Rock paper scissors in Japan

Janken pon! (じゃんけんぽん!) This is the sentence to start a new game of rock paper scissors in Japan. This game is very popular among Japanese  children since very old times. Did you know it was originated in Asia and it expanded from there to the rest of the world?

Slug, frog and snake

Some history

The game was created in China in the Han dynasty and from there it was imported into Japan where it became very popular. At the beginning the shapes done by the hands where very different from the ones used today. Instead of a rock, paper and scissors they represented a frog, a slug and a snake. After some time it evolved to the shapes we use today.

From Japan the game expanded to the rest of the world. In some countries like Peru and Brasil, the game is even known by the Japanese name: jan-ken-pon.


Rules of rock paper scissors in Japan

Who doesn’t know how to play it? This game is so popular everyone knows its rules. However, rock paper scissors in Japan has some particularities that make this game a bit different:

  • The game starts when both players say: Saisho wa guu – 最初ぐう. It literally means “Beginning with stone”. At the same time both players show their fists to start the game.
  • This is followed by someone saying: Janken pon! – じゃんけんぽん!and all players showing either rock, paper or scissors at the sound of pon – ぽん.
  • If there is a tie it’s said Aiko deshou! 相子でしょう, which means “it seems a tie” and all the players show their hands again until someone wins the game.

Those are the different shapes you can make with your hands:

Rock: Guu – グー

Wins: Scissors

Looses: Paper

Paper: Paa – パー

Wins: Rock

Looses: Scissors

Scissors: Choki – チョキ

Wins: Paper

Losses: Rock

Robots playing Janken

Did you know there is a robot capable to play janken against a human and win every time? It was developed by the Ishikawa Watanabe Laboratory in the University of Tokyo. It uses a high speed vision system to capture the movement of the opponent’s hand and perform the winning shape right before the opponent finishes his movement:


Some pictures for this article in this article were taken from Wikipedia:


Japanese culture in Emoji (Introduction)

Japanese culture in Emoji (Introduction)

Nowadays everybody knows what an emoji is and they are used every day. Instant messaging applications like WhatsApp have popularized its use, but not so long ago, emoji were an exclusive thing for Japanese mobile phones. That’s the reason why there are so many references to Japanese culture in emoji. We will start a serie of posts collecting them all and explaining their meaning.

What is an emoji

Emoji are symbols, icons or smileys used when texting in mobile phones to express emotions, objects, places, wheather, animals and so many other things. They are commonly used in phone instant messaging applications, but also in websites, forums or chat rooms.

Origin of emoji

Emoji DoCoMo
First emoji created by NTT DoCoMo

Around 1998,  NTT DoCoMo, one of the most important Japanese telecom companies, started to include a total of 172 icons to facilitate the electronic communication in their newly created i-mode mobile internet platform. Those icons were pretty simple. They were only 12×12 pixel of size and used only few colours. But they started to be really popular in Japan so other Telecom companies started incorporating them into their mobile phones too.

Emoji were not really popular in western countries until Apple started including them in their Apple iPhone. Following the iPhone, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and other companies started including them into their phones too.

Every emoji character means something very specific, but every company has drawn it in a different way. Sometimes the emoji expressing the same idea can be very similar, but they can also  be really different. In this example, you can see the difference between different implementations of the “grinning face” emoji and the “alien monster”. While all the faces look similar, the aliens have almost no similarities at all.

Emoji in different platforms

Japanese culture in emoji

Japanese Ogre emoji: Oni 鬼


There are so many different kind of monsters in the traditional Japanese folklore. The Japanese ogre or Oni  is a gigantic ogre like creature with humanoid form but usually having sharp claws, extra fingers or more than two eyes.

Oni originally were invisible spirits bringing diseases, disasters and other bad things. Eventually those spirits began being represented with the humanoid form we know them nowadays. It’s common to see people dressed as Oni in some Japanese festivals to help to bring good luck.

Multi-eyed oni

Japanese Goblin emoji: Tengu 天狗


The Japanese Goblin or Tengu 天狗 (literally “heaven dog”) is another kind of creature appearing in traditional Japanese folklore. It is a supernatural being usually depicted with a bird-like appearance (with fears and beak). Later on his form was humanized and what it was the beak became a really long human nose.

They are supposed to be the ghosts of angry, vain or heretical priests, possessing people and talking trough their mouths.

Crossed Japanese Flags emoji


In all emoji implementations, there are flag icons for every country, but the Japanese flag is the only appearing in two different icons: the “official” one and this special one representing two crossed flags.

When the emoji were created in Japan, there were only few national flags included. Of course, the Japanese flag was one of those, having the privilege of appearing in different representations.

Carp Streamer emoji: Koinobori 鯉のぼり


In Japan there is an important festivity called “Children’s day”  子供の日, celebrated on May’s 5th. They celebrate children’s growth and their happiness. On this day, Japanese people raise up a carp-shaped streamer that moves with the wind and looks like the carps are actually swimming.

In Japanese folklore, a carp swimming upstream will become a dragon. This legend represents how a child grows up to become an adult.


Izakaya lantern emoji: Chōchin 提灯


One of the first things you notice when you arrive to Japan is the great number of Izakaya 居酒屋 or Japanese taverns. And the best way to find one is to look for the traditional red paper lantern on the street. Those lanterns are also called chōchin 提灯 and they originally come from China.

Did you know that the letters written on them use a special calligraphy called Chōchinmoji 提灯文字 specially designed to attract more clients?


Those are only few of the representations of the Japanese culture in emoji. There are so many more! In following posts we will review all of them. Did you know them?

Tipping in Japan

Unlike most western countries, there is no custom of tipping in Japan. Japanese people don’t expect to get a reward for a good service. The service is always expected to be included on what you already pay.

Tipping in a Restaurant

If you leave money in a restaurant or bar can generate confusion. It’s not uncommon for the waiter to go out trying to find the customer who “forgot” some of his money over the table.

Japanese restaurant

Tipping in a Hotel

Do not tip in a hotel, even if it’s an expensive one. Quite often the hotel employees are trained to politely refuse the tip in case they are offered a tip.

However, there is an small exception to this rule. In high-class ryokan 旅館 (Japanese style inn) you can put a bill into an envelope and give it to the person you think it deserves it. This is an ancient custom and only valid in really expensive ones. And don’t forget to use the envelope! It’s considered rude to give money directly.

Tipping in a Taxi

Japanese taxis are quite different from any part of the world. The doors are opened and closed automatically so you don’t have to touch them. Drivers always use white gloves to drive and they put white laces decorating the seats. But no, they don’t accept tips either.

Tokyo taxi

Tipping in a Tour

There is no need to tip the tour guide. They don’t expect to receive any extra compensation for what they are doing. However, this is always up to you. Tour guides are more used to work with foreigners so they may know better what tipping is.