The Best Traditional and Modern Japanese Board Games, and Where to Buy Them
Playing board games has become increasingly popular in recent years all around the world. From traditional board games like Monopoly and Catan to newer hits like Pandemic and Codenames. Japan has a rich history of board games like Shogi and Mahjong, but there’s a more recent selection of Japanese board games making waves across the globe.
As experts in Japanese parcel forwarding, we see these Japanese board games coming through our Japanese forwarding warehouse all the time. We’re going to share some of our favourite board games from Japan with you and let you know how you can get your hands on them!
TOP 5 TRADITIONAL JAPANESE BOARD GAMES
While many westerners will be familiar with Japanese games like Sodoku, there’s a rich history of traditional Japanese board games too. These include the oldest game known to exist, Japanese chess and several other classics.
Shogi shares many similarities with western chess, and it’s known around the world as one of the leading chess variants. The goal is to take the opposition's king, and it’s played on a grid, just like chess. It differs in a few key ways, though.
Each piece has its own movement pattern and can be promoted when it reaches the final three lines of your opponent's half of the board. There are only certain conditions your opponent’s pieces can be taken and removed from the board.
Go (also known as Igo)
If you’re looking for a true classic, then look no further. It’s believed to be the world’s oldest board game, having been played in Japan for over 2500 years. There are three different versions of the game, each on a slightly different sized grid. The standard board uses 19x19, but smaller 9x9 and 13x13 boards are available. The game requires two players, and each is assigned either black or white ‘stones’. The goal is domination. You must take as many of your opponents stones as possible to gain as much territory as possible. This may sound a little like the game of checkers; however, rather than starting with stones on the board, you place them individually, and once they are placed, they cannot be moved.
Gomoku (also known as Five in a Row)
Gomoku uses the classic grid board from Go. You use a 15x5 grid and take turns to place your pieces. As the name suggests, the goal is to get five in a row. A paper and pencil version has become popular over the years as it doesn’t rely on the need for a board and pieces.
Mahjong is known worldwide, and the Japanese version is incredibly popular. You take 136 tiles, broken down into 34 groups. Each game requires building 4 ‘walls’ of 2 high and 17 wide tiles. The goal is to get your tiles matched into sets. There’s a lot of strategies involved in winning a game of Japanese Mahjong.
Children traditionally play this classic Japanese game on New Year’s Day. It works a little like snakes & ladders, and the goal is to get to the centre of the board. Players roll the dice to see how far their pieces will travel on each turn.
Where to buy traditional Japanese board games in Japan
If you want to order these Japanese games your best bet is to look at Japanese online retailers. We’ll then be able to help you ship them around the world. Shop traditional games at:
Shop board games at Amazon Japan
Shop board games at Rakuten Japan
Each of these major retailers offers a wide selection of board games, included these traditional titles.
What is the most popular traditional Japanese board game?
Shogi is by far the most popular board game of all these traditional games. Like chess, there are so many different ways to play, and the game requires a lot of strategic planning to win. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular.
Are traditional Japanese board games hard to play?
The truth is that, as with any board game, it depends on the game you choose. Sure, some Japanese board games can be challenging to pick up, but many are more straightforward than they may appear at first glance. Take Igo, for example; it’s actually quite simple to pick up the basics of the game.
As with any game, it’s mastering them that’s difficult. Many traditional Japanese games don’t even require you to have basic Japanese reading skills. Many rely solely on pieces and a simple board.
5 Trending Modern Japanese Board Games
In recent years, several new Japanese board games have seen great success both in Japan and around the world.
Donjara (also known as Ponjan)
Think Mahjong, but for kids. It can be played by two and up to four players. You just need to match the tiles, like in traditional Mahjong. It’s well known for collaborating with popular Manga and Anime, like One Piece, for unique sets while using basic rules to make it more accessible for kids.
A Japanese adaptation of The Game of Life, Jinsei Game starts the player off as a child and sees them advance through life as the game goes on. There’s a board with a spinner that dictates how far you move. Each player has in-game money, and different cards or game squares affect how the game unfolds for each player. The ultimate objective is to become the grand millionaire.
Durian: Don’t Anger the Gorilla!
With a name like that, what’s not to like? It sets the stakes straight off the bat. The goal? Sell fruit to your customers that you don’t actually have and make sure your boss, the gorilla, doesn’t find out! The other players can ring a bell to alert him to players trying to trick him. You’ll need to keep an eye out for the gorilla siblings hanging around the house too. If you anger the gorilla the least, you win.
While it may come in a huge box, there’s actually no board for this fun game. While you all have to work together to build out an intertwining highway, you’re actually competing with each other to get the most cars on the road. Throughout the game, you’ll build a tremendously complex highway, placing tiny cars onto the roads you’ve built. Just be careful not to knock into any of your opponent’s cars, or you’ll face a penalty!
This card game requires the last person standing to have the strongest bird possible. While the name may sound cute, the goal is to achieve dominance over the forest. You have to spend time building up the birds throughout the game to get the strongest one possible. This is done through several different systems where you assign point values to different types of birds. Your goal is to have the strongest bird in the forest when all the other playing cards are gone.
If these have made you interested, why not check out the Tokyo Game Market, where you’ll find all kinds of independent game makers.
Where to buy modern Japanese games in Japan?
Many of these more modern games are only available online from Japanese retailers. Some are produced by independent companies and as such, are only available in Japan.
Find these games online at:
How we help you buy Japanese board games and ship them internationally
Many of these board games are only available in Japan, which can make getting your hands on them tricky. Just like when you’re buying Pokemon Cards from Japan, your best bet is to order through a package forwarding service, like forward2me. You can order your new Japanese games to our warehouse, and we’ll forward them to you around the world, so you can find the next big thing in tabletop gaming or simply discover a new gateway game.
So how does it work?
1 - Sign up for your free Japanese address
First, sign up for a FREE forward2me Japanese forwarding address that you will use for shopping for Japanese board games.
2 - Go online to any Japanese website that sells Japanese board games and start shopping
Just go to your favourite Japanese outlets. Why not try shopping on Rakuten Japan? You then just need to shop as usual. If you’re not sure where to start, check out our Japanese shopping hub for help.
3 - Order your items to your forward2me Japanese address
Simply use your forward2me Japanese shipping address at checkout.
4 - We receive & ship your package
Once your board game arrives at our warehouse, we’ll send you a notification. You just need to log in to your account, select your courier method and pay your shipping. At this point, you can also choose whether you want us to hold onto your item and combine & repack your order with others.
Once you’ve paid your fees, we’ll send your game on its way.
5 - Your Japanese board games arrive at your home
Now you just need to wait for your games to arrive with you. You’ll need to be in to sign for your delivery, and it’s worth being familiar with your country’s customs laws and fees.