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Exploring Japan Through Kids’ Games

With everyone talking about Squid Game, here are some other games that children like to play in Japan.

By 3 min read

By now, most people have binged the Netflix series Squid Game. You might even be looking for more survival films and discovered Miike Takashi’s Kami-sama no Iu Tori or As The Gods Will—an equally bloody film that uses children’s games. 

Why is a children’s game important enough to base an entire movie around? It could be because children’s games are a great way to learn more about a country’s attitudes and culture. And sometimes children’s games are pretty grim.

The monk farted

He who sensed it dispensed it

In one of As The Gods Will’s most famous scenes—spoilers—students play a game known in Japan as darumasan ga koronda, or “the daruma falls” in English. 

In this game, one child faces away and says, “darumasan (a traditional Buddhist doll) ga koronda” before quickly looking back at the other kids—who are quickly sneaking up to tag them. However, if the child who is “it” turns around and sees someone moving, they’re out.  

Sound familiar? In the West, it’s called red light, green light. Its Korean counterpart is also Squid Game’s most memorable moment. But, of course, in Squid Game and As The Gods Wills, the masterminds gleefully murder everyone who’s “out.” 

Darumasan ga koronda also has several regional variations. In Kanto and Kansai, it might tell us about the regions’ different cultures. For example, a regional stereotype of Osaka is that people are a bit rougher than their more refined cousins in Tokyo. Perhaps then, that’s why darumasan ga koronda is sometimes called bosan ga hewokoita, or “the monk farted” in Osaka.

Beanbag juggling 

Nobody likes a showoff.

Then there is otedamam or beanbag juggling, which, in my opinion, reveals more about Japanese culture as a whole. Whereas this game is usually a solo activity in the West, the Japanese version is social. 

In this game, children take turns juggling bean bags and trying to do tricks. The longer the game goes, the more advanced the tricks get—in theory. These are children, after all. The game is typically accompanied by singing.

Older women often have fond memories of the hours spent with their mothers and grandmothers learning this game. The songs they sing while playing get stuck in their heads for life.

Because of this social element in the game, it isn’t considered good form to outdo other players with complicated tricks. Thus, the game promotes cooperation—an important attribute to Japanese culture. Again, in theory. There’s always that one show-off in the neighborhood.

Kagome Kagome

Kids singing will always be creepy.

Another popular singing game is Kagome Kagome. One player stands in the middle of a circle in this game while the other players dance around them. When the singing stops, the player in the middle must guess who is directly behind them.

The most common version of the song goes like this:

Kagome, Kagome.
The bird in the cage.
When, oh when will it come out?
In the night of dawn, the crane and turtle slipped.
Who is behind you now?

Like “Ring Around the Rosie,” Kagome Kagome’s strange lyrics have various interpretations and have slipped into the realm of urban legend.

Some interpretations include miscarriages, ghosts and executions. It’s no wonder then that the song is often used in horror games and movies. Although children’s games can seem to be nothing more than innocent pastimes, they are sometimes linked to something dark.

What do you think? Know any Japanese children’s games? What’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

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