Mochi, spinning tops, and writing calligraphy are all made better with sparkling prisoners.

In North America, New Years’ is fun, but not exactly meaningful. You usually wait up all night to ring in the New Year, make your resolutions, drink some champagne that will most likely override any resolution you just made, and then go to bed.

But in Japan, New Year’s is a huge deal. There are many, many traditions that appear during this small window between the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one. The anime Nanbaka takes all of these traditions and throw them into some kind of shonen manga tournament for all the prisoners and wardens to participate in. The tournament teams up prisoners and wardens into teams and has them face off against each other in battles of extreme New Year’s festivities.

Let’s take a look at some of the New Year’s “activities” the characters engaged in:


Tough inmate Rock faces off against the opposing team with a giant hammer in hand. To beat up his opponents? Well, yes, that too, but the mallet he’s given is mainly used for pounding rice.


Mochi–a rice cake made by pounding steamed rice with a mallet until it’s all solid and sticky with the consistency of pizza dough–is traditionally eaten during the New Year. Because of its stickiness, however, it tends to get stuck in throats–especially those of children and the elderly. This leads quite a few Japanese people to being dragged to the hospital on New Year’s Day.



This Japanese tradition began because of the lack of toys for sale during the winter. As tops were one of the only toys available, they became a symbol to represent the season. After influence from popular media like TV and newspapers, the top began to be seen as a pastime for the new year.

Of course, none of the tops children play with in Japan are as big as the ones in Nanbaka. And I’m pretty sure they aren’t used for fighting.


The Japanese tradition of calligraphy during the New Year holidays is done to bring good luck. Words and phrases that represent the writer’s wishes for the New Year are written in Japanese on paper with a brush and ink.

Unfortunately, the one member on Jyugo’s team who is Japanese is Jyugo himself, and he can’t do calligraphy to save his life. That can’t be helped though; Jyugo was locked in prison all his life, so he never had time to engage in traditional Japanese pastimes. Maybe he can learn some tips from Hajime, the warden who leads his team to victory in the calligraphy challenge with his fantastic penmanship.


In Nanbaka, star gambler Uno agrees to face off in a battle of karuta, a traditional Japanese card game. In this game, a referee (or a radio) reads off classic Japanese poems written on cards. The first sylable of the poem is written on a different card, and the goal of the game is to slap the card on the floor that matches with the poem. Once slapped, the card is added to your pile, and the player with the most cards wins.


Although karuta cards are usually decorated with flowers (hence their name hanafuda, lit. flower cards), many anime with a large audience of children have karuta sets of their own (like the Naruto karuta seen in the picture above) with anime-related poems instead of the classic Japanese ones.

The Nanbaka anime–as well as the manga it was based off of–are both available on Crunchyroll.

Sources: CBS News, Japan Times

ⒸSho FUTAMATA/comico/Nanba Prison Correctional Committee

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