Photo:Catriona Ward on Flickr

Onigokko - Playing Tag with Japanese Rules

Tag, known as Onigokko, is the most popular game for kids to play in the school’s playground during recess and at the park after school. I am sure you are familiar with this activity too, but do you know about the variations that Japan has? Many of these have their counter parts in the western world too, and today we will look at the ones that are played by children here in Japan.

A typical school playground in Japan.

A typical school playground in Japan.

Onigokko (Standard Tag)

Well… you’re tagged by Oni (it), you’re out. The good old basic.

Kei-doro/Doro-kei (Police and Thief)

With a few people being Oni (or in this case, the police) and everyone else being thieves, those who are tagged goes to the designated area that is “jail”. When someone goes in jail, they stay there. However, other thieves that are alive can run by the jail and rescue the arrested thieves by tagging them individually, which then the arrested thieves can run out from the jail back into the wild. This one is my personal favourite.

Koori-Oni (Freeze Tag)

Once you are tagged by the Oni, you freeze in place. Although your body can’t move around, feel free to scream off the top of your lungs for help so anyone who is not frozen can come to your rescue and unfreeze you by tagging you. Just be careful of other Onis who are probably standing around guarding the frozen. So if your friends are in too risky of a situation, you should just Let It Go.

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek

Taka-Oni (High Place Tag)

I never understood this one too well competitively. It is standard tag, except you cannot be tagged by Oni you are standing on high ground. Supposedly, you are supposed to travel to a different high ground after a certain amount of time, but I’ve never seen that rule being enforced. So some kids would stay on the jungle-gym the whole time, while others are constantly taunting for the Oni’s attention right before hopping back on.

Kakure-Oni (Hide-and-seek)

This is simply hide-and-seek, with a lot of time given in the beginning for everyone to hide.

Te-tsunagi Oni (Holding-Hands Tag)

A game played with kindergarteners and first grade children. The runners and the Onis are holding hands with another person or in small groups as they play tag. The purpose of the game is to have the kids connected (literally) with each other or with the teacher, creating a friendlier environment especially when the little kids have just entered into the new class in the beginning of a school year.

Children playing Tag at school.

Children playing Tag at school.

Ball Oni (Ball Tag)

This is the most exciting one in my opinion. The Oni holds onto a dodge-ball or a soccer ball and can tag another person by touching or throwing the ball. If the ball is caught by the runner though, the tag is unsuccessful. Since it isn’t easy making a strong throw at running targets while you are running at full speed yourself, this game is more popular among the older kids.

Virus/Infection Oni (Zombie Tag)

The game starts off with only a small amount of Onis (or zombies), and those who are tagged will be infected into one of the Onis too as they team up to chase down other survivors and turning them.

Iro Oni (Colour tag)

The Oni starts by calling out a certain colour, and the runners reach safety by touching something of that colour. Then the Oni calls out the next colour and tries to tag the runners before they can make their way to an item of the next colour. This game is more effective indoor because there are more colourful items around, and it is also a great English lesson game.

Hula Hoop Tag

Hula Hoop Tag

Photo: Josh Lee on Flickr

Shippo-Oni (Tail Tag)

Each runner has a towel hanging behind them as the tail. Once the tail is taken by the Oni, the person is out. This game can be a free-for-all where everyone is out to grab each other’s tail. It can also be transformed into a team game with people standing in a line holding onto the shoulders of the person in front of it. It then becomes a snake-shippo-oni battle.


The game begins with one of each shape drawn on the ground, and everyone other than the Oni will stand in one of them. After the Oni calls out another shape, everyone in the shape must make their way to the designated one while the Onis tries to tag the people in between and decrease the number of survivors by each run.

You have probably realized that while the names might be different, tag and most of the variations are played internationally too. The thrill and excitement of playing tag is shared world-wide. As long as you know the name of the variation, you can easily break through language barriers very easily with a friendly game of Onigokko.

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