By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.
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
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