Jan Ken

Japanese children play a rather more sophisticated version of "Stone, Paper, Scissors" than that played in Britain. It goes as follows.

With a hand hidden behind the back, the two protagonists say Saisho – iku! which translates as "Start – Go!". They then chant Jan Ken (the literal meaning of the kanji is “two fists”) and Poi (“poi” – sometimes pon, depending on the region - is an onomatopoeiac word meaning to toss or throw).  On Poi, they produce their hand.  As in the west, stone defeats scissors, scissors defeats paper and paper defeats stone.  The signs for these are the same as in Britain: Paper is the hand held flat and vertical, Stone is a clenched fist, and Scissors is the clenched fist with the index and middle fingers held in a "V", imitating a pair of scissors.

If the antagonists produce identical hands, they chant aiko deshou, meaning "Once more!" followed by Jan Ken Poi and a production of another fist.  “Aiko” means “draw” or “tie” - so they are really saying, basically, "Tie!"

When one defeats the other, the winner then places his hand in front of the loser’s face and chants Achi Mitte Hoi ("Look That Way"), pointing his index finger in different directions on each word – up, down, left or right. On Hoi, the loser must turn his head up, down, left or right. If he looks in a different direction from that indicated by the winner, the game is drawn and the players start again.

However, if the loser turns his head in the same direction as the winner is pointing (and it is very difficult not to be hypnotised into so doing!) then he loses yet again. Whereupon the winner grasps a striking instrument, (classically a slatted fan, but other objects may be substituted, such as a cardboard tube half a metre long, or a similar length of light bamboo) and strikes the loser smartly on the head. The loser, meanwhile, has lunged for a hard hat available for protection. If he is quicker than the winner, then all is well. Otherwise – ouch!

The game may be repeated as often as the players wish.

Stephen says that Japanese children are pre-programmed to the game. He used to teach spoken English to classes of young children. Marks and praise would be awarded to children who got informal tests right. Occasionally, Stephen would encourage a child by awarding marks that were not strictly earned. This would sometimes exasperate a bright child who normally excelled in the tests. To defuse the situation, Stephen would simply say Jan ….. Ken ….. and by this time both children would have their hand behind their backs, ready to play, and the cause of their dispute forgotten.

 Japan Index                 Home