Hanafuda 花札 (Traditional Japanese games, Part 1)

Jan 13, 2022
Hanafuda 花札 (Traditional Japanese games, Part 1)
I forget what prompted me to download a Hanafuda game app on my phone last night, but I was hit by a wave of nostalgia.
When I was in Japan, my English school’s owner, an elderly Japanese woman, would sometimes host tea parties for the adult student class. One time, we played with Hanafuda (literally “flower cards”), a game of cards which depict paintings of:
  • flowers (4 cards per flower, each flower representing a month)
  • animals (various birds, a deer, a boar)
  • strips of paper called tanzaku (in purple, red, and red with poetry writing)
  • a man, the moon, the sun, and a sake cup
I had no idea how to play, and it was difficult to understand the explanations from my boss and students. But I was determined to learn.
That night, I went home and downloaded a Japanese game app to learn. I read English instructions online, and tried it out for myself. The app made it easier, since it enforced the rules, and showed me which possible cards I could play and what they could match up with. I eventually got the hang of it.
A few weeks later, I rewatched an anime movie called Summer Wars. I first watched it in 2012 during my first visit in Japan. The climax features a Hanafuda gambling game called Koi Koi (considered by some to be Japanese poker). I understood what was going on a lot better during the second viewing. A few days later, I played again with my students, and I was competent enough to win sometimes. Though even now, I still don’t fully grasp the terminology or all of the possible pairs to score points.
I enjoyed it so much, I bought my own Hanafuda set from Amazon. Interestingly, it’s a Nintendo brand. I learned that “Nintendo was founded in 1889 on hanafuda cards.” When I returned to USA from teaching in Japan for 3 years, I had to leave a lot of stuff behind, including my shogi board, because I didn’t have enough space in my luggage. But I brought back my hanafuda set. I found it last night and opened it up, reliving some memories.