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Nisei: The Games We Played


Sumiko Oye, Lurana Tasaka, and Chiyo Nitsui playing at Greenwood Park when a pond existed in the ’50s.

Nisei growing up on Powell Streets in the ’30s didn’t have that many toys so they had to improvise. Some boys picked chestnuts off the ground and pierced them with a needle with string threaded through to the other side and made bolos. The girls played hopscotch and skipping. Traditional games like Hide and Seek, Kick the Can, Red Rover, and Ball Over were popular then.

In Steveston, Harry Imai told me that they played Katana Kiri. That activity became very popular with Greenwood boys. Playing by the Fraser River and dikes, children’s playground must have centered around water, however, it was very dangerous playing near the dikes as some children drowned.

During the internment years, the Boundary-Kootenay areas had mountains and lakes. Therefore, children were active climbing the hills, swimming in the lakes and rivers, and exploring their new environment. Hockey was picked up by most children when the lakes and rivers froze.

(From SHS Yearbook)

In Greenwood, there were many unique games played, and I don’t know if children in other camps did the same? Were these games familiar to children in other camps? Peggi, Katana Kiri, Bang Bang, Daily Shamble, Jean Tori, and Flashlight Fight were very popular in Greenwood.

Peggi was played with two sticks, preferably old broom sticks. The long stick was about 30 cm or a foot long. The shorter stick was about 15 cm or 6 inches and one end had a 45 degree angle cut. An elongated small, shallow hole was dug to place the short stick across or in. Two teams were picked. There was a long line to drawn to determine offence and defence.

Step One: On offense, short stick was placed across the hole and the long stick under it. The player flipped the short stick forward and in the air. If not caught by the defensive team, the shooter placed the long stick across the hole. The player with the short stick threw it close to the hole, hoping to hit the long stick. If successful, the shooter was out. If not, it went to…

Step Two: The player held the short and long sticks together in one hand but he would let the short stick fly up in the air. The batter then tried to hit it as far as possible. If not caught, the D-player tried to throw it as close to the hole as possible. Two things happened. One, if the shooter didn’t strike it, then he would count the points from where the short stick landed away from the hole. Two, he could strike the short stick coming towards him. If he whacked it out, more points for him. If swung and missed, he was out.

Step Three: The short stick would then be placed halfway in the hole. The batter would then strike at the short stick downward and it would flip in the air. The shooter could hit it as many times as possible. One hit, he counted with the long stick, two hits, he used the short stick, fist, finger walk, and if he hit it over six times, he would pluck the hair and used that as the counter. It was game over once that happened! This game was played after lunch or dinner. It was a dangerous game, but not one to my knowledge got hurt badly.

Katana Kiri: Again two teams were picked. One team hid in and around the woodshed. The offensive team tried to locate the hidden “enemies.” The swords were made of spruce or pine for lightness. The handle was larger and narrowed down to a flat tip. Some of the boys added a square or round cardboard near the handle to protect the hand. The fighting was more like the movie, Scaramouche, instead of the samurai way.

However, no jabbing was allowed for safety reasons, of course. If you hit the opposition with a slap from under the armpits to the buttocks, you were declared winner so you kept on fighting. A boy who was “killed,” had to sit out. You can just imagine twenty boys furiously sword fighting by the woodshed.

The strategy was for the excellent swordsmen to wipe out the weaker ones first so that the final showdown was to have the best swordsmen determining the outcome. A younger, silent opponent could sneak up from behind and “kill” the best swordsman! The team with the last man standing won. This one older boy had the dexterity of a Miyamoto Musashi, a legendary swordsman in Japan. With a broken sword, he fought and made his “kill” on three or four of his opponents to win the contest.

Bang Bang: This game was played in a similar fashion but it was played at dusk. All the boys had their guns, be it Roy Rogers’ two-gun holster or Gene Autry’s one-gun holster. Those who couldn’t afford a toy pistol, carved one. As the evening got darker, the strategy was to change clothes with your teammates. The offensive team had to identify the opposition in order to get a “kill.” Therefore, it went like this, “Bang Mas, I got you!” The reply could be, “Bang Aki, I got YOU! I’m not Mas (lol)!” Again, the last boy standing won for his team.

One humorous incident occurred when this new kid whose parents came from Shiga-ken, wanted to play for the first time. So being a good sport, the team captain told him to holler “Ready.” In Japanese, the Steveston boys would holler, “Mooo, eeh doh!” So he yelled out, “Moooo, iiii doh!” Everyone hiding started to laugh! The opposition knew where the enemies were located. Game over!

Flashlight fight was similar to Bang Bang but it took a larger area for the defensive team to hide. The offensive team counted to a 100, therefore, the team on the run had much more time to run farther. Once you flashed the light on the opposition and called his name, you eliminated one opposition. Those who were daring would run into the woods in the dark where “Walking Pants” happened to have existed. The little kids wouldn’t dare run across the woods, fearing they would be caught by the evil “Walking Pants”! Naturally, these kids were cannon fodder for the team with the flashlights.

Spitball Fight was another great game. After school is out in June, the boys would save their notebooks to make deadly spitballs. The pages were cut in quarters and they would be lightly applied with water in a saucer. This made the paper more malleable to fold tightly. Spitballs were rolled in such a way that it was shaped like a “V” or “U.” Again two teams were formed.

This funny incident happened when this little boy was sneaking up on his opponent on his hands and knees. Meanwhile, an older boy came around the corner and saw his opponent. With his eyes as big as rice balls, he reared back his elastic band and SMACK, right on his buttocks! Poor kid was in such shock and pain that he cried all the way home!

The kids played Daily Shamble nearly every day in the summer. Much later on, we found out the game was called Danish Handball! Actually, it was a round ball that was played with a sponge ball. Jean Tori was mispronounced as well, and later on we found out it was an Italian game called something like Gintore. In Canada, it’s called Post to Post. Trust a Nisei to name the games! Nevertheless, all these games played day and night enabled the children to be in top fitness level. It was a very healthy lifestyle. On the flipside, schoolwork suffered. Children came home only to eat and sleep.


*This article was originally published by The Bulletin: a journal of Japanese Canadian community, history + culture, November 2016 issue.


© 2016 Chuck Tasaka

British Columbia Canada children games generations Greenwood (B.C.) Japanese Canadians katana kiri Nisei sports
About the Author

Chuck Tasaka was born in Midway, B.C., but he spent most of his life growing up in Greenwood, B.C., the first Japanese Canadian Internment site. His grandparents Isaburo and Yorie lived in Sashima, Ehime-ken and immigrated to Portland, Oregon, then to Steveston and finally to Salt Spring Island in the Gulf Islands. Chuck’s father Arizo was born on Salt Spring Island but lived in Sashima during his youth. His mother was born in Nanaimo, B.C., but was raised in Mio-mura, Wakayama-ken. Chuck attended University of B.C. and became an elementary teacher on Vancouver Island. After retiring in 2002, Chuck has spent most of his time researching Japanese Canadian history and he is presently working on the Nikkei Legacy Park project in Greenwood.

Updated June 2024

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