Nihon no Okami

Nihon no Okami is an area-of-control game that simulates the Edo and Meiji periods in Japanese history

In grade 8 social studies in Alberta, our curriculum focuses on worldviews and the things that shape them and change them. We do a case study about Japan, focusing on the Edo and Meiji periods to learn about a period of government-imposed isolation and then the subsequent adaptation and modernization sparked by the Americans' forceful demand to Japan's leaders to open their borders to trade.

Many Alberta teachers will be familiar with the simulation Warlords of Japan created by Peter Roth, which now seems to have disappeared from the internet. Warlords was fun, but it was created in the 1990s and its pedagogies aren't current. It also misses big parts of our curricular outcomes, only focusing on the feudal period before isolation. We decided that we needed to design something more rooted in current best practices in teaching and learning and game-based learning specifically, and more aligned with our curriculum. We were very inspired by the original gameplay of Warlords, however, and want to tip our hats to Mr. Roth.

We created a game called Nihon no Okami, or Okami for short, which translates to 'Wolves of Japan' (our former school's team name is the Grey Wolves, and we often named our games as such). In the four years since we have been doing Okami with our students, we've added elements to make the curricular connections stronger and the game more fun.

Okami is set up to take place over eight weeks. Each week will have students listen to a story that places them into the historical time period of Edo/Meiji Japan, progress through research and learning about specific learner outcomes, interpret their understanding through the lens of historical significance, and use the results of this learning to play the game on our game board.


Students are placed into a goningumi, or a group. Groups of 4-5 students work best. In the Edo period, goningumi were groups of five households that were held collectively responsible. All households in the shogunate were members of such a group, with all members of the group held responsible for the good conduct of all of the other members.


Students complete the whole game with their goningumi. Students are assessed individually, but rewarded as a group.


Each goningumi is assigned a home shiro, the Japanese word for castle. The shiros are: Hokkaido, Sendai, Edo, Osaka, Shikoku, and Nagasaki.


The game takes place in four phases:


Junbi (Prepare): Students listen to a chapter of a story where they are the main character, a Daimyo (powerful landlord) in Edo- and Meiji- period Japan (we fudged the timelines a little since those eras would span 100s of years. Then students engage in research, looking for information about key concepts for the week, which they record on a graphic organizer sheet.


Shinsa (Examination): Students complete a 10-question check-in about the weekly key concepts. They can use their graphic organizer during the check-in. Groups are awarded koku (currency) based on the group's performance.


Tansaku (Quest): All students but the Daimyo complete a quest in which they interpret and representing one important concept from their learning that week. Meanwhile, the Daimyo completes a special Daimyo task. Quests are organized by type, and are associated with an element of worldview. Students can choose a card from the corresponding deck when they complete their quest.


Tatakau (Fight): The Daimyo leads the group in playing the game and making decisions with the aim to gain the most territory and have the happiest people.


A full breakdown of our pedagogical decisions and instructions for how to set up the game can be found in our Teacher's Guide. Linked inside the teacher's guide, but worth highlighting here, is also the Gameplay Manual. All necessary resources, materials, and documents are linked within the Teacher's Guide.


A final note about the competencies games develop. When we play games, we learn skills that are important in school and in life. We learn collaboration, cooperation, sportsmanship, patience, strategy, long-term thinking, if-then thinking, among others. We get opportunities to coach our students on character, citizenship, and personal development. We see our students' humanity shine through. And that's got to be worth something.

Created By:

Erin Quinn, Tara Vandertoorn

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