What is shiritori? Get Ready to Play a Game!

How many of you like to play word games?

I’m talking about games like Scrabble, Words with Friends, Wordbubble, and so on. The whole thing about these games is that they are built on, and revolve around English words and the alphabet. It’s not hard to imagine that other countries would also invent games that are based off of their own words and scripts, right?

So what is shiritori and how do you play it? Read on to find out!

How to Play!

Shiritori (しりとり), which means taking the end,  is a Japanese word game that is very popular in Japan. The basic premise of the game is that you start with a word, and then when it’s your turn you have to say a new word that starts with the same kana (consonant + vowel or just a vowel) that the last word ended with. It sounds more complicated than it is, here’s an example of how it works:

  1. The game starts with the word ringo (apple)
  2. Then it goes to the first player who has to say a word that begins with go. They could say gorufu (golf).
  3. Then it goes on to the next player who could say furansu (France).

Here’s a picture that shows how it works:


shiritori example


This continues until a person has scored a certain amount of points (longer words are usually worth more) or someone makes a mistake and is eliminated from the game. Here are the basic rules that you have to follow:

  1. Only nouns are permitted
  2. Words may not be repeated
  3. You lose if the word you choose ends in the kana ん (n)

This last rule is unique to the Japanese language since the ん (n) kana is never used to start any word. All words that would begin with an “n” would use one of these kana instead:

  • な (na)
  • に (ni)
  • ぬ (nu)
  • ね (ne)
  • の (no)

In addition to the rules mentioned above, there is usually a timer for each person’s turn and sometimes you get more points if you answer with a new word quickly. There are also a lot of additional rules that can be added to make the game harder for people who are pretty good at it and want more of a challenge.

Where can you play it?

Shiritori is a pretty simple game that doesn’t really require that you go out and buy any materials. You just need two or more people to play, hopefully a person who can keep track of the words that have already been used, a way to keep time (your phone can probably do it), and you gotta’ know some Japanese nouns!

There are also a ton of apps for smartphones, Amazon (did you know they have apps?), and websites where you can play against other people or by yourself. It’s a pretty cool way to help improve your Japanese if you are learning the language.

There are also quite a few English versions of the game where you have to use the last letter of a word instead of the last kana. That could be a good way to try it out in English first to see if you like it.

Related: Check out this other Japanese game!

Anyway, that’s the game! I’ll see you next time!

Leave me a comment below and let me know what you think! Thanks! 🙂

10 thoughts on “What is shiritori? Get Ready to Play a Game!”

  1. I have been learning Hiragana so this is actually very interesting for me! I haven’t reached the stage of learning vocabularies yet though. I also gave up on Katakana as remembering another set of characters was just too hard! But it is great that I have come across your site and I will have a look around a bit more!

  2. It sounds interesting! But I think that you have to be at a higher level in order to play the game. I can’t imagine myself playing this game since I know almost nothing. To tell you the truth, I”ve tried to learn but I have found out that it was more difficult than I thought it would be! Anyway, great game!
    Best wishes,

    • Yeah, you gotta’ really like to play word games in particular and it would definitely help to have a decent sized vocabulary when you start playing.

  3. That sounds like a pretty fun game! I like that it’s a word game and be able to learn Japanese in a fun manner. Would you recommend this game for really beginners who’s just starting to learn Japanese or should one already have a Japanese vocabulary of like 50-100 nouns?

    Thanks for your explanation of this game.

    • Yeah I think you’ll probably want to know a few nouns first to make it easier on yourself, but there’s no reason you can’t use the game to help remember the nouns you’ve just learned when you’re a beginner. If you play it with a friend, you might learn some new words from them too!

  4. Never heard of this game until now. It’s kind of like Japanese scrabble. Very cool I learned something new today. Thanks for the share!

    • Hey Michael, yeah it is a lot like in Scrabble how you play off of your opponent’s words. Glad you liked it! ^_^

  5. Now this is a game I wouldn’t want to play with alcohol involved, lol! Do you like to play it in Japanese on your phone? This would be a really cool way to learn!

    • Hey Eric, yeah it is a pretty cool way to lock in some Japanese words you’ve just learned. Recall is harder, but much stronger than just recognition when it comes to language learning. Although personally I tend to shy away from words games in both Japanese AND English, haha!


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