By Shokichi Tokita
For The North American Post
When you go on a family picnic, are you able to get all the attendees to participate in a game? From the youngest at age two to the oldest who might be in their seventies? Jintori is a game of tag that involves everyone in our Tokita family, which has included my two: Kurt and Kara; Shizuko’s Sheri, Bruce, Mark and Scott; Yoshiko’s Denise and Janette: Goro’s Kevin, Keith and Kyle; and Yaeko’s Bryan, Pam and Julie; as well as all the husbands, wives, and participants’ friends.*
We learned the game of Jintori when we were imprisoned in the Minidoka concentration camp during WWII. When a large group of schoolkids were gathered for a function under the supervision of teachers or other parents, a game of Jintori would be used to get everyone involved. It consists of two teams and two poles, each set 50 to 75 yards apart, preferably with a large open field in between. The objective is for one team member to touch the other team’s pole without getting tagged. When the pole is touched by an opposing team member without being tagged, the member who touched it calls out “POLE!!!” and that game is over. The basic rules are as follows:
• Divide into two teams, as evenly as possible, so that all the fast, young runners are not on the same team.
• Each team member is subject to being tagged while outside of their respective poles. If tagged by an opposing team member who is “fresher,” the tagged member becomes a prisoner of the opposing team.
• “Fresher” means that a member has touched his/her own pole after the opponent has touched their own pole. The fresher opponent can make a tag.
• The tagged member becomes a prisoner and must go to the opposing pole to “stretch out” to either be freed, or wait until a “POLE” is achieved.
• Prisoners can “stretch out” from the opposing pole, each prisoner touching one another to form a string of prisoners, usually stretching toward their own pole.
• Prisoners can be freed when one of their own team members can get to the string without being tagged and touch any part of the prisoner string.
• The team with the prisoners must guard against opposing players who try to free the prisoners.
• Each team must guard its pole against an opponent who will try to touch it and declare “POLE!!!”
The most enjoyable part of this game is that everyone is able to participate. In camp, all the adults, teachers, parents, adult friends, onlookers, etc., would participate. Some would simply stay near their own pole and guard it, but active, younger adults would run around like all the kids, although they would get tagged quite quickly if they were slow, since they were “targeted.” Smaller games would take place within a block or two, especially when boys and girls were mixed. But, invariably, everyone had a good time.
Later on, after the war, when we settled back into our lives in Seattle and our family grew with marriages and grandkids, our whole family would participate from the youngest to the oldest. The youngest, who might have been just barely walking, were usually overjoyed at the activity around them. As they grew older, they started to understand the game and participated with much energy. The oldest, like Mom, who was in her mid- to late seventies, usually guarded the pole, or ventured out to guard the prisoners.
The most enjoyable part of the game was to see how our nieces and nephews were growing. Before, all the uncles and aunts would pick on them and the prisoner string would consist of the younger kids. After a while, it was the nieces and nephews chasing the uncles and aunts who later started populating the prisoner string. Often, chases among the younger kids would take place in the underbrush, with crackling branches and twigs!
What a way for all the family members to enjoy each other! Those times also included regular picnic lunches that were really tasty; so overall, they were perfect, memorable outings for everyone involved!!
Editor’s notes. Readers have met Shokichi’s siblings* in his prior columns, notably “A Lifetime Christmas Gift” (napost.com, Jan. 2022). In the Densho archives, George Yoshida also describes playing Jintori in the streets of Seattle as a boy.