help spread Shogi over the world (see above). We could write to JSA and ask them to translate their site.
And, of course, we can try to help ourselves. Once there was this great effort, the Shogi portal called shogi.net. It seems to be dead right now (last update December 2004). Why don't we revitalise it or try something similar?
From what I see on shogi-l, there are some folks that are eager to write some new Shogi software. If there is any way to help, we should try.
OK, that's all for this short divagation.
Any comments are welcome...