Ayatori: An Interesting Game of Strings

 An overview of the Ayatori

The Ayatori is a string game played by young Japanese children involving the manipulation of a string, oftentimes made of yarn, to form different figures. When playing this, a player must be able to successfully transfer the string into his or her hands through a number of moves and tricks.

History of the Ayatori

Despite being known as a game for young Japanese children, there are many historical pieces that depict this as a form of amusement for all ages. There are paintings showing women and even young couples playing the Ayatori. For many historians, the Ayatori is not just a game of strings but rather a form of intricate art that requires skill and talent.

By Heinrich Klutschak (1848-1890) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This string game is considered as one of the oldest means of entertainment in the world and is known to be a part of not only the Japanese culture but many other cultures in the world. In fact, there is a group known as the International String Figure Association or ISFA which was formed in 1978 in hopes of not only gathering but preserving string figure knowledge from different cultures around the globe as well. This is in hopes of providing knowledge for future generations and allow the historical game to live long into the future. The main project of this association is to create an idea bank of both historical and modern string game rules, patterns, shapes, and techniques.

It is actually not that easy to play, and the games can get quite competitive. Despite its role in history, the game is still popular until today and is known to have different kinds of modifications or ‘mods’. There are new string figures and techniques that can be learned.

Importance of Ayatori in Religion and Culture

Many of the traditional games, not only in Japan, play an important role in shaping the culture. These are activities which are passed on from one generation to another and give modern people a sense of the kind of amusement people had in the past. On top of that, many of these traditional games are bases of more modern games as well.

Based on historical records, the Ayatori was generally known as a girl’s game but has long since changed its image to become a gender-neutral activity. For those wondering why, because the Ayatori is very diverse and flexible. It is a great game to play during the cold months of Autumn and Winter (September, October, November, December, January, February, and March). It is a game which could be played at any time of the day, it requires no large space for playing yet could involve as many competitors as possible – with no limits.

The Ayatori may be a simple game but requires great knowledge and skill. It is quite calculated where each movement or step shall not make the string tangled. It is one of the most intelligent traditional games in Japan. What is interesting about the Ayatori is the fact that it was not only a game of strings. There was a time in Japan’s history when it was used in divination and magic.

The Complex Rules of Playing Ayatori: How to Play


The Ayatori can be played alone or with friends. When playing along, it is more like exploring different ways to form a variety of shapes and figures. However, when playing with other players, the important rule to remember is that another person must be able to successfully create figures and shapes while the string is on another player’s hand.

The shapes start with simple and small shapes and progressing to more complicated figures. What is interesting is that the player who tangles the string or makes a mistake in forming a figure or shape will lose. Then, the game shall start again.

The game can get quite competitive because it is a show of how much shapes and figures a person can form. Usually, they also need to know how to transform one shape into another – one of the most difficult aspects of the game. Despite its competitive nature, the game is fun overall and can be enjoyed by people of any age, gender, or race.


The most important, and most essential knowledge about the Ayatori is learning how to do the ‘Opening A’ step. When a person learns how to move the Opening A from another player’s hand into theirs, that is the time that they can start learning more complicated tricks.

Here is how the ‘Opening A’ can be done:

  • Put the string on both hands where the pinky and the thumb are inside the loop while the other fingers are outside of the loop.
  • Create a criss-cross by looping the strings with the index fingers.
  • The Opening A shall have three loops where the small loops are between the thumbs and between the pinky. The larger loop is formed by the two index fingers.

Another important move to remember is the Navajo Opening. Here is how the ‘Navajo opening’ can be done:

  • Put the string on both hands by looping it in the index finger.
  •  Loop the left side of the string, while creating a crisscrossing loop, with the thumb.
  • Pull this loop using the right thumb.
  • Two loops shall be produced connecting the thumbs, and the index fingers. A large ‘X’ shape shall be seen in between the thumb and the index finger.

Tools: The Ayatori Yarn

The string can be made out of different kinds of material. There was a time in Japan when silk, although expensive, was used as a string for the Ayatori. People can also use yarn or a string of wool. What is important is that a piece of string about a meter long is cut from the ball of yarn. Both ends shall be tied together by a small but sturdy knot to make a small loop. The knot should have a tight grip despite its small size. This loop of the string must be long enough to be as wide as the player’s shoulder.

Different Kinds of Ayatori Tricks

Here are a few of the most popular Ayatori tricks in Japan:

By Heinrich Klutschak (1848-1890) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Ayatori Bridge
  • Ayatori Eiffel Tower
  • The Broom
  • Osage Two Diamonds
  •  Cup and Saucer
  • Japanese Butterfly
  • Little Girl with Pigtails

Where to Find Ayatori Tutorials


There are a number of tutorials and videos on YouTube that shows step-by-step procedures of how to create different shapes in Ayatori. There is even an ‘endless’ version where people can transform the strings back and forth into different shapes. Although it is a traditional game, the Ayatori is still very popular today. There are even videos and tutorials that went viral online spreading the awe of the game worldwide. These tutorials feature very easy to copy patterns and shapes.

By Alfred Cort Haddon or Stephen Chapman Simms or William Henry Furness III [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jayne’s String Figures and How to Make Them

This is a book written to provide a collection of instructions and illustrations of string figures not only in Japan but all over the world. Its content involves step by step instructions on how to form shapes, where the shape came from, and how long it has been played in that particular culture. There are about a thousand illustrations in this book which not only tells the readers about the game but also educates them about how important the game is in different cultures around the world. It was written by Caroline Furness Jayne and is available for purchase in leading bookstores and even on the internet.

Modernized or Modified Ayatori: The ‘Ayatori Mod’

Ayatori Mod Tutorial

Through the centuries, the Ayatori has developed from a simple string game into an interesting hobby for many people. There are passionate artists that developed their own shapes and figures which they are ready to share with the world. This version of the Ayatori is more complex and enjoyable.

The ayatori is an inspiration for many things. In fact, there is an Ayatori Bridge in Japan somewhere in the Kaga prefecture. This particular structure has used the concept of the ‘Cat’s Cradle’ shape to strengthen a bridge – the concept is used both as a structural design and art.

Traditional Japanese Games for Kids


 Just like many other traditional games in Japan, the Beigoma is reminiscent of other games which are known internationally. It is a small round toy which has a diameter of no larger than 3 cm. The beigoma is spun just like how spinning tops are played. First, a cord is wrapped around the toy. Second, once the cord is fully wrapped around the beigoma it will be released into a matting. Last, the target of the game is to knock out other beigomas already spinning on the mat. This match is often played in groups or in pairs and it is very enjoyable for both young children and adults.

Through history, these kinds of toys are made from a variety of materials. There was once a time when the beigomas are made from seashells filled with wax and sand. Older materials were clay, wood, metal and more. Nowadays, it is made of plastic. The beigoma is an inspiration for the popular game Beyblade.


Similar to a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, the Fukuwarai is a popular children’s game involving blindfolds and teamwork. It is known as the ‘Lucky Laugh’ and is often played during the Lunar New Year. However, instead of a photo of a donkey and the player shall hold the donkey’s tail, the Fukuwarai involves a bare face on the wall and the players must accurately place the eyes, nose, lips, and eyebrows.

By Nesnad [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

The game could be played in teams or as individuals. A bare face will be placed on the wall and each member of the team shall be assigned a part of the face. The player will be blindfolded and accurately (or inaccurately) guided by their teammates to successfully (or unsuccessfully) place the part on the face.


Also known as the bean bag game but is highly reminiscent of the Jackstones and is believed in its original form. However, instead of jacks and a ball, the otedama has five small bags of beans. These are small bags made of cloth which has a certain amount of beans inside.

The game is quite simple. The first step is to lay out all the bean bags on the floor. One bag should be picked up and tossed in the air. Before the first bag falls on the floor, the same throwing hand shall grab another bean bag from the floor. Once the second bean bag is grabbed, the first bean bag shall be caught. The process is repeated until all five bags are tossed in the air and caught. This game is played with only one hand.

Kagome Kagome

Unlike other traditional Japanese games, the Kagome Kagome is not similar to other games in the world. Many historians actually believe that there is a cryptic history behind this game, but no one can know for sure. The lyrics of the song associated with the game also varies from region to region.

In the game, an oni or demon will be chosen and blindfolded. All the other kids shall hold hands and form a circle around the ‘oni’. They sing the song associated with the game and go around in circles, still while holding hands. Their dancing shall stop along with the song and the ‘oni’ shall guess the person in front or at the back of them. If they guess correctly, the new ‘oni’ will be blindfolded.


This is literally the ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ of Japan. The original form of Janken is actually from China before it reached Japan in the early 1700s. In Japan, they call Rock as Guu, Paper as Paa, and Scissors as Choki. However, the rules are almost the same. Rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper, and paper covers rock. A difference in the game is that all players shall hold out rock first before eventually choosing among the three options. The players also say ‘Janken Pon’ where the word ‘pon’ is the time that the players choose a move. It is one of the simplest traditional games in Japan which requires no additional tool or toy.