Whether providing a challenge, a thrill, or a good laugh, Japanese games are all about the joy of competing with others. So, in the spirit of playtime, FROM JAPAN has put together this list of 11 fun-for-everyone games that will give your next family night a truly Japanese twist!
Japanese Board Games
Much like its Western counterpart chess, Shogi pits two teams of noble classes against each other in a battle for board supremacy. Each class has a fixed manner of movement, and certain classes can be promoted with more versatile abilities if they reach the other side of the board. Unlike chess, shogi allows players to replay captured enemy units as their own, thus keeping the game’s outcome a mystery until the final move.
Originating in China 2,500 years ago, Go was introduced to Japan in the 7th century and has since become one of the country’s most popular strategy games. Players take turns placing an unlimited supply of “stones” on the intersecting lines of the board’s grid with the goal of forming territories that surround and capture enemy pieces. Deceptively simpler than shogi at a glance, mathematicians have calculated that Go allows for more possibilities than there are atoms in the known universe, which just might explain its transcendent, timeless appeal.
Deep Sea Adventure by Oink Games
Deep Sea Adventure by Shibuya-based Oink Games submerges 2–6 players in an ocean of risks and rewards. Roll the dice to dive into the deep for buried treasure—the further you plunge, the greater the bounty—but be careful! You share your oxygen tank with a whole team of eager explorers, and every move depletes the life-giving air from your mutual submarine. The more treasure you carry, the slower you’ll return to your ship for fresh air. Weigh the roll of the dice against the cost of your loot, then try to race back to the safety of your submarine before your tank runs out. Like all Oink Games offerings, Deep Sea Adventure is easy to play on the go, compact enough to fit in a purse or backpack, and available with rules in Japanese, English, and German that are simple enough for even novice treasure hunters to pick up and enjoy.
Monopoly: Japan Arts & Crafts Edition
Limited to only 5,000 boards, Monopoly: Japan Arts & Crafts Edition celebrates the 300th anniversary of the Japanese artisan store Nakagawa Masashichi with perhaps the most beautiful reimagining of Monopoly yet. Maneki-neko, kokeshi dolls, and daruma replace the traditional thimble, dog, and boot; and bilingual chance cards and properties dealing in Japanese arts and crafts make each roll of the dice an educational experience. This tabletop homage to traditional Japanese culture is available in two versions (with the cheaper of the two containing a set of six Japanese deer tokens instead of those described above).
Japanese Skill Games
Manner Beans Chopstick Game
Mastering chopsticks is a must for any aficionado of Japanese culture, and with a little training from the Manner Beans Chopstick Game, you’ll be able to grasp the tiniest legume in no time! The anthropomorphic beans come mixed together in four different shapes, and a proportional Japanese-style miso soup bowl makes the training even more realistic. If you’re a fan of Pokemon or Sanrio, you’ll have twice as much fun learning this essential Asian skill with the Pikachu and Hello Kitty editions.
Studio Ghibli Balance Figures
These Studio Ghibli Balance Figures are high-quality replicas designed to endure endless hours of playful piling, and look great on display no matter how they’re arranged. Reimagine a ride on the Catbus, stack robots sky-high to Laputa, make a Totoro tower, and let your childhood fantasies run wild with Kiki’s companion Jiji!
Japanese Action Games
Watchdog Gao Gao
Perfect for adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers, Watchdog Gao Gao dares players to steal bones from right under the nose of a very hungry, very sleepy guard dog without accidentally waking him. Sneakily snatch the number and color of bones indicated on the card you draw, but don’t rattle the bowl; your intense concentration will be rudely startled as Gao Gao lunges at your hand and costs you the game! Switch to “Vicious Dog Mode” and make the game doubly intense with an even more unpredictable watchdog.
Dokidoki Crash Jintai Mokei Game
MegaHouse’s Kaidan Jintai game series takes place in a haunted school, where “spirited” anatomical dummies are the norm. In Dokidoki Crash Jintai Mokei, your job is to insert organs and bones using nothing but a pair of tiny tweezers without disturbing the haunted dummy. For some real hair-raising horror, switch the game to FEAR or PANIC mode and race against the clock to reassemble the dummy before it explodes in a startling burst of body parts. A ghoulishly good time for kids and adults alike, the suspenseful gameplay of DokiDoki Crash makes no bones about causing your heart to jump right out of your chest.
Do you dare disturb Beethoven’s haunted portrait after hours? Another installment in Megahouse’s Kaidan Jintai action games, Beethoven Counterattack challenges players to reassemble Beethoven’s music room while the cantankerous composer plays his somber “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano. And if dodging the pianist’s intermittent, suspicious pauses isn’t enough, accidentally bumping the archway or waiting too long to make your move will bring his sinister portrait rumbling to life, rattling your nerves and collapsing your towering Jenga-style structures. With three modes of play and plenty of spooky surprises in store, Beethoven Counterattack may not be the ideal introduction to classical music, but it’s sure to shake things up at your next game night.
Japanese Battle Games
Next time you and your friend or sibling have to decide who gets the last slice of cake or who does the dishes, skip “Rock, Paper, Scissors” and settle things mano a mano with Pokapon! A favorite battle game in Japan since 1979, Pokapon arms rival players with a mallet and shield controlled by the simple press of a button. Use stealth, a perfect balance of offense and defense, and ninja-like reflexes to sneak past your opponent’s guard and land a blow that will send your target’s head springing loose! No matter who comes out of the scuffle with their head victoriously intact, contagious chuckles are sure to ensue.
If clobbering your friend’s noggin isn’t entertainment enough, Don Ketsu’s butt-bumping battles might get to the bottom of your craving for competition! With the flick of a switch, dodge your opponent’s derriere or send your own rear end toward your rival like a battering ram. Whoever doesn’t end up on their face first can rightfully claim the title of king or queen of posterior power!
Where to Buy Japanese Board Games
The products listed above are all exclusive to Japan, but that’s no reason cry “game over!” With a proxy service like FROM JAPAN, you can easily have these playful pastimes and more shipped from Japan to your doorstep, just in time for your next game night!