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New Year Holidays in Japan: Japanese Traditional Games

As kids, we all played games and while living in Japan I wondered what sort of games do kids here play. Were the games they played similar to the games I used to play growing up back home? Do they also roll over the dirt, enjoy playing catch or maybe play hide and seek? Or they had their own set of games? So here are a few games Japanese kids play not just in this generations but games that they have been playing over the years. You will be amazed to find out that no matter how advance this country is compared to the country where I grew up, the games kids play here are almost the same as the games me and my friends used to play back home. And I am sure these games may also be similar to the games you played in your country. And since it is almost New Year, the games that I will be telling you are Japanese traditional games that kids usually play during the holidays.

Koma

koma

Koma is generally TOPS – in japan there are many types of koma like hinerigoma, temomigma, itohikigoma, nagegoma and many more. Which are either made of wood or cast metal. Beigoma are Japanese tops made from steel/metal with no stem  – traditionally played by Japanese boys. It is played on a large bucket where a cloth is securely fastened to cover the bucket. Then all players will spin their tops at the same time on the cloth (each top must be unique). Tops that fall off the bucket are disqualified and the top that spins the longest wins the game.

Fuku Warai

fukuwarai

Usually played by kids (and adult’s too) on New Year’s Day. This game is very similar to pin the Tail on the donkey. The objective of the game is to pin all the face parts into the blank face canvas. One player is blind folded and the other players give instructions to where to pin the face part he or she is holding. Originally there was only one style of face was used, but in recent years faces of famous people such as actors have been used. There is even a computer version of the game.

Menko

menko

Menko is very similar to pog games played in the early 1900s, I guess it is safe to say that pog is the western version of menko. Menko is played by two or more players. To play, a player places his card on the ground and the other player throws his own menko card at it to try to flip it over. If the menko is flipped, the player gets to keep both cards. The player who gets most of the cards at the end of the game wins.

Hanetsuki

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Hanetsuki (Image from Flickr by Alx)

This game is very similar to badminton but without the net. Using a wooden paddle called a hagoita the shuttlecock or hane is hit back and forth between the players as many times as possible without hitting the ground. This game is often played by girls on New Year’s Day. This game can also be played by a single player. To play, a player just needs to hit the hane over and over again without hitting the ground. They say that the amount of luck or good fortune you receive in the coming year is increased the longer the hane is on air.

Tako-age (kite flying)

In my country we used to play with kites during summer but in Japan kite flying known as “tako-age” is very popular during New Year Day. They say that the custom of kite flying during New Year is derived from the saying “It is good for your health to look up at the sky on the day of Risshun”.  The kites design also at times are symbols which signify good luck.

Sugoroku

Sugoroku is a popular Japanese illustrated board game which has two type one caked ban-sugoroku which closely resemble the western game backgammon and the other type similar to the western game Snakes and ladders. To play, each player takes turn in rolling the dice and moves their respective board pieces on the board. This game was also banned several times before because players used to gamble when playing this game.

Karuta

Karuta is a Japanese card game. The objective of the game is to determine which card from an array of cards is a match and then grab that card before your opponent. There are two type of cards used to play karuta – yomifuda or reading cards and torifuda or grabbing cards. Besides being a famous card game played during New Year, both elementary and junior high school students play this card game, as an educational exercise to practice their reading skills.

Though the popularity of playing these games I mentioned above has diminished over the years, maybe due to the development of modern games. It is still very fascinating to learn that almost every child in the world no matter what race or language they speak, share common games.

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