5 Traditional Japanese Tabletop Games

Japan is considering conferring the People’s Honor Award to two shogi and go champions after the pair won all major titles in their respective games, the government’s top spokesman said recently. This news shows that the traditional tabletop games are as famous as video games in Japan. 

So join us today as we take a stroll through the best of traditional Japanese tabletop games!

1) Shogi (将棋) 

Japanese game culture.たまにやるとオモロイ遊び。#shogi #将棋

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"Shogi(将棋)" is a traditional chess-like game played between two people. As in chess, pieces may be captured, but unlike in chess those pieces may be used by the captor. The game ends with checkmate of an opponent's king. 

"Tegomanashi Tsume-shogi, Unknown"

The earliest predecessor of the game, chaturanga, originated in India in the 6th century. Shogi in its present form was played as early as the 16th century, while a direct ancestor without the drop rule was recorded from 1210 in a historical document Nichūreki, which is an edited copy of Shōchūreki and Kaichūreki from the late Heian period(794-1185). 

2) Igo (囲碁) 

"Igo(囲碁)" is a game of strategy played between two people. Black and white stones are placed alternately on a board in an attempt to capture the other player's stones by surrounding them. The game ends when the board is filled with stones, or the possibilities for gaining territory are exhausted. 

"Yorimitsu Santennou Igozu, Kuniyoshi Utagawa, 1861"

Igo was invented in ancient China more than 2,500 years ago and it reached Japan fin the 7th century. The game became popular at the Japanese imperial court in the 8th century, and among the general public by the 13th century. The modern version of the game as we know it today was formalized in Japan in the 15th century. 

3) Karuta (骨牌)

"Karuta (骨牌)" is a card game in which 100 waka(a type of poetry in classical Japanese literature) poems are written on two sets of 100 cards: one set is yomifuda (reading cards), which have the complete poem on them, and the other is torifuda ("grabbing cards"), which each correspond to a yomifuda and have only the last few lines of the corresponding poem on them.

"Chiyoda no Koku Karuta, Chikanobu Yoshu, 1896"

Competitive karuta has been around since the start of the 19th century before the Meiji restoration, but the rules used vary in different regions. The Japan national championship tournament is held every January at Omi shrine (近江神宮) in Ōtsu, Shiga Prefecture.

4) Sugoroku (双六)

"Sugoroku(双六)" refers to two different forms of a Japanese board game: ban-sugoroku (盤双六, 'board-sugoroku') which is similar to western backgammon, and e-sugoroku (絵双六, 'picture-sugoroku') which is similar to western Snakes and Ladders.

”Ishokyojigao Sugoroku, Harumori, 1911"

Ban-sugorokuis thought to have been introduced from China into Japan in the 6 century. In other hands, a simpler e-sugoroku, with rules similar to snakes and ladders, appeared as early as late 13th century and was made popular due to the cheap and elaborate wooden block printing technology of the Edo period. 

5) Reach Mahjong (リーチ麻雀)

"Reach Mahjong(リーチ麻雀)" is one of the most popular indoor games in Japan, similar in status to the game of poker in America. It is of Chinese origin and is played by four people. Each player's hand always consist of 13 tiles. The object of the game is to get a complete hand pf 14 tiles.

In 1924, a soldier named Saburo Hirayama brought the game to Japan. In Tokyo, he started a mahjong club, parlor, and school. In the years after, the game dramatically increased in popularity.

Whatever your fancy, these classic games should give you plenty to do on a rainy day in Japan!

You can find more informations about Unlocking the secret zones of Japan’s video games on this article.

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Koki Miyashita

Author & Editor