Janken is the Japanese version of "paper, scissors, rock". Want to know how it's played and what you say? Read on!

How do you play janken?

Janken is played in a very similar manner to the English game "paper, scissors, rock". Two or more people battle in a game of luck, shaking their fists in time while chanting a set phrase before finally displaying their move or attack.

What to say

As with "paper, scissors, rock", to get the timing right, there is a set chant. Because janken is so common and so popular, especially among elementary age students as a means to decide virtually anything, everyone knows the chant.

Unlike the English version with its protean chant whose start word needs to be decided before the match can even start, janken is well established.

To play Japanese janken, you must say "Saisho wa gu, janken pon!" or "最初はグー じゃんけんポン"

In the event of a tie, rather than repeating the whole phrase again, the second round is just "Aiko desho" or "あいこでしょ".

Janken timing

There are four fist shakes that accompany the chant:

  1. さいしょは / saisho wa
  2. ぐ / gu
  3. じゃんけん / janken
  4. ぽん / pon

On the fourth shake - "pon", players simultaneously display their attack.

With a tie, there are only two fist shakes:

  1. あいこ / aiko
  2. でしょ / desho

On the second shake - "desho", players display their tie breaking attack.

Deciding the winner

Just like the English version, paper beats rock, rock beats scissors and scissors beats paper.

If you work in a Japanese elementary school, you may see that students will play janken in fairly large groups. If you try to play, you may have trouble keeping up with how quickly they ascertain that there is no winner before the game repeats.

Using janken in English class

The phrase used in the English version of janken is often taught as "Rock, scissors, paper, one, two, three!"

The benefit is that students learn some new words (rock, scissor, paper) but it's very long winded and tie breaks mean saying the whole thing again.

I prefer teaching students "One, two, three, go!"

Practice applications for your English class are any time when you need something decided, most frequently, who speaks first. This is the perfect decider and students are very familiar with it so you know it's going to work.


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