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Friday, July 14, 2006

Teacher may have hit with 'Japan' board game


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Today's video games can leave parents feeling frightened. Is it really a good idea to buy a game for your child in which bloodthirsty aliens beat up little old ladies or the hero shoots, stabs, bombs and judo chops all manner of opponents? Whatever happened to the nonviolent, intellectually stimulating games you grew up with?

News photo
Japanese students of English in Osaka learn both the language and more about Japan while playing JAPAN: The Game, with a native English teacher. PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIEL JON

Now, thanks to Charles Rogers, an American who lives in Osaka, those who not only remember the fun of classic board games like Risk, Clue and Monopoly, but also have an interest in Japan, can enjoy the most innovative combination since Reese's Peanut Butter Cup combined chocolate and peanut butter.

Rogers is the father of JAPAN: The Game, an old-fashioned board game whose purpose is not to create virtual mayhem but to encourage players to learn about Japan in a friendly atmosphere.

Although there is a plethora board games on the market, and quite a few English learning aids for Japanese students of English, the idea behind Rogers' game is unique because it appeals to Japanese who want to learn English and introduce their country to the outside world, and to non-Japanese who want to learn about Japan and who enjoy trivia.

"I wanted to create something entertaining, but also something that would encourage people to learn about Japanese society and culture. The game is bilingual, so it can be enjoyed by those in and out of Japan," Rogers said.

The game was published in January and despite a modest advertising budget, 1,000 have sold so far. Rogers said this year's goal is to sell 3,000, a target he thinks he can reach.

JAPAN: The Game is on sale at major bookstores Kinokuniya and Maruzen, toy stores and online. Rogers is also targeting coffee shops, English schools and cultural organizations.

The inspiration for the game grew out of Rogers' nearly two decades as an English teacher, especially of children.

"I ended up making my own language-teaching materials because what was commercially available wasn't helping my students get better. From there, I began developing ideas for learning English through games. I also realized my students wanted to introduce their country in English, but lacked a fun way in which to learn how to do it," Rogers said, adding that he got a lot of help with the game's development from friends.

In the game, players travel around Japan, learn about the historical and cultural aspects of different prefectures, and answer questions ranging from relatively easy ones like "What is Japan's staple food, rice or noodles?" to serious Japanophile ones like "In the famous folktale, where did the old man find Kaguyahime?"

Although young children will enjoy it, so will adults who want to learn more about Japan.

Framing the game board are eight rectangles, representing the Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kinki, Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu/Okinawa regions. In the middle are two stacks of cards.

One stack consists of more than 1,000 questions, covering categories ranging from history to sports to traditional and modern culture.

The second stack is made up prefecture cards that explain different cultural aspects of all 47 prefectures.

Depending on the card and the flow of the game, a player may end up introducing the Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido, held every February, or the "wankosoba" noodles of Iwate Prefecture.

Players place their pieces on one of the regions on the edge of the board. The top card on the stack of prefecture cards is color-coded to the appropriate region, and indicates where players should move their pieces.

Players roll dice and move around the board, collecting prefecture cards along the way.

Each region is assigned a certain number of points. The first player to collect cards for all the prefectures in two or more regions worth 15 points or more, wins.

The game is also the first in what Rogers hopes will be a series of similar games about various countries and regions.

"A lot of Japanese have said they'd like to see a similar game with America as the theme, and I'm working on that now," he said.

Rogers, however, has vowed not join the legions of video game developers looking to create the next hit for Nintendo or Sega.

"Traditional board games promote social interaction and intellectual stimulation among groups in a way video games do not. That's the kind of atmosphere that is very conducive to learning not only a foreign language, but also to communicating more deeply with others, and that's really the point of JAPAN: The Game," he said.



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