I remember myself having a love-hate relationship with the game dodgeball back when I was in kid in Canada. It was definitely a fun and exciting game in PE class that was better than running five laps around the schoolyard, but I’ve been hit (in the face) more times than have hit someone myself, and this game has cost me a pair of glasses.
Now that I am teaching in Japan, dodgeball is one of the most popular pastimes during recess, and I play dodgeball with my students as often as I can (but only limited to elementary school kids excluding Gr.6 boys). What I didn’t know at first and surprised me was how different the rules are here…What do you mean we are going outside? Why is he standing outside the court?
Today, let us examine the rules of Japanese dodgeball.
The objective of the game is the same: hit every player on the other side with the ball. The common courtesy rule is that the hit only counts below the neck. Many kids use this to their advantage and duck with their head sticking out so that they are still “alive” after the ball bounces off their head.
The biggest difference between the Japanese and Western dodgeball rules is that it is most commonly played outdoors in Japan. For this, the game requires a different court layout. The court consists of the two inside areas for the “alive” members of each team to stand in, as well as the infinite outside areas where the “dead” members, or the 外野 (gaiya) would stand. In fact, the game begins with one player standing outside. Once someone from the inside is hit, that person runs to the outside of the opposite team's side and joins the 外野. These dead members are not done with the game yet. If the ball flies outside, they can pick up and throw it. Additionally, if they hit someone of the opposite team from the outside, not only is the hit person out, the thrower also returns into the court. If you have played the old school video-game Bomberman, it is sort of like the players who are dead but can still shoot bombs back into the court.
That rule is a game changer, because not only does it give the dead members opportunities to revive, it also adds an extra strategy because being inside the court means you are surrounded from the front and back. Inside members often lob the ball across so the outside members can throw it at those close to the edge of the court. Not to mention, the fact that there is someone outside means someone will pick up the ball before it rolls across half the schoolyard, so this game can easily be played anywhere outdoors too instead of only in the gym.
Other than that, instead of the multi-ball chaos that is part of the rules of Western dodgeball, Japanese dodgeball only uses one single ball (sometimes two). For some people, it completely slows the action down and it does mean that your opportunities to interact with the ball (both throwing and getting thrown at) dramatically decreases, but for others, it makes the game a whole lot more approachable.
Japanese dodgeball is fun. It is slower paced and it’s not nearly as harsh as the Western counterpart, which is perfect for the whole class to join in and be part of it without being frightened by all the balls flying across. If you have a group of Japanese friends, by all means, invite them to play dodgeball with you for the experience!