Japanese Culture: New Year’s Games

Posted on 06. Jan, 2009 by in Culture

There are some traditional Japanese games that children play for the New Year.  Some of these games are very similar to the games that Americans play, but with a different twist.

Let me explain more about what I mean by mentioning the game called fukuwarai (福笑い).  Fukuwarai (福笑い) is similar to the game ‘pin the tail on the donkey.’  Fukuwarai (福笑い) is often played at New Year’s parties called shinnenkai (しんねんかい).  It’s a source of amusement and laughter for both young and old.  So how do you play fukuwarai (福笑い)?  The object of the games is to place the nose, mouth, ears, and eyes in the correct manner on a blank face.  Since the player is blindfolded, the results are often histerical.  The faces often look deformed and jokes are always made about how the faces resemble people at the party.  I realize that some of you might be offended by the comment about making jokes about distorted faces, and really the jokes are not meant to be cruel.  It’s just a form of self-deprecating humor.  Don’t take it too seriously!

Now if you’ve ever played a board game before, then you’re going to know how to play a game called sugoroku (双六).  Sugoroku (双六) is a game consisting of dice and some board pieces.  It’s purely a chance game.  The number of spaces you’re permitted to move depend on the dice.  Due to the tendency to gamble when playing sugoroku (双六), it’s actually been banned a couple times in the past, by the Japanese government.  Despite that, sogoroku (双六) continues to be a popular game among children and adults.  I like it because you don’t have to think too much.  You just roll the die and let fate take you wherever it takes you. Lol.

The next game is something close to playing a sport.  If you’ve played badminton before and you liked it, then you’ll like this game.  The game I’m referring to is hanetsuki (羽根突き).  Hanestuki (羽根突き) consists of a paddle board, like the one you use in ping pong and a shuttlecock.  The paddle board is wooden and called hagoita (羽子板).  The hagoita (羽子板) is brightly colored and decorated.  Sometimes people just buy the hagoita (羽子板) as a decorative piece than to play hanetsuki (羽根突き).  Some hagoitas (羽子板) are so beautifully designed it seems a waste to use it as a paddle.  Since the object of the game is to keep the shuttlecock in the air as long as possible, the hagoitas (羽子板) take a brutal beating from the many desperate attempts to whack it before it falls to the ground.

A lot of the games I just mentioned are rapidly becoming obsolete among the children of the current generation.  Playstations and other video games are the things that kids want these days.  Of course, these games are still a part of tradition, so they are played, but not as much as they were played in the past.  The stores still sell these games, so it’s not an extinct tradition, well at least not yet.  So if you haven’t noticed yet, New Years is a big deal in Japan, hence the many posts on it.  I got lots more, so stay tuned!  Bye!

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