samurai warrior

Japanese Shoguns Game

This exploration is for all ages, as the colored smilies show. You can do play the Japanese Shoguns Game with your whole family together!

1st thru 4th grades
5th thru 8th grades
9th thru 12th grades

Layers of Learning Unit 2-16
Unit 2-16: China & Japan, China, Electricity, Asian Arts

The Japanese Shoguns Game is a history exploration from Layers of Learning Unit 2-16 about China and Japan during the middle ages. Layers of Learning has hands-on experiments in every unit of this family-friendly curriculum. Learn more about Layers of Learning.

From about 1185 until 1603 Japan was ruled by a powerful shogun. The emperor was nothing but a figurehead. The shogun in charge was the guy with the biggest, baddest army to keep control through force. The ruling family changed from time to time and each of these changes was called a shogunate.

The shoguns had armies of trained warriors called samurai which they used to gain and keep power.

Step 1: Library Research

Before you begin exploring, read a book or two about Japan during this period. We recommend searching for books about samurai because they will be readily available unlike most other topics from this time and place. Here are some suggestions, but if you can’t find these, look for books at your library about samurai. The colored smilies above each book tell you what age level they’re recommended for.

You Wouldn’t Want To Be a Samurai

by Fiona Macdonald

Fun and fascinating look at what it took to be a samurai in medieval Japan.

Th Samurai’s Tale

by Erik C. Haugaard

Historical fiction novel of a young boy who is kidnapped by marauding forces. When he grows up he becomes a Samurai and sets out to avenge his family.

Code of the Samurai

by Thomas Cleary

This is an English translation of the Bushido Shoshinshu of Taira Shigesuke, written some 400 years ago in Japan as the code that Samurai were to live by.

Step 2: Japanese Shoguns Game Exploration

You will need the printable Japanese Shoguns Game, card stock, small game tokens like cubes, beans, or marbles that will be your armies, and two six sided dice for each player.

Click on this image to print the Japanese Shoguns Game.
You need something that can act as “armies” during the game. Cubes of wood, Lego bricks, beans, marbles, or anything similar will work.
Each player needs two dice.

In the game, each player is a military leader, a shogun, who is trying to come out on top in Japanese power. To win you must defeat the armies of your rival shoguns and amass more armies to yourself.

Print the game cards onto heavy paper and cut apart. If you have more players you can print the cards twice.

Each player starts with six game tokens (wood cubes, Lego pieces, beans, or marbles). Each token represents ten samurai.

Deal each player a Shogun card. This is who the player is for this game.

Lay the castle cards and the emperor card in the center of the playing area.

To Play

All players roll their dice simultaneously. The roll of the die is a battle. The player with the highest roll wins the battle and collects one game token (an army of ten samurai) from each player.

If there is a tie (draw) for highest then the tied players have a roll off until there is one winner.

Any player who earns 7 or more game tokens (70 samurai) gets a castle card as well. Once you have a castle card you can roll two die and use the higher of your rolls to compete against the other players.

If a player loses all of his or her tokens that player is out of the game. The last player standing wins the emperor card, controls all of Japan, and wins and the game.

Step 3: Show What You Know

The Shogun cards and the castle cards of real people and real places from Japanese history. Research a bit about your shogun or your castle and write a paragraph to put in the history section of your binder.

Additional Layers

Additional Layers are extra activities you can do or tangents you can take off on. You will find them in the sidebars of each Layers of Learning unit. They are optional, so just choose what interests you.

Additional Layer

Samurai were the upper level military in Japan. They were nobility, but unlike European knights they were not landowners.

Their weapon of choice was the katana, a long gently curved sword with a razor sharp edge.

Learn more about the katana.

Additional Layer

This same period was a golden age for Japanese literature and poetry. Read a compilation of poems from a book called Man’yōshū which was published in about 759 AD.

This is a poem written on an illustration, a common way of presenting art and poetry in Japan.

Famous Folks

Minamoto no Yoritomo was one of the earliest shoguns to rule Japan. He instituted the feudal system.

Learn more about him and how he changed Japan.

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