Playing with Hyakunin Isshu cards

Edit: you can read a more up to date and detailed post about how to play karuta here.

On a recent Saturday, my daughter, wife and I were stuck at home and a little bored, so we decided to play a little game. I took out a box of Hyakunin Isshu karuta or “cards” in Japanese my wife had since she was a young, and my daughter and I set them up. This is a game known in Japanese as uta-garuta or “poetry cards” featuring the Hyakunin Isshu. I’ve mentioned it before here and here. Usually, it’s played on or around Japanese New Year’s, but as the links above show, there are youth clubs devoted to it too as an extra-curricular activity. To play, you need minimum 3 people: one to read the poems, and the others to compete at collecting them.

As you can see in the photo, the cards are all laid on a table. Those ones only have the last 2 verses of each poem, and no pictures, while someone “reads” a card from the other stack with pictures. This stack has the full poems plus pictures of each poet as you can see above. Here’s a photo for clarity:

The card on the left is the full poem, plus illustration, while the card on the right shows on the last 2 lines of verse.

Anyhow, as the reader recites the poem out loud, the other people try to find the card that matches the last half of the poem, hopefully before their opponent person does. Since my daughter is 5 years old, and Japanese is my second language, it was slow going, and there were only 2 of us playing. One of us would read the illustrated card awkwardly, and then we’d both try to find the one that had the last 2 verses of the same poem. It was fun, but took a little while, especially with 100 poems to wade through.

Later, my wife joined us. Since she’s a native Japanese speaker, she could recite the poems faster, freeing up my daughter and I to find the related card. Mommy and daughter teamed up together, but we all took turns reading cards so that my wife would have a chance too. By the end of the game, they won by a ratio of 2:1, but I am happy to still found some cards. 😉

It was my first time playing uta-garuta and we had a great time. If you are in Japan and/or can read Japanese well enough, you may want to pick up a deck yourself. They look great because of the illustrated cards, and are fun for a rainy afternoon. Especially if you 3 or more people, and one of them happens to be a native speaker.

P.S. Have been busy with other projects related to other blog, but hoping to get back into this one soon. My goal is to get to 50 poems or halfway in the near future.

2 responses to “Playing with Hyakunin Isshu cards”

  1. I’d be really interested to see the cards for Kisen-Hoshi’s poem number 8. Could we see a photo of the cards?

  2. If you may, can you please take a closer picture of Chihayaburu card(#17) ?:) I am searrching any clear printable picture but can’t find>.< thank you!

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