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Kotoba Asobi : Shiritori – Learning the Japanese Style of Wordplay 3

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/19 Traditional Culture , , , , , ,

In our last posts about kotoba asobi (Kotoba Asobi 1, Kotoba Asobi 2), we learned about kaibun and dajare. If the previous two types of Japanese wordplay are kind of serious, the next two types, though it needs deeper knowledge of Japanese vocabulary, are fun and can be played with two or more persons. This is the shiritori.


Shiritori (しりとり), literally means “taking the buttocks”) is a Japanese word game in which players take turns to say a word which begins with the final kana (equivalent of the English syllable) of the word given by the previous player. In the original rules of the game, no distinction is made between the three systems of Japanese language: hiragana, katakana, and kanji.

Basic rules of Shiritori

  1. Two or more players take turns to play.
  2. A player who plays/says a word that ends with the Japanese sound of n (ん) loses the game. That is because, there is no Japanese word that begins with that character.
  3. Words should not be repeated. The player who says the repeated word loses.
  4. Phrases connected by no (の) are permitted, but only in those cases where the phrase is sufficiently understood and considered as a “word”. Example of these words are onna no ko (女の子, which means a girl), te no hira (手の平, which means palm), and others.

Optional Rules

  1. Dakuten and handakuten (diacritic marks) are often ignored. These marks are the one you see above the syllable to change its pronunciation. (e.g. は・ば・ぱ, which is ha, ba, and pa respectively). Thus, yuki (雪, ゆき, snow) can be followed with kinoko (キノコ, mushroom) or gitā (ギター, guitar). Another example is konoha (木の葉, このは, foliage), which can be followed with hamu (ハム, ham), or banana (バナナ, the banana fruit), or patokā (パトカー, patrol car).
  2. A long vowel may either be ignored or considered as a vowel. For example, gitā (ギター, guitar) can be followed by either aki (秋, あき, autumn) or tani (谷, たに, valley).
  3. Common pronouns and place names may be permitted. Example: Okayamajou (岡山城, Okayama Castle) is okay.
  4. Two words spelled with the same kana but different kanji may be permitted. For example, hashi (はし) can be written in kanji as 橋 (bridge) or 箸 (chopsticks).
  5. Small kana ya, yu, yo (ゃ,ゅ,ょ) are usually allowed to be interpreted as big kana や,ゆ, andよ.

Advanced Rules

  1. Words are limited to a certain category.
  2. Instead of the last kana, the next player must use the last two kana. In this case, only the first kana of the final two must not be n (ん).
  3. The length of the word must be more than three or more syllables.

Here is an example of the game:


In this example, the player who played the word tsuushin loses because it ended with n.

Though there is an English equivalent for this game which is called the Word Chain, some invented an “English version” of the shiritori as an aid to learn English. Some modifications from the Japanese version:

  1. The words must only be nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
  2. Players cannot use different tenses of previously used verbs, unless they have nonstandard conjugation. For example, a player may use “be,” “was,” and “is,” but not both “punch” and “punched.”
  3. When a word ends in a vowel, like “life,” one may use the preceding consonant instead.

You can play shiritori in this site. You can also play an English version of the game here.

What are your thoughts about shiritori? Share it with us in the comments section below!


1. Shiritori. Wikipedia.

2. Images from AC-Illust.

3. Featured image from Wikimedia Commons.

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