Shiritori – A Japanese Vocabulary Word-Game

shiritori japanese vocabulary gameThe Kawaii Japanese Habit RPG guild (Japanese Deep Cave Adventurers) has a ongoing Shiritori game, so I thought we should have an explanation of the game and how we play it here. Also, since one of the rules of the Deep Cave Adventurers is that we use no English in the Guild, this may be helpful for newer learners.

Shiritori is a popular game in Japan. The name means “taking the end”. 尻 shiri is the same shiri as in oshiri, which you probably know means sit-upon, rear-end or backside. As with those latter English terms it can also mean the back or end of something. 取りtori means taking of course, the noun form of 取る toru. The word shiritori is usually wriiten in hiragana.

Gameplay is very simple. The first player  begins with a word, say:


The next player must follow with a word that begins with the kana the first word ended with, say:

リス(risu, squirrel)

The game then proceeds like this:

砂浜(すなはま sunahama sandy beach) →ま

枕(まくら makura, pillow) →ら

ラッパ(rappa, trumpet) →ぱ、ば、は

As you see from this last example, one can use all forms of a kana so if the word-ending kana can take a ten-ten or a maru you are allowed to use it with or without them regardless of what the last player did.

So ラッパ(rappa, trumpet) could be followed by パンダ (panda) バラ (bara, rose) or はいく(haiku).

Shiritori rules

Shiritori at the Deep Cave Adventrurers' Guild
Shiritori at the Deep Cave Adventrurers’ Guild

The rules of shiritori are few and simple, and we are very relaxed about them. The idea is to have fun together and practise Japanese, not to play a cut-throat game of shiritori, so we don’t worry too much about rules. But let’s discuss them so we all know where we stand:

1. Words ending in ん. One shouldn’t really play a word ending in ん. This is obvious since no Japanese word starts with ん, so it can’t be followed. In a proper game a player who plays an ん-ending word is eliminated. Don’t worry though. If someone does it by mistake, we will just start again with a new word. No one gets eliminated in our game!

2. Nouns. In traditional shiritori only nouns can be played. However, in English shiritori (shiritori played by Japanese people to help their English vocabulary) all words are allowed. We follow the same rule. There is a tendency to use nouns as somehow they feel “right”, but any word is allowed. If you are a beginner, play anything you like. And whoever you are, if you have an interesting word you feel like playing, 遠慮しないで — go ahead.

There is only one thread at the Guild, so shiritori mixes freely with chat. If you want to talk about the word you’ve played, please do. In Japanese, of course.

3. Combined kana. We like to keep play options as open as possible and this is also traditional in Japanese play, so:

りょ、ぎゃ etc can be followed either by themselves or by よ、や。So 遠慮 (えんりょ, enryo) could be followed by 料理 (りょうり ryouri) or ヨーグルト (yogurt)

Long vowels can be either shortened or the last kana used. So 自由 (じゆう jiyuu) could be followed by 雪(ゆき yuki) or 海 (うみ umi).

4. Repeated words: It is best to avoid repeating words (you can use your browser’s page-search function to see if the word has been used before recently). Words with the same kana but different kanji are fine. Traditionally a player who repeats a word is eliminated, but we don’t do that, so if you accidentally repeat a word, 気にしないでください— don’t worry about it.

Shiritori is very easy, so even if you are a beginner, please feel free to join in if you are on Habit RPG. If anyone has any questions (including new people and established members of the Guild, of course), just pop them in the comments below.

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