Japanese children enjoy playing a myriad of games. Some may seem very similar to the games of other countries or are a variation of a well-known international game, while others may be completely unfamiliar to outsiders. Many traditional games are taught by parents to their children at home, with more modern variations being taught on the playground at school.
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Well-known to Americans as "Rock-Paper-Scissors," Jan Ken (or Jan Ken Pon or Poi) is a traditional game Japanese children play well into their adolescence--and often beyond. In Japan, Jan Ken is used for nearly everything from merely passing time to determining winners of an unrelated game or contest in case of a tie. The chant is usually begun by saying "Saisho wa gu" or "We begin with stone," continuing with "Jan Ken Pon!" If the players tie, the phrase "Aiko desyou" ("It's a tie") accompanies successive tries. Occasionally the loser is given a literal slap on the wrist, adding a "punishment" or "batsu" element to the game. A two-player variation consists of one person pointing in a direction while the other attempts to look in a different direction; if the second player ends up looking in the same direction where the finger of the first player is pointing, that person loses.
Shiritori is a word game in which each successive word must begin with the last kana of the previous word. The game ends when one person accidentally uses a word that ends with the kana "n," as there is no word in the Japanese language that begins with this kana. The game is very similar to the English counterpart "First and Last" where each successive word must begin with the last letter of the previous word. The Japanese version is slightly more limiting, allowing only nouns in the game.
"Kagome Kagome" is a game that combines different elements commonly found in Western children's games. One child sits in the middle as the "oni" or "demon" (similar to being "it") while the others dance in a circle around them and sing. Roughly translated, the lyrics to the song are: "Kagome, Kagome, the bird inside the cage. When, when can I get out? During the eve of the dawn, the crane and turtle slipped. Who stands behind you?" When the song is over, the child who is the "oni" must correctly guess which child is standing behind them. If they guess correctly, the child who stood behind them then becomes the "oni" and the game begins again.
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