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. These toys are timeless and some are modern and would make great stocking stuffers. 


What happens when you combine clam shells and classical Japanese poetry with Portuguese cards? The answer is one of Japan’s oldest and most traditional Oshogatsu games, Karuta, or Japanese cards. 

Uta-garuta are “poem cards.”These karuta cards have 200 cards and each set contains 100 waka. “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. It was inspired by a game with clamshells from the Heian Period (794-1185), and it was called kaiawase, A shell matching game. Artists painted shells of oysters and clams with poetry and matching scenes. Participants laid the shells down face down. Participants were required to match the poem and scene with the most shells.

The second influence for karuta is from 15ThPortugal’s century-old 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. Two of the most popular games in Japan is karuta. 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 for players. 

Hyakunin IsshuThe most well-known uta–garuta is the traditional cards that have been used in Japan since the Edo Period. The classic Hyakunin Isshu set makes a great game for literature lovers. 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 competitions are 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 in many Japanese schools.

This 48-card set contains fewer cards that 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 is the most well-known line, made popular by Takao Tomy, and featuring spinning top toys. 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 a very popular toy in many countries. It was created by a traditional Japanese top called the Beigoma top. Probably imported probably from China. koma, Kamakura was the period between 1185 and 1333 that saw the first wooden tops.

These tops were further developed during the Edo Period. Edo artisans made beigomatops from spiral whelk seashells that were filled with clay and sand, then sealed them with wax. Later, the beigoma top was made from cast iron. 

Beigoma was very popular in Japan throughout the 20th century.Th century. In the 1920s, and 1930s, sumo wrestlers’ names were engraved onto the toys by beigoma makers. 

Edo artisans made beigomatops by filling spiral whelk seashells with clay or sandy, and sealing them with wax. Later, the beigoma was made from cast iron.

Many companies made beigoma from porcelain or glass during World War II. 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 is played on a canvas covered by a bucket. Players wind a cord, which is about 24” long, around their beigoma and then launch them onto the playing surface. Many beigoma enthusiasts add wax to their tops to make them 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, which were probably brought by Buddhist monks, were used at religious festivals at that time. 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. 

Some kiteflies were flown to ask for good harvests or good luck. 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 popular among the townspeople, that the Edo Period Tokugawa Shogun banned it because it took too much time. 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. This is why kite-flying is associated with Oshogatsu and Boys Day each May.

Built traditionally from washi(Japanese Paper), and bamboo. There are many types of kites in Japan. They vary in shape, size and color. Kites can be painted with different images and have various shapes, such as rectangles or hexagons. These attractive and colorful illustrations were influenced greatly by the Edo-era. ukiyoePrints include samurai subjects as well as kabuki characters. Other features Daruma,The Seven Gods are the seven gods that bring good fortune. sumöThe crane, the carp, and the wrestlers are symbols for virtues like endurance and strength. 

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

Kites can be more than a toy for kids. 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 features the tradition of kitefights that include kite battles. Powdered glasses are used to line the strings of battle kites. 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 kites measure 23 feet by 16.5 feet and can be flown by 40-50 people. It would be difficult for Santa Claus to fit one on his sleigh this Christmas, but a traditional kite could 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 are a great (or not so fortunate) find. gashaponMachine in Japan Gashapon gachaponThe toy-capsule vending machine that allows toys to pop out. These machines are smaller than the Japanese food and drink dispenser machines. They are much smaller than the American gumball/toy machines. They cost between 100 and 500 yen, which is a fraction of the 75 cents or $1 that American capsule toys cost. The name “Gashapon”This is a combination two Japanese onomatopoeic words. “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 also be stored in 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 to fill the bean bags in the game otedama, a traditional Japanese bean bag game. Bean bags are also known by the following: ojamiIn the past, they were filled using scraps of cloth and silk from kimono. They were then filled with beans and pebbles as well as beans, beans, walnut shells and rice. These bean bags were used during World War II to feed children when food was scarce. Bean bags are available in many different shapes, including fish, fruits, pillows, or 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 is similar in some ways to juggling, however YosedamaIt’s more like a game called western jacks. The basic game is one player laying down on the ground holding the bean bags in each hand. One bag is tossed in the air using one hand. The player then grabs another bag to catch the first one. The game continues until all five bags are picked up. The requirements get more difficult as the rounds progress. 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, a traditional Japanese game, 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 then spread via the Silk Road to India and China. 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. In its early stages, it was known as “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 from beans to pebbles. Because toys were scarce, it was simple to make bean bags. This game was played 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 today are either linked to technology, or involve technology. manga anime. Nintendo Switch or toys related the immensely 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 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. They can be used to improve your agility, dexterity, and perseverance.

Many Japanese toys are unique, and rich in tradition. They provide a welcome break away from the screen. Do Japan’s pandemic restrictions prevent even Santa from entering the country?

Stacy Lee is an Asian history teacher and Punahou Summer School tutor. 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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *