Traditional Japanese New Year’s Game – Battledore & Shuttlecock
Battledore and Shuttlecock is one of the traditional New Year’s games in Japan. I think that there are many people who have seen them in Japanese movies and animation. Battledore has been passed down as an auspicious game wishing for a girl’s healthy growth and warding off disaster. We will introduce the history and rules of battledore, as well as practical information for those who want to buy Battledore in Japan!
History of Battledore
If we trace back the history of Battledore, it is said to have derived from a game known as ‘Giccho’, where wooden balls would be hit with a wand decorated without colored threads, and whoever takes their opponents’ position wins. In Battledore, the ball has feathers that are attached to the Mukuroji tree seed, and it is said that it became popular among the court nobles during the Muromachi period and tournaments were held too.
After that, when it came to the Edo period, it was widely spread to the common people. It was said that at the end of the year, the Battledore was given as a lucky charm to families with young girls, and since then, it is used to play during New Year. It is said to have a meaning as an amulet warding off evil by putting on feathers while making ‘concon’ sound on New Year’s Day.
Tools used in battledore – Battledore and shuttlecock
A battledore (left side of the photo) is like a racket made of a rectangular plate with a handle. A battledore and a shuttlecock (right side of the photo) with a black ball attached are both used in the game. The black ball with feathers is made from a seed called Mukuroji. ‘Mukuroji’ when written in Kanji bears the meaning of “child does not suffer”.
There are 2 types of battledore: a simple plate without decoration for playing purpose and a decorated plate that ‘bounces off evil’, praying for the well-being of girls. The latter, which is called Oshie Hagoita, is decorated as a lucky charm at stores and other places.
Oshie Hagoita is made by putting a cloth over the cardboard and raising it with cotton, giving it a three-dimensional feeling. In the Edo period, a padded cloth picture was attached to battledore as a substitute for popular Kabuki actor’s photographs.
The Oshie Hagoita is made up of 3 pieces of board that stick together and on the reverse side, there is an auspicious picture drawn such as a plum. Oshie Hagoita is a special product in Kasukabe City Saitama Prefecture, and the craftsman of Oshie Hagoita still inherit the technique till today.
A battledore for playing purposes is about 1,000-2,000 Yen for one set that comes with a shuttlecock and an Oshie Hagoita can range from 1,000 Yen for a less expensive on to about 60,000 Yen for a more expensive one.
Furthermore, there is the ‘Hagoita Ichi Fair’, held yearly from the 17th of December to the 19th of December in the precinct of Sensoji temple. There are dozens of shops selling Oshie Hagoita and many tourists visit in search of Battledore. Images such as TV star’s portraits, topics of the year or a subject based on certain people can be seen on them.
How to play battledore
There are 2 ways to enjoy Battledore; ‘chasing shuttlecock’ which is played by 2 people facing each other, and ‘lifting shuttlecock’ where players compete for the number of times a person can lift the shuttlecock. For chasing shuttlecock, the person who dropped the shuttlecock is painted with black ink on the face. It is said that it carries the same meaning as an amulet when someone is painting with black.
Method of chasing shuttlecock
- Each person holds a battledore and faces each other
- One person will hit the first blow and the other person will hit it back
- Continue to do so until either one drops the shuttlecock to the ground
- The person who drops the shuttlecock is painted with black ink on the face
Method of lifting shuttlecock
- Hold the battledore and shuttlecock.
- Count how many times the shuttlecock can be lifted (hit upwards) without dropping down. Depending on the region, it is also possible to accompany a song when playing alone.
You can enjoy it easily as long as there is battledore and shuttlecock. Try it out even it is not on New Year’s Day!