Ken Asobi (fist play) (拳遊び)

Ken asobi is a competitive game between two people that uses spread or closed hands or the reflection of fingers. This chooses the winner and loser basically with shape and the game that used three players or whole body instead of just hands started to appear later. This was the game that was originally played during drinking parties, but some of them started to be played among children.

There are many kinds of ken asobi, mainly in east Asian nations such as Japan and China.


Main Ken Asobi were 'kazuken' (finger number game) and 'sansukumi-ken' (a three-cornered deadlock finger game).

The kazuken was played by two people using finger signals with one hand to show a number at the same time as calling out the sum of both players' numbers, and the one who gave out the correct answer became the winner. It originated from China and spread to Japan from the start of 18th century. Since the game was imported through Nagasaki during the latter half of 16th century, it was called honken, Nagasakiken, or kiyoken (Kiyo was the word for Nagasaki used by Chinese scholars). This was the center of adult ken asobi until the Tenpo years (1830-1843) in the Edo Period. The kazuken such as kumaken are currently played even today in the Kyushu region. There are games for children similar to kazuken (the game that points out the number using hands).

Sansukumi-ken was present in various areas of eastern Asia from long ago, and it existed and was played in Japan from the Heian Period after being adapted to the Japanese way. The representative sansukumi-ken of Japan was mushiken (insect fist) and sansukumi with snake, frog, and slug (index finger is snake, thumb is frog, and little finger is slug). Jiraiya modeled after Tokube TENJIKU became popular in books, Joruri (dramatic narrative chanted to a shamisen accompaniment), and kabuki during late Edo Period, and the transformation of Jiraiya into gama no abura (oil of toad) became a popular topic of conversation. As a result, 'Jaken' (snake fist) that used frog, slug, and snake and sansukumi-ken called kitsuneken (fox finger game) became popular at the end of Bakufu (government by shogunate) period. It is believed that janken that derived from the kazuken and sansukumi-ken played nowadays was invented in the Meiji Period.

[Original Japanese]