Hyakunin Isshu: the card game!

This is not exactly the kind of card games you see in Japan or the West among kids these days, but it’s a popular activity among Japanese families around New Year’s. I talked about the famous Japanese poem anthology, the Hyakunin Isshu, in a recent post and alluded to the card game there.

My in-laws in Japan sent my wife and daughter a box-set of this game which my wife had when she was a kid (cassette tape still included!). I took a few photos of the cards to give readers an idea of what they look like.

The boxed set has two piles of cards: one pile contains each Waka poem and illustration of the author, while the second pile only contains the last two stanzas of the poem. In the previous post, I included video of how the game is played. One person reads the full poem, while the other players hover around a pile of the “ending” cards trying to complete the last-half of the poem. Whoever collects the most cards at the end wins. Here’s the cards for Sugawara no Michizane’s poem, mentioned previously:

Sugawara no Michizane in card form 2

And the cards for Ono no Komachi’s famous poem, mentioned here:

Ono no Komachi in card form 2

Again, the top card is the full poem and read by someone who leads the game, while the bottom card is what everyone else sees amongst a larger pile. The first person to recognize the poem, and pick it out, gets the card. :)

For some reason, seeing these cards somehow reminds of Baseball trading cards I used to collect as a kid and trade with other kids in the neighborhood.1 I can almost hear kids trading stats:

Kid 1: Whoa, a Emperor Koko rookie card. He issued 37 edicts in 886 A.D.

Kid 2: I’ll trade you a Fujiwara no Mototsune for it. He ruled as regent for three successive Emperors.

Kid 1: No way.

Yes, I am a huge nerd. :p Actually inspiration for the conversation above came from a Simpson’s episode involving Bible trading cards:

(Moe is selling oyster shells that resemble Lucille Ball at a swap meet. Meanwhile, Bart, Nelson, and Milhouse check out Ned Flanders’ booth.)

Bart: Oh boy! Free trading cards!
Milhouse: Wow! Joseph of Arimathea! Twenty six conversions in A.D. 46.
Nelson: Whoa, a Methuselah rookie card!
Flanders: Heh heh, well boys, who’d have thought learning about religion could be fun?
Bart: Religion?
Milhouse: Learning?
Nelson: Let’s get out of here!

Many figures of Japanese literature are featured in the original anthology, and thus have cards as well. Here’s Lady Murasaki author of the Tales of Genji, as well as her famous Diary:

Lady Murasaki in card form

Here’s Sei Shonagon, author of the Pillow Book:

Sei Shonagon in card form

This is a card for Ryōzen Hōshi, another of the Six Immortals of Poetry like Ono no Komachi. I liked this card because it shows the formal dress of a Buddhist priest at the time:

Ryozen Hoshi in card form

And speaking of Emperor Koko, briefly mentioned in another post, here he is:

Emperor Koko in card form

The artwork just fascinates me for some reason, as does the collection of so many notable figures, men and women, from the Classical Japanese era. :)

Truly, I am a huge nerd.

1 I almost always ended up on the losing end of the trade. Too gullible and naive. :p

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About Doug

A Buddhist, father and Japanophile / Koreaphile.
This entry was posted in Japan, Japanese, Language, Literature, Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Hyakunin Isshu: the card game!

  1. Love Letters says:

    I have been to japan twice and to my surprise, i was shocked to see there card play.. totally different..thanks for sharing and bringing back my memories!

  2. shrutianime says:

    It’s called Karuta right? There’s even a manga series and an anime on this one, doing really well called Chihayafuru. :)

  3. Hi Shrutianime,

    That’s right. They’re called karuta. I should check that manga out, I’ve been looking for a new series anyway. :)

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