This exploration is for all ages, as the colored smilies show. You can do play the Japanese Shoguns Game with your whole family together!
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, toughest 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
Th Samurai’s Tale
by Erik C. Haugaard
Code of the Samurai
by Thomas Cleary
Step 2: Japanese Shoguns Game Exploration
You will need the printable Japanese Shoguns Game, card stock, small game tokens like cubes, beans, or marbles (your armies), and two six-sided dice for each player.
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.
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 dice 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 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.
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.
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.
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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