Featured image - die and glass hajiki

Sugoroku in the Wild

After learning about sugoroku, I’ve started noticing it in various places. The first was a reproduction of a 1902 game in a gift shop in Otaru. Next was at a museum gift shop in Yokohama, and again at a park gift shop. Most recently was the Edo-Tokyo Museum having several exhibits. Hunting for sugoroku has turned into a hobby of mine!

Guide to Otaru

Otaru sugoroku

The left panel is a place where they're making Ramune. The middle panel is tobacco shop.
The left panel is a place where they’re making Ramune. The middle panel is of a tobacco shop.

Otaru is a small town in Northern Hokkaido that once had a bustling financial district. This reproduction of a 1902 (Meiji 35) game is a guide to places in Otaru. Surprisingly large, it’s printed on very thin paper.

It begins with a train leaving a tunnel at the bottom right, with the players traverse the town before arriving at a panoramic view in the center. It really captures the ambiance of the town at the time.

Good Children Traffic Sugoroku

Yokohama Good Children Traffic Sugoroku
The boxed text at the top left is the instructions for playing. Start is the big bottom right circle and finish is the large circle with a ship to its left.
Cardboard vehicle game pieces

This is a reproduction of a 1945 (Showa 20) sugoroku produced by the local police department. After reading about sugoroku, the date took me by surprise. According to what I’ve read, sugoroku were not really produced during and immediately after the war. Included with it are some cardboard playing pieces.

Excerpt of game with sound horn and no passing signs, plus Dunlop tire shop.

According to the introduction, it was produced when cars and street signs were becoming more common, so it served as a teaching tool for kids to become familiar with them. You’ll notice that in addition to the locations, there are a number of street signs, particularly stop signs. There’s also two routes that may be taken, red and blue.

Finish - girl with red shoes on a shipThe start location is the police station and the finish is Yokohama port. If you look at the finish, you’ll see a girl wearing red shoes aboard a ship. This is in reference to the famous Red Shoes rhyme.

Edo-Tokyo Museum

Attached to a wall, this interactive board game has small doors that open to reveal spaces within.

While at the Edo-Tokyo Museum, I was surprised to find several sugoroku exhibits, including an interactive version of Ryōunkaku.


Full picture of a Ryōunkaku sugoroku.

Ryōunkaku, a popular tower and the first elevator in Japan, became a natural topic of a sugoroku. Unfortunately, the actual building was destroyed in an earthquake, but there’s a scale model of it at the Edo-Tokyo museum. There’s actually two sugoroku at the museum depicting the tower– an interactive one with small doors that can be opened to reveal the interior and a framed paper version.

The sugoroku begins at the tower entrance, with the players working their way up through multiple rooms on each floor. The papers being thrown from the balloon may be in reference to a giveaway that was held.

Spot 60 involves a leap of faith. If a one is rolled, it's the goal. If a four or six is rolled, you go back to the beginning.
Spot 60 involves a leap of faith. If a one is rolled, it’s the goal. If a four or six is rolled, you go back to the beginning.



Large carpet sugoroku. Each space is a partial circle depicting a holiday. The middle is a circle showing people at Mitsukoshi.

There was also a carpet version of a sugoroku manufactured by Mitsukoshi department store in 1928 (Showa 3) that depicts seasonal children’s games.

The start is kids leaving home and the goal is the Mitsukoshi Department Store.

Santa giving a doll to kids.
Quite the arrangement of holidays, both traditional, like Tanabata, and imported, like Christmas.

Yokohama Yamate Sugoroku

Places around Yamate in Yokohama on off white cloth. Primarily red, white, and blue colors.

This is a cloth sugoroku of local spots in Yokohama, specifically Yamate, Motomachi, and Chinatown. It includes a tiny die and several hajiki (coin sized flat glass) as playing pieces. Hajiki have their own game that is played similar to marbles, where the players flick their hajiki and try to hit others. I’ve never played sugoroku before, so my wife offered to play.

After carefully ironing the game cloth, we each chose a hajiki. She consistently rolled fives and sixes, so the game was over in just a few minutes. Along the way I got stuck in a loop between two places, but finally broke free. With how quickly it was over, I understood the comment in the Sugoroku book about games with more steps minimizing chance rolls. Similar to the traffic sugoroku, which is also from Yokohama, the motif of red shoes again makes an appearance, this time to marking both the start and the path.

Two spaces, Yamate Bluff No. 234 and Ehrisman Residence.
I got stuck between these two spaces in a loop. When at space 10, rolling a 2, 3, or 4 moves you to space 11, where a 1, 2, or 3 moves you back to space 10.

After having spent so much time reading about sugoroku, it was fun to actually experience it, even if just briefly.

上り (Finish)

I wouldn’t have expected to be captivated by sugoroku when I first learned about them. The mechanics are very simple, but there’s a beauty to them that really intrigues me. A glimpse into life at the time they were made. Let me know in the comments if you’ve found any sugoroku in the wild.

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