Friday, October 30, 2015

Exploring Japanese Culture through Board Games

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

There are a variety of ways to introduce students to Japanese culture through board games.  Games can range from easy to hard, simple to complex, and can cover any time period or cultural aspect.  All you have to do to engage students in all things Japanese, is introduce them to a game that matches their interest.  The following are just a few games you can use to create a hook into exploring Japanese culture. 

Discovering Japan’s Feudal Era
There are a number of games that cover Japan’s feudal era.  Three quick games are Love Letter (Alderac Entertainment Group), Samurai Sword (DaVinci), and Age Of War (Fantasy Flight Games). Two are quick card games that offer an introduction to the time period and Shogun culture. Love Letter is a game that has a lot of different incarnations.  To explore Japanese culture, try the Kanai Factory edition. In Samurai Sword, players get a quick introduction to the Samurai, Shogun and Ronin. In Age Of War, students can be introduced to feudal Japan not by using cards but rather dice.  In this fast paced game students assume the roles of daimyos competing to unite the warring clans of feudal Japan and assume control of the nation. All three of these games are not overtly historical, rather they are quick and easy games that can be used to introduce students to the time period. 

If you rather go in depth into the time period, you can introduce more complex games like Yedo: Rule From the Shadows (Pandasaurus Games) and Edo (Queen Games). In Yedo, students learn about Japan in 1605. In the game, Hidetada Tokugawa has succeeded his father as the new Shogun, ruling from the great city of Edo (modern Tokyo). Players assume the roles of Clan Elders in the city of Edo during the early years of the Tokugawa Shogunate.  In Edo, players are daimyos developing the region of Edo (Tokyo) by building houses and trading goods. The goal is to increase their influence in the Tokugawa Empire. Both games are similar in play and complexity.

Learning about Japan in contrast to China
Many times while covering Asia, teachers will spend a great deal more time covering China than Japan.  However, there are games that teachers can use to highlight Japanese culture as an extension to what is covered when discussing China.  Certainly, Tokaido (Passport Game Studios), and Takenoko (Asmodee) hit both ideas.  In Tokaido, players travel the "East sea road", one of the most magnificent roads of Japan. While traveling, players will meet people, eat, collect items, discover panoramas, and visit temples. Teachers can use Tokaido as a contrast to China’s Silk Road. In Takenoko, the Chinese Emperor offered a giant panda bear as a symbol of peace to the Japanese Emperor. Since then, the Japanese Emperor has entrusted his court members with the difficult task of caring for the animal by tending to his bamboo garden. In Takenoko, students learn about the importance of the giant panda bear, different types of bamboo and the care which must be used in growing it. 

Learning about Japanese Food, Art and Architecture
There are a lot of games that cover Japanese cuisine and art.  The following are easy to learn and play.  They are Sushi Go!, (Gamewright), Niya, (Blue Orange), and Machi Koro, (IDW Games). In Sushi Go!, students can learn about Japanese cuisine in a fast paced card game.  The goal is to grab the best combination of sushi dishes and players score points for making the most maki rolls or for collecting a full set of sashimi. This game actually taught my daughters more about sushi than I did.  After paying the game, they were quick to order new sushi combos when we went out to eat!  In Niya, players play one of two influential clans in Japan's Imperial Garden. The tiles in the game are based on the Hanafuda (flower cards) that date back to the 9th century.  Playing Niya will allow students to be introduced to the Genji and Heike clans as well as the Hanafuda cards.  In Machi Koro, players get to discover the wonder of being a mayor of a Japanese town.  In this game, student can learn how hard it is to actually build a town from a wheat field to the largest city in the region. 

There are lots of board games that highlight Japanese culture and history.  These are just a few samples.  No matter your gaming IQ, you will be sure to find a game that you and your students can play to learn about Japanese culture and history. 

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