Japanese being such a seemingly difficult language to master, it helps to find ways to make learning it more enjoyable. The more enjoyable it is, the more likely students are willing to do it and in that way,
improve their ability.
I found that one of the more enjoyable and fun ways of improving your Japanese language ability is through word games. In my last column, I presented you with a list of Japanese tongue-twisters.
Today, I want to introduce a Japanese word game called Shiritori.
Shiritori (しりとり) is a Japanese word game in which the players are required to say a word which begins with the final kana (仮名) of the previous word. No distinction is made between hiragana, katakana or
kanji. “Shiritori” is derived from the phrase 尻を取る (shiri o toru). It literally means “take the rear” — and that is basically what you do.
This is a game everyone in Japan knows, so you will never have a problem finding someone to play it with you. It`s a game that can be played anytime, anywhere and does not require anything in terms of equipment or paper or whatever. All you need is a minimum of two people to play. And they can be of any age group! The only thing you need is some knowledge of Japanese kana and a lot of words.
Some of you will be thinking, “Well, I don`t have a lot of words” and you may be right but the point of the game is to improve your vocabulary by making you think of new words to use in the game. You will also be listening to your opponents so they are a source of new words for you to use in future games, thereby expanding your vocabulary.
So, how do you play Shiritori? It really is rather simple.
One player says a word and the “rear part” of which is then used by the next player for the beginning of a new word. The rear part of the new word will then be used by the next player to begin another word and
so on and so forth.
Only nouns are permitted and no word can be repeated. Anyone using a word that ends with ん loses as there are no Japanese words that begin with ん.
If Japanese people are playing, the first word used to start the game would normally be shiritori (しりとり) itself. This means that the next word will have to begin with り. Most commonly, the choice of word would be りんご (ringo, apple) or りす (risu, squirrel). Next words could be ごま (goma, sesame) or すもう (sumou, sumo).
The game continues until someone makes a mistake and uses a word that ends with ん. Examples would be キリン (kirin, giraffe), だいこん (大根, daikon, radish), みかん (mikan, Japanese tangerine). As you cannot make a new Japanese word starting with ん, that player loses and the game
starts again. Using the examples above, a person following on from りんご with ごめん (御免 gomen, sorry/apology) or すもう with うどん (饂飩 udon) automatically loses as both those words end in ん.
As the players advance in their vocabulary, various options may be introduced into the game. One such option is the use of dakuten and handakuten.
Dakuten゛ 濁点 (voicing mark) or more commonly called nigori-ten or just ten-ten and handakuten゜ 半濁点 (half voicing mark) are Japanese diacritical marks that alter the sound of the kana they are attached to.
For instance, は (ha) becomes ぱ (pa) and て (te) becomes で (de).
So, スプ (suupu, soup) could be followed by ふろ (風呂 furo, bath) andさと (里 sato, village or hamlet) could be followed by どち (dochi, where/which one).
Words with a long vowel can be used either as a vowel or a long vowel. A long vowel in Japanese is indicated with a 伸ばし棒 (nobashibō, lengthening dash) e.g. ストロー (sutorō, straw). The next word could start with “ro”or“ō.” Another example would be ミキサー (みきさあ, mixer). The follow on word could be either さくら (桜 Sakura) or あき (秋 autumn).
There can many variations/rules depending on your level of competency.
The main thing is to have fun and enjoy yourselves. When you are having fun, you will absorb new knowledge faster and make you want to learn more.
Just remember that the game can be ended all of a suddeん!