Traditional Japanese Games and Activities

Japan is a land with rich history and tradition, but they are also known to be very conservative as a nation. Today the country is known for its incredible animation or anime and manga, as well as some popular video games that are played all over the world. Mario Brothers, Sonic, Final Fantasy, and Pokemon are all recognizable all across the globe, and they come from Japan.

Furthermore, when we think of Japan, we think about samurai warriors, martial arts, exotic cuisine, and Japanese traditional games. That’s right many of the things we did for fun growing up also came from Japan or simply had their own variant. Here we will go over some of the iconic Japanese traditional games and activities that most of you already know or have seen in some shape or form.


Chō-han is one of the traditional Japanese games that people use to gamble. The rules are simple, there are two dice in the bamboo cup that are tossed around by the dealer. Before the cup is lifted the contestants place a wager on whether the result will be cho, which stands for even, or han, which stands for odd. The winner takes the money from the opponent.

It is also worth mentioning that Japanese casino games work a bit differently since gambling is illegal there. Users can play Japanese games online, but there aren’t any online casino Japanese operators out there. There are online casino Japan platforms, which are foreign sites that people have access to and use to play games, but for land-based establishments, things are a bit different. There is a so-called Japanese casino pachinko, which is really popular and uses a different approach. It’s an arcade filled with games, where people win tickets they can exchange for gifts.


Janken is a Japanese version of a rock paper scissor game. The rules are identical, the only thing that is different is the chant that occurs before both players make their choice. One additional rule is that if the game ends in a draw, they have a shout that goes “Aiko desho!” after which both players need to choose a different sign. However, this game is really popular in Japan and they even have competitions where players compete in Janken. Therefore, it’s more than just a children’s game that they stop playing eventually.

Oni Gokko

Oni Gokko is a children’s activity that has almost identical rules to hide and go seek. One player is an oni, which means demon, and that player has to count to ten. While he or she is counting with their eyes closed, the other players need to hide and tell the oni that it is okay to look for them. The first player who is found by the oni, becomes the oni, and then he or she has to count.

The reason it is different is that there are some variations to hide and go seek, where players don’t necessarily stay in a hiding place while someone else’s location is revealed, they need to run to the counting spot and reach it before the seeker returns. In other words, there is this additional component that makes it more difficult for the seeker.


Shogi is another traditional game from Japan that is very similar to chess. It’s hard to say which one developed first because both of these games evolved over the years before the standard rules became widely adopted. However, a lot of people argue that Shogi is way more difficult than chess because of these slight variations. In Shogi, when you take an opponent’s piece it is not removed from the board but comes over to your side.

This means that stakes are a lot higher, and you need to be way more careful if you wish to sacrifice one of your pieces for strategic purposes. Also, the game is way more unpredictable, because who knows how the board will develop, as the game goes on. Which only makes the story about the 9-year-old girl who became a shogi professional more impressive. It really resembles the chess story from Queen’s Gambit.


This is one of the Japanese card games that are great for kids or those who are learning this language. In fact, there is a kids’ version and an adult version of this game, and we will go over both. When kids are playing, they usually have cards with some old proverbs, and they need to select another card that matches that proverb in some way. For example, if the proverb mentions a dog, they would pick a card or symbol for a dog.

In the version for the adults, the rules are similar, but instead of proverbs, they play with cards that have poems on them. The first card will have 3 lines of a famous poem and the second one will have the remaining 2, and your task is to match these two cards.


If you liked the games that were included here, make sure to check out some other traditional Japanese activities. You will find a lot of them online, and they can inspire you to create your very own games. Hopefully, you learned something new or at least gained some more appreciation for the land of Japan.