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Popular Children’s Games (for Girls) [Print]


This image of games for girls is one of a pair of woodblock prints by the artist Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858). The companion print (not included) shows games for boys. Woodblock prints, or ukiyo-e, can teach us about the children of townsmen (chônin) during the Tokugawa period (1600–1868). Ukiyo-e is a major artistic genre from this era. The word literally means “pictures of the floating world,” and refers to the Pleasure Quarters, an area zoned for vice. It was associated with a lively urban culture centered on merchants, tea-house girls, and the Kabuki theater. Woodblock print technology enabled cheap reproductions of “celebrity portraits” of actors and famous courtesans, which doubled as advertising. Eventually, woodblock prints of famous landscapes became popular souvenirs. Peasant and warrior children are rarely depicted because ukiyo-e was mainly produced by and for the townsmen, who tended to be artisans and merchants.

Ukiyo-e showing children may be divided into two kinds: Images about children and images for children. This one probably belongs to the latter category, because children enjoyed collecting pictures of "sets" of things, such as sets of kitchenware or sets of armor. They also enjoyed cutting out and assembling pre-printed paper dolls and guessing riddles based on illustrated hints. They played with a variety of board games and card games, and looked at illustrated folktales, or practiced writing with iroha (illustrated ABC charts). All this printed imagery could be purchased from a dagashiya, a sundries store selling toys and candies, or from a street vendor during a shrine festival, as well as from bookstores.

Of the games shown in this image, at least two are associated with the Lunar New Years celebration (O-Shôgatsu): Oibane (#1), batting a shuttlecock into the air with fans, and Carta (#2), a card-matching game in which the player tries to match a card inscribed with a well-known maxim to a card illustrated with a picture and the first syllable of the maxim. Girls also made handballs out of silk thread (Temari, #3), folded paper cranes (Origami, #4) or practiced Bon dancing and singing (Bonbon, #5).


Hiroshige, Utagawa. Japanese girls at play. In Ukiyoe no naka no kodomotachi, 70-71. Tokyo: Kumon Publishing Co., Ltd., 1993. Kumon Institute of Education, (accessed March 28, 2008). Annotated by L. Halliday Piel.

How to Cite This Source

"Popular Children’s Games (for Girls) [Print]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #25, (accessed August 10, 2021).