Enough about Buddhism. Let's talk sin

If you've watched a Yakuza movie, you've probably seen a game of chou-han, the only game of chance whose most notable feature is what the house wears (specifically: no shirt, dragon/Kannon tattoos, and a haramaki). The basic rules are pretty simple: two dice are rolled and hidden under a cup. You bet on the sum being an even number (chou, or 丁) or an odd one (han, 半). If you're right, you double your money, minus the house's percentage. (In fact, in all the examples I've ever seen, the house reduces its risk to effectively zero by insisting that about half of the players bet on each of the options, so that the winners' payouts will always come from the other players' losses.)

What interests me about the game is, naturally, the language; there's a special term for each of the 21 possible face combinations. You can see 'em all here if you read Japanese. If you don't, read on.

  • When the two faces are the same, it's called "(whatever)-zoro no chou", for example, "san-zoro no chou" ("Even, both threes"). This is obviously derived to the verb sorou, to gather or to be all together.
  • In many of the terms, pin is used to mean "one". This is apparently from Portuguese.
  • Lots of the consonants have mutated in different ways over the centuries -- some have marged (3-6: san-nisa-ni), some have undergone renjou (連声), a type of liaison (3-1: san-ichisam-michi), and some have just gone berserk (3-6: san-rokusabu-roku)
  • There's also vowel change both simple (5: gogu) and complex (3: sansausou).
You could probably develop a whole curriculum module about the moraic nasal using nothing but dice terminology as source material, come to think of it.

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I was just wondering about that the other day! I have seen that played in films and wondered who the bald dudes with tattoos were. I think they were playing this in Samurai Fiction, which I only just saw recently.


It's scary the things you come up with...but you're right, sin is much more interesting.

If it'd been me, I'd have shaded out all of the dice chart beneath the diagonal, since it's all repetition; cool, either way.

Re sabu-roku "gone berserk": it's the same thing we see in the name "Saburou", eh. (I can't think of any other egs, though...??)

Gaijin Biker:

This game was shown in Beat Takeshi's recent Zatoichi — with the twist that his heightened hearing could tell if the dice came up Cho or Han before anyone looked under the cup.


Amida: Samurai Fiction?

IDR: Yeah, I'm with you on the shading out the repetition. And thanks for the reminder about saburou... weird that they both happen before "ro".

GB: That scene was totally awesome. I guess the fact that Chou-han is a fundamentally boring game of chance, 50/50, with absolutely no skill involved, inspires directors to use the scene as a springboard for greater things...


Samurai Fiction is a movie that I always saw in Tsutaya in Japan but only got around to renting now that I am back in the States. It is kind of a chambara parody with a rock score. Pretty amusing.

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