Stacy Lee
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Overall, entertainment sources have responded to the COVID-19 epidemic. Our expanding waistlines are a result of food being a great source for comfort and binge-watching TV shows and movies on Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu, YouTube TV and Viki, among others. 

There may have been an opportunity for those with children (or adults) to be able to take part in a “parent-child” discussion. “some” gaming — Animal Crossing, Roblox, Minecraft and PUBG? 

With Christmas and New Year’s Day quickly approaching, it might be fun to look at some non-blue-light entertainment to be enjoyed with family or friends at home or outdoors — particularly Japanese toys. Many of these toys are timeless and others are modern and would make great stocking stuffers. 


What do you get if you mix clamshells with Portuguese cards and Japanese poetry? The answer is one of Japan’s oldest and most traditional Oshogatsu games, Karuta, or Japanese Cards. 

Uta-garuta are “poem cards.”These karuta card sets contain 200 cards. Each set contains 100 wakas or more. “Japanese poems.”One set of cards is for reading, the other for players. (Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/ commons.wikimedia.org)

Karuta came from two sources. Its first inspiration was a game with clamshells from the Heian Period (794-1185), also known as kaiawase, A shell matching game. Artists painted shells made of oyster and clam shells. Participants placed the shells on their backs. Participants had to match the scene and poem with as many shells as possible.

The second influence on karuta came from 15ThCentury-old Portuguese sailors introduced Japan to the world. These sailors introduced the matchlock gun to Japan to the rest of the world. SamuraiEuropean playing cards are known for being carta. The name was eventually changed. “karuta”In Japanese. The Edo Period (1600-1867), saw karuta flourish as a well-known game that combined Heian Kaiawase’s fun with the portable paper used to make Portuguese carta. 

Japanese love to eat many types of karuta. The two most popular Japanese games are Uta-garuta Iroha-karuta. Uta-garuta are “poem cards.”This type karuta has 200 cards and is divided into two sets. Each set contains 100 cards. waka, Or “Japanese poems.”One set of cards is for reading and the other is for players to grab. 

Hyakunin IsshuThe most well-known uta–garuta is the traditional cards that have been used in Japan since the Edo Period. For lovers of literature, the Hyakunin Isshu standard set is a wonderful game. It contains 100 classic Japanese poetry by 100 poets.ThThrough 13Th century. This game is a perennial favorite pastime for many during Japan’s Oshogatsu (New Year’s holiday). International karuta contests have been held every year since 2012.

Girls playing karuta around 1900. (Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library’s Digital Library)

Iroha–karuta, however, is a type Iroha-karuta that is more popular with children. This card game does not use classical poetry but instead uses the 48. Hiragana (a Japanese lettering system) “syllables.”It is played at many Japanese schools.

This 48-card deck contains fewer cards (96) than the uta Garuta (96). Iroha Karuta is more about poetry than proverbs. “Iroha”Refers to the kana arrangement that is based on a specific Japanese poem.Kana once. This is a fun and unique game that children can play to learn hiragana. 

Beigoma und Beyblade

While beigoma may not be included in many children’s letters to Santa today, Beyblade might. Beyblade, a popular Takao Toy line featuring spinning top toys and is the most famous. American company Hasbro licenses this toy. 

Beyblade, a spinning top, was first introduced in Japan in 1999. The animated series that accompanied it was also created. Beyblade is very popular in many countries. It is a traditional Japanese top known as the Beigoma. Probably imported probably from China. koma, Kamakura (1185-13333) was the time when the first wooden tops were made.

These tops developed further during the Edo Period. Edo artisans made beigomatops from spiral whelk shells, which were then filled with clay or sand, and sealed them with wax. Later, the beigomatop was made of cast iron. 

Beigoma remained very popular in Japan through the 20th Century.Th century. In the 1920s and 1930s, beigoma manufacturers etched names on the toy of sumo wrestlers. 

Edo artisans created beigomatops using clay or sand to fill spiral whelk marineshells. The shells were then sealed with wax. Later, the beigoma was made from cast iron.

Many manufacturers made beigoma out of porcelain and glass during World War II, when steel was scarce. Traditional beigoma is a mere 1.18” diameter and is decorated with hiragana or kanji at the top. The game using beigoma is played by a minimum of two players, each trying to either knock the other player’s top off the playing surface or make their top spin the longest. 

Beigoma can also be played on a canvas covered in a bucket. Players wind a cord, which is about 24” long, around their beigoma and then launch them onto the playing surface. Many beigoma-lovers modify their tops by adding wax in the areas they want to be more competitive. 

You might be considering purchasing a beigoma to stock your stockings. Santa may have sent his elves to help, as there is only one remaining beigoma plant in Japan, Nissan Chuzousho, Ltd in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture. 


“Go fly a kite” doesn’t have the negative connotation today as it did in the past. It’s one of the healthier activities one can engage in during the pandemic. Kite sales in Japan have risen dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Tako, or kites, have been around in Japan for quite a while, entering Japan from China during Japan’s Nara period in The 8Th century. Kites were used at religious festivals during that time, most likely by Buddhist monks. Later, during the Heian Period, aristocrats in the capital of Heian-kyö (present-day Kyöto) occupied their leisure time by writing poetry or playing the kaiawase game and flying kites. 

Kiteflies were used to pray for good harvests and good health. Later, kites enjoyed Their height of popularity amongst The people of Edo (present-day Tökyö) during the 17th18Th centuries. The Tokugawa Shogunate was the first to institute isolation. Japan was isolated from the rest of the world, which allowed it peace for 200 years.

Samurai weren’t required to fight, and townspeople could now enjoy many leisurely hobbies, like flying kites. Kite flying was so common among townspeople that Edo Period Tokugawa banned it. Kite fighting was another reason kite flying was banned. During kite battles, participants’ kites fell on the traveling samurai or daimyo — not a good thing at the time, given that samurai had the right to kill anyone at any time. Because of the disruptions caused to kites by the shogun, kite flying was banned during Oshogatsu holidays. Kite flying is associated with Oshogatsu as well as Boys Day in May.

Built from tradition washi(Japanese Paper), bamboo. There are many kinds and styles of kites throughout Japan. They can vary in their size, shape, construction, and color. Kites can be painted with different images and have various shapes, such as rectangles and hexagons. These colorful and attractive illustrations were influenced from the Edo-era. ukiyoePrints include samurai subjects as well as kabuki characters. Other illustrations include Daruma,The Seven Gods are the seven gods that bring good fortune. sumöThe symbols of virtues include endurance, strength, courage, and perseverance. 

Tako, or “kite”They were flown to Japanese gods to appease or pray for good harvests. They later became popular amongst the people of Edo (present-day Tökyö) during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Kites are not just toys for children. They focus on Japan’s many annual festivals. The most popular are the Shirone and Hamamatsu Kite Festivals. Hamamatsu Festival, a three day festival held in May, is rooted in the 16ThCentury at Hamamatsu Castle. This festival is home to the tradition kitefights, which include a kite battle. The strings of battle-kitese are lined with powdered glass. Participants battle to sever each other’s kite strings to bring their opponent’s kites. Shirone’s festival battle features giant kites or ödakoThese large, 23 feet by 16.5ft long kites require 40-50 people to fly. A traditional kite, rather than one that Santa could fit on his sleigh, would make a great gift.


A small plate with plastic sashimi,A haniwa figure eraser, plastic poop characters, a plastic garbage can, a cat with an octopus on its head, a plastic dried stingray, or, wait for it … underwear for drink bottles? What about real underwear? These are not what one would expect. “Christmassy” toys … but, they are trendy in Japan recently. 

These tiny plastic toys can be a lucky find (or not so lucky) from a gashaponMachine in Japan Gashapon gachaponToy-capsule vending machines allow toys to pop from them. These machines do not look like the large Japanese food and beverage dispensing machines. They are much smaller than the American gumball/toy machines. They are cheaper than American capsule toys that cost 75 cents each or $1 each. Instead, they cost between 100 to 500 yen. The name “Gashapon”This is a combination from two Japanese onomatopoeic terminology. “gasha,”The sound that is made when you turn the dial of the vending machine. “pon”The sound of a capsule breaking is the sound that the capsule is breaking. Collecting capsule toys isn’t just for children. According to a New York Times article Gashapon toys are growing in popularity among adults, especially women.”nofollow noopener” target=”_blank” href=”https://nytimes.com/2021/10/08/business/japan-capsule-toys-gachapon.html”>nytimes.com/2021/10/08/business/japan-capsule-toys-gachapon.html). 

Gashapon shop in Akihabara, Tökyö, Japan.

Gashapon toys are available for mature themes and are suitable only for adults. Although many toys are licensed characters from manga, anime or video games, the toys can be virtually anything — animals, historical figures, everyday items like air conditioners, kitchenware, food items, models of offices or stores and more. And some of these miniature plastic toys are limited edition collectors’ items that can be found on online auction sites for hundreds of dollars. 

Gashapon machines, like many aspects of Japanese culture, follow the adapt, adapt and adept pattern. This refers to the Japanese ability to adapt a culture to their own, then become proficient at it, and then make it their own. 

KanjiOne example is Buddhism. Baseball is another. It is the American capsule vending machine that was brought to Japan in 1960. Ryuzo Shigeta is also known as the “Grandfather of Gashapon,” put toys in plastic capsules and set up the first machine outside his shop in Tökyö. Today, gashapon can be found just about anywhere in Japan at airports, train stations, and stores, including the world’s largest gashapon store and Bandai Namco’s Gashapon Department store in Tökyö’s Ikebukuro, which houses 3,000 gashapon machines. These miniature toys can be stored inside a Christmas stocking.

Unfortunately, with the shuttering of Shirokiya’s Japan Village Walk, gashapon machines that thrilled many children here locally are no longer available. Amazon has some replicas of gachapon toys that Santa might require.


Around World War II azuki beans weren’t just for shave ice and filling mochi.The beans were used in the filling of the bean bags during the game of otedama, a traditional Japanese bean bag game. Bean bags are also known under the name ojamiThey were filled with scraps or silk from kimono, and then filled up with beans, pebbles and bean, buckwheat shells, and rice. These bean bags were used during World War II to feed children when food was scarce. Bean bags come in many forms, including fruit, fish, pillows, and balls. 

Otedama is a game that combines western jacks with juggling skills. It involves either five, seven or nine bean bags. There are two types of otedama. NagedamaIt’s similar in some ways to juggling, however YosedamaIt’s more like a game called western jacks. The basic game involves one person sitting on the ground with the bean bags in their hands. One bag is tossed in the air using one hand. The player grabs another bag and grabs the first one. The game continues until all five bags are picked up. As the rounds progress, the requirements get more difficult. You might have to toss the five bags in the air and then catch them on your backside. Various ways of play and names existed depending on Japan’s region, and children often sang particular songs while playing.

Otedama is a traditional Japanese card game that involves bean bags. The bean bags, known as ojami, were made of scraps of fabric and filled using beans, pebbles, beans or other ingredients.

As for otedama’s history, it is speculated That The first bean bag game was invented by the Lydians around the 5thcentury BC. It was then introduced to India, China and Greece via the Silk Road. It was first played in Japan during the Nara Period (710-814). Japan’s famed Prince Shotoku, regent in the Asuka Period (538-710), owned a game’s predecessor called “Ishina Otedama.” His collection of crystals is called Ishinatoridama and can be found today at the Tökyö Metropolitan Museum.” The artifact includes 16 crystal balls, amber and beans. The game was originally called “Ishinatoridama” in its early stages. “Ishinago”Or “Ishinango”It was played using pebbles. The game was played by children during Kamakura Period with pebbles. Hifu. During the Edo Period, people started using small beans bags filled with pebbles. They eventually switched to beans made from pebbles. Bean bags were easy to make, and the game continued to be enjoyed well into the postwar era. The tradition of the game is passed from grandmothers to daughters, even though it is less popular than in the past. Otedama day is celebrated in Japan every September 20th. It is very popular in Niihama City, Ehime Prefecture. 1992 saw the first ever large otedama tournament. With the availability of instructional videos on YouTube, ojami can be easily made for a child’s Christmas stocking. 

Most Japanese technology today is either connected to or involves technology. manga anime. Nintendo Switch or toys that are related to the popular anime “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba,”These are some the most sought-after items. There are many other cool Japanese toys I haven’t listed. Daruma, and other traditional Japanese toys, are also available. otoshiOr the well-known kendama.There are also modern, fun options, such as the Tamagotchi, Poppin Cookin, and Gundam model kits. However, while these may undoubtedly be more edgy, exciting and fast-moving, it’s sometimes nice to take a break with simplicity. These toys and games don’t require a battery or charger. These toys and games allow you to practice agility and dexterity as well as perseverance.

Many Japanese toys are unique and rich with tradition. They are a welcome break from the screens. Do Japan’s pandemic restrictions prevent even Santa from entering the country?

Stacy Lee is a Punahou summer school tutor and an Asian history instructor. She is a lifelong Japanophile and devotee of author Natsume Söseki. Her years of living, studying and working in Japan have taken her from urban Tökyö to a traditional onsen inn in Kanazawa and made her an avowed fan of all types of Japanese cuisine.

Source: Featured Story – A JAPANESE TOY STORY

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