A Game That Brings Luck
New Year in Japan would not be complete without the game of fukuwarai, which is a bit like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. A blindfolded player has an outline of an Okame or Hyottoko face with no features on it on the floor in front of them. The object of the game is to place paper cutouts in the shape of the eyes, nose, mouth, and other parts on the right part of the face.
The reason these two faces are used is because they are thought to be lucky, and playing with lucky faces is seen as a good way to welcome in the New Year. Okame is a name given to a type of mask that has been around for a long time in Japan. It has a round nose, cheeks and face shape depicting the features of a plump woman. Long ago, it was believed that plump and happy-looking women had the ability to ward off evil in Japan. The word "kame" in Okame can also mean "turtle," which is a symbol for long life, and the face is sometimes also called otafuku, which means "lots of luck."
A Hyottoko face is a male mask with a silly expression and a mouth that sticks out. Hyottoko is supposedly a mispronunciation of "hiotoko," a man who blows fire from a bamboo pipe to light kamado (ancient Japanese cooking equipment). Because of this association, he is regarded as a god of fire and a guardian of the kamado, which makes him a symbol of good luck.
Fukuwarai became popular late in the Edo period (1603–1867), and people began playing it as a New Year's game during the Meiji period (1868–1912). Until around 1960, people, mostly children, played this game at home. Other faces, reflecting the times, came into use as well: popular actors, comic-book heroes, and so on.