Sugoroku (すごろく)

Sugoroku is a boardgame that a player throws a dice to move a piece as many squares as the numbers shown on the rolled dice.


One theory shows that the name, Sugoroku was derived from '雙六' or '双六', literary double sixes, because in the Sugoroku game, the maximum numbers on the two dices, which were used in the game, controls the situation.('雙' and '双' have the same meaning, double).

In Japan, there were two types of Sugoroku, one was a board Sugoroku written as '雙六' and another was '双六', simply called Sugoroku or picture Sugoroku, which appeared in later years. In the beginning, they were clearly distinguished, however, in the Edo period, both 雙六 (board Sugoroku) and 双六 (picture Sugoroku) were just called as 双六 (Sugoroku), then the name became vague. The board Sugoroku died out in the end of the Edo period, now the word Sugoroku almost certainly signifies the picture Sugoroku.

Koichi MASUKAWA, who is a pioneering researcher of Japanese playgames in history says that although both are equally called Sugoroku, they are completely different playgames so it's not adequate to use a notation of '双六' for '雙六(board Sugoroku)'
For example, before the Edo period, in the documents such as journals, '雙六' and '双六' were clearly different except with a few exceptions by errors. In other languages besides Japanese, different words are mostly used to indicate the board Sugoroku type game and the picture Sugoroku type game.

In this article, a common word 'Sugoroku' is used for the title, and to describe each, they are referred to as 'board Sugoroku'/ '雙六' and 'picture Sugoroku'/ '双六' respectively. Also, see the article of 'Backgammon' as a reference of 'board Sugoroku' (盤双六, 双六).


The roots of the Sugoroku was considered as a playgame named 'Senet', which was played in the ancient Egypt. The original form of the board Sugoroku was considered as a board game with 12x2 grid played in the Roman Empire. This was introduced to China via the Silk Road. In the Shosoin Treasure House of the Todai-ji Temple, a board Sugoroku, with which Emperor Shomu may have played, is kept. However, it is said that the board Sugoroku, which became widely popular afterward, was the one that had been improved by introducing Chinese board Sugoroku after the middle age.

The board Sugoroku

The board Sugoroku (雙六) was a Japanese name for old type backgammon that was widely popular from the Nara period through to the Edo period. It used to be an accomplishment for uppper class women as well.

The board Sugoroku used white stones and black stones. The better player takes the white.

According to the numbers shown on the two dices, two stones were moved, or one stone was brought forward as many points as the total numbers on the two dices. The player couldn't turn back and couldn't move to where two or more stones were.

Basically a player won when he/she moved all stones to the inland (the inner board). This was called 'Irigachi' (literary, enter and win).

Hitting was called 'kiru' (literary, cut)

When a stone was hit, it was removed and placed outside, and the hit stone needed to be back by priority before other stones were moved.

Making 'Prime' (to make six consecutive points, where the opponent cannot enter) was called 'steam' and it was regarded as an important strategy.

Neither 'Gammon win' nor 'Backgammon win' rule was applied. When the stone was hit and steamed, or closed out, the game ended. The player who steamed the hit stones won. This was called 'Mujigachi' (literary, solid win) and regarded as a very fine victory.

There were no special rules in case of the same number shown on a pair of dices.

There were no doubling cubes.
(The doubling cube was invented in the 1920s.)

Harmful results of the board Sugoroku.

The board Sugoroku was played as a gamble because the game highly depended on the chance of the rolled dices besides the complicated thoughts. According to "the Nihon Shoki (the Chronicle of Japan)", it was first prohibited in 689. In the Heian period, the Cloistered Emperor Shirakawa also mentioned 'the dices on the board Sugoroku' as one of the three subjects beyond his control.
(However, some theories say that this indicated not a ban of the Sugoroku but the Cloistered Emperor's dice rolling technique.)
Also, the government Kamakura and the government Edo often banned it.

However, besides, as already mentioned above, the board Sugoroku played by Emperor Shomu as an evidence, the historical record says that 'Sugoroku-betto (a head office for Sugoroku)' was placed in the provincial government in the Kaga Domain,. Moreover, in the journals of Kinhira SAIONJI, who was an influential person in the Kamakura period, Imperial Prince Fushiminomiya Sadafusa in the Muromachi period, and Tokitsugu YAMASHINA in the Sengoku Period (period of warring states) the board Sugoroku was also described. Also, as a court function regarding childbirth, there was a custom of playing the board Sugoroku (or, just rolling dices). Until around the end of the Edo period, in some regions, when a woman got married, a Sugoroku board was traditionally brought with her as one of her belongings.

After the Edo period, due to popularity of Shogi (Japanese chess) and Igo game (board game of capturing territory) with less gambling elements could make the board Sugoroku decrease, as it is said. After the war, the similar 'Backgammon' was played, however, it is considered that there is no historical continuity between the board Sugoroku and Backgammon.

The picture Sugoroku

The picture Sugoroku (双六) was a game that was developed with the board Sugoroku influence. On the picture drawn on paper, the players roll a dice to move pieces forward to the goal. However, in the early stage, it was developed separately from the board Sugoroku (which was occasionally a gambling tool).

However, in the Jodo Sugoroku (a kind of Buddhist Sugoroku), which is considered to be the oldest, the Buddhist terms and morals were written on it, instead of pictures. That means, in the late Muromachi period (the late 15th century), the Jodo Sugoroku is considered to have been played. With its name and the contents, the Jodo Sugoroku is considered to have been made by the monks of Jodo (Pure Land) sect in origin, and the Jodo Sugoroku often appeared in the works (such as "Koshoku ichidai otoko (Life of a Sensuous Man)) by Saikaku IHARA. In the Bunsei era, according to "Tanki manroku (Random Record of the Society of Those Addicted to Curiosity)" by Bakin TAKIZAWA, there were roughly four types of Jodo Sugoroku. According to the "Sukigaeshi" (literally reconstituting paper from old scraps) by Tanehiko RYUTEI written around the same time, 'the Buppo Sugoroku', which was produced for the first practices for the Tendai-shu sect monks, was its roots.

During the Genroku era in the Edo period, the picture Sugoroku such as 'Dochu Sugoroku' (a Sugoroku with pictures from the 53 stations of the Tokaido Road) and 'Yaro Sugoroku or Shibai Sugoroku' (a Sugoroku with actors' pictures), were played. Latterly, the Sugoroku with themes such as moralistic or social success subjects, or gorgeous Sugoroku by Ukiyo-e artists appeared. On the other hand, as some Sugoroku had erotic arts or gambling elements, Sugoroku was banned during Tempo Reforms and so on.

After the Meiji period, the Sugoroku with such themes as bunmei kaika (civilization and enlightenment), and fukoku kyohei (fortifying the country, strengthening the military) appeared and it was used as means to tighten the people. Also it became indispensable as a supplement of magazines for children.

It is said that after the World War 2, Sugoroku broke down due to the diversified plays and the change of the society. Still nowadays, there are many games, such as board games and video games that use dices (or a roulette, in place of dices) and they can be regarded as improved and evolved forms of the Sugoroku game.

The picture Sugoroku itself is a particular Japanese game, however, the Western countries also have played a game such as 'the Game of the Goose', which was considered to have been influenced by Backgammon, since the 14th century and was similar to Sugoroku. From the 20th century, the Monopoly appeared through the influence of these games.

The borard games like the Sugoroku

Mawari Shogi


The game of Life

Computer game

Momotaro (the peach boy) Dentetsu Series

Itadaki Street

Mario Party Series

Dokapon Series

Culdcept Series

Typing Derby Series

[Original Japanese]