Degree Year


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


East Asian Studies


Andrew Macomber

Committee Member(s)

Sheila Miyoshi Jager, Chair

Hsiu-Chuang Deppman,

Bonnie Cheng


Sogoroku, Board games, Cosmology, Buddhism, Exorcism, Pure Land, Karma and chance, Ritual and play, Everyday religion


This thesis examines two Japanese board games, both called sugoroku 双六, from a religious studies perspective. Although bearing the same name, ban-sugoroku 盤双六 and e-sugoroku 絵双六 have long been studied separately because of their different origins, eras, layouts and rules. However, an examination of visual and textual evidence such as illustrated handscrolls and encyclopedic sources demonstrates that the two games are strikingly similar: both games carry cosmological meanings, and their religious functions are closely tied to the process of playing. I propose that the inextricable nature of ritual and play exhibited in both games enabled them to serve for laypersons as accessible alternatives to mandalas and other contemporaneous religious objects that were often used by Buddhist priests. I argue that the games served as portable liminal space that enabled exchanges between the supernatural realm and the ordinary world, therefore making highly specialized religious knowledge and practices tangible to the laypeople. Although scholars have begun to recognize important similarities between ritual and play, few have studied specific games through the lens of religious rituals. Challenging the widely held misconception that play is for children and rituals are for adults, my thesis on sugoroku redefines the boundaries between ritual and play and the sacred and the secular.