Where to Purchase Hyakunin Isshu “Karuta” Cards

Edit: Revamped this page in January 2023 with a lot more information, updated Google Maps links and so on.

One of the best ways to appreciate and celebrate the Hyakunin Isshu anthology (besides reading and reciting the poetry) is to play the traditional card game called karuta. I’ve written about it here, here and here before, but for a long time I never owned a set. My wife, who is Japanese, owns a set from when she was young, complete with a cassette tape for reciting the poems, but I wanted to own my own set while respecting her property.

It turns out that purchasing a karuta set can be really easy or somewhat hard, depending on whether you are in Japan or overseas. In Japan, they are easy to find in any local bookstore because kids in Japan often grow up learning the anthology and playing games (even if they lose interest later).

The good news is that you can get a set for relatively cheap (shipping might be pricey though) and there are plenty of good choices. A basic set, minus shipping, is about ¥1800 or $15 USD at current rates, while fancier sets get much more expensive.

This guide is to help folks who are interested in owning a karuta set navigate their options.

In Tokyo

A while back, I found a good article on the Japan Times about a famous karuta store in Tokyo that has been selling karuta cards for 90 years named Okuno Karuta (奥野カルタ). This is the premiere place to go if you are in Tokyo, particularly in the Chiyoda Ward. You can find it here (Google Maps link):

According to their website they are:

The Jinbocho Station is the nearest one, and speaking from limited experience the Hanzomon Line is pretty easy to find and covers much of Tokyo.

I did contact Okuno Karuta about ordering online, and while they do have an online store, it usually only ships from within Japan. Your best bet is to simply visit the store in person, or plan to purchase online and ship to some place in Japan you can then pickup.

In Kyoto

If you are closer to the western half of Japan, or traveling through the Kyoto Area, there’s many great karuta shops to visit since it is essentially the home of the Hyakunin Isshu anthology.

My personal favorite is Tengudo (大石天狗堂), founded in 1800. This is the company that made the first karuta set that I purchased, and are located in the Fushimi ward of Kyoto (Google Maps link):

According to their website, the easiest ways to get there by train are:

Similar to Okuno Karuta, you can also order online, but it ships only within Japan.

Local Bookstores in Japan

Further, if you are in Japan, but not near Tokyo or Kyoto (as was my case in December 2022), you can also just visit any local bookstore and find karuta sets there. The selection can be more limited than a dedicated store. The first shop I went to had only one set, but Kinokuniya had several to choose from.

This is a nice middle-ground between big online sites like Amazon or Rakuten, and the smaller but hard to access mom-and-pop stores.

However, again, the shipping options will almost always be limited to Japan only.

Purchasing Online

And finally we come to the last, but most likely option: purchasing online.

If you can’t afford to go to Japan, and just want to get a set of Hyakunin Isshu cards for yourself, there are some options for purchasing online. Due to pandemic, global economy problems, and simple logistics, many small businesses in Japan simply won’t ship overseas. Thus, you are often stuck buying from Amazon or Rakuten. I consider these as options of last-resort because they do nothing to help local businesses.

In some countries, Kinokuniya Bookstore has international online stores as well (example link for the USA) which can also ship karuta sets. The USA store can ship to Canada, USA and Mexico for example.

Finally, another option is proxy-buying. This is a niche option that lets you buy Japanese goods from smaller shops like Okuno Karuta or Tengudo, while still being accessible overseas. Japan Rabbit (formerly White Rabbit Express) is one such choice, Rakuten Global Express is another. I haven’t personally use either one, however.

If you go the Amazon/Rakuten route, they usually have some English translations available, but it’s probably simplest to search for 百人一首カルタ to get accurate results, and then go from there.

Good luck and happy card hunting!

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