Bring Japanese culture closer to home with this fun mix featuring modern and traditional games and cultural activities that you can enjoy with your kids of all ages. We have also included resources for learning the Japanese language for anyone who wishes to study at home.
As parents and educators, we believe that learning about cultures helps children appreciate diversity and cultivate a keen interest in the world at large. Here, we bring you a mix of Japanese cultural activities, from modern learning and Japanese crafts to traditional games that you can explore with your kids at home.
Through each activity, you can introduce Japanese culture by weaving storytelling, music, or dance as inspiration. We hope you not only get to teach your kids something new but, most importantly, discover the joy and new hobbies along the way!
Table of contents
- Japanese Games and Cultural Activities for Kids of All Ages
- 1. Fold Your Wishes Origami 折り紙
- 2. Modern Japanese-Themed Board Games and Card Games
- 3. See The World with Haiku 俳句
- 4. Oni Gokko (Hide & Seek) 鬼ごっこ
- 5. Discover Japan with Virtual Walk
- 6. Bounce & Catch with Kendama けん玉
- 7. Juggling Otedama お手玉
- 8. Hanafuda (Traditional Japanese Card Game)
- 9. Japanese Calligraphy (Shodo) 書道
- 10. Listen, Bend & Stretch with Japanese Morning Exercise ラジオ体操
- 11. Miniature Japanese Zen Garden
- 12. Shogi (Japanese Chess)
- BONUS ACTIVITY: Cooking Delicious Japanese Food At Home
- Japanese Language Resources
Japanese Games and Cultural Activities for Kids of All Ages
1. Fold Your Wishes Origami 折り紙
In Japanese, ‘ori’ means ‘to fold,’ and ‘kami’ means ‘paper.’ Origami is the art of paper folding that has been practiced in Japan since the Edo period. Almost every Japanese school kid learns how to fold origami, as it is one of the best crafts for cultivating mathematical and conceptual thinking, as well as engineering skills.
To create meaningful origami with your kids at home, you can start by making origami cranes together. The crane is the ‘bird of happiness’ and is believed to live for a thousand years. It has also become a symbol of peace, hope, kindness, and healing. Stringing paper cranes together and hanging them in front of your door or giving them as a gift can be a beautiful way to share the positive symbolism they hold.
🌸 Share this One Thousand Paper Cranes story with your kids.
For a more advanced level, you can also introduce kirigami, a variation of origami that involves both folding and cutting paper.
2. Modern Japanese-Themed Board Games and Card Games
Modern and popular Japanese-themed board games and card games make a great activity to keep kids entertained while learning about Japanese culture.
Here’s a curated list of Japanese board games we recommend:
- Tokaido Board Game – A popular exploration game for adults and kids, ages 8+
- Hanami card game – A quick unique fun game for up to 5 players
- Sushi Go and Sushi Go Deluxe version – These have been around for a while and there are a few versions available. They are the perfect game to play when you throw a sushi dinner at home.
- Machi Koro Board Game – This is a fast-paced dice rolling strategy game, ages 10+.
- Ticket to Ride Japan Family Board Game – Absolutely one of the best games to explore and learn about Japan.
- Arcane Wonders Onitama Board Game – Not just for kids, but excellent for adults too! It is a two-player game that encompasses the strategic component of chess.
- Takenoko Board Game – With a cute panda and bamboo garden, this game is well-thought-out with a visual style and creative storyline. The mission for players? Cultivate land plots, irrigate them, and grow bamboo so the panda won’t eat them all.
- Funforge Namiji Board Game – A sequel to the best-selling and award-winning Tokaido, but with its own unique rules and gameplay mechanics. Players get to take to the sea, learn about fishing, and discover the marvels of the Japanese coast.
- Lingo Playing Game – A simple and fun game for kids (or adults) who are learning the Japanese language.
We love using these games to foster interest and curiosity about Japan and its diverse cultural aspects.
3. See The World with Haiku 俳句
Haiku is a uniquely Japanese form of poetry that uses vivid words to express a feeling or a moment in just short, simple lines. They are easy and fun and help encourage creative writing.
Channel your inner poet by throwing a family haiku contest at home. It can be silly or serious, or based on a theme of the day!
If you need some ideas, this Step-By-Step Guidebook is a great one to get.
4. Oni Gokko (Hide & Seek) 鬼ごっこ
Oni Gokko is a Japanese version of a tag game with just one person being “it”. The person is called ‘oni’ or demon in the Japanese tradition. The Oni (鬼) is a mythical figure with a human body and horns that appears in many Japanese children’s stories.
To play this game, the Oni count to ten with their eyes closed while the rest of the people hide. When the Oni is done counting, he/she yells “Are you ready?” (Mou ii kai). Everyone would yell back “We’re ready” (Mou ii yo) or “Not yet” (Mada da yo). Then the Oni searches for each of the children or hiders. When the Oni finds one, he/ she taps on it, and that new person becomes the next Oni.
When playing Japanese hide and seek at home, you can modify the game or make it fun by putting on a DIY demon mask. Check out these few other ways to play the game.
5. Discover Japan with Virtual Walk
Stay active as a family while learning about Japan by taking a virtual climb up to Mt. Fuji using Google or around the cities in Japan using this app. Take advantage of the Visit Japan YouTube channel to explore beautiful landscapes and the distinct seasons of Japan.
6. Bounce & Catch with Kendama けん玉
Kendama is a traditional Japanese toy that has taken the world by storm in recent years. This wooden toy consists of a ken (sword), a pair of cups, and a tama (ball) connected by a length of string.
It’s essentially the Japanese version of the cup-and-ball game. In Kendama, players use their knees to bounce and pull the ball upward, attempting to catch it in one of the cups or land it on the spike. Over the past decade, Kendama has gained immense popularity worldwide, with annual competitions held in various countries. It’s a fun game that you can play anywhere.
7. Juggling Otedama お手玉
Otedama is a traditional Japanese juggling game for kids, usually played by girls, that involves small beanbags. It is very similar to jacks, where you toss, juggle, and balance.
The rules follow these easy steps:
- Scatter five beanbags on the floor
- Pick up one and toss it into the air
- With the same hand, pick up another beanbag and catch the falling one.
- Repeat until all the beanbags are picked up.
- Start again, but this time, pick up two bags at each toss, then three bags, then four bags.
- Finally, toss five beanbags into the air and catch as many as you can on the back of the same hand. Flip the bags that you caught into the air again and catch as many as you can in the palm of the same hand.
You can make beanbags at home by sewing together colorful fabric scraps and azuki beans.
8. Hanafuda (Traditional Japanese Card Game)
Originating in the early 18th century, hanafuda has evolved from a traditional Japanese card game into a beloved pastime that combines strategy, memory, and a touch of luck.
The name “Hanafuda” translates to “flower cards,” reflecting the stunning floral motifs adorning the deck. These cards are not just a means of play; they represent a deep connection to nature, each suit corresponding to a different month and featuring flora associated with that season.
Just like the European card deck, you can use the cards the in different ways, with one popular method being ‘koi koi.’ This game, somewhat reminiscent of poker, involves collecting sets to accumulate points.
Some of you might have tried the video game version of hanafuda, but the actual card game is more fun. You can find hanafuda cards, like this Snoopy version and this one, online. If you are in Japan, look for the beautiful Nintendo-designed cards.
9. Japanese Calligraphy (Shodo) 書道
In Japanese elementary schools, children learn the basics of calligraphy in a class called ‘Shuji’ (penmanship). It is considered a high art form that helps cultivate concentration, endurance, and the expression of beauty.
This buddha board is an easy way to introduce calligraphy to your budding artists at home. There are also online classes if your child wishes to pursue calligraphy art more seriously.
10. Listen, Bend & Stretch with Japanese Morning Exercise ラジオ体操
Start your morning routine at home with Japanese Radio Taisō! These exercises are catered to all ages and have been broadcasted nationwide in Japan every day for nearly 70 years!
I do this with my son and husband after dinner and reckon this a fun family bonding time. You can set up video conferencing with grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins to do this together too!
11. Miniature Japanese Zen Garden
Zen gardens are deeply rooted in Japanese spirituality and a way of life. While not everyone can have a real Zen garden in their backyard, you can still experience its elements with a miniature version placed in a dedicated spot or on a study desk in your home. It cultivates creativity, imagination, a sense of calm, and is suitable for all ages!
You can find many different styles of beautiful Zen garden kits like this and this on Amazon. Alternatively, you can easily create your own by using a large recycled tray or a tinned box and getting sand from a craft store. I often go for walks to nearby parks or woods with my son to pick out some natural pieces for our decorations. Check out this page for inspiration.
12. Shogi (Japanese Chess)
If you have a prolific chess player in the house, you might be interested in introducing them to shogi (Japanese chess).
The game features a 9×9 board where players strategically maneuver an array of uniquely shaped pieces across the battlefield. Unlike Western chess, shogi allows captured pieces to be reintroduced into the game, adding a dynamic layer of complexity. The objective is to checkmate the opponent’s king, but shogi’s intricate rules and the potential for piece promotion make each move a carefully calculated endeavor.
Here is a magnetic version of shogi available on Amazon.
BONUS ACTIVITY: Cooking Delicious Japanese Food At Home
Cooking with kids is the best way to introduce a culture to them. Make it fun by letting them choose their favorite dishes. We have compiled a list of easy recipes that you can cook with your kids.
Japanese Language Resources
Check out this post if you and your children wish to learn Japanese at home:
Do you wish to learn more about Japanese culture?
Will you give any of the above ideas a try? What would you like to learn more about? Leave us a comment below!
We hope you and your children enjoy the special time together and that these activities bring a slice of Japanese culture to your home!