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Editorial: Fujii era dawns as shogi prodigy becomes youngest to hold 5 titles

Teen shogi sensation Sota Fujii has claimed his fifth major title after a clean sweep in the best-of-seven Osho title match against defending champion Akira Watanabe.

    At age 19 and 6 months, Fujii became the youngest player and first teenager to achieve the feat -- a giant stride from the previous youngest record of 22 years and 10 months held by current ninth-dan holder Yoshiharu Habu.

    Fujii now has a majority of shogi's eight major titles under his belt, and with this a new chapter begins for the Japanese board game -- one where the prodigy dominates.

    Fujii is the fourth player to claim five titles, following late shogi master and 15th Lifetime Meijin Yasuharu Oyama, 16th Lifetime Meijin Makoto Nakahara, and Habu.

    Each of these three legends took the reins of the shogi world. Fujii assumes his place among them.

    Ever since going pro aged 14 years and 2 months, Fujii has set numerous new records, including 29 straight wins in official matches and becoming the youngest player to clinch one of the major shogi titles.

    So far, he has won every title match he has played for. His fifth major title feat in less than five years since going pro leaves us simply awestruck.

    The Osho tournament's history dates back to fiscal 1950. It has spawned a great deal of excitement since becoming a title match the following year.

    In the fiscal 1995 tournament, then Meijin title holder Habu defeated reigning champion Koji Tanigawa, claiming all of the then seven major shogi titles. For Habu, it was revenge after succumbing to Tanigawa in the previous fiscal year, when he was just a tournament win from the seventh-title feat.

    The latest Osho title match also drew considerable attention. It was a summit showdown between Watanabe -- holder of three titles including Meijin -- and Fujii. Their sophisticated games thrilled and excited many fans.

    In the opening game, both Watanabe and Fujii used up the eight hours allotted for each of them to play, coming down to a one-minute shogi -- having less than a minute left for each move -- and the game's tide turned over and over until the very end. It was so close that, of the 40 pawns on the board at the time, just one was free of any moves. It was a beautiful match that will certainly go down in history.

    The sweets they ate during the games were also hot topics. In the regular photo opportunity for the title match's victor, Fujii created a buzz even outside the game venue by dressing as a train conductor.

    At an October 2021 ceremony acknowledging his Kisei title win, Fujii spoke of loftier goals, commenting, "By becoming a stronger player, I would be able to gain perspectives I've never had before."

    Fujii could become the youngest ever player to claim the prestigious Meijin title. A game he is set to play in March will determine his chance of promotion to the Class A league, where players will compete to become the Meijin title challenger.

    In contrast, Habu's tumble from the Class A league drives home that generational change is afoot in the shogi community.

    Fujii's excellent and exquisite moves -- said to surpass artificial intelligence -- continue to enthrall fans. We expect he will further broaden shogi's appeal.

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