Fukuwarai: A Japanese Traditional game

The Fukuwarai Game: To laugh is to be lucky

If the Americans have "Pin the tail on the donkey", the Japanese culture has Fukuwarai. To make better sense of the word, it means lucky laugh, combining the words "luck" and "laughter". The game is often correlated with the proverb -"Warau kado niwa fuku kitaru" (Luck comes to a house with lots of laughter), with both having the kanji character "fuku". It is normally played by children during o-shogatsu period or New Year's Day, the good thing about this is adults can play it too. This game is believed to bring happiness and luck, so it's a perfect game to play at the start of the year. Sadly, with the inventions and proliferation of modern video games and board games, fukuwarai becomes the least favorite game for Japanese children.

Fukuwarai History: How it all started

Though its origin remains to be unclear, it has been regarded that it was during the Edo Period it became known. The Edo period, also known as Tokugawa Era, is anytime from the period of 1602 to 1868. It is a period when there is "no more war" and the Japanese enjoyed their culture and arts. Then, it was during the Meiji era that it was started to be played during New Year's Day. The Meiji period is the era in Japan History that dated from 1868 to 1912.

Fukuwarai Template: How the game is played

The objective of the game is to place cutouts of eyes, nose, and mouth in a blank face canvass. The popular faces that are used are Okame and Hyottoko. The Okame, also known as Otafuku, is a comical face of a woman with puffy cheeks – this was considered an epitome of beauty during the medieval times. Okame, in its literal sense, means Tortoise. It impersonates a Japanese woman who is always smiling, which tends to bring good luck to whoever marries her. Nowadays, any face can be used in playing the game.

The materials needed are paper, markers with different colors and scissors. To start off, draw and cut a large shape of a face, sometimes templates are readily available on the internet (template for Okame). Next, draw and cut different shapes of eyes, nose, eyebrows, and mouth, templates can also be searched on the internet. 

To start the game, the cutouts are placed on the table or on the floor. The player will be blindfolded and his or her partner will be the one to instruct on where to put the cutouts. The one who can put and create the most accurate face is the winner of the game. What makes this game fun is usually the ridiculous facial creations of every player, which makes everyone happy.

By Nesnad [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Traditions observed during New Year's Season: Games and Customs


These are Japanese playing cards that were brought by Portuguese traders during the 16th century. The word karuta came from the Portuguese word "carte", which means cards. The oldest version of this game is the Hyakunin Isshu karuta, which is played with one hundred poets that correspond to one poem each. Since it is considered to be educational it is usually taught in elementary and high school.

To play this game, three or four players are required, up to twenty players can play this game. The cards are spread out on the floor so that all characters and pictures on the cards can be seen by all players. Some of the characters are hiragana, katakana or kanji, some have sentences written on the cards. One person will read a sentence out loud, then all players will look for the card that has the character or picture of the sentence that was read. Then, whoever touches the card will automatically get it. At the end of the game, the player with the most number of cards is the winner.


On January 2nd of every year, there is a Japanese tradition called Kakizome or "first writing". It is the first calligraphy written during the start of the year. Then, every Jan 15th of the year, these calligraphies are burned together with rice straw ropes and bamboo decorations.


The Otedama is a popular Japanese children's games, wherein small bean bags are thrown and juggled. Most players can play with at most five bean bags, but it may vary. Each round increases its difficulty depending on tricks. Playing this game is normally accompanied by singing and is more popular among girls than boys.


The Hanetsuki is the Japanese version of Badminton, which is typically played by girls. The wooden paddle is called the "hagoita" and the shuttlecock is named "Hane". This is a traditional game usually played during New Year and is believed to drive away bad luck. In addition to this, another belief is the loner the hane is in the air, they will have more luck the following year. This is notably a little different from the Badminton that we know of because this is played without a net. Though the interest to play this game among the Japanese has gradually declined, the hagoita is continued to be sold and is considered an item for display among the people and visitors of Japan. If a man is displayed on the hagoita, it is generally for the purpose of economic growth. If a woman is displayed on the hagoita, it is a charm for fertility and a newborn baby.

Kusakabe Kimbei [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There are two ways to play this game: First, it can be played by one person, wherein she will prevent it from falling on the ground by continuously hitting on the hane. Second, it can be played by two persons in which the shuttlecock is batted back and forth between the two players.  The loser will have to smudge her face with blank ink, so it is important to keep one's face.


It is one of the most popular games in Japan. This toy is typically the cup and ball game, while the Kendama has three cups and a spike that fits into the hole of the ball. To play this game, a person holds the ball and throw it upwards, the goal is to catch the ball on one of the cups or the ball be inserted in the spike.

There are a lot of tricks and maneuvers when playing this game, with variations in the grips and maneuvers. It is a well-loved game in Japan that they usually hold competitions for this. The participants of the competition have to perform a sequence and list of tricks, or sometimes they invent some moves on their own. Then, whoever fails to perform the listed tricks first, loses the competition.


During New Year's Day, Japanese traditionally plays their version of kite flying called the Takoage. It has a variation of a shape such as diamond, rectangle or hexagonal. There are times that it can be shaped like an animal or a Japanese character. It is believed that the longer and higher your kite is, the more chance that a person's wish will come true. Aside from this, it also signifies good luck.

Popular games played by Japanese kids


This is more popularly known as "rock, paper, and scissors". The Japanese word ken means "fist". This is normally used to decide who gets to be removed or eliminated from the group; or who gets to do a task (like washing the dishes, buy a beer in the supermarket when it runs out, and many more). It is believed to originate from China during the 17th century. It is derived from the Chinese game called Wuzazu.

The name of each hand in Japanese are as follows: Rock also is known as "Guu", Scissor translated as "Choki", and Paper that means "Paa". Basically, the rules of the game are simple: Scissor cuts paper, paper beats rock and rock beat scissors. The chant "jan-ken-pon" is usually shouted, and at the word ‘pon’ hands should be shown by all players. There is usually one person who will be the leaser. Another version of this, whoever has the hand different that of the assigned leader, loses the game or will be eliminated.

The Janken can also be played using both legs. The basics are legs that are spread means paper, legs that together mean rock, and legs that are separated with one forward and the other backward means scissor.

Guriko: this is another version of the Janken game, where it uses the stairs. All players will begin at the bottom of the staircase. Then, the one who has a rock will advance three steps (because rock it is written with three characters). If the player has rock or scissors, they will move six steps forward (because paper and scissors have six characters). Lastly, whoever reaches the tops of the stairs first is declared the winner of the game.


This game is widely known as the "game of tag". The group of kids is equally divided into the "police" and "thieves", one place in the area will be designated as the jail. Once the "police" catches (this is done by tapping them) a ‘thief", he or she will be put in jail. Also, the other thieves can release the thieves inside the jail by tapping them. The game ends when all the thieves are sent to the designated jail.

Oni Gokko

The game Oni Gokko is more commonly known as "hide and seek". A player will be assigned as "it" and in Japanese tradition, he or she will be the oni or demon. The oni is a mythical figure of a human body with horns. The other players will be given time to hide, while the "it" counts one to ten with eyes closed. Once, he or she is done counting he will shout "are you ready?" then the other children should answer. Whoever the "it" will find first will be the next oni.


In Japanese culture, the beigoma is the traditional spinning top game. The top is normally made of metal, with kanji characters beautifully imprinted and carved on its top side. The bottom part of the beigoma is to be wrapped with a cord, then it has to be thrown quickly so that it will spin. It has to be thrown at any flat surface like a top of a barrel that will serve as a competition "ring". The goal of the game is to knock other beigoma out of the ring, whoever ever owns the last beigoma in the ring will win.


During the Edo period, this game became popular as the card flipping game. The two sides of the cards are decorated with manga and pictures. The goal of this game is to defeat the other players by flipping their cards. At the start of the game, all cards of the players are to be laid out on the ground. Then, each player will take turns in hitting the cards of the opponent on the ground to flip it over. If the card flipped over, the player gets to keep the card and the other player is out of the game. Just like the Janken, there are also different variations on how to play this game.


This is more commonly known in the Western culture as the "cat's cradle". Using a piece of string that is 120 cm long, geometric patterns are created using hands, mouth, and wrists. It can be played alone or by two persons. When there are two players, the other player will get the string from hands of her opponent and then create a new pattern with the string. If the intended shape was not achieved or is ruined, the player loses.

Daruma Otoshi

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=500186

This is the Japanese version of the game Jenga. The stacks are made of wooden pieces, then a daruma sits on top of the stacks. The goal of the game is to get the daruma without the stacks falling. Every Player takes a turn in hammering the stacks at the bottom quickly without the top part of the stack falling. Whoever successfully gets the daruma, wins the game.