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att. Japanese Culture - Japanese traditional children's games and toys
att. Culture - Japanese traditional children's games and toys
You are here: att.JAPAN > General Information > Japanese traditional children's games and toys
att.JAPAN Issue 40, May 2008

Japanese traditional children's games and toys

Tako (kite), Koma (spinning top), Menko, Kendama, Otedama, B-dama, Ohajiki, Mari-tsuki, Takeuma (Japanese stilts), Daruma-otoshi, Karuta, Hanafuda, Sugoroku, Hanabi (fireworks), Omen (mask), Take-tombo (helicopter-like bamboo toy), Hanetsuki, Kamifusen (paper balloon), Makitori, Origami (paper folding), Kami-zumo (paper wrestling), etc. These are names of traditional games or toys children have been played for a long time in Japan, although few children play such games these days. Until 40 years ago, the scenery that children span and hit their tops on streets could be seen all over Japan.

Some games like fireworks do not require any skills, but some games and plays need practice to master techniques. Children cannot always do well such games as top spinning, Kendama and Otedama from the beginning. Usually they need to practice to some extent. Even when they become able to play well, there are so many techniques and they must practice more to master all. If children cannot do well and their friends can do well, they will be chagrined. On the other hand, if they become able to do well, it adds greatly to their joy.

Toys and instruments for traditional games are simple and affordable, which even children can buy. Having them is not valuable. What is important is which techniques they can perform and whether they can win games. Children also abound in originality and ingenuity. With simple instruments, they increase game variations by themselves. Therefore, there are numerous local rules of games depending on areas throughout Japan.

How are these games? We introduce some typical traditional games in this and next issues.

 Koma (top)
Koma has various types and is made of various materials. Children spin it by the fingers or using a string. Beigoma, an iron small top, was very popular in Japan from 1920s to about 50 years ago. When a top flicks other tops to stop spinning and knock them down, it wins. Seeing spinning tops is also fun and competing various spin techniques is enjoyable as well.
 Kendama (a cup and ball)
Kendama consisting of Ken with three cups, a large, middle and small one, and Dama (Tama), a ball connecting to Ken, is in widespread use. It was originated in Japan in the early 20th century. Kendama has more than 1,000 techniques and players enjoy performing the techniques. The most basic technique is to raise a hanging ball straight, and put on each cup or thrust the top of Ken into the ball's small hall.
 B-dama/Ohajiki (marble)
B-dama is a glass ball whose diameter is from 1 to 5 cm. Ohajiki is a flat marble with 1-1.5 cm diameter. Although a game of marbles has many variations, the basic rule is that a child shoots a marble to hit other marble. If he/she hits, he/she can get the hit marble.
 Menko
Menko is a circular or rectangular pasteboard card. Children slap one card on the ground to turn over the opponents' cards. There are other variations.
 Otedama
Otedama is a juggling game using small cloth bags filled with sweet-beans. It was a girls' favorable game.
 Daruma-otoshi
Stack several thin cylinders and Daruma doll on the top. Hit a cylinder one by one from the side with a mallet, without falling Daruma.
 Kami-zumo (Paper sumo wrestling)
Make paper wrestlers and put them in a small ring on a table. Put or swing the table to make the wrestlers fight. If one falls or steps out the ring, it loses.
 Tako (kite)
A traditional kite is made of Japanese paper and bamboo frames. Using wind, people fly a kite. In addition to a normal rectangular type, there are various shpaes of kites such as a hexagonal type and a type in the shape of a footman of older times called "Yakko-dako."
 Mari-tuski
Girls used to enjoy Mari-tsuki. A girl bounce a ball to a song; she elevates the leg and turn around the ball at the end of each phrase, and at the end of the song, passes it front to back of the body under the crotch and catches it.
 Takeuma
Children used to walk on stilts, which were made of two bamboo poles with a small board. The higher the boards are, the difficult balancing is. Thus practice step by step is necessary.
 Sugoroku
Sugoroku is a Japanese variety of Parcheesi, in which players throw the dice and advance their piece in accordance with figures of the dice, aiming at the goal.

 

 

 

 

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