Karuta (Traditional Japanese games, Part 2)
Ship It Post #
Jan 14, 2022
When I got out my Hanafuda cards a couple nights ago, they were next to my Karuta set, and I was reminded of my experiences with that.
“Karuta” comes from Portuguese who introduced playing cards to Japan. The kind I’m talking about here are Uta-garuta ("Poetry Karuta”), specifically the Hyakunin Isshu, which is a collection of poems collected by 100 different Japanese poets. Each card depicts a painting of a poet with their poem, with a matching card that has the poem’s finishing phrase.
There’s a sport where random finisher cards are laid out between 2 people who compete to grab the correct card when a reader reads the start of the poem. This is also traditionally played with family during New Year’s celebration.
Each January while I was in Japan, I attended a New Year’s party for foreigners to experience Japanese culture. I played a much simpler game with the same Karuta set called Bozu Mekuri, which doesn’t require Japanese knowledge. People take turns flipping over cards from a pile. An action is taken if the card has a picture of a person. Depending on who the person is (a nobleman, a Buddhist monk, or a princess), then you add it to your pile, lose all cards in your pile, or collect all the cards in the middle face up pile for yourself.
I made some great friends at those parties. I also got to try on kimono, partake in tea ceremony, and cook takoyaki, while also trying potluck food from other countries, including Nepal and Vietnam, made by other foreigners who attended.
There is a movie trilogy called Chihayafuru which is about a high school competitive karuta club. I was inspired to learn all the poems to improve my Japanese. I even downloaded a flashcard deck to study in Anki. But it was overwhelming, and I didn’t get far. It’s older Japanese anyway, and would have been more a bragging point rather than practical knowledge. I imagined being in a setting where a competitive karuta game was being played, and I impressed everyone by knowing the poem cards enough to play.
I have never played with the Hanafuda and Karuta decks that I bought from Amazon, but I hope to someday.