Bozu Mekuri: Karuta for Beginners

Wow, it’s been a while. Recently, while playing with my wife and kids a game of karuta with our hyakunin isshu set, I learned about a simple, introductory way to enjoy the game without spending a lot of time learning the poems or mastering the rules of the competition. This simple game is called bōzu-mekuri (坊主めくり).

A recent game (Jan 2023) of bozu mekuri my family and I played on a Saturday night. We use the two-pile yamafuda setup (almost depleted now). The discarded cards are in the middle, my cards are in the foreground.

The rules are nicely explained here in Japanese, but goes like this:

  1. Two or more people sit around in a circle.
  2. Shuffle all 100 of the picture cards, then make a stack face-down. This is called the yamafuda.
    • Alternatively, you can split the stack into two stacks, three stacks, or even a ring of cards. My family plays with two stacks as shown above.
    • Another possible house-rule is to deal out all the cards to players, so they each have their own pile.
    • No matter how you deal the cards, they need to be face down.
  3. Players take turns drawing one card from a yamafuda stack. It can be drawn from any stack.
  4. Depending on what kind of card a person gets, one of three things will happen:
    • If the card is a picture of a nobleman (tono), simply add it to your personal pile.
    • If the card is a picture of a Buddhist monk (bōzu), you lose all your cards.  Put your cards into a pile somewhere in the middle, near the original yamafuda stack, but face up.  If there are cards already there, just add to the pile.
    • If the card is a court lady (himé) then you get all the cards from the face-up pile.
  5. Once done, pass the turn to the next player.
  6. When all the yamafuda cards are exhausted, whoever has the most cards at the end wins the game.

If you get a set of hyakunin isshu karuta cards, try it out with your friends some time! I found the game very easy to learn, and fun to play with 3-4 people. More people the better.


P.S. There are lots of house-rules possible, so feel free to choose rules that you and the other players enjoy.

2 responses to “Bozu Mekuri: Karuta for Beginners”

  1. It’s sort of like the card game of War. Little kids love it, and so do bigger kids who are turned off by the burden of poetry memorization.

  2. This is so beautiful. The movie Chihayafuru got me and of course my love for Japanese culture:))

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