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Navigating coronavirus in Japan is much like navigating it anywhere else: stressful, anxiety-inducing, and for many who are quarantined or self-isolating, decidedly inside. Of course, only some of us are fortunate enough to merely be killing time during this crisis. But those of us who are in this position owe it to ourselves, our sanity, and those we live with to make this time in the Great Indoors as distracting and, if possible, joyful as we can. 

So grab your favorite Japanese snacks (seriously—the Asian markets should be less wiped out), annoy your spouse with Japanese word games, and/or teach your grandma to play with octopus tentacles until we’re reunited with the light of day. As you’ll likely find, inanity is truly a great salve to the dread of uncertain times.

10 Japanese Games to Play at Home During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Here is our list of Japanese games to play to while you #stayathome. 

  1. Takoyaki Roulette
  2. Build a Pocky Tower
  3. Blindfolded Ramen Taste Test
  4. Bread-Snatching Race
  5. Kendama
  6. Daruma Otoshi
  7. Shiritori
  8. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
  9. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  10. Taiko no Tatsujin and Other Rhythm Games

Japanese Food Games

1. Takoyaki Roulette

You’ve probably heard of Russian Roulette, but have you tried it with fried octopus balls? In this game, you take several takoyaki and fill all but one or two with usual ingredients like cheese and green onion, while the spicy few are laced with wasabi. Everyone picks one at random, and whoever’s mouth ends up aflame is the loser. 

You could easily substitute hot sauce for wasabi, and make mini okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancakes) instead if you don’t have a takoyaki pan or sufficient access to tentacles!

Two servings of takoyaki from Japanese takoyaki chain, Gindaco

2. Build a Pocky Tower

Every November 11th is Pocky Day in Japan, which determined snack enthusiasts celebrate by constructing elaborate, delicious Pocky towers. What better time to resort to the same? 

These chocolate-covered biscuit sticks make surprisingly versatile building materials, with some people pulling off actual masterpieces. Consult your inner Frank Lloyd Wright or simply see how many Pocky you can stack on top of each other until it all comes crashing down... into your gaping maw.

Package of Pocky, the Japanese chocolate coated biscuits

3. Blindfolded Ramen Taste Test

Have you ever wondered whether we’re just imagining that instant ramen has different flavors? Don’t let Big Ramen pull the noodles over your eyes! Dust off those old Maruchan packets from the back of your cabinet, cook them up, and try to identify them, blindfolded. This is best done with whomever you’re stuck in isolation with, so they can prepare them for you in labeled dishes and make fun of you when you fail.

A long wall of Cup Noodles featuring seafood noodles and chicken Cup Noodles

4. Bread-Snatching Race

Perhaps one of the best Japanese games at a typical Japanese sports festival, the pan kui taisou, or “bread-eating/snatching race,” has a place in your quarantine repertoire for sure. As we all turn to the kitchen pantry for answers and/or company in this genuinely troubling time, we might as well make a game out of our bread consumption.

Japanese kids play this game by stringing up buns, usually anpan (red bean-filled buns), running from a start line, snatching the bread with only their mouths, and racing it to the finish line. If hard-pressed for red bean paste, you can also use bread filled with jam, cream, or simply any carb slice you’ve got lying around.

Red bean bun in the shape of a flower, sprinkled with black sesame seeds

Traditional Japanese Games to Play at Home

5. Kendama

Kendama is a cup-and-ball (or “sword-and-ball”) game in Japan, consisting of a wooden handle with two cups on the end and a string connected to a wooden ball. The objective of the game is to swing the ball into one of the cups, one typically larger than the other. Or, if you fancy yourself a master, land it on the spike between the two cups. Hurt yourself, your pride, and those you love physically, by trying to fling that blasted ball into the cup—it’s harder than it looks!

Japanese game, kendama, consisting of a wooden hilt attached to a ball by a string

6. Daruma Otoshi

Daruma otoshi, or “the falling Buddha,” is an easy game to DIY if you don’t have a set already. Much like a traditional Japanese version of Jenga, you stack a painted daruma head on top of several small wooden pieces and whack out the bottom piece with a wooden mallet. The objective is to deliver the daruma to the bottom of the stack without causing disaster by toppling the whole tower.

If, for some reason you can’t find your falling Buddha set anywhere, just use any small objects you’ve got and hit them with a pen or chopstick! Your family will think you’re a genius.

Colorful Japanese game, Daruma Otoshi

Japanese Learning Games to Play at Home

7. Shiritori

Shiritori is a traditional Japanese word game where you say a word, and the next person says a word that starts with the last syllable of the previous word. For example, sushishiki → kisetsu → tsunami, and so on. It’s a great way to learn Japanese vocabulary, especially if you can play with someone better than you. But it’s also definitely possible to play online, on mobile apps, and even alone in your own head, just to test your own knowledge.

Wooden Japanese hiragana blocks

8. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp (in Japanese)

If you’re looking for mindless things to do at home, during remote work breaks, or on the toilet, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is a great free option to get your Tom Nook kicks. In this mobile game, you peacefully catch bugs and fish, interact with villagers, and decorate your campsite in a world where nothing's wrong.

Those of us who are still desperately entering lotteries to win the privilege of buying the special edition Animal Crossing Switch (I’m looking at you, me) will be relying on this mobile game more than ever in the coming weeks. I highly recommend switching your in-game language to Japanese, as it gives you vital reading practice that's easy enough for beginner and intermediate Japanese learners.

Screenshot from Animal Crossing Pocket Camp

Japanese Video Games to Play at Home

9. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

It’s not news that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is what's getting many of our minds off international pandemic right now. In this zen-like game for the Switch, you're taken to a deserted island where you start a life from scratch, crafting items, adding new villagers to your island, and virtually projecting yourself into the middle of the ocean. Truly the ideal method of social distancing.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Japanese game on screen

10. Taiko no Tatsujin and Other Rhythm Games

There's never been a more justifiable time to play video games all day. Among Japanese games, there are many amazing rhythm games to get obsessed with, but a strong contender is Taiko no Tatsujin. In this game, you play a virtual version of the traditional Japanese taiko drum to tunes both classic and modern. Dig out your old DS copy, get it for the Switch, or download the app to pound out the frustration.

Image of the screen of Taiko no Tatsujin, a Japanese rhythm game

Final Coronavirus Prevention Tips

Keep all the standard tips in mind: wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, stay inside, and try not to lose it. We who can self-isolate owe it to those on the front lines to do all we can; or rather, not do all we can to help flatten the curve. In the meantime, #stayathome and try your best to have fun while you're at it.

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Emily Suvannasankha
Masquerading as a grad student in Linguistics, Emily can typically be found counting the minutes ‘til her next peach chūhai. She has two years in Nagoya before her need for jumbo peanut butter sends her crawling back to the US.
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