Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kakurenbo/hide-and-seek

Hide-and-go-seek is a common childhood game in both America and Japan, where it's called kakurenbo (かくれんぼ). Although the game is basically the same, there's a difference in how it's played in the two countries that I find interesting and perhaps telling.

In both America and Japan, one player is "It" and must try to find the other players, who hide. In both countries, It covers his or her eyes and counts to a given number while the other players scatter to their hiding places. But here's where the difference emerges.

In America, It counts and then shouts, "Ready or not, here I come!" Players are given a predetermined amount of time to hide. Those who cannot find a proper hiding place before the count finishes are out of luck; they will be quickly found.

In Japan, however, It counts and then shouts, "Are you ready?" (もういいかい?). Players who are fully hidden shout, "I'm ready!" (もういいよ!), while players who are still finding a hiding place yell, "Not yet!" (まあだだよ!). If any players shout, "Not yet," It has to count some more and then yell, "Are you ready?" again. This may need to be repeated more than once. The search cannot begin as long as anyone answers "Not yet!" Only after everyone has answered "I'm ready!" can the hunt begin.

So, does this variation in a children's game tell us something about American and Japanese societies? Can we conclude that, like hide-and-seek, American society is formal, adversarial, and legalistic, setting forth clear rules for antagonists and inflexibly enforcing compliance, "ready or not," while Japanese society, like kakurenbo, is more informal and collaborative, encouraging flexible cooperation between antagonists? Well, that's probably reading too much into a mere childhood game, but perhaps there is something to the idea. In any event, it is an interesting difference.

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