Janken: The Japanese Version of Rock-Paper-Scissors

Almost every person has a certain childhood game that he or she had played when he or she was a kid. These games are played for fun to the delight of many children. On the other hand, there are also certain childhood games that are also played by adults who are still kids at heart. Probably one of the most well-known childhood games all over the world is the simple rock-paper-scissors. Left to chance, this is a fun game played by children and adults alike just to have fun or to settle a disagreement.

The English Version: Rock, Paper, Scissors

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The most common version of Rock-Paper-Scissors is the English though there are also various versions that different teachers have come up with through the years to make the game more fun for kids. Most teachers incorporate these games in their classes full of children. These teachers just choose a certain version to use when teaching it to kids.

One version is the “Rock, Paper, Scissors – 1, 2, 3! Because of how the action is made when playing this game, young beginners tend to get confused as to when to actually show the rock, paper, or scissors using their hands. Hence, the counting of 1, 2, 3 helps them know when to actually show their hands. The first step of this game is for the players to first chant the words “Rock, Paper, Scissors” simultaneously while making the hand gestures that correspond to the words.

The next step would be to follow this chant by counting “1, 2, 3” with the last number signifying that the player shall display the hand gesture that he or she is betting on the game. This means that the hand gesture shall be similar to rock, paper, or scissors. Should be a draw, the players shall again count to three with them showing their hand gestures at “3.” This procedure continues until one of the players emerges the winner.

Another English version of this game is “Rock, Scissors, Paper, Go!” Basically, the players are also to chant the words “Rock, Scissors, Paper” while making the corresponding hand gestures. This should immediately be followed up by the word “Go!,” which signifies the actual hand gesture that the players are betting on the game.

The only difference between the two versions is instead of chanting the numbers, the players must say the word “Go.” Should there be a draw, the players shall again say the word “Go!,” with them showing their hand gestures at the word. This procedure continues until one of the players emerges the winner. The minimum number of players in this game is two though there can be three or more.

The last English version of this game is known as “Rock, Paper, Scissors Says Shoot!” The players shall chant the words “Rock, Paper, Scissors says shoot!” However, unlike the previously mentioned version, this chant need not be accompanied by corresponding hand gestures. Instead, the players shall move their fists up and down with every word that is chanted by the players. Upon the chanting of the “shoot,” players shall have to display their hand gesture of rock, paper, or scissors at the same time.

To make this version a bit more fun, some players tend to animate their hand gestures while playing. This can be paper depicted to wrap around the rock, the rock smashing the pair of scissors, or the scissors cutting the paper. These depictions are all done just by hand and finger movements and gestures. Should there be a draw, the players shall repeat the process until one emerges the winner of the game.

The Japanese Version: Jan, Ken, Pon/Poi 

Sertion [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Japanese, on the other hand, has their own version of the well-known game. In the Land of the Sun, the game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” is known as Janken. While this is merely a game in some other places, the Japanese people take it up a notch when incorporating Janken not just in games but in other aspects of daily life. Janken is the typical mediator of people who are of different or clashing opinions on a certain matter.

An example would be when two people would like to eat out and cannot decide which restaurant to go to. Instead of fighting over which restaurant to visit, the Japanese can just decide by playing janken. There are also several kinds of janken that exist in the country. Certain phrases and even hand gestures can be different depending on the region. The best way to learn the local version of the game is to ask a kid from the area to teach one. Japanese children are known to play this game multiple times a day. Hence, it is also important for teachers to be aware of the game if they wish to teach in Japan.

Though the hand gestures may differ a little bit, the overall idea and rules of the game are quite the same as that in the English version. Generally, the rock beats the scissors as the idea is that the former can crush the latter. On the other hand, the pair of scissors beats the paper as the concept is that scissors can cut paper. Finally, the paper beats the rock as the former can wrap around the latter. Basically, it is just a cycle of winners and losers. Rock is known as “guu” in Japanese while a pair of scissors is known as “choki” in the local language. Paper is known as “paa” in Japanese.

The first step in playing the Japanese version is by chanting the words “saisho wa guu” together with the other players. This is accompanied by pumping fists at the same time that the words are being chanted. After chanting these words, it is then immediately followed up by the words “janken pon!” or “janken poi!” At the last word, all players shall show their hand gestures signifying guu or rock, choki or scissors, or paa or paper.

Should there be a draw, all players shall chant “aiko desho!” all at the same time. this phrase means “It seems like a tie!” in Japanese. Upon saying “sho!,” the players shall again show their hands with gestures signifying any of the three items rock, paper, and scissors. This process is repeated until one of the players finally emerge as the winner of the game.

Rules: How to Play this Game

By Sertion (Photo by Fluff, modified by Sertion) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The rules in the Japanese version is very similar to the English version. It is because the game follows a line of logic that anyone can understand. The only different would be the words that are chanted by the players. Hand gestures may also differ a little but the concept remains the same with either version. The Rock is known as “Guu” in Romaji while the Paper is known as “Paa” in Romaji. A pair of scissors is known as “Choki” in Romaji. These Romaji translations are the same as in Japanese.

In this game, the rock is depicted by a fist, which is what can only be done by hand gestures to signify a rock. On the other hand, the pair of scissors is depicted by a separated index finger and middle finger. It is similar to the peace sign or “V” sign with the fingers pointing outwards, similar to a picture of a pair of scissors. On the other hand, the paper is depicted by open hands with fingers spread wide apart. This depiction shows how paper can simply wrap around the rock. Upon the beginning of the game, the children typically just chant “jan ken pon!” with the hand gestures shown when the word “pon” is uttered. For a longer phrase, some players chant “jan ken pon, aiko de sho!”

Often times, the janken game is composed of a leader and a number of players. The leader can decide which player wins upon the show of hand gestures. On the other hand, there are also certain versions of janken games wherein the players must be able to have the same hand gesture as the leader during the game. If not, then those players lose. However, if the players play the same hand as the leader, then they win.

While many may think that the janken game is made for children only, that is not usually the case in Japan. Even Japanese adults play the janken game in order to solve disputes or disagreements. Basically anyone in Japan, child or adult, uses the janken game in order to settle problems or make decisions. This phenomenon may be attributed to the fact that the winner of the game is only by chance as no one really knows what the other players would be betting with their hand.

An example of this would be the popular Japanese pop group known as AKB48. Because of the sheer number of girls in the group, not everyone can appear on the singles of AKB48. Hence, in order to settle this matter, the group held janken tournaments in order to decide with the young girls shall appear in the next single of AKB48. The game had become intense wherein the tournaments were held for a number of hours. The important of the janken game is upheld to the point that a global, multi-million dollar art deal even utilized the game to complete it.

A Fun Activity Between Kids, Boys, and Girls

For kids who are learning the game, there is also a song that is sung based on the janken game. In the Japanese language, it goes, “じゃんけんぽいぽい, どっちだすの, こっちだすの, あいこでぽいぽい, どっちだすの, こっちだすの.” If one is not able to read Japanese, this song is pronounced like this: “Janken Poi Poi, Dochi dasu no, Kochi dasu no, Aiko de Poi Poi, Dochi dasu no, Kochi dasu no.” The English translation of this song would be, “Which one will I put out? I will put out this one, It’s a draw, Which one will I put out, I will put out this one.”

While singing this song, the two players should be facing each other. At the conclusion of the song, the players shall count from one to five. On the count of five, the players shall have to show their own hand gesture to each other, may it be rock, paper, or scissors. The partners to lose shall be out of the game while the winning partners shall pair up with each other. However, if both partners have the same hand gesture, unfortunately, they both lose the game.

A variation of this janken game is by playing it using feet instead of hands. One may wonder how this game would be determined with feet that do not have the same capacity as the hands to depict rock, paper, and scissors. Basically, the players shall have to make gestures by using their legs.

Legs that are spread apart depict paper while the legs that are stuck together depict rock. However, if one leg is forward while the other leg is backward, it depicts scissors. Just the same, this variation entails the players to still utter the words “rock, paper, scissors” in the Japanese language.

A step-up to the janken game is known as guriko. The rules are basically the same as that in the janken game; however, guriko is a level up. Two players shall start playing the janko game while standing at the bottom of the stairs. Each win shall entail the player a number of steps up the stairs. If the player wins by using the rock, he or she can take three steps up the stairs.

If the player wins by using the paper or scissors, he or she can take six steps up the stairs. The first one to reach the top most step of the stairs is the winner of the game. Despite its simplicity, the janken game is still highly popular among the Japanese. Not only is it fun to play for children but it also settles small disputes among friends and families.