Top 11 Japanese Board Games You Should Not Miss

If you are a fan of the manga Hikaru or Conan, you must be familiar with Go or Shogi – two of the most popular Japanese board games. Have you ever wonder how to master these games? Besides Go and Shogi, what else can you play with your friends to kill time? Hopefully, you can find everything you need in today’s blog.

Now, let’s scroll down and discover top 11 Japanese board games!

11 Japanese Board Games You Should Not Miss

1. Go (Igo)

Go (or Igo), originated in China, is believed to be the most ancient board game in the world with its history dating back to more than 2500 years ago.

The standard square board has a 19×19 grid of lines with 361 intersections. However, beginners can use a smaller board with the dimension of 9×9 or 13×13. The playing pieces are called “stones” with 2 different colors: black and white. One player uses white stones while the other plays with black ones. To win this game, you need to capture stones of your opponent as many as possible.

Below are some rules to follow:

  • The player with black stones takes the first move.
  • 2 players will take a turn to place stones on the intersections. Once placed on the board, these stones are not allowed to move.
  • Basically, when a chain of stones is surrounded by the stones of the opponent, it will lose its “liberties”. Then, these stones are captured and removed from the board.

Despite its simple rule, Go is considered the most complicated Japanese board game when the possible number of moves are even greater than the quantity of atoms in the universe.

Check out the link below for more information:

2. Shogi

Shogi equipment comprises a rectangular board and 2 sets of 20 pieces with names written in Japanese Kanji on their surfaces. Let’s take a look at how to place the pieces on the board in the picture below:

Japanese board games

Shogi is quite similar to Western chess. Whoever checkmates the other’s king will be the winner

Shogi is quite similar to Western chess. Whoever checkmates the other’s king will be the winner. However its rule is more complicated.

  • Each piece has different move.
  • A piece can be captured and removed from the board if it encounters an opposing piece with the same direction.
  • If a piece moves into the opponent’s 3-row zone , it will be promoted.
  • Another technique is “drop”. It means that you can skip a move and return the opponent’s piece which you have already captured on any empty square.

Click on the link below to have better understanding of Shogi.

3. Sudoku

Sudoku is one of the most popular Japanese number games. It has different versions but the standard type is a square board which is divided into 9 boxes. Each box contains 9 small cells. In total, there are 81 cells. Normally, only 10 numbers are filled in in advance. The player must fill all missing numbers from 1 to 9 into those 81 boxes by following these 2 simple rules:

  • Firstly, the number in each cell cannot be duplicated in 9 small boxes of 3×3 scale.
  • Secondly, the number that you fill in must be unique in both horizontal and vertical rows.

Here are some tips to solve Sudoku for beginners:

4. Karuta

Karuta is a Japanese card game for two players. There are 3 main types of Karuta which are Uta Garuta, Iroha Garuta and Hanafuda. However, Uta Garuta seems to be the most popular one and become well known in many countries thanks to the manga “Chihayafuru”. To play this game, you must remember 100 poems. These poems are taken from the “Ogura Hyakunin Isshu” and written on a set of 100 cards (called Yomifuda). Another set of 100 cards (called Torifuda) will have 2 last lines corresponding to the poem from Yomifuda set. A third person will read the poems in Yomifuda set and 2 players must try to grab the Torifuda card as fast as possible. Whoever has the highest number of cards will be the winner.

5. Gomoku

Gomoku is an abstract strategy game for two players. It is also called Five in a row. Traditionally, Gomoku is played with black and white stones on a Go board, using only 15×15 grid intersections. However, nowadays, paper-pencil game is more popular. People can mark X and O in replacement of black and white stones.

Besides many variations around the world, the Swap2 rule (based on “swap” from Renju) is currently adapted in tournaments among professional players, including Gomoku World Championships.

In official rule called Swap2, the first player places 2 black stones and 1 white stone on the board (if black goes first). After that, the other player will have three options as below:

  • Play with black stones
  • Play with white stones and place one more stone on the board to continue the game
  • Put two white stones on the board and let the first player choose the color

The main objective of Gomoku is as simple as its name. You must try to create a row of 5 or more stones in any direction to win.

6. E-Sugoroko

E-Sugoroku is a  classic Japanese board game that has become a tradition for children to play on New Year’s Day. It is quite similar to the snake and ladders game. To play this game, players will take turn to toss the dice and move their pieces around the map.  The corresponding number of moves is based on the number on the dice. The first player to reach the center of the board will be the winner.

Japanese board games

E-Sugoroku is quite similar to the snake and ladders game


7. Jinsei Game

Having adopted The Game of Life in North America, Japan has come up with its own version called Jinsei Game, which  means “Human Life Game” . It is a Japanese board game specifically designed for children. The player starts the game as an infant and has to go through various stages of life like entering elementary school, junior high school, and high school before going to university or starting his career.

For more details, please click on the link below:

8. Mahjong

When it comes to Japanese board games, we can not forget to mention Mahjong. It is usually played by four people with 136 tiles. There are 34 different types of tile, each has 4 tiles . To start the game, the tiles are arranged into four walls randomly and each of which contains two stacks high and 17 tiles wide. Players must try to get all 14 of their tiles matched into sets.

Japanese board games

Though its rules are very complicated and difficult to pick up, Mahjong is still very attractive

The scoring system of Mahjong uses different structural criteria to define the winner. Though its rules are very complicated and difficult to pick up, Mahjong is still more attractive to people than other gambling games because it requires many techniques and strategies to win.

If you are having curiosity of this game, check the link below for more information:

9. Machikoro

Machi Koro – “Dice Town”, is a popular modern Japanese board game designed for 2 to 4 players. The mission is to be the first player finish building a city with four major landmarks. Below are some basic rules to follow:

  • Players roll one or two dices to earn money. The amount of income generated will be based on the numbers on the dices. After that, players can pick the cards correspondent to the amount of money they collected.
  • Player can also earn the money from other players by rolling the card’s activation number ranging from 6- 12.

To know more about the cards using in this game, please click on the link below:

10. Renju

Renju is the variant of Gomoku, playing by moving black and white stones on a Go board. Though the ultimate objective of both games is to get an unbroken chain of 5 stones in any direction, the rules of Renju are considered stricter than that of Gomoku.

Black always goes first so there is restriction to weaken the advantages of the first player. Below is three forbidden moves that Black needs to avoid:

  • Double three or double four:  Black can not create two separate lines with three or four black stones in unbroken rows.
  • Overline: To win this game, Black only has 1 option, which is to build an unbroken chain of exact 5 stones vertically, horizontally or diagonally. Six or more is forbidden.

Meanwhile, White can win by getting five or more white stones in a row or forcing Black to make a forbidden move.

Japanese board games

Renju is the variant of Gomoku, playing by moving black and white stones on a Go board

11. Daifugo

Daifugo is one of the most popular Japanese card games. Normally, three to five players play with a standard 52-card pack. Sometimes, people can also use 54 cards including 52 normal cards and 2 Joker cards.

The strength of the cards : 3 <4 <… <J <Q <K <A <2 <Jocker
The Joker is the strongest card. It a special card that can replace all cards.

The player has to use stronger cards than those of the previous player. The winner of the game is the fastest person to get rid of all the cards and will have advantages in the next round.

Each game wins 2 points, whoever wins the previous 6 points wins.

Japanese board games

The winner of the game is the fastest person to get rid of all the cards


Hopefully, this blog can help you gain insight into Japanese board games. If you are looking for something to do on a rainy day, do not hesitate to discover some fascinating games mentioned above!

About Yuu Hiasa

Yuu Hiasa has been working in hospitality industry since 2003. In the past, he used to work as a tour guide and now he is running his business of supplying comfortable accommodations in Japan. Thanks to this experience and his passion for writing blog, the articles by him provides awesome tips and things to do when you are traveling in the country of cherry blossoms.