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10 Traditional Japanese Board Games You Should Know

The country of Japan is hailed for inventing several of the most popular games and sports that we have now including hopscotch, sumo, and sudoku. However, it is worth noting that the country is also the birthplace of several board games which we grew to love and play through the years. On this article, we will be identifying and discussing ten of the best Japanese board games that you should know.
Cover photo credit: Chad Miller

Igo (囲碁)




Igo, or Go, is an abstract strategy board game wherein a player tries to surround more territory than his opponent. The game was taken from adapted from the ancient Chinese board game which is believed to have been invented more than 2,500 years ago, making it the oldest board game to be continuously played up until today.

Despite its relatively straightforward mechanics, Igo could be quite complicated. Each of the players takes turns in placing the stones (white and black) on the vacant intersections of a board with a 19×19 grid of lines.

At present, there are already over 40 million players of the game worldwide, most of which are living in East Asia.


Daifugō (大富豪)






Daifugō, otherwise known as Daihinmin, is a Japanese card game which involves the use of a standard 52-card pack. Played by three or more players, the game aims to get rid of all the cards of the opponent as quickly as possible by playing progressively stronger cards against the cards of the opponent before the player. The winner is then called the daifugo, which stands for the “grand millionaire.” The winner earns a lot of perks and benefits. One of the advantages of the winner includes exchanging their cards. The last person, on the other hand, will be called the daihinmin which stands for the “extreme needy.”


Riichi Mahjong (リーチ麻雀)



The Riichi Mahjong, or the Japanese Mahjong, is a variation of mahjong, a tile-based game which was developed in China. While the primary mechanics of the original game are retained, the Japanese variations include the use of a distinct set of guidelines such as the use of dora, and the concept of richi.

The game is usually played using 136 titles. The tiles are jumbled then arranged into four walls that are two stacks high. There are 34 variations of the tiles with four of each type. The groups of tiles are as follows: the pin (circle), wan (characters), sou (bamboo), and unranked tsu (honor).


Sugoroku (双六)






Sugoroku, which literally translates to “double six,” refers to two distinct forms of a Japanese board game: the e-sugoroku which is comparable to the Snakes and Ladders, and the Ba-sugoroku which is similar to backgammon.

E-sugoroku (picture sugoroku) is a simpler form of the game. This game first appeared as early as the 13th century. It quickly became a favorite game among the locals because it was made using the cheap wooden block printing technology used during the Edo period.

The Ba-sugoroku, on the other hand, has similar rules such as the backgammon but with subtle differences.


Gomoku (五目並べ)







The Gomoku is a strategy board game played using the black and white stones which are also used in playing Go. In the game, the players will take turns in placing a stone of their color on an empty intersection of the Go board (only 15 x 15 of the 19 x 19 intersections are used for the game). The player who is able to form an unbroken chain of five stones (vertically, horizontally, or diagonally) will win the game.

The game has different variations, two of which are the Freestyle gomoku and the Standard gomoku. The freestyle gomoku requires a row of five stones of more in order to win. The standard gomoku, on the other hand, uses a row of precisely five stones to win.


Machi Koro (街コロ)

Machi Koro@boardgamemoments

Machi Koro


Machi Koro


Macho Koro, known in English as Dice Town, is a city-building board game designed by Masao Suganuma. In the game, the players would assume the role of the mayor of the town. By rolling the dice, players could earn coins in order to buy properties to build out a city. The first player who is able to build out a series of required landmarks is adjudged as the winner of the game.

There are five different kinds of cards used in the game: landmarks, primary industry, secondary industry, restaurants, and major establishments. Additionally, there are three phases during the turn of each player.


Renju (連珠)






Renju is a variant of Gomoku. The game was named as such by Ruikou Kuroiwa in a Japanese newspaper in 1899. Since then, it has become a household board game among the Japanese. Renju is played using the black and white stones of the Go game and it uses the 15 x 15 grids of the Go board. The game employs a distinct sequence of opening moves called an opening rule. It eliminates the perfect win situation the Gomoku by placing conditions for the first player.


Shogi (将棋)




Shogi, known in English as the Japanese chess or the Game of Generals, is a strategy board game involving two players. The players play on a board that is composed of rectangles in a grid of 9 rows by 9 columns. The rectangles are devoid of any marking. Each of the players will have a set of 20 pieces of minute differences in sizes. The objective of the game is for a player to checkmate the king of the other player. Shogi is one of the earliest variants of chess to allow the captured pieces to be returned to the board by the capturing player.


Jinsei Game (人生ゲーム)


Jinsei Game@eiichrJinsei Game@osabz

Jinsei Game, known in English as the Human Life Game, is a Japanese variant of the North American game which is called, “The Game of Life.” The player begins in his toddler years and has to go to elementary and high school before going to university or starting a career.

Due to the success of this board game, it has been adapted into video games for Game Boy, PlayStation, and Wii, among others.


Karuta (骨牌)




Karuta is a Japanese card game introduced by the Portuguese traders sometime in the mid-16th century. The decks of the card are divided into two groups: those from the e-awase and those that have descended from Portuguese cards. The goal of the game is to determine which card is required before being grabbed by the opponent.


There are a lot of board games which are invented or played by the Japanese. From traditional games such as Igo and Sugoroku to contemporary games such as Machi Koro and Jinsei Game, each of these board games will surely be enjoyable to play.