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October 2003

Hand Games

hand game

Take a look at the video of this hand game!
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These days, hand games are a favorite pastime among kids in Japan. Hand games, known in Japanese as te-asobi, are games played with just the hands or in which people sing a simple song and repeat a series of hand movements rhythmically, like clapping each other's hands. All you need to play a hand game is a partner. And the games can be as long or short as you like. During this year's rainy season (from June to July), when children often couldn't play outside because of rain, kids could be seen at every elementary school playing hand games during their free time.

Tsuchida Taisuke, a sixth-grade boy, says, "I don't just play hand games at free time. Also, when a couple of us meet up, the ones who get there first play while we wait for the others - because it only takes two of us."

There are many different kinds of hand games. Taisuke told Kids Web Japan how to play one game that is popular among his friends: "It can be played with any number of people. First, you do janken (rock, paper, scissors) to choose the 'leader.' Then everyone clenches their hands and puts their arms out in front of them so that their left and right hands meet. The leader calls out, 'Isse no se!' (Ready, go!), but instead of 'se,' that person says a number. At the same time, each player sticks up one thumb, two thumbs, or no thumbs at all. If the total number of thumbs sticking up, including the leader's, is the same as the number that the leader called out, the leader scores a win. If you win, you can put one hand behind your back, but if you don't, you stay in the same position. Everyone goes around taking turns being the leader, and the first person to put both hands behind is the winner."

Girls tend to like rhythmic hand games in which they move their hands to a song. There are various types of these hand games, too. For example, there are many games that two people facing one another can play by singing together and clapping each other's hands to the song. The same pattern of movements is repeated over and over, so at first their hands meet at the right moments. But as they sing faster and faster, it becomes harder for the mouth and hands to keep up, and the game eventually ends with the two bursting into laughter.

When they play games like this, the girls usually sing up-tempo songs. Ono Eriko, who is in the fourth grade, comments, "My favorite is 'Arupusu Ichimanjaku' (the Japanese version of the American folk song 'Yankee Doodle'). It's difficult at first, but once you get used to it, it's easy. It's really fun!"

Hand games are now so popular that most kids in school know how to play them. This kind of play was already a favorite pastime in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), and it's said that hand games have recently become popular again because of television. A number of TV programs have been introducing simple games that children can enjoy in just a few minutes; there was even a program that invited elementary schools across Japan to show their favorite games. It seems that these TV shows helped spread the fun of traditional hand games among today's children.

Sixth-grader Sato Nozomi is one of the many girls who love to play singing hand games. Every day, as soon as she comes home from school, Nozomi wants to play hand games with someone. Her mother is busy and rarely has time to play with her, and her father doesn't come home from work until evening. So her ninth-grade sister, Megumi, is usually her partner. But these days, even Megumi can't play with Nozomi much. "She has to study for high school entrance exams," Nozomi explains. "So I've been using our dog, Mei (a three-year-old female Shih Tzu), as my partner," she jokes.

NOTICE: Since October 9, 2003, Japanese names in Kids Web Japan have been written in their original order: surname first.