Japanese American Traditions

Kids’ Play

As summer vacations come to an end and yet another school year begins, children everywhere are being admonished by their parents to settle into their studies. However, the fall season should not mean the end of children’s play. In fact, games and pastimes of childhood keep all of us, young and old, full of youthful energy and better equipped to face the work of our everyday world.

Children of Japan share a number of the same recreational interests of Japanese American children—competing in soccer and baseball in local parks, flying kites, playing “red light, green light” and “red rover” with friends, spending an afternoon with Nintendo or Play Station videogames, or simply reading a story or comic book.

Children in Japan, however, also play games that may be unfamiliar to children in the United States. For example, “darumaotoshi” is a game where a daruma figure is poised on top of a stack of blocks. The object of the game is to knock out blocks from the bottom with a little hammer and still leave the daruma standing. Karuta, a traditional card game, is also popular among Japanese children. Iroha karuta is easy enough for young children to play and helps them learn the alphabet. Hyakuhinisshu is the most famous of karuta games. Hyakunin means “one hundred people,” and ishu means “poem.” In order to play the game, children must memorize poems, matching pieces of poems on cards. The player with the most matches wins the game.

Although the Japanese are often characterized by their work ethic, child’s play is an essential part of the lives of children and adults alike. The Japanese American National Museum Store offers a number of items which can teach us something about the Japanese culture, bring us closer to our families, and add some fun and spontaneity into our lives at the same time.

November 2002

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