Origami hanging in a classroom

5 Fun Japanese Games for Students of All Ages

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

I know from experience teaching that games work well for students with zero Japanese skills all the way up to those who are nearing fluency. In other words, there’s a great game for every level of Japanese learner.

To help you come up with fun and effective game activities, I’ve tracked down some of the most enjoyable learning games out there, perfect for your Japanese classroom.

Just take a look at the five shown here and pick the ones which will work best for you and your students.


Fun and Effective 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.

5. Hide and Seek — かくれんぼ (隠れん坊)

Game play:

1. Choose one player to be “it” and instruct all the other students to hide. It may help to take this game out of the classroom if you can. Parks and even the school building can work well for this.

2. Ask the “it” person to count to a certain number to give the other students time to hide.

3. Have “it” student look around for the hidden students. The first person who is caught gets to be “it” now.

Vocabulary to use:

Hide: かくれる (隠れる)

Seek: さがす (探す)

Base (Home): いえ (家)

Counting: かぞえる (数える)

Ready or Not, Here I Come!: よーし、いくよ!

Found You!: みつけた!

Tag, You’re It!: おにごっこ!

Run!: はしる (走る)

Count to ten:じゅうまでかぞえる (十まで数える)

Winner: かち (勝ち)

Loser: まけ (負け)


I hope you’ve found these games helpful for your Japanese class lesson planning. Remember to adapt them in the best way for your class and your students, and, as always, have fun!

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