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Are Board Games Popular in Japan?


The board games I’ve played that came from Japan have been great. So it got me thinking about what other board games come from Japan. What I found while researching was that board games aren’t really a big thing there.

Why Aren’t Board Games More Popular in Japan?

There are many factors that go into this, but I found that these are the main reasons why board games aren’t as popular in Japan as they are elsewhere.

Board Games are for Kids in Japan

Board games in Japan are perceived as being mostly for kids. I understand this stigma well, as most people that I talk to here in the United States when I mention that I like to play board games think of family games like Sorry or Monopoly. 

But are kids really the only ones playing board games in Japan?

Who are Really Playing Board Games in Japan?

Board games may be a niche hobby in Japan but like any hobby, those that are in the board game space are really into it.

There are more and more board game cafes popping up run by both locals and foreigners where many enthusiasts gather. Of course, kids do play board games there, but if you ever find yourself in one of these cafes you will see plenty of young adults and couples also playing.

How Much do Board Games Cost in Japan?

Board games that are imported to Japan have a rather large price tag attached to them.

I searched for a few different board games to see the price difference between here in the United States and Japan on Amazon. Here is what I found:

SagradaGloomhavenSplendorArkham Horror (3rd Edition)Villainous
Yen (to USD)$53.05$302.90$57.84$64.04$59.54

As you can see the price difference between the different versions of the same game is as high as nearly $200! I can understand why some would consider this a bit too pricey of a hobby to get into in Japan.

Language Barrier in Board Games

Since the bulk of games originate outside of Japan a lot of games simply aren’t made with Japan in mind. 

Take a look on Kickstarter at some of the board games currently being backed. You will notice a lack of games that mention any Japanese translated rules or even having Japan listed as a location where they will ship their game. If they do ship to Japan then take a look at the price and more often than not, the cost will be considerably higher than shipping to other countries.

The board games that do happen to be translated from English to Japanese can be a bit confusing and the rules often get lost in translation. 

The Japanese language has quite a few nuances that can affect the translation such as speech patterns, gender, age, even some occupations influence how Japanese is written.

All of these factors can really distort the game’s rules especially if game publishers do not test their game for the audience that they intend to sell to.

Board Games Are Getting More Popular in Japan

Sure, board games are not as popular in Japan as many places around the world. But the hobby is becoming more and more popular every year. 

The Osaka Game Market, one of Japan’s largest board game markets, grew 30% in size in 2019 from the previous year.

Board games have even hit mainstream media in Japan with the release of the manga, After School Dice Club in 2013 and the anime in 2019. I would definitely recommend this series to any anime fans out there who like playing board games. You might be able to spot a few familiar ones.

What Board Games are Popular in Japan?

Board games may not be super popular in Japan, but that hasn’t stopped enthusiasts from getting their hands on board games. 

Contemporary Games

These are the board games that you can find pretty much anywhere in the world and at shops that don’t necessarily specialize in board games. I figure most of you reading already know what these games are so instead of a description I included a brief note about the game’s origin.

  • Life – This was Milton Bradley’s first game he created back in 1860.
  • Uno – Uno was originally created in 1971 by Merle Robbins before being sold to Robert Tezak for $50,000.
  • Monopoly – Monopoly can be traced back to 1903 with the inception of The Landlord’s Game created by Lizzie Magie.
  • Jenga – Jenga premiered at the London Toy Fair in 1983 and was created by Leslie Scott.
  • Clue – Cluedo, or Clue in North America, was created by Anthony Pratt and was originally titled “Murder!” before being purchased by Waddingtons, a board game publisher.

Traditional Games

These are the board games that are most common in Japan and the ones that most would consider to be classics. 

  • Go – Go is an area control game where players place stones on a grid board gaining territory. The player who controls the most territory wins.
  • Shogi – Shogi is a Chess variant. The difference between the two is that once you capture an opponent’s piece, you may use that piece as your own.
  • Mahjong – Mahjong is a set collection and hand management game focused around tiles.
  • Karuta – Karuta is a set collection game where one player draws and reads a card with a description on it while the other players look for the matching image card.
  • Hanafuda – Hanafuda is simply a type of playing card deck. These cards can be used to play a wide variety of games much like a standard playing card deck can be used to play games like Poker.

Hobby Games

Japan also has many hobby board games that you may recognize including:

  • Catan – In Catan, players build settlements, cities, and roads with the goal of becoming the dominant force on the island of Catan.
  • Carcassonne – Carcassonne is a tile-placement game where players will draw and place tiles to their shared kingdom. Each tile will add features to the kingdom like castles, roads, and monasteries from which players can score points. 
  • Ticket to Ride – Ticket to Ride has players trying to claim railway routes by drawing and playing the matching cards for that route. Destination tickets also allow players to score bonus points for connecting cities to one another.
  • 7 Wonders – 7 Wonders is a card drafting and hand management game where players follow a pick and pass system similar to games like Steampunk Rally and Sushi Go.
  • Dominion – Dominion is a deck builder where players will buy cards from a card pool and add them to their deck in order to gain victory points.

Trading Card Games

While board games may not be a big thing in Japan, trading card games are. These are a few of the big-name trading card games that you have probably heard of. Instead of writing more descriptions for these card games I decided to write some fun personal notes about each of these games. Enjoy!

  • Pokemon TCG – I never learned to play the Pokemon TCG as a kid. I collected the cards just for the images. I played the online version a while back where I finally learned to play, but I got my butt handed to me too many times and no longer play.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh – I used to love playing this card game. I would watch Yu-Gi-Oh! Every Saturday on Kids WB. I played up until they introduced card games on motorcycles and then it lost me.
  • Magic the Gathering – Magic the Gathering is the only one of these three card games I never really got into. Probably because there was no kids show adaptation to hypnotize me into buying blind packs. I played the online game a few times but I preferred Hearthstone, which I no longer play either.

What Board Games Have Come from Japan?

  • Love Letter – Love Letter is a super quick social deduction game and is only $19 on Amazon.
  • Traders of Osaka – Traders of Osaka is a very pretty game and is only $27 on Amazon.
  • Machi Koro – Machi Koro is one of my new favorites and even has a legacy version.
  • Deep Sea Adventure – Deep Sea Adventure is a simple family game. Amazon has an excellent deal on this game for only $16!
  • Tokyo Highway – Tokyo Highway is an awesome dexterity game where players will have to find creative ways to build roads. You can find it on Amazon for about $40.

I hope that the board game hobby continues to grow in Japan and that more of their games will make it over here to the states. Happy gaming everyone!