Matsuri Games: Got What it Takes to Win?

  • Matsuri (祭り) are Japanese festivals that are held at temples, town squares or other large stadiums, and usually have religious origins. It is a very lively event with dance and singing performances, rows of food stalls, as well as exciting game stalls. Everyone is in a festive celebratory mood, dressed in their best yukata 浴衣, and out to win some prizes!

    The atmosphere is electric and everyone is abuzz with excitement, as both, the young and experienced try their hand at winning cute, giant plush toys. Each game costs 200-300 yen to play, depending on the chance of winning and the number of prizes available. Some games are easier than others where patrons are guaranteed a smaller prize while other games are harder and require some skill or several attempts to win a big prize. Some are similar to those at game stands in amusement and theme parks, with huge prizes hanging from the sidewalls.

    Think you can win, warrior? Whether it be for yourself or for a partner (in anime scenes it is always swoon-worthy and impressive, albeit naïvely so, to be able to present a huge prize to someone), it’s time to bring out your inner child and give it your best shot!

    Hoop Toss

    In each round, a basket of palm-sized hoops is handed to the prize seeker, who then tries to toss them onto targets such as bottlenecks or anything that the hoop is able to latch on to. Usually, a minimum number of hoops is required to get a prize, and the more hoops that stick the bigger the prize will be. Much accuracy and also luck is required here, as the hoops have an annoying tendency to swing off even after seemingly latching onto the target. Be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster ride!

    Target Shooting

    This one is for the big boys, where an air gun is used to shoot targets. There are some variants of this game with water guns or foam balls, and the targets range from roving ducks to static soft drink cans or a paper target. There is usually more at stake in this game; accuracy and strength are required to shoot the gun properly to win a big prize. Added bonus: a temporary ego boost!

    Yo-yo Water Balloon Catch

    This seems to be a more traditional matsuri game, where prize seekers are handed a chopstick or pick and have to successfully pull a water balloon by its attached rubber band out of a trunk of floating balloons. It has to be delicately and steadily lifted to prevent it from slipping. The prize is the balloon itself, which is played like a bouncy yo-yo. The difficulty level is much lower than the hoop toss and gives little children the giggles!

    Goldfish Rescue

    In this case, the prizes are the goldfishes themselves, and if you are able to scoop one out without breaking the paper scoop, it’s yours to take home!

    Lottery prize

    This game is like a raffle or lottery picking game, where prize seekers draw a lot from a bowl and “wins” the corresponding prize. The lottery could also be rolling a ball into a box with holes, and you get the prize represented by the hole it falls into. There are no skills involved and it depends wholly on luck. Prizes range from flashcards to little figurines or erasers, to cooking toy sets and “assemble your own paper glider” kits. Suitable for the risk-averse or babies who just want a toy!

    Palm reading/Fortune telling

    This is technically not a game, but having your fortune told could be considered the prize. It is reminiscent of o-mikuji (おみくじ) fortune slips, much like those found in fortune cookies. “Luck is in the stars as Cupid has finally landed on Venus. You just have to stop looking and the love of your life will appear!”. This is of course just for fun and should be taken with a pinch of salt. I still like to have it read just for kicks, though.

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