Traditional games in Shougatsu in Japan.

January 10, 2015 Juju Kurihara 1 Comment

When I was small, there were no shops opened in the first three days of the New Year. Most of the year, my Mum took me to the grandparents´ house on the 29th or the 30th of December and we stayed there until the 3rd of the 4th of January. I have cousins but one is four years older. For a 11-year-old child, a boy of 15 years old was too mature and we didn´t play much. Occasionally he played badminton with me but since he was a trained badminton player, it must´ve been quite boring for him. For the same reason, I didn´t play much with a younger cousin who is four years younger than me. Most of the day we just sat down around kotatsu and stared at the TV showing the New Year special programs.  

Then my Mum found out that a local bowling place was open on the 2nd of January so we all went apart from my grandparents. This had become our tradition, which later changed to Karaoke. It was such a relief, just to be able to escape the house and not needed to watch TV. 

Now many local shopping malls are open on the 1st of January and people don´t feel deadly bored like we did. But at the same time, I feel a little shame that we have lost this nothingness of the New Year. It´s also a bad cycle that people have to work because people come for shopping. Or it´s a vice versa, people come because it´s open. 


Japanese people traditionally spent Shougatsu with some different plays. I have tried some as a kid but unfortunately I was the first generation of Nintendo and Game Boy. 


hagoita1. Hagoita (羽子板/ racket game)

It´s like badminton. The racket is made of wood and the shuttlecock is made of colourful feather and a black seed of mukuroji, which is believed to bring a good luck. 





The racket for playing has a drawing on the surface but both sides are smooth. But there are decorative hagoita and they have beautiful 3D decoration with Kimono-like materials. 






2. Tako age (凧揚げ/ flying kites)

I haven´t seen so many people flying kites for the New Year but it´s possible that in some region people get together and fly them. 

Tako age was a typical play for male children. It also has a meaning of bringing our dream up high to reach the God. 






3. Karuta (かるた/ card game)

For children to be able to play, usually typical saying are written on karuta cards. As well as playing, children can learn proverbs or old poems. 






The photo shows another type of karuta play. This is a hyakunin-isshu (百人一首) karuta competition. This is more advanced than usual karuta. Haykunin-isshu is a collection of 100 tanka (短歌) poems. The host read the first half of tanka and the players have to find out the rest of the poem. Players get excited and often shout when they swift the correct card. It´s fun to see.







5. Koma mawashi (コマ回し/ spin a top)

This is another typical play for male children. 

Usually they fight with the tops. The stronger top will push other top away from the circle and wins. There are different tricks to spin the top faster.





temari6. Temari (手まり/ ball)

Temari literary means hand-ball. It´s a typical play for girls. 

This is an old play but since the ball didn´t bounce so well, girls would throw the balls in the sky and throw another before the first one comes down. It´s like a juggling. Then in the mid Edo period, after cotton thread became more common, more bouncy balls were made. Then girls started playing bouncing balls with different songs. 

Temari are now decorative objects and they are beautiful.





7. Fukuwarai (福笑い/ making a face)

The player will be blindfolded and be passed a face peace. They try to make a face but since they cannot see it, it ends up with a funny face. 

Since no one can make a proper face and yet it´s funny, people keep laughing. As a Japanese proverb says, "a good luck comes to the house where lots of laugh (笑う門には福来たり)", playing fukuwarai brings big laugh and a luck. That is why this is called fuku (good luck) warai (laugh).






8. Sugoroku (双六/ board game)

One of the oldest game in Japan. Originally from India and it came to Japan in Nara period from China. It became a popular game among noble people. 

Like any board game, you throw a dice to aim the goal by taking different challenges.



Have you played any of those? If so, did you like it? Do you have any play you do during the New Year or perhaps in Christmas? 



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More about Japanese New Year 





Eat porridge

Seijin no Hi

Let´s eat osechi

1 Comment

  1. CNesbitt 7 years Reply

    In the 1985, when I was living in Japan, I witnessed the playing of “hyakunin isshu” in Hakodate, Hokkaido, while staying with a host family. This family was very traditional, and visited all the neighbors on New Years Day, dressed in kimono. Then we watched the eldest daughter participate in hyakunin isshu with many local high shoolers at a local community hall. It was very exciting, and noisy! It was truly unforgettable. I always wondered if young people still play this game, especially since it requires a good amount of knowledge to play well. I hope Japn keeps its traditional games. They emphasize the value of just spending time together.

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