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Shogi champ Habu, Go master Iyama confirmed as People's Honor Award winners

Shogi champion Yoshiharu Habu speaks to reporters in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on Jan. 5, 2018, after learning he had been formally selected for the People's Honor Award. (Mainichi)

Shogi champion Yoshiharu Habu and Go master Yuta Iyama were formally chosen by the Japanese government as winners of the People's Honor Award on Jan. 5.

The decision was made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and reported to the Cabinet by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Jan. 5. The award ceremony will be held at the prime minister's office on Feb. 13.

Habu, 47, became the first person ever to qualify as a lifetime holder of seven of Japan's major shogi titles by earning a Lifetime Ryuo qualification with his seventh Ryuo tournament victory on Dec. 5, while 28-year-old Iyama, who holds a ninth-dan rank as well as the honorary title Honinbo Monyu, has captured all of Go's seven major titles twice. They will be the first Go or shogi players ever to win a People's Honor Award.

On the reason for their selection, Suga told a Jan. 5 news conference that both men "have achieved historic exploits. Their remarkable results moved many of the Japanese people and animated their dreams, and gave society hope and courage."

After the decision was made official, Habu told reporters, "This award is truly an honor, so I am very thankful. I think that this has meaning for not just me as an individual, but for the shogi world as a whole."

Yuta Iyama smiles as he talks to reporters in Osaka's Kita Ward on Jan. 5, 2018, after being formerly selected for the People's Honor Award. (Mainichi)

Iyama was at the Nihon Ki-in's Umeda Igo Salon in Osaka attending an opening ceremony for the year's matches when news of the decision came.

"I'm honored," he said. "I still have a long way to go as a player, so I'd like to do my absolute best, believing that people have high hopes for me going forward."

The People's Honor Award was first given to baseball legend Sadaharu Oh in 1977, and has been awarded to 23 people and one organization. The last winner was Kaori Icho in 2016, after she won gold at her fourth Olympic Games in a row.

Habu made his pro shogi debut in 1985, becoming only the third junior high school student to ever do so. He first nailed down championships in all seven major shogi tournaments in 1996.

Iyama went professional at the age of 12, in April 2002. He won his fifth straight Honinbo Tournament in 2016 to gain the lifetime Honinbo title. On Oct. 17 last year, he regained the Meijin title at the 42nd pro Igo players' championship series about a year after losing it, completing his recovery of all seven major Go titles -- the first such comeback in either pro shogi or Go.

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