4 Simple and Fun Japanese Games for All Ages

Whether you’re teaching young children or seniors, games are a fantastic tool to get students engaged and excited about learning.

From students with zero Japanese skills to those who are nearing fluency, there’s something out there for everyone.

We’ve tracked down some of the most enjoyable learning games out there, perfect for your Japanese classroom.

Just take a look and pick the ones which will work best for you and your students!

Why Use Games in the Japanese Language Classroom?

There are plenty of reasons to start adding game time to your lesson plans. Read on the learn about the many benefits to playing games with your students!

Break the Ice

Games can help students relax and interact more freely. A game could be a great way to “break the ice” with a new group and settle your students into the learning environment. A game also marks a phase in your lesson where students know they’re not being assessed and can participate without feeling under pressure. With your guidance they can use new vocabulary and grammar patterns that relate to the games they’re playing, in a relaxed and lighthearted frame of mind.

Let Off Steam

If you’ve been putting your students through their paces, setting them difficult tasks or tests, a game might be the perfect way to finish off the lesson. A little bit of healthy competition can also be useful in sharpening your students’ minds and helping new terms and phrases “stick.” Plus, most students will find this enjoyable.

Unintentional Learning

When your students are having fun, chances are they’re learning without realizing it. Introduce the words and phrases that relate to the activity before you start the activity so the students can use these as they play – demonstrate and encourage this as the game progresses. Before you know it, your students will be using the words naturally and are likely to retain the new vocabulary as well.  This is “learning by accident” in action.

This is because playing games uses a sort of immersive method that allows students to be engaged in understanding and actively using the Japanese language. You may choose to include other aspects of immersion to enhance your use of Japanese games such as instructional videos or video examples of the game being played. For that, I recommend FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

Build Rapport

Playing a game in your classroom could be a wonderful chance to enhance the link between yourself as a teacher and your students, by showing that you aren’t all about hard work and that you like to have fun as well. It could be a way of you sharing your personality and, in turn, allowing your students to express themselves more freely and feel confident to do so.

4 Simply Fun Japanese Games for All Ages

1. おはじき (Ohajiki) 

4 simply fun japanese games for all ages

おはじき is played with round glass counters that look like flattened marbles. The pieces are spread on a flat surface. Your students can use じゃんけん (rock, paper, scissors – see below) to decide who will start.

Game play:

1. Using your index finger, draw an imaginary line between two おはじき to show what your target is.

2. Flick one into the other. The first おはじき must hit the second one cleanly and separate without touching any others.

3. You then collect the second one and select your next target.

4. If you miss, if the two おはじき don’t finish in separate positions, or if they touch any other おはじき, then it’s the next person’s turn. The player who finishes with the most おはじき is the winner.

Vocabulary to use:

Your turn: どうぞ or あなたの番です (あなたのばんです)

I got it!: やった!

Missed, no good:  だめ

2. Rock, Paper, Scissors — じゃんけん

4 simply fun japanese games for all ages

As in the English version:

• Paper (flat hand) beats rock and is beaten by scissors

• Scissors (index and middle finger) beats paper and is beaten by rock

• Rock (fist) beats scissors and is beaten by paper

Game play:

1. To start, the two competitors chant together 最初はグー (さいしょは ぐー — “first is rock”) with their clenched fists keeping the beat.

2.  じゃんけんぽん on “ぽん” players reveal their hands with their choice of rock, paper or scissors.

3. If there’s no winner, hold a draw  あいこでしょ and reveal hands on “しょ”.

4. Hold a staircase tournament for じゃんけん. In this, students form two small queues facing each other on the middle stair of a wide staircase. Winners go up to the next stair, losers go down. You play whoever arrives on your stair or whoever is there already. The first person to the top landing wins. This kind of tournament is great fun – allow plenty of time.

Vocabulary to use:

Rock: グー (ぐー)

Paper: パー (ぱー)

Scissors: チョキ (ちょき)

3. Origami Luck Predictor

4 simply fun japanese games for all ages

This is a firm favorite among elementary school age children all over the world — this version for the Japanese language classroom makes it a hands-on activity and a language learning activity at the same time. Students will enjoy the interaction this game generates and the fun of inventing weird and wonderful luck outcomes for their peers.

Game play: 

1. Take a square of paper and fold in half diagonally, then in half diagonally again. Open out – it’ll have an X marked by fold lines and will clearly show the center point.

2. Fold each corner into the center.

3. Then flip over.

4. Fold each corner into the center.

5. On the reverse side, you’ll find four flaps. Slide your index fingers and thumbs into the spaces and push the center down to make a sort of pointy flower shape.

6. Write the name of a color on each of the four outside panels:

Blue: 青 (あお)

Red : 赤 (あか)

Yellow:  黄色 (きいろ)

Black : 黒 (くろ)

Pink : ピンク (ぴんく)

Purple: 紫 (むらさき)

Green: 緑 (みどり)

White: 白 (しろ)

7. Write on the eight inside panels a number, one on each panel

1 (one): 一 (いち)

2 (two): 二 (に)

3 (three): 三 (さん)

4 (four): 四 (よん/し)

5 (five): 五 (ご)

6 (six): 六 (ろく)

7 (seven): 七 (しち/なな)

8 (eight): 八 (はち)

8. Lift up the numbered panels and write four kinds of luck underneath (use these or have fun making up your own!):

Good fortune & happiness: 幸せ (しあわせ)

Disaster:  最悪 (さいあく)

Love: 愛 (あい)

Forget your keys: 鍵を忘れる (かぎをわすれる)

9. To play, put your fingers in the Luck Predictor and ask your classmate to choose a color: 色を選んでください (いろをえらんでください). Use the number of syllables of their choice to get their selection of numbers (blue, 青= 2; purple,  紫=4) moving your corners lengthwise and width-ways.

10. Ask your classmate to choose a number from what they can see: 番号を選んでください (ばんごうをえらんでください).

11. Open up the Luck Predictor and tell them the corresponding good/bad/unusual news!

4. Japanese Bingo Game — ビンゴ(びんご)

4 simply fun japanese games for all ages

This is a great game for students learning hiragana or katakana.

1. Give each student a sheet (or several) of cards, divided into 4×4 squares.

2. Students are to write a different character from whichever alphabet you’re using, one in each square. If they’re completing multiple cards, remind them to make each one unique. Depending on your students’ abilities, you might want to ensure they have some printed characters to copy. You can even purchase pre-made sets of Japanese character bingo (but it does steal away a great chance for your students to be creative and also for you to cater for your kinesthetic learners).

3. Give each student enough counters or small squares of paper to cover the characters on their board(s).

4. Call out each letter one at a time, in random order, giving students enough time to find them on their boards if they have them. Once they find them, they must to cover them with a counter/piece of paper.

5. The person who gets all his/her characters first calls out ビンゴ!(びんご! – Bingo!) and that person is the winner.

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