Teach Yourself Japanese
Message Board


Subject: janken
From: TAKASUGI Shinji (tssf.airnet.ne.jp)
Date: Mon, 24 Nov 2003 16:16:23 GMT
References: 1, 2


> They play paper, rock, scissors with the same gestures, but there's a big opening phrase and motion you do before you battle.

Rock, paper, scissors is called じゃんけん (janken) or 石拳 (ishiken) in Japanese, and few Japanese expect it to be found in the West. It was invented in China, according to the article 寒川 恒夫 (SÔGAWA Tsuneo) wrote on Monthly Sinica May 2000 issue. A book in Míng Dynasty named 五雑組 (Wŭzázŭ) explained it as 手勢令 (shŏushìlìng), a game among warlords of East Hàn Dynasty (25-220). A. B. Gomme's book The traditional games of England, Scotland, and Ireland, 1894 didn't mention it, and S. Culin's book Korean games with notes on the corresponding games of China and Japan, 1895 didn't say it existed in America, either. Sôgawa says it had been common throughout Asia when Europeans arrived there.

Rock, paper, scissors seems pretty new in the history of 拳 (ken), a play of three cyclic-order throws. Some older ken in Japan are shown below:
狐拳 (kitsuneken): 狐 (fox), 庄屋 (village head), and 鉄砲 (gun). The fox beats the village head, the village head beats the gun, and the gun beats the fox.
虎拳 (toraken): 和藤内 (Watônai), 虎 (tiger), and 母 (mother). Watônai (a man in a popular story) beats the tiger, the tiger beats Watônai's mother, and Watônai's mother beats Watônai.
虫拳 (mushiken): 蛇 (snake), 蛙 (frog), and なめくじ (slug). The snake beats the frog, the frog beats the slug, and the slug beats the snake. This had been the commonest ken before janken prevailed.

In China and Korea, rock, scissors, and cloth are used. It seems cloth has changed to paper for some reason in Japan. This difference suggests rock, paper, scissors in Britain and America directly came from Japan.

The following webpages are also helpful:
世界のじゃんけん
ジャンケン(中野康明の雑学ページ)
安来拳調査報告書



Reply to this message

Show this thread
Return to the index


Program Copyright(C) TAKASUGI Shinji (tssf.airnet.ne.jp)