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Unearthed sticks likely used as dice for game in Nara Period

Two ancient wooden sticks unearthed here were likely used as dice, strengthening the theory that government officials played a kind of “sugoroku” board game during the Nara Period (710-784), archaeologists said.

Unearthed sticks likely used as dice for game in Nara Period
Two wooden sticks, left, and an earthenware fragment dating from the Nara Period are believed to be used
for a sugoroku-like board game [Credit Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties]
The sticks were discovered in 2008 in a trash pit near the ruins of a government office that guarded the Heijokyu palace and other buildings, the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties said June 28 in its bulletin for 2016.

Measuring 6.3 centimeters and 5.3 cm in length, respectively, the sticks are around 1 cm thick. One side of the sticks was shaved flat, while bark remained on the other side. Letters apparently representing someone’s name were written on the flat side.

Yuki Oda, a researcher at the institute who pointed out the possibility of the sticks having been used as dice, said he believes they help to complete a set for a sugoroku-like game similar to “yut nori,” a traditional board game on the Korean Peninsula.

“I guess ancient government officials played the game during work breaks,” Oda said. “The findings enable us to imagine how people in the Nara Period amused themselves in more detail.”

An earthenware fragment from the same archaeological site featured several circle marks with connecting lines.

Oda said the fragment was likely used for the board of a sugoroku-like game, in which players rolled four thin sticks simultaneously and moved their pieces based on the numbers of the front and back side.

His theory was based on his study last year of a clay plate that had been unearthed from a different area of the ruins of Heijokyo, the ancient capital of Japan.

Since then, Oda had been trying to locate the dice used for the game. He said he believes he found the answer with the discovery of the two wooden sticks.

Poems in the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves, which is believed to have been completed in the late eighth century, show that a game similar to yut nori, in which players threw four wooden pieces, was played in Japan.

Author: Yumi Kurita | Source: The Asahi Shimbun [July 18, 2016]

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