Photo: Froschmann on Flickr

Suikawari: Watermelon Pinata

Suika (スイカ) is Japanese for watermelon. Wari (割り), when combined with Suika means splitting. Thus, the aim of this traditional Japanese game, is in the name itself: You just need to split the watermelon.

Photo: Jonathan Baker-Bates on Flickr

This game is generally played during the summer months. The watermelon provides refreshing relief from especially humid days. It is a group activity but feel free to play solo. That is if you don't mind looking odd. You might come off a bit crazy, blindfolding yourself, and whacking at a watermelon with a stick. Yes! That is how the game is played, and it's the reason I refer to it as watermelon piñata.

For those unfamiliar with the term piñata; it is a game typically played at kids’ birthday parties, in Western cultures. A kid wields a stick at a suspended piñata, in the hope of breaking it, and raining candy on everyone. The kid is blindfolded. The other kids and onlookers tend to offer encouragement as the child whacks air. Of course, there are many instances, when the child is way off the mark, and persons nearby end up hurt or items end up broken in the search for the piñata.

Photo: John G. Cramer III on Flickr

Watermelons are obviously healthier though, and Suikawari is played across age groups. There are widely known and used rules to the game. The rules are as follows:

  1. Use a blindfold (towels, cloths, bags, anything handy or prepared),
  2. Use a wooden stick (bou ぼう),
  3. Agree on a time limit for each person (many do 2-3 minutes per person),
  4. Spin the blindfolded person 3-6 times before they begin whacking,
  5. The first person to actually crack the watermelon open, wins!
  6. Play in an open space (it is mostly played at the beach),
  7. Place the watermelon on something (towel or tarp), to avoid a big clean up, and
  8. Eat the watermelons afterwards.
Photo: Takashi Toyooka on Flickr

These rules seem to be standard, with groups forming specific house rules to make the game more interesting. Some persons place two balls as big as the watermelon in close vicinity to the fruit to confuse stick wielders. Others bury themselves in the sand, (the stick is very light in this instance), and their heads are in close vicinity to the watermelon. However, I consider this to be dangerous. Also, the stick causes very little damage to the watermelon and sometimes break on contact, when it is much lighter.

Photo: Sharon Hahn Darlin on Flickr

If you decide to do Suikawari in a large group, you can enjoy the mess afterwards. To create a watermelon slide, play Suikawari on a large tarp. After splitting and consuming several watermelons, use the remaining residue to create a slippery slide.

The prices of whole watermelons range from 2,500 to 6,500 yen. This is anywhere between $20 and $60 USD.

Even though watermelons are expensive in Japan, Suikawari encourages contributions from the group. The game also benefits the group: creation of friendship where non existed, and strengthens existing friendships. It is definitely worth playing if you happen to be in Japan during the summertime. If you don't have a group of people handy, many join existing open events on Facebook and Flickr and play with other foreigners. Another option is attending a summer festival that includes Suikawari as one of the highlights.

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